HC Deb 09 March 1984 vol 55 cc1091-151 9.34 am
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

I beg to move, That this House congratulates the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and Her Majesty's Government on recent diplomatic moves and visits which have improved relations between the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union; and calls upon the Government to work on a realistic and long-term basis for the reduction of tension between the East and the West, to press for balanced and verifiable reductions in the nuclear and conventional forces and weapons of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and Warsaw Pact countries, and for the elimination of all chemical weapons, and to persuade the Soviet Union to remove the impediments which adversely influence the non-arms trade and the easy movement of people between the United Kingdom and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. When I found that my number, 13, had been drawn first in the ballot for private Members' motions, I was not surprised. It is not the first time in my life that No. 13 has been my lucky number. I was commissioned into the Royal Air Force on the thirteenth. Therefore, No. 13 has been lucky for me, even if it is not lucky for some.

I had no difficulty in selecting the motion that I wished to be debated. For some hon. Members the topic that I have chosen may come as a surprise, but I doubt whether any of my Scottish colleagues or my constituents will be surprised. For the past three years or more, I have been the Scottish Conservative party spokesman on defence. During the whole of that time 1 have never been called to speak in the House on matters concerning either the nuclear submarine bases in Scotland, the peace movement or the United Kingdom's relations with the Soviet Union, although I have sat through most of those debates and attempted to speak. During that same period I have spoken at many hundreds of meetings, made dozens of radio and television programmes and written many articles for the Scottish press. That is why I am so pleased to be fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to place my views and thoughts on record.

For many decades, United Kingdom policy has been based on two pillars. The first was to have a viable defence capability to protect our interests and to deter any would-be aggressor. The second was to negotiate for arms reduction, arms control and peace.

I congratulate the Government on the recent initiatives that have improved the two-way dialogue between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of the Soviet Union. Those initiatives began with my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym), the former Foreign Secretary. That was followed by the visit of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. There has also been the more recent visit to the Soviet Union by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary at the funeral of Mr. Andropov, when they took the opportunity to meet the new Soviet leader, Mr. Chernenko.

At least we can now claim that at the highest level of Government initial meetings have taken place. On the positive side, that must be good. On the negative side, we must acknowledge that the difference of views on many matters remains unchanged, and it is wise to examine where those differences exist and ask why that is the situation today. It may be the situation for some time to come.

At present the world is divided both geographically and ideologically. The divisions are deep, and the hostility and fear on both sides are real. On the one side there is the open society and the individual freedom of the democracies. On the other side of the great divide is the discipline of Communist doctrine and the closed society in which that doctrine is practised. It is worth remembering that less than one fifth of members of the United Nations are democracies, and more than four fifths are either one-party, Communist-type states, military dictator states or states where one family runs the country on medieval monarchy lines. Against that background and the Soviet right of veto, the democracies must recognise the limitations of the United Nations. In simple language, the cards are always stacked against the democracies.

If we are to negotiate with the Soviet leaders we must try to understand their views, their motives and the limitations imposed on them by the very nature of their internal and external policies. We must also try to understand how that former tsarist empire is composed, the kind of people who live there, their history and their likely future under the discipline of Communist doctrine. I shall attempt to address myself to those questions today.

The single most important challenge for the United Kingdom foreign policy has for many decades been our relations with the Soviet Union. The differences between the two systems of government, our different histories and our security concerns inevitably make the relationship difficult. Yet we have no choice. We must seek ways to ensure that democracy and Communism can co-exist in peace. The West wants peace with freedom, democracy and the rule of law. The Soviets want peace with the kind of regime that is acceptable to them. We believe that it is right and proper for the democracies to try to extend our way of life and type of government to other parts of the world. The Soviets believe that it is right and proper to extend their way of life and type of government throughout the world. We make no secret of our wishes and they make no secret of theirs. Every five years they have committed themselves to wage an undeclared war against the whole world. At each party congress since the early part of the century they have pledged to support the forces of progress and Socialism and to support liberation movements throughout the world. They are supported in their aims by the World Peace Council, which stated in its programme of action in Helsinki in 1981 that there were "just wars" and "unjust wars". As one might expect, it sought clearly to define what was a just war and what was an unjust war.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

The hon. Gentleman says that the West is committed to freedom and democracy and compares its attitude with that of the Soviet regime. If I am lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall make my own comments and criticisms on certain regimes of the West and the Soviet bloc. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that some regimes associated with the West are notorious dictatorships? One thinks immediately of Chile and the regime in South Africa, which is perhaps the worst type of racial tyranny since Nazi Germany. Does he believe that it is our job to do what we can to undermine and destabilise such regimes which are an affront to humanity?

Mr. Walker

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my speech in my own way. I think that he will find that it covers adequately the areas that cause him concern as well as those which cause others concern. I do not intend at this stage to pre-empt my later remarks.

According to the World Peace Council, the policy of destabilisation of progressive regimes in developing countries — in this context "progressive" means Communist or Marxist — constitutes aggression, wherever it comes from and whether it is waged by psychological, economic, political or other means, including armed intervention. Similar acts against what the council describes as racist and Fascist regimes, however, are justified because the mere existence of non-progressive regimes is abhorrent to what it describes as the conscience of mankind.

Mr. Winnick

What about South Africa?

Mr. Walker

The World Peace Council tells us that the sale of arms to those abhorrent countries should be banned but that nothing need restrain the peace-loving from selling arms to progressive regimes and liberation movements. I draw attention to that because I wish to explore the avenues open for negotiation and to define more clearly the problems that will face the Government as they attempt to reach agreement with the Soviet leaders.

The United Kingdom must first come to terms with the fact that we can maintain our standard of living only by exporting goods and services. Countries with smaller populations and greater natural resources do not have to export on the same scale. In addition, we have to import huge quantities of raw materials, which we process into manufactured goods for export. In other words, the United Kingdom is forced—I use that word deliberately—to trade worldwide. We both buy and sell huge quantities of goods as well as services that contribute substantially to our balance of payments.

Sadly for the United Kingdom, many of those vital raw materials are available only from areas of the world where Soviet influence is paramount or from countries where the United Nations, the peace movements and the World Peace Council have declared the Governments to be Fascist or racist. Few of us need reminding of the impact on western economies when the oil-producing countries increased their prices. The world recession and the dole queues are a constant reminder. That is why in our negotiations with the Soviet Union we must always be vigilant of the monopoly position that could arise if countries such as South Africa, South-West Africa and Namibia became destabilised by Communist-inspired freedom movements.

United Kingdom trade with South Africa last year comprised £765 million in imports and £1,109 million in exports, resulting in a crude balance of £344 million in favour of the United Kingdom. It is interesting to note that in 1978, the last year of the Labour Government, the trade balance was £252 million in favour of South Africa. The situation has thus been reversed in our favour. Not surprisingly, 33.3 per cent. of imports from South Africa were minerals to be used in production of high grade steel and alloys vital to aerospace and other high technology products. Essential minerals comprised 86 per cent. of imports from Namibia, with a value of £53,750,000. I cannot be alone in the view that if the United Kingdom and western democracies do not modify their policy towards South Africa and Namibia we may find that we have been playing into the hands of the Soviet Union and the Cubans. It cannot make long-term sense to be party to bringing about a situation in which those two countries become unstable, so that the West is denied easy access to the essential minerals that we import from them.

One measure of immediate benefit to Namibia would be for the Government to treat the leaders of the internal parties there on the same basis as they treat the leaders of the external group, SWAPO. I do not believe that that is too much to ask. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be aware that I have submitted a report to the Foreign Office on my recent visit to that part of the world. He will also be aware of my concern about the problems that the West would face if the naval base at Simonstown was ever used by a regime or by forces unfriendly to the West. It can accommodate 40 ships of the size that includes the carrier Invincible. How would we feel if that base fell into unfriendly hands, particularly if it was servicing nuclear-powered submarines that could endanger shipping in the area of the Gulf?

I realise that what I am asking for would necessitate a modification — some might say a change —in Government policy, and that it would create problems in our relations with some black African countries and with the United States. Yet we are in a unique position to bring the world of real politics into the sad and unfortunate world of southern Africa. The black African states trade with South Africa and are dependent on that country for their economic well-being. The problem of Africa—Labour Members should remember this point — is not the political allegiance of the leaders. The problem is caused by the inability of the independent black countries to manage their economies. It does not matter what colour a country's politics are if it cannot manage its economy effectively and efficiently.

Mr. Winnick

Did the South African embassy write this speech?

Mr. Walker

Nigeria and Uganda should be rich and prosperous. Their natural resources, properly managed, could create a prosperity that only the black Africans of South Africa at present enjoy. The United Kingdom has certain residual moral obligations towards both those countries. I suggest that we have the same residual obligations towards Zimbabawe and South Africa. For strategic reasons, we cannot turn away from the source of such vital raw materials, and we cannot afford to see in South Africa and Namibia the chaos that has occurred elsewhere in black Africa.

The Soviet Union, South Africa and Namibia between them account for almost 98 per cent. of the world's known reserves of essential ores, including some for which at present there are no substitutes. South Africa and the Soviet Union already do good business together in industrial diamonds. There lies the potential for a great force of profit and power. That has not been ignored in Moscow, and in part explains why the Russians and Cubans have been so active in Angola and Mozambique.

Why does it take us so long to acknowledge the obvious? Could it be that our experience of the oil price rise forced on us by the OPEC countries is so recent that we have not yet adjusted our policies to meet the economic threat that could result from price increases in essential ores or the withholding of those commodities?

I do not support, and never have supported, the policy of apartheid any more than I support the laws of countries such as Saudi Arabia. However, we have to trade with that country and with South Africa. Our foreign and defence policies should be tailored to protect our own best interests. That is what matters, although I suspect that the Government Front Bench will as yet be unable to accept this part of my speech.

Every day we read about, or watch on television, the latest publicity stunts of the so-called peace movement. The peace movement has never had a monopoly on peace. I myself am a man of peace. Death from a bayonet is just as unacceptable to me as death from a nuclear device or from any other fiendish modern weapon. I acknowledge the genuine concern felt by most of those who are active within the peace movement or who support it. I trust—I hope that the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) is listening—that they will acknowledge that my concern is as deeply held as theirs. I, too, find the prospect of nuclear war unthinkable. I find all wars unthinkable and unacceptable.

However, hearing some people speak, one might be led to believe that a modern conventional war in Europe would somehow be acceptable. Such a war could only be horrendously destructive and would produce carnage on a massive scale. However, the CND and peace movement demand that the United Kingdom should give up all its nuclear weapons and leave NATO. Their demands are linked to the views of some politicians, retired senior officers of the armed forces and men of the cloth, many of whom advocate a build-up of conventional forces and the removal of the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent capability. We must not ignore the clear evidence in Western Europe that Soviet funds have been used to finance peace movement activities. It is also interesting that, within the past week, Warsaw pact countries have suggested a freeze on conventional forces in Europe, while in the past couple of years political and military pressures have developed for NATO to reduce theatre nuclear weapons and replace them by new technology conventional weapons. It is reasonable to suggest that those two developments are connected.

Historical evidence shows that countries go to war to protect what they judge to be their vital interests or to divert attention from internal problems that could damage the rulers. Sometimes there is a combination of both those motives.

We all know that western democracies will never start a war with the Soviet Union. The very nature of the NATO alliance would make it difficult to obtain agreement. Indeed, some of us wonder how we could obtain agreement if a war should start the other way round. We are also pledged to no first use of our armed forces. NATO is a defensive alliance. Our problem, and that of the Soviet Union, is to know how far we can trust each other. I have no doubt that the Soviet people wish to live in peace, just as people in the West do. Again, history shows us that it is the Government of a country, not its people, who make the critical decision to go to war.

What the Soviet Government do and what we know about them is important. I shall examine first the composition of the Soviet Union's population and then consider what we know about the people who form the Soviet Government. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is a massive conglomeration of races and creeds in which the Russians are a minority. The difference between the races becomes more marked the further east one travels. I shall give just three examples. It is estimated that there are about 45 million Moslems, more than 2 million Jews and more than 100,000 Buddhists in the Soviet Union. In a country of such wide differences in religious background and historical origin and in which the land mass makes communications difficult, it is not hard to appreciate the problems facing its rulers, especially when one realises that Soviet society ranges from highly skilled technocrats to peasant farmers. The differences are huge. We find them difficult to contemplate as we have no peasant farmers.

The Soviet Union is a closed society. That, coupled with its size, makes it possible for the Communist rulers to keep control. Nevertheless, they and we must ask, "How long can the Communists continue to suppress human rights and individual freedoms? How long will it be before the crippling costs of maintaining an arms machine will come up against the demands of the people for more consumer spending and greater freedom of travel?" The Communist rulers recognised the problems a long time ago and used the fear of war as a weapon to sustain control at home while spreading the fear of war abroad. Once they acknowledged and used the power of peace as a weapon they never ceased to use it. We must recognise that Communist dogma declares that wars are the inevitable consequence of the clash of imperial interests under capitalism and will continue to be inevitable as long as capitalism exists. We must understand that they genuinely believe that when trying to negotiate with them. They firmly believe that the only way in which to save humanity from the evils of war is to liberate the world from the chains of capitalism.

Accordingly, like the world peace movement, the Soviet Union has precise ideas about what are just and unjust wars. Just wars are those fought in the interests of the proletariat. They are entirely justifiable because they will lead to a world in which there will be no wars. Communists are all brothers and therefore once the world is rid of capitalist imperialists and other class enemies there will be no need for brother to fight brother. That is why the Communists have no difficulty in justifying the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states, of Bessarabia, the war with Finland in 1939–40, the partition of Poland in 1939, the invasions of Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Afghanistan and the interference in Poland. In their eyes, however, the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union was blatantly unjust.

Studying the aspects of Communist policy and belief that I have outlined explains what is happening throughout the world and makes it possible for the West to understand what lies behind Soviet action in the middle east and elsewhere. For example, any attack by the Arabs on Israel is just, at least as long as it is successful. However, if Israeli resistance is successful, all peace-loving peoples must protest. If we accept that that is a true and fair picture we can understand why it was possible for 2,260 delegates from 137 countries to vote unanimously at the world peace conference on the violation of human rights in Bolivia, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Israel, Paraguay, Uruguay, Indonesia, South Africa, Northern Ireland and the United States of America.

They would not, or perhaps could not, name the countries in the Communist bloc, the Third world or Arab countries with Soviet connections that violate human rights. Does anyone seriously believe that the delegates to the peace conference or the Soviet leaders are unaware of human rights violations in the countries that I have mentioned? Of course not. My explanation is the only one that makes sense. That is why, in negotiations with Soviet leaders, we must sup with a long spoon. We must also remember that the politburo of the Soviet Communist party consists of 12 voting members and six non-voting members, eight of whom are more than 70 years old, six are more than 60 years old, and the remaining four are more than 50 years old. It is not too cynical to suggest that those elderly gentlemen are more likely to be concerned with their own privileges than with Communist doctrine.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman's speech with great interest. Is it not also possible that the elderly gentlemen to whom he referred have experienced the horrors of war to an extent that we cannot begin to imagine and that they are therefore more likely than some of their more active successors to strive as best they can to ensure that even worse terrors do not storm the world?

Mr. Walker

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the leaders of the Soviet Union are very conservative. If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me I shall mention the horrors that those people have experienced. The hon. Gentleman was right to draw attention to them as we did not experience them on the same scale.

If we are to negotiate with Soviet leaders we must try to understand them. I am trying to open up the entire canvas rather than just one part of it as my motion is about relations with the Soviet Union—it is not an attack on it. The elderly gentlemen can best be described as a ruling clique that has surrendered its ideals in the constant fight for survival. They preside over a Government machine that suffers corruption and abuses of power and receives massive privileges. Absolute power is exercised by absolutely cynical people over a population that is only now beginning to ask about individual freedoms. In some areas the demand for increased consumer spending is now emerging.

We should also remember that the military and the KGB are part of the Government. Military policy is therefore Soviet policy. That is quite different from the West where military policy is determined by the elected Government and the military do what the Government order. I do not condemn that, but merely draw attention to the fact that if we negotiate with the Soviet Government we are negotiating with the Soviet military.

Soviet military policy was fashioned in the ravages of the Hitler war. Reliable sources suggest that about 13,700,000 members of the Soviet armed forces died during that war, and that about 7 million civilians were killed. That is a total of more than 20 million deaths—four times the population of Scotland. Hitler's army reached the gates of Moscow. That occurred despite the Soviet Union having signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler. We should never forget that the Soviets signed a non-aggression pact then; it is no wonder that today they have doubts about signing documents. I understand their fears, because they signed with Hitler, who failed to honour his side of the bargain.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

I have listened to the hon. Gentleman for some time with growing indignation. I was determined not to intervene in his speech, but he has reached the absolute limits of credulity with this latest point. Of course, the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany. The Germans broke that pact, but that has not led to the Russians refusing to sign pacts with anyone else. They have persistently put forward proposals, which we have refused to accept, such as no first use, and a nuclear freeze. The hon. Gentleman cannot use that argument in his anti-Soviet tirade.

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the West has a policy of no first use of any weapons. The hon. Gentleman cannot have listened carefully to my speech, because I was making the point that he tried to make: that underlying the doubts and fears of the Soviet leaders is the fact that the non-aggression pact with Hitler did not stand up because Hitler broke it.

As a result of that, Soviet military policy is clear. Never again will 20 million Soviet citizens die defending their homeland. Never again will a foreign army reach the gates of Moscow. Never again will the Soviet military be caught napping. That explains why the Soviet military is sometimes a little trigger-happy if Soviet land, water or air space is violated.

After Hitler, no Soviet leader could or would trust the West, which in part explains the Soviet reluctance to enter into formal agreements. It also helps to explain why Soviet leaders try to find loopholes in agreements that they have signed. That must also be taken into consideration by the West when negotiating with the Soviets. Realistically, this means that it will take a long time to reach meaningful agreements, and any attempt to cut short the process will be fraught with danger for East and West.

If the West is to manage its relations with the Soviet Union successfully, it must focus on the priority of halting the nuclear arms race. For nearly 40 years successive British Governments have been committed to a policy of defence and security that rests on two pillars: first, our determination that our defence forces should be sufficient to meet all our reasonable defence needs and, secondly, a search for international agreements that will diminish those needs. No one should doubt that it is the wish of the British people and of successive Governments to achieve security and peace on the basis of fewer bombs, missiles, warships, tanks, aircraft and rifles on each side.

Recent history has clearly demonstrated that the two-pillar policy can work. It has also clearly shown that where either pillar has been weakened the risk of war has substantially increased. Since the signing of the Antarctic treaty in 1959, we have witnessed a series of agreements on arms control that have greatly strengthened the basis on which international security rests. They include the partial test ban treaty of 1963; the outer space treaty and the treaty on the denuclearisation of Latin America in 1967; the non-proliferation treaty of 1968; the seabed treaty of 1971; the strategic arms agreements of 1972 and 1979; the anti-ballistic missile treaty of 1972; the biological weapons convention of 1972; and the environmental modification convention of 1977. There have been other bilateral and multilateral agreements designed to make the world a safer place.

Although the record of the past few years can best be described as disappointing, there is sufficient evidence to show that as long as the West is prepared to talk and to support the talk with a determination to defend our interests with adequate defence forces, the two-pillar policy can and does work.

I can also clearly demonstrate that a reduction in the Government's will to maintain adequate defence forces to meet — I use the words carefully — our reasonable defence needs could lead to war. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey).—I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber — is never slow to chastise the Government about what he judges to be the results of Government policy, yet when he was Secretary of State for Defence he was responsible for removing the United Kingdom deterrent force from the Indian ocean and the south Atlantic, thus leaving the Falklands open to the risk of war. Not for the first time, a Prime Minister's courage and the skill and valour of the British armed forces have pulled the politicians' chestnuts out of the fire.

The decisions of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East led to the demise of the United Kingdom carrier force. Paragraph 4 of part III of the Defence Review of 1966 states: The conditions under which we intend to operate our forces outside Europe are set out in paragragh 19 of the previous chapter. There are limitations on the use of our present forces. These limitations are likely to grow more severe. This has been the background to our assessment of the case for keeping a British carrier force in the Far East in the 1970s. Experience and study have shown that only one type of operation exists for which carriers and carrier-borne aircraft would be indispensable: that is the landing, or withdrawal, of troops against sophisticated opposition outside the range of land-based air cover. It is only realistic to recognise that we, unaided by our allies, could not expect to undertake operations of this character in the 1970s—even if we could afford a larger carrier force.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

The hon. Gentleman must not be allowed to get away with what he said about my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). Before he re-writes history further, does he recall that the Labour Government left office in 1979 and that the Falklands invasion took place in 1982, when the Conservative Government were intending to withdraw further naval protection in the area?

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman intervenes just to help me make the point that I was going to make later, and I trust that he will see exactly why I am making it. The point is that in 1966 the decision was taken to remove the capability to deter any would-be aggressor from the south Atlantic and Indian ocean. Deterrence is the ability to inflict an unacceptable level of damage on a would-be aggressor, and an aircraft carrier squadron stationed in the south Atlantic would have prevented the invasion of the Falklands.

One of the twin pillars of our defence policy was weakened in that area. In an attempt to divert attention from his troubles at home, General Galtieri invaded the Falklands. I accept that it can be argued that in 1966 relations with Argentina were normal. However, the lesson of the Falklands cannot be ignored. Some 10 years, 15 years went by. There were changes in the Government in Argentina, and General Galtieri came to power. It is not unrealistic to ask those who call for unilateral disarmament to look at the lessons of the Falklands, and to require them to explain what will happen in 10 or 15 years' time when the United Kingdom has abandoned its nuclear deterrent and there are different circumstances in the Soviet Union.

It is just possible that there will be demands for greater human rights, for more individual freedoms, for more consumer spending. At the same time, there may be problems in the Soviet satellites, problems such as those that we have seen recently in Poland. What happens then if the Soviet harvest has failed? That is not an unrealistic proposition; we all know that collective farming is riot as productive as the free enterprise system of North America and the EEC. Collective farming has resulted in regular harvest failures in the Soviet Union. Does anyone seriously believe that the incumbents in the politburo at that time in such circumstances will not be tempted, as General Galtieri was, into a risky military adventure against the West to draw attention away from internal problems? That is the lesson that we have to learn.

The decision was made in 1966, but the years went by, things changed and we were unable to exercise our commitments. I hesitate to suggest to the House what may happen if we are unable to exercise our commitments 15 or 20 years ahead because we have removed our nuclear deterrent capability. How we prevent this possibility from becoming an actuality is the challenge that we face. That is why the two-pillar policy is the only realistic and long-term basis for a reduction of tension between East and West.

To this end we must strain all our effort and will. We should not be tempted by cost concerns, as we were in 1966, to tailor our defence needs to suit our spending programme. It was a false economy in 1966 and it would be an irresponsible false economy today. During the next few years, the Soviet leaders will be under great pressure to increase consumer spending and reduce military spending. There will be scope on both sides to remove both conventional and nuclear weapons. Recent suggestions from the Warsaw pact countries show that there is at least a possibility of talks. They have opened a door and we must examine their proposals in detail.

We must also recognise that Western technology can enhance the capability of NATO conventional forces and in a relatively short time Soviet armour, air fields, military aircraft and command and control forces would be vulnerable to attack from our accurate stand-off weapons. The Soviet military and Government are aware of this prospect and will do everything to shift the peace movement's attention to what they will describe as military conventional build-up by NATO.

The weakness of bargaining with the Soviets from the position of having nothing to offer in exchange for a Soviet reduction or removal is clearly demonstrated by the chemical weapons negotiations. The United Kingdom gave up an offensive chemical warfare capability in 1966, and the United States ceased production in 1969, but since then the Soviet Union has built up a massive offensive chemical warfare capability. It is understood to have about 60,000 troops trained and equipped with offensive chemical warfare weapons. These troops are facing NATO on the Soviet front in Europe and their numbers can be increased to up to 80,000 at times of hostility. In addition, the Soviet Union has a stock of 30,000 tonnes of chemical agents along with shells, missiles, landmines and bombs, all of which are stored in forward areas ready for use by the specialist troops.

To support my case that the West will only get the Soviets to agree to a reduction on the removal of weapons and forces on a quid pro quo basis, I draw attention to the fact that for nearly a quarter of a century the Soviets refused to talk about chemical weapons. It was only after the United States Administration decided in February 1982 to start production on a new generation of chemical weapons that the Soviets changed their ideas and agreed to talk.

The western peace movement should put as much effort into banning chemical weapons as it does into its campaign against nuclear weapons. I only wish that it would give the United Kingdom credit for leading the world in removing these ghastly weapons. At the same time it should be publicly, and at every opportunity, supporting the United Kingdom Government in their efforts to obtain a ban on these weapons. Sadly, I have to draw attention to the fact that there appears to be evidence that chemical weapons have been used in the Gulf war.

Earlier, I said that I could not accept the view that conventional war in Europe was acceptable. I also said that there was substantial evidence to show that conventional weapons have not stopped wars. Although we have enjoyed peace in Europe for almost 40 years, there have been well over 100 wars during that period in different parts of the world. As I speak, there are 44 wars taking place, all of which are using conventional weapons. Tragically, it looks as though chemical weapons have been used for the first time of which we are aware in many years in the Gulf war between Iraq and Iran. Surely this must convince every hon. Member that we should be supporting the Government in their efforts to have these hideous weapons banned.

It is my considered judgment that the bomb has become a weapon of peace. Neither side dares to use it while the other side has the ability to inflict an unacceptable level of damage on its opponent. Each side deters the other. We hear a lot about first strike. The peace movement's spokespersons claim that cruise and Pershing 2 are first strike weapons. Only a lunatic would imagine that an attack launched by his forces using weapons such as cruise and Pershing 2 could lead to the destruction of the other side's nuclear capability. However, it is true that both sides have weapons and systems that are more accurate and have less flight time than the previous generation. These weapons take a few minutes to reach their target — Pershing 2 and the SS20 fall into this category — but neither system is capable of destroying submarines at sea.

Mr. Winnick


Mr. Walker

It is just not possible to destroy all the SS20s in a pre-emptive strike, so the deterrent continues to work. Each side knows that a first strike is not an option and neither side seriously includes such an option in its military or political calculations. Only the scaremongers, who have made no attempt to study in detail how those weapons work and are targeted and what they can do, make such claims.

Mr. Winnick


Mr. Walker

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman.

The real options that are open are meaningful negotiations to reduce the number of warheads. There is massive scope here on both sides, including the removal of weapons delivery systems. Each side has many more weapons than are needed to give confidence and act as a deterrent. The scope for reductions in expenditure on arms is substantial, and real reductions in both nuclear and conventional weapons by the East and West should be possible.

We should, at the same time, be reminding the world of the massive navy that the largely land-locked Soviet Union has today. Does anyone seriously believe that the Russians need 278 submarines for the defence of the Soviet Union; that they need 66 of those to be equipped with cruise missiles, just for defence; that they need 212 attack submarines, just for defence; that they need 302 major surface ships to defend their relatively small coastline; and 1,708 minor surface ships to protect their fishing fleet, or is that the job of their five aircraft carriers?

We can never expect to match such an armada. We must be concerned that such a massive maritime force exists, the purpose of which must be to back up the Communist philosophy worldwide of "just wars". The Royal Navy has a surface fleet of about 150 ships of all kinds, three of which are aircraft carriers, and 31 submarines, four of which represent our Polaris deterrent force. That is why we must adopt realistic policies when dealing with the Soviets.

There are plenty of natural troubles in the world brought on by purely local conditions. The influence of Communism and Moscow turns those local problems into major strategic ones.

Mr. Winnick

How many more pages does the hon. Gentleman have?

Mr. Walker

I was fortunate to come out top of the ballot. This is my debate and I intend making it mine.

Mr. Winnick

For the whole day?

Mr. Walker

The mischief of which I was speaking can be seen in the Horn of Africa, the Gulf, Angola, Mozambique, central America, south-east Asia and the middle east. The United Kingdom should be encouraging NATO to adopt a realistic out-of-theatre capability.

Recent changes in the French armed forces show clearly that the French, despite their enormous economic problems, have recognised the need to respond quickly to threats to their interests in out-of-area parts of the world. Peace is not a commodity that can be purchased at a discount. If our twin pillar policy is to work, we must be prepared to pay for a viable and credible defence capability, including our nuclear deterrent.

Being an ex-airman, I have always taken a keen interest in the problems facing the Royal Air Force. My experience of that service is that the nation and successive Governments have always asked the RAF to do much more than has been sensible with the resources with which it has been provided. The worst period was in the years immediately following 1957—

Mr. Winnick

On a point of order. I have been in the House on recent Fridays when Conservative Members have had the good fortune—which the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) has had—to have won the ballot. They have made speeches lasting 25 or perhaps 40 minutes. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman could go on endlessly—I suppose that he could speak until 2 o'clock —but is it not an abuse, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the hon. Gentleman, who knows that a number of hon. Members, including some of his hon. Friends, wish to take part in the debate, to go on at such length? Judging from the number of pages of notes he appears to be holding, he may continue until midday.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)

The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) has been fortunate in the ballot and is introducing the debate. I remind him, however, that he has been speaking for nearly an hour and that there are 14 right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who wish to speak from the Back Benches.

Mr. Walker

I accept what you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I introduced my remarks by saying that I had waited for five years to speak on this topic. If we are to cover the subject properly — remembering that I am introducing it—I feel that I must open up all avenues to achieve a proper understanding of the issues involved.

As I was saying, the RAF was always asked to do much more that was sensible with the resources provided. The worst periods were the years immediately following the 1957 and 1966 defence White Papers. In 1957, the RAF was told that the last manned aircraft would be the Lightning; after that, the RAF would be flying rockets, it was said. That has not happened and today the Lightning is reaching the age of retirement.

The 1966 defence White Paper was ghastly — I mentioned earlier the loss of the south Atlantic aircraft carriers—because it introduced, among other things, the demise of the Hunter. Coupled with the cancellation of the P1154 and the TSR2, the loss of the Hunter left the RAF without an air superiority aircraft, and it is only today that that deficiency is at long last being recognised. The proposed European fighter-ground-attack aircraft, when it arrives in four to five years, will belatedly fill the gap in our air defence capability.

It will have taken nearly 23 years to rectify the mistakes of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East who today wants the United Kingdom to give up its nuclear deterrent force. I should have thought that he did sufficient damage in his period of office to the first pillar of our foreign and defence policy.

In 1957, the RAF had a total of 938 fighter aircraft, of which 340 were all-weather fighters, 553 were day fighters and 45 were fighter reconnaissance aircraft. Today the RAF has six squadrons for the air defence of the United Kingdom, with about, when they are all available, 96 fighter aircraft. The air defence version of the Tornado and the new European fighter will be a welcome and long overdue addition to our air defences.

Outer space is a relatively new area of concern. I am aware of the 1967 outer space treaty. My concern is that it is only too easy to get round that treaty. It bans military activities on celestial bodies and the placing of weapons of mass destruction in outer space. However, I will give a catalogue of what has happened. The United States has three photographic reconnaissance devices in space, while the USSR has 35 and China one. The USA has one electronic reconnaissance device and the USSR has six. The USA has one early warning device and the USSR has five. The USSR has 16 interceptor-destructor-type satellites in orbit and in 1981–82, the last year for which I have the relevant figures, 37 per cent. of their payload was for military purposes.

The Soviet Union has a weapons system that is capable of destroying other satellites. It sends out what I would describe as the equivalent of a round of buckshot, which saturates and destroys its targets. The United States is experimenting with a large cannon ball type missile which destroys the target on impact. I am reminded that, in 1946–48, the United States offered to destroy its atomic bombs and place nuclear energy under international control. That was called the Baruch plan. The United Nations accepted the plan but the Soviet Union did not; the rest is history. Have the Soviets any regrets? I do not know, but the world certainly has.

Am I alone in thinking that the recent United States offer to share anti-ballistic missile space technology with the Soviets is an offer of the same order of magnitude as the Baruch proposal? The new technology involves laser and high technology particle beams. The American proposal has been offered as a means of removing the threat of a ballistic missile attack, whether it be imagined or real, especially the imagined or real first strike by ballistic missiles. The offer has been called mutually assured survival, or MAS. How much better that would be than mutually assured destruction, or MAD, which is what we understand the present position to be.

Perhaps the Soviets and the United States will arrive at some accommodation. Meanwhile the United Kingdom has to continue to pursue a realistic policy of having a defence capability to deter the Soviet Union, and that is why we must invest in a new generation of submarines and equip them with the Trident missile system. At the same time, we must use all our diplomatic skills to reach viable and verifiable arms control agreements.

Part of our negotiating posture should be the linking of trade with a removal of the impediments that adversely affect the movement of people between the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union. There is substantial scope for such agreements. The Soviet Union is desperate to purchase goods that at present it does not produce in quantity. I am aware that some of these goods, such as modern computers and high technology manufactures, are unlikely to be made available now or in the immediate future. However, we import nearly £300 million-worth more goods than we export to the Soviet Union, and this should give us a strong bargaining position. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will talk to our right hon. and hon. Friends who form the ministerial team at the Department of Trade and Industry to ascertain whether we can use our strong trade position to persuade the Soviets to allow those who wish to leave the Soviet Union to get out by granting them exit visas.

I cannot let the opportunity pass without making reference to the difficulties that have been created by the EC disposal of food surpluses. This has had a damaging effect on the economies and agriculture of many Third world countries. This, coupled with the high United States interest rates —

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I find it difficult to understand how food surpluses are related to the motion.

Mr. Walker

I think that you will find as I continue, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that they are related very much to the motion when one considers their effect on the Third world. It is to that area that I am turning while discussing relations with the Soviet Union. EC food surpluses and high interest rates in the United States have made it impossible for Third world countries to pay the interest on their debts. This has provided a heaven-sent opportunity for the Soviet Union because it can stir up trouble, blame the capitalist system and use the problems thereby created to foment unrest by the emergence of liberation movements.

I congratulate the Government and the Prime Minister on the realistic way in which they are tackling relations with the Soviet Union. This is probably the greatest single challenge that they face. As I have tried to illustrate, the activities of the Soviet Union and its Communist friends impinge on every sphere of democratic activity.

The problem facing the democracies is how to protect democratic institutions in a world that is so deeply divided. How are we to protect these institutions? Is that to be done by providing adequate defences and persuading our NATO allies of the need for viable defence forces, both conventional and nuclear? How are we to do all this at a time of world recession when the demands on the public purse for measures to ease the impact of recession are uppermost in the minds of the electorate? We must constantly remind the people that peace is a fragile commodity, and that peace with the rule of law, freedom and democracy is an extremely valuable commodity.

The House and the Government have the duty and responsibility to ensure that our children and our children's children continue to enjoy the peace that Europe has enjoyed for almost 40 years. That is why we must retain the UK's nuclear deterrent submarine force with its bases in Scotland. That is why we must replace Polaris with the Trident II missile, thus ensuring that no future politburo, whatever internal problems face the Soviet Union, will be tempted into risking military adventures against the UK or any of the its allies. That will ensure in turn that Europe does not have to face the carnage of either a nuclear or conventional war.

I remind the House that more people died in the conventional battle of Stalingrad than at Nagasaki and Hiroshima combined and that the Soviet people and the Soviet Government need no reminding of that stark statistic. That is why we must continue to deter while pursuing realistic negotiations with the Soviet Union on arms conrol and arms reduction. We must press vigorously and concurrently for a complete ban on chemical weapons. None of these desirable aims can or will be brought to fruition quickly. We shall need to be patient and vigilant.

We know that the democratic way of life is a better way of life than that provided by the Communist system. We know that personal freedom is preferable to Communist discipline. We know that the democracies are not very efficient, yet we know also that democracy and private enterprise is much more efficient than Communist discipline. That is why I believe that, in the end, the pressures for change within Soviet society will grow and grow, provided that the people of the USSR are given the opportunity to sample the way of life of the West.

10.48 am
Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) started his debate with the good will of the House and with a motion which was carefully drafted and which I think commanded a good deal of support throughout the House. In a speech which he read—discursive, disjointed and disingenuous —he has entirely diminished himself and depressed, and possibly even destroyed, the debate which he initiated. I do not believe that, on reflection, he will think that his conduct was of any quality whatever.

This is an opportunity to debate one of the most important aspects of British foreign policy. Our relations with the Soviet Union go to the very root of our security and how we handle the Soviet Union, especially how we handle it in relationship to the United States, our principal ally, our NATO partners and the European Community within our membership of it. It is an aspect of British foreign policy that probably poses, over the next few years, the most difficult part of our developing foreign policy.

It is not profitable for me, especially in view of the hour, to debate the past. I have trenchant criticisms of the conduct of our relations with the Soviet Union during the past few years, but I very much welcome the change of plan that now seems to be part of the Government's settled view. Benefits will come not only to this country but, if the diplomatic skill at the Government's disposal is successfully harnessed, to our European friends and allies and peace will come to the world as a whole.

How can Britain use the new opportunity presented, now that the megaphonic diplomacy is over and, I hope, personal abuse is a thing of the past? What are our objectives? The Soviet Union's foreign policy has many facets, but one striking and permanent aspect is that it is immensely slow-moving. The Soviet Union's leadership moves cautiously. There is a thirst among its leaders for an ordered relationship with the West. The element of uncertainty and unpredictability, which started with the advent of President Carter in 1977, has caused many problems in East-West relations. Whatever one's view about politics, there is no doubt that the Soviet leadership look back somewhat wistfully to the predictability of the Kissinger-Nixon era. There is a lesson in that period for all of us, wherever we sit in the spectrum of Left-Right politics in both the United States and Europe. If progress is to be made with the Soviet Union and if, a word which I hope will not go out of the English language, is to be revived, progress must be made cautiously and carefully, avoiding putting too much strain on the system.

One of the legacies of the past and lessons to learn is that precipitate change can only work against progress. By its nature, detente has a Jekyll and Hyde quality. As the combination of co-operation and competition develops, especially as communication and contact improves, tensions occur in our relationships. We are becoming more conscious of what goes on in the Soviet Union, and the tendency grows to feel offended by what we see as flagrant breaches of human rights. There is a temptation for us to demand of the Soviet system more change and more adaptation to Western democratic standards than it is prepared to concede. The overriding interest of both East and West—the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact and the United States and NATO countries—is that there should be at least a greater degree of trust and understanding.

How can Britain take the new atmosphere forward? The answer is, cautiously. That is the first advice I would give to the Government. Mr. Chernenko's recent speech shows a few areas in which Britain could act on its own. We must face the fact that, predominantly, our influence will he felt through the various co-operative organisations to which we belong, especially NATO. Britain could respond by increasing contact, which in the past few years has been abysmal. The House may need to be reminded that in 1977 I was the last Foreign Secretary who had serious negotiations and discussions in Moscow with the Soviet Union. That is a long time ago. The way is now open for an early visit by the Foreign Secretary to Moscow, and I hope that we shall see such a visit before the summer is out.

The British Government should immediately respond to one particular part of Mr. Chernenko's speech. He asked for talks on the comprehensive test ban to be resumed. Those are the only nuclear talks to which Britain is a party as of right. They are tripartite talks. We entered into them in 1977. They made substantial progress in 1978, and for the first time the Soviet Union accepted on-site verification through the black box seismic devices. There were difficulties over the Soviet Union's demands, especially its unrealistic demands for a large number of seismic devices to be placed on our territory. The Soviet Union knew that all our testing facilities were in the United States. That problem began to be overcome. We may have to pay a certain unnecessary price for being party to the negotiations. There is now a realistic hope that Britain need have only a third of the seismic devices of those on Soviet and United States territory.

The negotiations were broken off at the end of 1979. In many ways that occurred as soon as the Prime Minister took office. The Prime Minister's scepticism about the comprehensive test ban was made known virtually within days of her taking office. I hope she will revise and re-think her attitude to the comprehensive test ban, because its value lies in its interlocking nature with the non-proliferation treaty. The only way that we can breathe new life into the non-proliferation treaty is if the non-nuclear weapons states sense that the nuclear weapons states are living up to their commitments to curb the vertical proliferation of nuclear weapons while the non-nuclear weapons states restrict proliferation horizontally. There are now 10 states with the potential to make nuclear weapons. They are on the threshold of making a nuclear device and probably exploding it. If we do not do something to reinforce the non-proliferation treaty, in 15 years there could be 20 nuclear weapons countries; that is a circumstance fraught with danger.

Comprehensive test ban negotiations ought, therefore, to be pursued. It would be a sign of independence and in no way against the spirit of the comprehensive test ban negotiations if the Prime Minister were to write simultaneously to Mr. Reagan and Mr. Chernenko saying she believes the time has come to resume the negotiations. In a sense, that action would be asserting something necessary for those tripartite talks—that Britain has an independent position. The virtue of Britain being involved in the comprehensive test ban talks is that she can bring to those negotiations the worries of a lesser nuclear weapons state whose objective is minimum deterrence and whose problems are more akin to those of France and China, neither of which will, at least for some time, come into a comprehensive test ban agreement.

The Prime Minister should take this opportunity. She would be taking a leaf out of the book of that former distinguished Conservative Prime Minister who now sits as an Earl in the other place. He built a formidable reputation because of his commitment to the partial test ban treaty.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned verification. Does he agree that the key to the matter is whether we can trust the verification system offered by the Russians?

Dr. Owen

Yes, I do. The negotiations are difficult, but, as I have said, there was a breakthrough in verification. The Soviet Union has always had great difficulty in allowing people to come on to its territory. In this case, the effect of people visiting can be taken over by seismic devices which cannot be broken open and changed. It is difficult to detect some of those small explosions made in underground testing. We all know the difficulties, but sometimes it is better to settle for something less than perfect. A treaty would be a significant step forward and not a very great risk.

I welcome the fact that the Soviets have now moved a little on verification in relation to chemical weapons. Successive British Governments have taken a good deal of interest in that matter. There is anxiety about the use of chemical weapons. Allegations have been made about their use in the Iraq-Iran war, although we do not know whether they are substantiated. There are allegations also of their use in Afghanistan arid other Asian areas. A thrust against chemical warfare is every bit as important as what we do about nuclear weapons.

Britain will be part of the committee on disarmament, but ours is only one voice. We can put forward drafts arid protocols, but we should not delude ourselves; our influence is marginal but important.

The next question is, where else can improvement take place? We should encourage the President of the United States and Congress, on a bipartisan basis, to build on the Scowcroft commission report and enter into a serious dialogue with the Soviet Union on strategic weapons. That dialogue is already under way. Intensive back-channel negotiations are plainly going on. The less we hear about the negotiations, the more likely they are to achieve results. In Europe, it has almost escaped our notice how much progress was made in the START talks. The most recent Soviet offer to come down to 1,800 launchers is a significant reduction on SALT II levels. Whatever one's criticism of the Reagan Administration, it is important to put it firmly on record that they have kept, as has the Soviet Union, within the SALT H levels, despite the fact that the agreement has not been ratified by Congress.

The problem with the strategic negotiations is that the Soviet Union offered only to reduce warheads to 11,000 That is still high and nowhere near the 5,000 reduction in warheads advocated by the United States. There is some sign that the United States could accept the 1,800 launchers and compromise on about 7,000 warheads. Thai is extremely important. Europe has failed to understand that it is in our interests that the United States and Soviet Union should have confidence in their strategic deterrents. Although we are worried about intermediate missiles arid battlefield nuclear weapons, the negotiations which will critically affect the super-power relationship is the strategic one. That means, basically, the second-strike weapon systems. If they have confidence in the inviolability of their second-strike capability, it is possible for them to accept negotiating positions in all other areas in which they will not always have parity or certainty of verification. That is something which Europe must understand.

We then come to the other areas of negotiation on nuclear weapons. I profoundly hope that NATO, whether it declares it or not, will effectively impose a freeze on future deployment of cruise and Pershing 2. Having taken the political decision to deploy, to which I believe it had no alternative, there is no military reason to increase the 16 cruise missiles at Greenham common, the 18 Pershing 2's in the Federal Republic of Germany, and the 16 that are being installed in Italy, at least until 1985. It would be wise not to exacerbate relations by further deployment. We have made the political point. We have refused to accept the Soviet veto on the deployment of intermediate weapons, which was politically impossible and would have been wrong for us to do. There is no doubt that it is a sensitive issue for the Soviets.

I feel that for a while we should put the INF talks onto the back burner of negotiations, make progress on START and in 1985 possibly bring INF and START together, as there was always, logically, a strong case for doing. It would mean Europe, effectively, defusing the controversy over intermediate missiles, watching for greater progress in arms control negotiations in the START talks, and Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union starting comprehensive test ban talks.

The only other negotiations which are due to start in a matter of weeks, are the mutual and balanced force reductions in Vienna. They have wound their weary way over a decade and have made little progress. They are hung up on data. The problem about the negotiating stance is that each side is almost in a position where, to make an accommodation, it must admit that it has been lying about its figures for the past decade. That is bluntly the problem with the MBFR negotiations. A phase 1, 2 and 3 reduction must be accepted, and the parties must accept that the sides will only come together on an agreed data base on the second tranche. How that is arrived at is up to each side. It must be accepted that the verification procedures would take place only on the second tranche, when that is completed, or possibly the third tranche. In the meantime, one does not need to ratify the treaty; one starts to get ahead, and ratifies the treaty only when satisfied by verification at an agreed point in the reduction levels.

Great Britain, which is showing some signs of holding up MBFR, should relax a little on that matter. If it means the United States bringing home a few troops from Europe, it is not too heavy a price for us to pay. It is vital that the United States commitment of land forces in Europe remains. There are some signs that the Government have been hypersensitive about this issue when the West German Government, who have held up MBFR over the past few years, at long last have begun to be rather more flexible in their negotiating position.

We cannot negotiate soundly with the Soviet Union unless we are sure of our security and of the strength and viability of NATO. We can afford to take a few risks in the negotiation to reduce nuclear weapons. I have never been one of those who believe that one should be an accountancy purist; over nuclear weapons, broad balance—rough parity—is sufficient.

The appalling danger of not beginning to wind down the level of nuclear armoury is so great that it justifies taking some marginal, calculated risks in terms of verification. One can do that only with the strength of a united NATO and the conventional capacity to resist and hold a conventional attack on NATO's central front and flanks. In that respect NATO must take a fundamental look at priorities for the next decade.

Europe must accept that disillusionment about Europe's capacity to commit itself to its own conventional defence is widespread in the United States. It crosses the political divide and is felt by Republicans and Democrats alike. One does not have to believe in a great deal of the detail and recommendations of Henry Kissinger's recent article in Time. I have doubts about many of its particulars; but it reflects an anxiety about NATO's direction and the European attitudes within NATO that we cannot afford to ignore.

It is vital that NATO responds, and this then relates closely to how we can then respond to the Soviet Union. The foreign ministers, in December in the NATO council, decided to appoint three wise men, in the traditional European way, to conduct a high-level review on the same lines as the Harmell report, which for NATO was an epoch-making report, bringing together the concepts of defence and detente. The problem is that that decision was discussed in closed session but, I gather, largely in the context of East-West relations. In December, East-West relations were depressing. That has now changed. The fundamental issue facing NATO is that the Governments are beginning to cross the East-West political barriers. The dialogue is beginning. The question for NATO is what it does about its conventional defence capacity. The study should focus on that issue first and foremost. The review should be set up when the NATO foreign ministers meet in Washington in May.

It is not enough to examine the strengthening of conventional defence forces only within the context of NATO. It must also be regarded in the context of the European Community. In 1986, when enlargement takes place, 11 of the European Community member states will be members of NATO. We will not be able to persuade the European electorate that we should improve our conventional defence fighting capacity if we cannot tie it in with industrial and technological development in Europe, in which we are falling behind, and with jobs in Europe.

There is a 10-to-one imbalance in defence procurement in favour of the United State in relation to Europe. That cannot be allowed to continue. It is contributing to Europe's technological inferiority and to the sense of an undue dominance by the United States. We must grapple with that. The European Community must examine the problem, because it has the power, the locus and the standing in industrial and technological areas.

We cannot continue to look at NATO in one box and the European Community in another. One of the suggestions that I put to the Secretary-General of NATO and the President of the Commission was that simultaneous studies should be commissioned by the European Community and NATO to examine the potential economic, industrial and technical implications of improving our defence forces. I suggested joint membership, that at least one person should be on both study groups, and that the secretariats should be linked. For institutional reasons, it is possible to commission the studies jointly.

We should receive reports on the studies in 1985, when NATO should make a forward commitment about what it will do for the next four years. The 1977–78 consensus on the 3 per cent. inflation-proof increase in defence spending is at an end. There is no hope of restoring that percentage figure. The present Government have a good record in living up to their commitments, but they have backed off from their commitment for 1986 onwards. We are offered only a 0.5 per cent. increase in defence spending. In view of the inflation forecast, that is unlikely to be a real-terms increase.

There is not a good enough response from any European country. SACEUR is asking for a 4 per cent. increase. He is crying for the moon because that cannot be achieved. We will probably have to move away from percentage commitments on defence budgets. We must allocate different responsibilities to different member states. We have to accept specialisation, but we must have an overall collective decision that can be maintained.

We can then adjust NATO's nuclear strategy, because it no longer carries conviction with a broad strand of public opinion in Britain. It has nothing to do with the unilateralists' campaign, although it is fuelling the unilateralists' demands. People will not accept that nuclear weapons should be used early in a conventional battle, within hours or days. They are right. It is a dangerous policy to propagate, because no serious politician would agree to authorise the use of battlefield nuclear weapons.

NATO is taking out battlefield nuclear weapons in dribs and drabs. It is losing political impact. It needs a dramatic decision to take out battlefield nuclear weapons from a corridor where it says there shall be no battlefield weapons. It says that it will not risk the danger of "lose or use", by an advancing conventional force overwhelming a battlefield nuclear weapons installation.

The politicians in NATO must now grasp that we have to make a political response to the unease about nuclear strategy. If we are to persuade people that we must improve our nuclear defences, they must sense that we are literally pulling back from the possibility of using nuclear weapons. We would still retain a nuclear deterrent, particularly a second-strike strategic nuclear deterrent. We would still go ahead with the initial deployment of intermediate missiles, but we would move towards the time when there is confidence by the Warsaw pact and NATO countries that each side has sufficient conventional capacity to hold against an attack and that no one side can push through in a blitzkrieg on any of the fronts on which we face each other. If that can be done both sides can back right out of battlefield nuclear weapons. With the confidence that that will create we could also take out intermediate weapons and rely only on second-strike strategic weapons systems.

It is important that first the United States and the Soviet Union achieve some certainty about the second-strike capacity of nuclear deterrents. When that is achieved, we can start to remove the battlefield and intermediate nuclear weapons.

The negotiations will take time, but there is no doubt that by 1986–87, with commitment, a measure of good will and some political skill, a dialogue on nuclear weapons with realistic verifiable and balanced reductions could begin. That must be the objective. The opportunity is there.

We can improve cultural and business relations. Britain has allowed its economic links with the Soviet Union to lapse too much, as it has some of our cultural links. Those links should be increased as much as possible. We should take a leaf out of the books of France and the Federal Republic of Germany, which have made more rapid inroads in that respect.

Atmosphere is important. I am not asking the Government to make concessions. The Soviet Union does not like negotiating with people who make concessions. The Soviets want a genuine balanced negotiation. They will be tough negotiators on their interests. Mr. Chernenko was very close to Brezhnev. The signs are that he takes the view that detente was in the Soviet interests. I believe that detente was in our interests.

The hon. Member for Tayside, North misreads Africa during the period of detente. He forgets that the Soviet Union was in Egypt and Somalia. It had considerable influence in Mozambique, Angola and many other countries. One of the West's victories was that by sensibly not aligning itself with apartheid in South Africa it has virtually destroyed Soviet influence in Africa. Occasionally, let us be grateful for that successful period of diplomacy. The Soviet Union will try to exploit differences in other parts of the world.

In two areas we could make an important move in the Soviet direction. Mr. Gromyko particularly has never been prepared to accept that the Soviet Union can be shut out of an eventual Arab-Israeli peace settlement. He is right. The Russians have too much influence in that region to be completely pushed out. One of the mistakes of the Sadat initiative in Jerusalem was that at least part of its motivation was to ditch the Geneva conference and end Soviet influence.

I have a great understanding of many of Israel's genuine security problems, but it too has felt it possible to shut the Soviets out from all influence. I was interested that the Israeli Prime Minister said the other day that he would welcome closer contact with the Soviet Union. After all, the Soviet Union was one of the first countries to recognise Israel—but I know that things have changed since then.

The Soviets have influence in Syria. It is now important for the United States to tell the Soviet Union that at some future date a Geneva conference, with the United States and the Soviet Union as co-chairmen, might be appropriate. We should not shut the Soviets out of the middle east dialogue.

The Soviet Union should not have vetoed the UN peace-keeping force in the Lebanon. I do not know the exact extent of the Soviets' demands. If they demanded that the United States fleet be removed wholly from the Mediterranean, that would have been absurd, but if they argued that they should pull back a reasonable distance from the Lebanon shore the demand was justified. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister about the Soviet demand which the United States felt unable to fulfil Relations in that area could be improved.

Relations could also be improved in regard to Iraq and Iran. I beg the Prime Minister—who said something quite different at Question Time from what the then Minister of State said when describing the Iranian crisis — not to assume that there is no role for the United Nations in the Gulf. The prospect of a multinational maritime force moving into the straits of Hormuz with the United States navy is one of the most dangerous that I could contemplate.

I know that peace-keeping by the United Nations is difficult, but it is virtually the only development that could influence those two countries, and there is merit in exploring the United Nations option before the straits of Hormuz are closed and we are faced with a serious crisis. There are parallels with the 1967 war.

I do not believe that Soviet influence in the area is necessarily hostile. The Shah always had close relations with the Soviet Union and Iran has always been a strange country in its relations with East and West. I know that the Soviet Union is supplying Iraq with arms, but it should not be automatically assumed that a resolution of the problems in the Gulf and the avoidance of major hostilities are matters in which the Soviet Union has no interest. I believe that the Soviets have more interest in stability than in creating difficulty.

Wiser diplomacy in the United States could start a dialogue to improve relations. We shall improve the nuclear and defence relationship if we can also act on the cultural, economic and global diplomatic fronts. All those matters need to be improved.

There is no need for concessions on important matters of principle. Ordered relationships between the Soviet Union and the United States are a must if we are to have a more peaceful world. I hope that this debate will make a modest contribution towards that end by guiding the Government over the next few months and years.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Many hon. Members are waiting to speak and we have only a little over three hours left. I appeal for brief contributions from everyone, including the Front Bench spokesmen.

11.21 am
Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

I intended to make a brief speech and it will have to be briefer because, as the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) said, my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) left all too little time for other hon. Members to make their contributions. Therefore, I shall respond to your appeal, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I propose not to give way to interventions—not because I am frightened of them, but because they will merely prolong my speech.

The most telling point made by the right hon. Member for Devonport was the difficulty that we face in believing that it is feasible to push the Soviet Union into adopting the same sort of society that we enjoy. One of the problems of communication is that the more that we learn about the Russians and the more that they do that makes us indignant, the more we mistrust them and the more the tensions grow. That is why I am not hopeful of change when one geriatric thug dies and another takes his place. The problem with a totalitarian state is that the system produces the leaders, and not the leaders themselves, the system. This system existed under the tsars and that society, whether called monarchist or Communist, has existed throughout the ages. It is a closed, secret, totalitarian society with great privileges for the ruling class, which is not willing to abandon them.

I do not quarrel with the wording of the motion, but we must rembember that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that we will not get all that we should like and will not quickly get back to genuine detente. We shall need patience and more patience, while not yielding on those matters that we hold dear.

As I have emphasised, lack of trust is behind many of our difficulties. The right hon. Member for Devonport mentioned a number of negotiations, but if there is no trust among our peoples, it is hard for agreements to be anything more than signatures on a piece of paper. If agreements are to be carried out, we must restore confidence and trust between our peoples.

I understand that we cannot expect the Russians to make social or political changes that are suicidal from their point of view. If they did everything that we would like them to do, the system that keeps the Russian leaders where they are would crumble. It is rare to find a political dictatorship that voluntarily brings about its own death.

Therefore, we should not expect a dramatic reversal in the attitudes that have persisted in the Soviet Union for many decades. However, there are some matters that touch the British people deeply. The right hon. Member for Devonport mentioned some of the actions that we could take to ease the process of detente, but there are some gestures that we could reasonably expect of the Soviet Union. They would restore even a little confidence, without destroying the structure of their society.

First, far from making it easier for Jewish would-be emigrés to go to Israel, the Russians are making it more difficult. That has a big impact in Israel and throughout the world. The hardships and difficulties of would-be emigrés are increasing. The Russians' treatment of dissidents is hardening rather than softening. The early-day motions that have been signed by hon. Members from all parties confirms that fact, and if I had more time I could give a number of examples.

The Russians could, without destroying or endangering their society, permit their citizens more freedom to form genuine peace movements to plead for multilateral disarmament. At present, members of such groups are treated as criminals and, if not arrested, are continually harassed.

There are also some individual humanitarian gestures that the Soviet Union could make. A few days ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) brought Rudolf Hess's son to the House to explain his father's situation. That visit received far too little publicity. We heard an appalling story. It would cost the Soviet Union nothing to agree to the release of that old man so that he could spend his last days in hospital. Rudolf Hess is the only man I know of in recent history for whom life imprisonment has really meant rigorous imprisonment for his whole life. Even now, at his age and in his condition, he is allowed only one visit a month, by one member of his family, for one hour.

Could anyone be found to justify that situation? The French, the Americans and the British have all said that they are prepared to make concessions. If the Russians were willing to make a concession, it would show that they were more human in their attitude towards individuals than many of us believe. That single humanitarian gesture could earn the Soviet Union dividends beyond calculation.

I have just been on the border in Afghanistan with my wife, where we visited some refugee camps. I do not want to go into tales that have already been repeated. Yet is it possible to think that there can be a genuine restoration of detente while the Russians continue to slaughter and maim people there, people who are proud of their defence, small as their defences are? Can one recreate detente when one of the two partners is engaged in an unprovoked war of aggression?

There has been much publicity about the use of chemical weapons by the Iraqis and the Iranians. However, I found on my visit to Afghanistan that the Russians were unashamedly using chemical warfare. We took photographs of people suffering from the most appalling chemical burns from napalm and other weapons, yet that is the forgotten war. When I visited the hospitals I asked for the percentage of those with chemical warfare wounds. I was told that the figure was now 70 per cent. of all casualties. Therefore, the use of chemical weapons by the Russians has increased, not fallen, in recent months, in their desperate attempt to cow the Afghanistans into submission. Am I expected to trust people who can behave like that?

I also visited a hospital for paraplegic children. Those children had been misled into picking up the little toys dropped by Russian helicopters, which were made to look like pretty butterflies. However, they blew up when picked up, maiming or killing the children. I saw children who had had their arms blown off. No one denies what has happened. Are the British public expected to feel trust towards a country that continues to resort to such actions? I cannot feel any sense of genuine confidence in Russian peace gestures unless there are more deeds and fewer words. I feel sad about some of the things that are going on in that part of the world and elsewhere, caused by a country that is supposed to be seeking a new era of negotiations and detente.

It is deliberately encouraging, supplying and sponsoring an aggressive war by Vietnam against its neighbours in south-east Asia, which is causing fear not in the United States, but in all the small neutral states round about Vietnam, and increased tension within those countries and in China. The Chinese have said repeatedly to the Soviet Union, "If you want a restoration of relations, at least cut down on your support of the Vietnamese aggression." There has been a negative response. People continue to die from the effects of chemical weapons because of that deliberate act of sponsorship by the Soviet Union. Am I expected to feel any confidence in detente and the restoration of good relations when that continues?

The Soviet system could survive perfectly well if, as well as ceasing to harass Jews and freeing Rudolf Hess, it started to negotiate an end to the war in Afghanistan and south-east Asia. It could do those things and still maintain its social and political structure. We are asking the Russians not to give that up but to start behaving in a comparatively civilised way in international affairs that will allow confidence to be restored.

I am not being anti-Communist. One of the great tragedies when we talk about East-West relations is that we tend to think of them in Left-Right terms. That is not correct. China has a Communist system. I have been there on more than one occasion, and was a welcome visitor and guest. So has Yugoslavia, where I have even been asked to lecture in a university. No one in Communist China would differ with one word that I have said today. We must not fall into the trap, as the Americans often do, of thinking that Communism as a political ideology is the source of our fears. In Russia, Communism is not practised, in the real meaning of the word. There is a brutal totalitarian oligarchy. Communism is used as a fifth column weapon in the Third world and other countries. It is a useful weapon. Communism is not our chief anxiety—Russian imperialism and expansionism is.

Recently in Paris I found a magazine in which there was an article in English depicting: John Bull and his Friends A serio-comic map of Europe". In the map, Russia is shown as an octopus with its tentacles reaching out throughout the political arena. At the side of the map are the following words: Russia—in spite of the Tsar's noble effort to impress her with his own peaceful image, is but an octopus still. Far and wide her tentacles are reaching. Poland and Finland—already know the painful process of absorption. China— feels the power of her suckers, and two of her tentacles are invidiously creeping towards Persia and Afghanistan while another is feeling for any point of vantage where Turkey may be once more attacked. Those words were written in 1900 by Mr. Fred Rose,long since deceased, long before the advent of Communism into Russia. The Prime Minister has said that it will be a long process before we can achieve a genuine understanding between our countries, because their system is so deeply built into the whole Russian attitude towards life. I have nothing but admiration for my right hon. Friend's attempt to make a start, but do not for God's sake let us expect miracles suddenly to happen. Any achievements will, as my right hon. Friend said, take years to attain. All that we can do in the meantime is to try at least to maintain our security in peace and freedom while that long process of possible, hopeful improvement continues.

11.38 am
Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

I, too, shall try to curtail my remarks because many hon.Members wish to speak.

I should like to take up the final point made by the hon.Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett). I sincerely hope that it will not take many years to achieve a dialogue on detente and disarmament. Unless rapid progress is made, the danger is escalating so quickly — this is realised by many hundreds, thousands and perhaps millions in Britain —that a nuclear holocaust is possible in the next few years. Positive steps should be taken to prevent that. It is not a good argument to say that in the past the Soviet Union, even when it was tsarist Russia, had the same deeply underlying political philosophy as us. After all, the Russians might say that with our imperialist and colonialist history, Great Britain is not to be trusted. We have thrown aside, in the main, our historical imperialist past. The Soviet Union has also changed in this century.

Rather to my surprise, I found that I agreed with most of the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), but I then found that I disagreed with most of his speech, which seemed to be far from the spirit of his own motion. He said that he intended to paint a broad canvas and he certainly did that. In his 70-minute speech he touched on a large number of subjects. Indeed, such a work of art may not have been embarked upon since Daniel Maclise spent seven years painting the murals in the Royal Gallery.

The hon. Gentleman made a grave error, however, when he tried to justify the democracy and freedom of the western world by defending the regime in South Africa. He selected a very bad example in his attempt to portray what he regarded as the good side in the world conflict. He might, of course, have chosen other, equally bad examples such as our NATO ally, Turkey, which is scarcely a bastion of freedom and independence. That is clearly not a peace-loving nation. Peace workers there have been imprisoned for eight to 16 years without reason. That ally of ours also has troops in the suffering island of Cyprus and will not remove them. It has occupied a Commonwealth country for nearly 10 years despite being a signatory to the Helsinki final act and so forth. The hon. Gentleman was certainly right not to select that country as an example on which to base the argument that everything in the West is right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), who is sitting beside me waiting to speak, says that I should not try to suggest that the Soviet Union is a paradise. I do not know why he thought that I might suggest such a thing. There is no paradise on this earth—in South Africa, Turkey, the Soviet Union or even this country. Many people in this country, too, are suffering. I doubt whether the unemployed, for example, regard this country as a pinnacle of achievement to which every corner of the earth should look as an example.

The hon. Member for Torbay has unfortunately had to leave. I regret that I, too, shall have to leave early due to other engagements. The hon. Gentleman questioned whether it was possible to have meaningful negotiations with the Soviet Union in view of what he regarded as its disgraceful conduct in Afghanistan and elsewhere. I shall not take time to go into the arguments about Afghanistan, but the hon. Gentleman might bear in mind that when the Americans were in Vietnam, where I understand that napalm and other substances were used, the Soviet Union did not curtail discussions or refuse to come to the negotiating table because of its distress over events in Vietnam. Of course, the Soviet Union objected to what was happening in Vietnam, just as many people object to what is now happening in Afghanistan, but even more important matters transcend those considerations.

The same applies to other issues. No one with any sense of humanity could believe that Rudolf Hess should be kept in prison for ever. He has paid the price for what he did and I would welcome his release. Nevertheless, such matters are not crucial to the whole future of humanity. Of course, we must reserve our position on the treatment of Jews in the Soviet Union — I do not condone racist attacks on anyone anywhere—but we must set our eyes on even more crucial matters.

It has been suggested that the only way to bring the Soviet Union to the negotiating table is to negotiate from a position of strength. I am sure that hon. Members are anxious that I should read out the more than 100 proposals on disarmament made by the Soviet Union since 1946, but I shall desist. I shall, however, be happy to supply details to any hon. Member who writes to me afterwards.

The hon. Member for Tayside, North spoke at length about chemical weapons and suggested that the Soviet Union showed no interest in the prohibition of such weapons until in 1982 the United States threatened to resume manufacture of such weapons, when the Soviet Union came scuttling to the negotiating table anxious to come to some arrangement. Chemical weapons are among the most dangerous weapons of mass destruction and for many years at various international forums the Soviet Union has consistently supported their removal. In 1972 the Soviet Union and other countries submitted to the disarmament committee a draft convention on the prohibition of the development, production and stockpiling of chemical weapons and their destruction. The parties to the convention would undertake not to develop, produce, stockpile or otherwise acquire or retain chemical agents of types and in quantities not justified for peaceful purposes.

In 1976 Soviet and United States delegations began talks with the aim of elaborating a joint initiative on the prohibition and destruction of chemical weapons, but in 1980 the Americans broke off the talks and walked out. The talks failed and have not yet resumed.

In 1981, on the initiative of the USSR, the United Nations General Assembly called on all states to renounce the production and deployment of new types of chemical weapons and the siting of such weapons in the territories of other states. This is the important point in connection with our latest proposals in Geneva. At the second special session of the General Assembly in 1982 the Soviet Union submitted the Basic Provisions of a Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Chemical Weapons and Their Destruction which took into account the wishes of other states, including those concerned about verification. As the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) has said, verification is always a stumbling block. In this case, however, that did not apply because the documents submitted by the USSR with the aim of discussion and agreement with other countries provided for strict verification through the use of national means but also international procedures, including on-site inspection.

That is just one of more than 100 proposals made by the Soviet Union since the war in the attempt to reach agreement with us. The Soviet Union does not wish to spend huge amounts of money on arms. Its economy suffers in the same way as ours due to the cost of the arms programme. It is interesting that there are signs of a slight thawing in the feelings of our Government towards the Soviet Union. Mrs. Thatcher admitted that during the last summer recess a change took place in her thinking about how to tackle the Soviet Union. Her attitude has become more friendly and that is even reflected in the motion of the hon. Member for Tayside, North. Even the hon. Gentleman has been touched by this thaw. However, Sir Geoffrey Howe—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sure that that was a slip on the part of the hon. Gentleman. He knows that he should not refer to an hon. or right hon. Member in that way.

Mr. Lamond

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

In a recent speech the Foreign Secretary elaborated on this point and mentioned the empty chairs the Soviet Union has left behind. He was referring to Geneva, but there are other empty chairs. A fortnight ago there was a conference in Glasgow, under the auspices of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, of trade unionists who are concerned about peace and about the effects for the munitions industries if meaningful discussions take place. Trade unions have many members working in the arms industries. Some trade unionists were invited from abroad, including six from eastern Europe and two, I believe, from the Soviet Union. They were refused visas. They were not allowed to enter this country to discuss peace, disarmament and conversion from war industries to peace industries. Those are the empty chairs that worry me. I believe that two of the trade unionists were Hungarians. As we know, the Prime Minister recently made a successful visit to Hungary.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ray Whitney)

I am reluctant to prolong the debate, but the hon. Gentleman understands that it has been the policy of successive Governments not to allow the representatives of Communist front organisations a free rein in this country. Such representatives are contributing not to the serious dialogue that we wish to see but to the activities of front organisations—organisations with which, I have to say, the hon. Gentleman is very familiar.

Mr. Lamond

That is what the Foreign Office would say. It has to justify the action that it took. The people who were refused visas were genuine trade unionists who wished to discuss a matter of great concern to trade unionists. I have here a thick document produced by the Soviet trade unions about the problems of disarmament and about the effects that possible developments might have on workers in the Soviet Union. Soviet trade unionists are also interested in what would happen to workers here.

In his lengthy speech, the hon. Member for Tayside, North made an attack on the peace movement. I was particularly interested in one of his points. He said that the peace movement here is financed by the Russian Goverment in some way.

Mr. Bill Walker

I never said that.

Mr. Lamond

That was the implication in the hon. Gentleman's speech. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the other peace movements in this country receive no money from the Government of any country, despite the sneers and attacks of Conservative Members. I draw to the attention of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire—

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman has got that wrong as well.

Mr. Lamond

I remind the hon. Member for Tayside, North that CND has offered a reward of £500 to anyone who can prove that it has received money from any overseas Government.

I must declare an interest in connection with the World Peace Council. I am a vice-president of that council, and proud to hold that position. If anyone can prove that the World Peace Council is funded by any Government organisation of any country, I will immediately resign from that position.

Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lamond

I am sorry, but time is short.

I made that offer two or three years ago, and no one has yet produced any evidence.

I should like to see the United Kingdom build up once again the relationship that it enjoyed with the Soviet Union at the end of the war. We have slipped back so far that it is almost unbelievable. The other day, I was looking at a pictorial record of the life of Churchill. Among the many photographs, there was one subtitled: Mrs. Churchill sponsored a fund for the Russian Red Cross. Another showed Mary Churchill, who had recently joined the A.T.S., giving a helping hand in selling flags. The photograph showed a poster bearing the words: Give all you can to Mrs. Churchill's Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund". There was also a photograph of British workers sitting on a tank with the British and Soviet flags draped on it, with a big placard bearing the words: All Help For Russia Now". The photograph is subtitled: Guns and tanks were sent to Russia. The workers were glad to know that these weapons were made good use of against the enemy. The declaration known as the Atlantic charter, signed by Roosevelt and Churchill, laid down a policy for post-war political activities and set out guidelines for friendship and peace with all nations and for disarmament. I wish that we were pursuing that policy today. We can do so, if we are prepared to accept that the Soviet Union's attitude is genuine. In view of the urgency of the situation, we must be cautious. However, the deluge of anti-Soviet propaganda that appears in our press every day does not help the cause of peace at all.

11.57 am
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) on his choice of subject and on his comprehensive review of the issues at stake. All British foreign policy is conducted in the shadow of East-West relations. The fact that those relations are difficult, static and resistant does not mean that we should not examine them from time to time and examine the principles upon which they rest. All relationships present opportunities as well as dangers and I want to explore some of the opportunities, without under-estimating the dangers.

This is an interesting time in East-West relations. Changes and pressures are coming together to shift the jigsaw somewhat. East-West relations are better since the accession of the new Soviet leader. There are small but unmistakable signs on the part of the Soviet Union to explore some new avenues and to move some way away from previously entrenched positions. Some of the Delphic utterances from the Kremlin can be interpreted as conciliatory. Nothing dramatic has happened. It is not characteristic of the Soviet system to make dramatic shifts. There is a collective leadership, which is always conscious of its prestige and international standing. Concessions must not appear to result from weakness. There must be no loss of face or overt climb-down. However, after the paralysis of the later Brezhnev years and the wasted months of Andropov's leadership, there is perceptible movement. I hope that we will grasp this opportunity to thaw out relations between East and West.

We tend to see the Soviet bloc as a closed, monolithic, introverted system. The Soviet bloc is tragically isolated and the inhabitants of the Soviet Union are denied the most elementary knowledge of the planet on which they live. But the Soviet Union is a living and evolving system. It is changing in several interesting ways, some of which have implications for foreign policy. I shall explore a few of those evolving trends.

Until fairly recently, the chronic economic problems of the Soviet Union could be dealt with by providing ever-larger quantities of land, labour and capital. It is a rich country, well endowed with natural resources and raw materials, and it has huge reserves of labour which could be redeployed from the countryside into industry. It has now reached the stage of requiring higher productivity from existing labour and more efficient use of high technology. Modern Communism is not equipped to provide that, except in a few narrow fields, such as military production, which has privileged access to skilled labour, imports and materials. The result for the mass of the population is that real incomes, which increased from the 1960s to the late 1970s, are now static. Economic growth has faltered. That is the origin of the drive by the late Mr. Andropov for a greater sense of industrial discipline and an end to corruption — a hopeless but revealing priority for that brief leadership.

Another development is the rise in the numbers of non-Russians within the borders of the Soviet Union. They now constitute more than half the population and their numbers are increasing fast because of a differential birth rate. The large Moslem population of the Soviet Union must be causing the leadership some concern and will cause a further shift in interest towards the south, the middle east and the Gulf.

There is an interesting parallel here in the change of United States influence away from Europe towards central America, the Pacific and Japan. For the Soviet Union, the large non-Russian minorities must, in time, push for greater political and social autonomy from Moscow. With low economic growth, the leadership might not be able to buy off that trouble as it has previously been able to do. The leadership has precisely the same problems in eastern Europe. Those countries are already a considerable economic burden on the Soviet Union. They have low growth and depend quite substantially for energy supplies on the Soviet Union. In a system in which every decision is political and every failing therefore a political failing, such economic trouble quickly breeds political unrest, as the world saw in Poland.

The problems that I have described are dynamic and must be under constant assessment by the Soviet leadership. It has a daunting task. There is no public opinion worthy of that name in the Eastern bloc, but the gap between words and deeds is so vast that it must eventually weaken the allegiance of the people that the system is designed to serve. I do not believe that the Soviet Union will collapse. The economic and other problems that I have mentioned will not, by themselves, cause a reduction in arms expenditure. Despite the system's grey inhumanity, it has considerable reserves of strength which are based, in the last resort, on fear and a crude appeal to patriotism. Therefore, the problems will encourage the Soviet Union to negotiate but not compel it to do so.

How should we react? We must try to get to know the new leader of the Soviet Union and the people around him, from whom future leaders will be drawn. We must also try to get to know the leaders of other eastern European countries. That is the importance of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's visit to Hungary and, more recently, to Moscow. It is essential that we get to know those people as human beings. They have hopes, fears and ambitions just like everyone else. We must establish businesslike relations in an attempt to create an atmosphere in which both sides feel that there are deals to be struck and kept to.

The most pressing item is nuclear arms control. Here, too, there are factors which we can regard as encouraging. Mr. Chernenko succeeds to the leadership of a Soviet Union that has achieved strategic parity with the West and conventional superiority. The Soviet craving for security, which I believe we understand, has been satisfied. Any disinterested observer must agree that East and West have achieved a stability and parity which, although it might not be entirely safe, at least gives the Soviet Union the sense of security that it has lacked or believed that it lacked. However, the Soviet Union has not been able to divide NATO or prevent the deployment of cruise or, in a few months' time, Pershing missiles. That is important, as it means that neither side is negotiating from a perceived weakness, actual or psychological. Neither side has to make concessions because of weakness, but each side can make concessions.

I should like both sides to return to the essentials of deterrence. I do not wish to go down the labyrinthine paths of nuclear theory but I shall briefly and simply explain what I understand deterrence to mean. The requirement is that each side knows that attack would be suicidal. In other words, each side must be able to retaliate and inflict unacceptable damage on an aggressor. Provided that those circumstances obtain — and they do — nuclear war remains unlikely. It is simply against the self-interest of any country that possesses nuclear weapons to start hostilities. It is fatal if one country or one side gains a first-strike capability, as nuclear weapons then become a tempting possibility and their use without provoking retaliation is possible and therfore even likely. That is a painful flaw in the unilateralist case. By definition, unilateralism gives one side a first-strike capability. That is the most dangerous circumstance of all. The Leader of the Opposition went down a dangerous road when he said that he would not use or authorise the use of Polaris missiles. That is tantamount to unilateral disarmament.

The argument works in another direction. If the aim is to prevent the other side from gaining a first-strike capability, all that is required are sufficient weapons. NATO's weapons must be able to survive a first strike and to explode several warheads—it need not be many—over the territory of an aggressor in retaliation for the first attack. Both sides have that ability several times over. We have a redundancy of nuclear weapons, as we have more than sufficient for the purpose that I have described. Why are stockpiles now in excess of military needs? I believe that it is because of the pursuit of parity, which is largely a political concept, to prevent an opponent from gaining a political initiative.

Recently there was an interesting report in a Sunday newspaper that a Russian theorist has developed the idea of what he called "sufficient defence"—something more sophisticated than matching each weapon with a similar one. The Russian applied the concept to conventional weapons, but it could equally be applied to nuclear weapons. We can be sure that such an idea must have been floated with the knowledge, if not the encouragement, of the Soviet leadership. We must follow up such small informal initiatives to see whether they can be translated into political action. It may mean that the Soviet Union is willing to re-examine the build-down proposals, whereby each side agrees to scrap two warheads on strategic missiles for each new warhead deployed in modernisation programmes.

A return to sufficiency or adequacy as a concept instead of chasing an elusive parity could lead to nuclear arms reductions without jeopardising security. It does not imply a weakening of our determination to check Soviet expansion elsewhere. That needs a cohesive Western Alliance and a readiness to spend money on conventional forces. The continual build-up of Soviet conventional forces far beyond its defensive needs must be plain to any disinterested observer. Communism is an expansionist ideology that is used to legitimise those in power.

The hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond) referred to the Nazi-Soviet pact signed by Molotov and von Ribbentrop in 1939. The fact that the pact was broken by Germany does not absolve the Soviet Union—Russia did a deal with the devil, and history will judge it for that. That treaty contained secret clauses to divide Poland, which was done after Hitler attacked Poland. We must take nothing on trust.

Apologising for the Soviet Union, the hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton tried to show that the West was responsible for the lack of progress in talks on chemical weapon disarmament. It is true that at long last the Soviet Union appears to accept in principle some on-site verification. However, it still rejects the concept of verification by challenge. If a NATO or other country challenges the Soviet Union to open a factory or plant for examination, the Soviet Union will not yet concede that. Perhaps it will in future, but it is completely wrong to blame the West for the Soviet refusal until now to contemplate some genuine on-site verification.

However, Soviet expansion into Afghanistan or anywhere else is not prevented by nuclear stockpiles, and is certainly not prevented by stockpiles greatly in excess of what is needed for deterrence. Soviet interference in Africa or central America has not been and will not be prevented simply by the stockpiling of more nuclear weapons than are required for Western defence.

The West has two primary aims towards the Soviet Union. The first is to prevent gains from Soviet expansionism, especially in the Third world. That will require Western vigilance, strength, resolve and unity. Secondly, we must achieve an equitable and balanced reduction in military power, especially in nuclear weapons. We can now make progress on the second aim without compromising ourselves on the first.

12.14 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

The remarks of the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) will do little to improve Anglo-Soviet relations. His was not a thoughtful speech, unlike that of the hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). Moreover, some comments during the first half of the hon. Gentleman's speech seemed to be almost an apology for the South African regime. I do not understand how they relate to the motion on the Order Paper.

I strongly disagree with the view that the best way to achieve peace is to have a continual build-up of nuclear weapons in Britain, and to that extent I agree with the hon. Member for Wells. There is much genuine and justified anxiety in Britain about that continual build-up, and the Government cannot deny that there is more opposition to than support for cruise missiles being installed here. It is reasonable that French and British nuclear weapons and bases should he regarded as part of the total arms strength in the West in disarmament talks at Geneva.

If the Soviet Union were bent on world aggression, there would be no purpose in trying to reach better understanding. We should have to prepare ourselves for the worst. Fortunately — there is a consensus in the House at least on this aspect — the Soviet leadership does not intend to start aggression towards the West, which would initiate a new world war.

I do not condone the policies of the Soviet Union in eastern European countries, nor its military action in Afghanistan. Indeed, I am a stern critic of such policies, and I have said enough and written enough in various journals to show that my sympathies are with those in eastern Europe who seek the establishment of basic civil liberties in their countries. That is why, from the beginning, I supported the changes and reforms of Alexander Dubcek. In a speech to the House when it was recalled in August 1968 after the invasion of Czechoslovakia, I denounced the military intervention of the Soviet Union and other Warsaw pact countries. I said that there was no justification for their taking military action against an independent state.

In 1956, well before I entered the House, I was among those who demonstrated in Trafalgar square, Whitehall and other parts of central London against the Tory Government's aggression towards Egypt. Perhaps I am being unfair to the hon. Member for Tayside, North, but I am sure that, had he been around then, he would not have criticised that squalid and miserable aggression towards Egypt. During the demonstration we shouted, "Hands off Suez. Hands off Budapest." Hon. Members will remember that the two events happened at almost the same time. As Labour Members said then, to some extent—although it would probably have happened anyway — the Suez aggression tended to cover up the crime that was being committed in Hungary.

The Soviet authorities view eastern Europe in much the same way as the United States views central and Latin America. However, the important difference between Labour Members and Conservative Members is that we criticise American policies.in Central America, but they do not. During the debate on El Salvador in March 1982 the speeches of Conservative Members were almost an apology for the actions of the United States. Just as 1 am opposed to so many of the United States' policies in central and Latin America, so, equally, I am opposed to Moscow deciding matters in eastern Europe.

The Soviet Union leadership—to this extent the hon. Member for Tayside, North was right—has a genuine fear of military aggression against its country. This is caused not only by what has occurred since America.. What has occurred since 1917—the war of intervention against the young Soviet republic, the attempts to destabilise the Soviet regime, the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union—has confirmed those fears, but many of them stem from what happened in Russia long before the revolution. They stem from a basic feeling of insecurity that has long dominated Russian political and military thinking. This is something that we should try to understand. Those fears exist and cannot be dismissed out of hand. When we are negotiating and trying to decide policies on all these important matters, we must bear in mind the Soviet fears about security and the possibility that once again, as in 1941, it could be attacked. That was devastating then and would be even worse now, with nuclear weapons.

When we look at the attitude of the Soviet Union to eastern Europe we have to bear in mind that there is a great deal in common between the United States and the Soviet Union in how they look upon their regions. America has a feeling that if things get out of hand in central and Latin America, Communism—what it calls Communism—or any form of revolutionary Government will take over. As a result of that fear, it allows tyrannies to flourish. It arms tyrannies such as the Chilean junta, and the Argentinian junta when that country was ruled by one. It destabilised and destroyed the democracy in Guatemala in 1954. One of the ironies of the situation is that so deep is its paranoia about revolution, Communism and the rest, that by supporting unstable regimes that describe themselves as anti-Communist, the United States is playing into the hands of those who want significant changes in Latin America.

There is the same equally unjustified fear in the Soviet Union. This is why the Soviet Union is so fearful of changes, why it is so frightened by what happened in those six months in 1968 in Czechoslovakia, why it was so opposed to, and continues to put the utmost pressure on, the Polish leadership about Solidarity. To some extent, all this is tied up with its own insecurity and fears about military security. It fears that regimes in eastern Europe that are not completely loyal to Moscow will undermine its own security. The other fear is that if reforms take shape, as they did in Czechoslovakia in 1968 or more recently in Poland with independent trade unions, that could spread to the Soviet Union as well. However, I am not willing to pander to those particular fears.

It could be argued that the United States has intervened militarily more than the Soviet Union in regions outside its particular sphere of influence. If there is an argument about the Soviet Union and its action in Afghanistan, which I have already said I do not in any way support, there is a strong argument about the way the United States in the post-war years intervened in places where it could not be argued that it has a sphere of influence. I remember the debates and exchanges that took place in the 1960s over the United States' military role in Vietnam. I do not remember a single Conservative Member—it may be different now and some of the new Conservative Members might take a different line—who found it possible to stand up and criticise what the United States was then doing in Vietnam.

It is true that had either the Soviet Union or the United States wanted another war there would have been plenty of opportunities since 1945 to start one. At least we can be grateful for the survival of this country and of humanity itself that neither of the super-powers has any intention of starting a world war.

It is true—and in this I disagree a little with my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond)—that there are internal aspects of the position inside the Soviet Union that give rise to much anxiety among Labour Members of Parliament and the British Labour movement. I have not the time nor the wish to go into all the detailed cases, but undoubtedly there are recent examples of harassment, abuse and people being sent into internal exile for long periods that must cause a great deal of concern. I wish that, in all these matters, the Soviet authorities could understand not only that what they do is wrong — that goes without saying — but that it does nothing to improve Anglo-Soviet relations.

I know that the Soviet Union is very sensitive to interference from outside. When letters are written to the Soviet embassy, it does not respond because it argues that these are purely internal affairs. That is wrong. The Soviet Union criticises our internal affairs and what happens in Northern Ireland, for instance, and has every right to do so. I may agree or disagree with its criticism, but it has the right to comment. We also have the right to comment about practices in other countries. I never hesitate to comment about a good number of countries and I see no reason why I should not comment when I believe that abuses of individual and human rights occur in the Soviet Union, and I shall continue to do so.

I do not accept the criticism that is sometimes made from other quarters that in concerning myself with such matters I am being anti-Soviet. Nor do I accept that I am being anti-American when I strongly criticise so many aspects of United States policy abroad. I want to see progress in many sectors, certainly within the Soviet Union. I hope that material achievements will occur there because the more secure the Soviet Union is economically, the better the standard of living of the Soviet people as a whole. That will contribute towards the easing of tension between the two blocs.

We must try to improve relations not only between the Soviet Union and this country but between the Soviet Union and the United States. Our security depends on much better relations between those two countries. Indeed, if the two super-powers were willing to work together to bring stability to areas such as the middle east, more would be achieved than we are seeing today.

The United States and Britain are often criticised for the attitude that we take when faced with crisis—the middle east is a good example—because we try to freeze out the Soviet Union and pretend that it has no role to play. A more effective policy would be to try to work with the Soviet Union to solve outstanding issues, such as in the middle east.

The Prime Minister must rid herself for good of the Iron Lady nonsense; I gather that in recent years she has taken pride in having been given that title. She must get rid of the cold war attitude and stop making speeches full of cold war rhetoric if she wishes to achieve progress towards disarmament and improved relations between East and West.

The right hon. Lady's visit to Hungary was a small step in the right direction. I hope that she will therefore get rid of the rest of the Iron Lady and cold war nonsense and recognise the need for improved relations between the Soviet Union and this country. If steps such as that are taken and if there is a genuine desire and commitment on the part of Britain to improve relations, I believe that there will be a response from the Soviet side.

12.31 pm
Mr. Cyril Townsend (Bexleyheath)

I hope that the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) will forgive me if I forfeit this chance of discussing the great macro issues of East-West relations, of how to co-exist with the Soviet Union in the nuclear age and how best to allow those proud countries of eastern Europe to regain their dignities and true independence, and focus instead on one old man who has been in prison since May 1941 and in solitary confinement since 1966, and who will shortly have his 90th birthday in prison.

I have taken an interest in the case of Rudolf Hess, who started his time in prison before many of my hon. Friends were even born, since, as a young army officer, I did a spell of guard duty at Spandau. Sir Winston Churchill wrote in the third volume of his History of the Second World War: I am glad not to be responsible for the way Hess has been and is being treated. However, this House is partly responsible for what happens at Spandau, and what happens there is, frankly, a disgrace to us all.

In an Adjournment debate in October 1975 my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), who is an authority on the subject, said: It is no part of my case to suggest that Hess was other than a dedicated, fanatical and ruthless Nazi Party leader. The case for clemency … does not rest on any alleged innocence during the Night of the Long Knives, or, indeed, on any claim to ignorance of the impending attack on Russia. All the evidence would suggest that he was fully implicated in both episodes, as well as in many of Hitler's crimes." — [Official Report,20 October 1975; Vol. 898, c. 206.] I entirely agree. At Nuremberg, Hess was found guilty of crimes against peace and of war crimes. Lord Justice Lawrence imposed a sentence of life imprisonment. When I was at Spandau, in the bitter cold of a Berlin winter, Shirach and Speer were still imprisoned with Hess. In 1966 both Shirach and Speer were released on grounds of age and ill health.

I took over from the late Airey Neave the chairmanship of the all-party freedom for Rudolf Hess campaign. Last Tuesday I went with Rudolf Hess's son, Wolf, to call on the Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, whom I thank for finding time to see us. We were told that the Government thought that, for reasons of compassion, Hess should be released, and that has been the position of successive British Governments.

Two of the other parties to the quadripartite agreement, France and the United States, have joined the British Government in urging clemency on the fourth party, the Soviet Union, but to no avail. The Soviet Union, in the words of a former British Prime Minister, has remained "vindictive and intransigent". We were told that in June 1982 a Foreign Office Minister again raised the case of Hess with the Soviet ambassador, and we were grateful for that news. It is the considered view of our all-party committee that the three western countries should no longer accept the Soviet veto and that Hess should be allowed home to die in peace.

After all, Hess was never sentenced to solitary confinement. What would the Russians do if we broke the four-power agreement in this minor area? There would be a diplomatic flurry which would greatly excite the Foreign Office for 24 hours. Perhaps we shall be told that the Russians would feel deprived of some basic right in West Berlin, but their position in West Berlin is well established. They have their own war memorial in the British sector and they are allowed to drive around West Berlin just as our forces are allowed to drive around East Berlin.

In Britain a life sentence rarely means exactly that. I challenge any of my hon. Friends to give me the name of one man or woman in any of Her Majesty's prisons who remains imprisoned at the age of 90.

Mr. Winnick

I have no great feelings either way about Hess. It should be borne in mind that he was a notorious Nazi criminal who was deputy to Hitler from the earliest days. He must be associated with the war crimes from 1939 and with all the crimes of the Nazi regime that were carried out before 1933. He was one of the most odious and hideous of all the Nazi war criminals. As far as I understand these matters, his son has never dissociated himself from his father's crimes. As the hon. Gentleman has been so eloquent about those who serve long sentences, why is it that he has never raised his voice about Nelson Mandela, for example, and his colleagues who have served 20 years so far for fighting for the very ideas which Hess has dedicated his life to opposing? Why is there not the same eloquence about Mandela? Why is it confined to Hess?

Mr. Townsend

I shall resist the temptation to move down to South Africa. However, I must refute the hon. Gentleman's understanding that Hess's son has not dissociated himself from the views of his father. That is a monstrous allegation, which I refute entirely.

Mr. Winnick

It is true. Like father, like son.

Mr. Townsend

The most cruel and callous IRA bomber or the most sinister, savage and wicked child molester and murderer is treated with greater humanity than Rudolf Hess. Clearly Hess is no danger to anyone. If he were released, he would be forgotten after a short break by all but historians. The longer he remains in Spandau, the old fortress with 600 empty cells, the greater is the danger that he will gain widespread personal sympathy. Should he die there, as appears likely, there will be a squalid haggle over his body. It is possible that Spandau will become the rallying point for extreme Right-wing elements in West Germany, Britain and elsewhere. The three books of letters that Hess has written to his wife have sold better in published form than any words on the German resistance to Hitler.

No useful purpose is served by the continued imprisonment of Hess. On the contrary, there is staggering inconvenience and expense. We were told only the other day that a special lift was installed at a cost of £40,000. The House will be surprised to learn that for 90 days a year Britain supplies a guard of one officer and 25 men, equipped with personal weapons. I can assure the House that it is a disgraceful and degrading task. For our young soldiers it is boring in the extreme. It is a cruel charade.

In reality, the security of this frail old man is the responsibility of highly competent civilian warders, some British. At the very least, the western powers should agree that the military pomp and circumstance must go. There is no cause to blow a trumpet. I suggest that there is reason to be ashamed of what has been done in our name for so long after the second world war.

I have been told by his son that Hess is allowed only one visitor for one hour one day a month. Can the House think of any similar rule in any of Her Majesty's prisons? Hess is woken at 6 am and told to clean his cell. His glasses are confiscated at 10 o'clock at night. All that is done in the name of the people of Britain, the United States and France. I strongly object, and I am amazed that the Government will still not inform the House about the rules, regulations and conditions in Spandau.

In many matters, the Soviet Union gives the impression of being totally inflexible. Yet, just when it seems that the ice has become permanent, there is a sudden, unexpected crack. That happened with the release of Vladimir Bukovsky. Who can deny that international pressure over the years was a vital factor? Often, liberal, humanitarian opinion seems quixotic and futile, yet in the long run it is resoundingly worth while, even with the Russians. If we cannot persuade the Russians—time is desperately short—we must have the courage to act. We have ended up as a nation defending the indefensible. The Soviet Union's ways are not our ways when it comes to the treatment of prisoners. Better to break a quadripartite agreement, I suggest to the Foreign Office, than to forfeit further our interest in human rights and human dignity.

I admit that sometimes, in the still, small hours, I think of the time when I guarded that old man in that cold damp prison in Spandau and saw that bent figure in a greatcoat, which was too big, shuffling around the garden in the snow. I ask myself this question: how in 1984 can we be part of this cruelty? Britain has great responsibility in this matter, and we must have the courage to behave as a great country that believes in humanity.

12.41 pm
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

The hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) spoke with knowledge, passion and compassion on the Hess case, but I shall not follow his remarks.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) on his choice of subject and the terms of his motion. The motion read somewhat more moderately than the speech accompanying it. Perhaps the thaw which came over the wording of the motion occurred at the same pace as the thaw in East-West relations, which we have seen in the attitude of the Prime Minister and President Reagan.

The motion began properly with a ritual congratulation of recent diplomatic moves and visits". Before the hon. Gentleman rushes to congratulate the Prime Minister on that point, he should look at the pace of her conversion. It is worth reminding ourselves of the previous sinful state and pilgrims' progress of the Prime Minister and President Reagan. Almost exactly a year ago, President Reagan gave to the National Association of Evangelicals the empire of evil speech in which he urged prayer for the salvation of all those who live in a totalitarian darkness He added that until salvation comes: Let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples of the earth—they are the focus of evil in the modern world". President Reagan went on to talk about the aggressive impulses of an evil empire". At another meeting he said: We know that the ideology of the Soviet leaders does not permit them to leave any western weakness unprobed". Only six months ago, during her visit to Canada, the Prime Minister spoke in similar terms of the Soviet Union. This is all part of that pilgrims' progress. The Prime Minister spoke in somewhat immoderate terms in Ottawa, where she called upon the democracies to engage in the battle of ideas against Communism. It is time for freedom to take the offensive. There is a battle of ideas to be won … We have nothing to fear from the bankrupt ideology of the Soviet Union. The combination of political repression and economic failure is plain for all to see. As the Prime Minister went further west to Edmonton, she went even further over the top. Such a speech, only six months ago, must plainly have alienated those in the Kremlin who were seeking to gain the picture of British views. The "empire of evil" is being turned rapidly now into a possible negotiating partner. One is moving from confrontation to detente without a decent halt at containment.

It must be puzzling for the old men in the Kremlin, as they seek to study our policy and that of the United States, to see that unpredictability to which the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) drew attention. The change, nevertheless, is welcome even if, because of its speed, it is greeted with scepticism. Why has there been this change from the "empire of evil" speech and the Ottawa speech to today's position? For the President, it may be the approach of the election. Possible reductions in the defence budget and, therefore, in the United States fiscal deficit may be a useful election platform.

The change is by no means primarily electoral for the Prime Minister. Although one noted a tendency in the past for her to follow the United States line, it may be part of a disenchantment with United States policy stemming from Grenada, or a yielding to the Foreign Office review of our relations with the Soviet Union and a move towards a more moderate East-West position which was put forward so well in the Alistair Buchan memorial lecture last year by the noble Lord Carrington, who said: The notion that we should face the Russians down in a silent war of nerves, broken only by bursts of megaphone diplomacy, is based on a misconception of our own values, of Soviet behaviour and of the anxious aspirations of our own peoples. There have been recent diplomatic moves and visits. I welcome the recent British initiative at Stockholm, and the visit to Budapest, the capital of a country which sees itself in central rather than eastern Europe. It is very much part of the western cultural tradition. I lived in Hungary for a substantial time, and I know that we share many common values. There was the visit to Moscow, which one should not overstate. It was a half-hour discussion at the funeral. No doubt half of it was taken up by interpretation. It was hardly a substantial discussion, but that degree of dialogue is welcome in itself and as a symbol of an increased relationship.

The motion calls upon the Government to take further initiatives to reduce East-West tension. We must be realistic about the possibility of initiatives being effective and know with whom we are dealing—a point made by the hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory).

It is absurd to talk about the possibility of quick breakthroughs. We are dealing with a 72-year-old traditional party loyalist, and a collective leadership, with Mr. Gromyko—the Healey of the Soviet Union—still there and still running Soviet policy. It is absurd to expect any adventurism or anything other than a cautious approach from the Soviet Union. The first foreign policy speech by Mr. Chernenko on 2 March was mildly encouraging.

We are dealing with a closed society. One thinks of the Korean airline disaster, and the extent to which the Soviet people were kept away from the news about the health of their leader, Mr. Andropov. The official view was that he was suffering from a chill and on the way to recovery, when he was dying. That is an example of news management within the Soviet Union.

We are dealing with a grand people, but we should not be naive or mealy-mouthed about the abuses within the Soviet Union, particularly in relation to human rights. We have regularly pressed the Foreign Office about the confiscation, for example, of postal material sent from Britain, particularly to Jewish people in the Soviet Union. There are clear abuses of the Helsinki final act in that respect. I hope that the Government will commit themselves to making regular representations to the Soviet authorities about such abuses.

In 1979, about 50,000 Jews were allowed to emigrate from the Soviet Union. In 1983, the number was reduced to 1,300. We think of the increase in anti-semitic behaviour, and we rejoice at the extent to which the failings of the Soviets, particularly in relation to their Christians, have been highlighted and of the award recently gained by Keston and the Rev. Michael Bordeaux.

The Soviet Union has a different history and different traditions. We cannot create the Soviets in our own image, nor should we try. We must accept them, with our eyes open, as they are. We must make progress in those areas where we can and where a mutual interest between ourselves, our Western allies and the Soviet Union is perceived.

Given those facts and principles, where can progress now be made? The area of greatest immediacy must surely be the Gulf. There is a real danger of an escalation of that useless and senseless war, with terrible suffering to both sides. Surely common Western and Soviet interests in the area could be built upon.

The Soviet Union is obviously concerned historically with the instability on its southern frontier. It is concerned with its long-term relationship with the Arab states. It also has a legitimate and historic concern with the freedom of navigation in the straits. I think of the Soviet Union's concern elsewhere in the Kattegat, the Bosphorus and the straits of Gibraltar.

The United States and Western concern is of a blocking by Iran of passage in the Gulf and the potential Soviet response if the USA were to pursue any Iranian fighter planes back to their bases. For the sake of world peace, there is a clear need for both the super-powers to seek an accord and to know what the responses will be to various contingencies in the area. Neither power wants a crushing Iranian victory.

Evidence available of the Soviet position tells us that Soviet radio stations have been warning the ayatollahs that they will have only themselves to blame if the USA ensures freedom of navigation in the straits of Hormuz. At that time no threats were made to the USA. That was unusual. I think of Soviet television programmes and Karen Brutents who on 25 February spoke in measured and objective terms of the Gulf. Unfortunately, Tass spoke with a different voice two days ago after seeing the activities of the United States navy. It said that the United States was creating a grave threat to peace and international security and grossly violating the commonly recognised norms. Both sides have an interest in reaching an agreement in that area. Could not the British Government take an initiative with our Community partners to encourage the Soviet Union to support a Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire?

Both sides in the war depend heavily on arms imports. Iraq receives about 70 per cent. of its military material from the Soviet Union; and we are not blameless, because we have been supplying spare parts to both sides. Could not the Security Council initiate an international arms boycott to reduce progressively and in tandem the arms supplies to both sides? There could also be a Security Council resolution to establish a force to supervise and monitor an eventual ceasefire.

If such an approach worked, it would be a precedent for the sad country of Lebanon. An initiative from the superpowers is surely needed there. Part of the problem has been the failure of the United States, since the days of Henry Kissinger, to allow the Soviets their proper role in the middle east.

It is impossible to visualise long-term peace in the middle east without Soviet, participation. As long as the West seeks to freeze the Soviets out of their legitimate role, we shall prevent a settlement. That was part of the reason for the Soviet veto on the Security Council resolution on Lebanon.

Syria blocked the May 1983 agreement, which would have made Israel the chief external influence in Lebanon. The United States marines have been humiliated and the United States has lost face in the middle east because of its one-sided policy there. It has been suggested in the past day or so that the United States is seeking to broaden its links in the area and to have a tripartite arrangement with Israel and Jordan. That is also likely to be doomed to failure unless it is recognised that the Soviet Union and Syria have a legitimate role in that area. Ultimately, we may have to consider reopening the 1973 Geneva conference, with the Soviets as co-chairman.

I shall not dwell at length on arms control, because the right hon. Member for Devonport covered the area and I endorse much of what he said, particularly about the comprehensive test ban negotiations and nuclear proliferation.

Again, arms control is not an area for dramatic breakthroughs, but in almost all the venues where negotiations are taking place or are in prospect — Helsinki, Stockholm, Geneva or Vienna—the processes are stalled.

In particular, there is no chance of reopening the INF talks while cruise and Pershing missiles remain on site. That has been reiterated recently by Mr. Gromyko. The only chance of bringing the Soviets into play would be to merge the INF talks and START. The prognosis for an early resumption of START is favourable. The United States has not rejected proposals for a merger of INF and START that would allow the Soviets to get off the hook, but that is unlikely to happen before the presidential election in the United States or until the Russians have come to the firm conclusion that President Reagan is bound to be re-elected for a second term.

We welcome the progress on chemical weapons in the talks at Geneva two weeks ago. The Soviet decision to accept the principle of on-site verification of the destruction of chemical weapons is a substantial step, but the problem of on-site challenge remains. There has been progress on the key issue of verification, and it is to be hoped that the progress that has been made will be transferable to Stockholm and perhaps also to the mutual and balanced force reductions talks. We hope that the Government will press harder for a positive Western response, particularly on transferring any progress in one set of talks to the MBFR talks.

New techniques of surveillance should be put on the agenda. While it is impossible to prevent surprise attacks or to make them less likely, I hope that the improved technology of surveillance will be made available more extensively to the United Nations and other monitoring organisations.

There is a suggestion in our press that the proposed compromise trade-off between the United States and the Soviet Union, under which the Soviets would accept greater on-site inspection if the United States does not press the point on disparity in numbers, is being put in jeopardy by United Kingdom objections. Perhaps the Minister will state whether it is true that our Government, for their own reasons—such as possible reduction in United States troop levels in Europe—are seeking to prevent the proposed fudging of the data base in those areas. I hope that the Government will also examine carefully the implications of the introduction of enhanced technology weapons, which have already been installed in the Bundeswehr, for arms control negotiations. There is a danger of opening a large technological gap and putting confidence-building measures at risk.

I shall deal briefly with the part of the motion that refers to persuading the Soviet Union to remove the impediments which adversely influence the non-arms trade and the easy movement of people". I have no criticism of the part of the motion that refers to moves to increase the movement of peoples. I have already referred to the reduction in the emigration of the Jewish population as the cold war intensified.

With regard to trade, the real problem is the uncompetitiveness of many Soviet goods, but now almost 80 per cent. of Soviet sales to the West are of fuel. The prognosis for an increase in trade is relatively limited, but such obstacles as there are are obstacles which, sometimes for good reasons, have been erected by the West. One thinks of the partial embargo on grain following the invasion of Afghanistan and of the more recent reduction in credit from the Western banks, but there has been progress on that. Therefore, it is difficult to see what the hon. Member for Tayside, North means by referring to impediments from the Soviet Union affecting trade.

There is a thaw in the air. Things are moving. We welcome the visits that have taken place and moves by the Government in other spheres to get away from confrontation and the attitude of tamely following the Reagan line.

We understand that we may shortly expect a decision on the upgrading of our mission in Nicaragua. We have been pressing for that for a long time, and we shall welcome it.

We welcome any move from the rhetoric of megaphone diplomacy—the "evil empire" rhetoric—to picturing the Soviet Union as a true negotiating partner in those areas in which progress can be made. That is good for our peoples and for world peace.

We believe that the Government and, to a lesser extent, the United States are moving along the same path and that the Siberian winter of East-West relations is now coming to an end. In so far as we can assist in that, either bilaterally or in concert with our European and NATO partners, we should do so by reducing misunderstandings, increasing co-operation and seeking out aspects such as the danger spots of the Gulf and the middle east, arms negotiations and trade negotiations, on which steps can be taken towards a more peaceful world.

We need vigilance because of the nature of the Soviet Union, but we also need vision for the sake of world peace to lay the foundations for an improved relationship. Our eyes should be wide open, but the hands of co-operation must also be well extended.

1.6 pm

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ray Whitney)

I join the rest of the House in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) on his good fortune in the ballot—as he said, 13 is a lucky number for him—and on the wide-ranging motion that he has given us the valuable opportunity to debate today. If I may say so, his speech ranged even more widely than his motion.

There is some tendency, even in my hon. Friend's motion, to suggest that the Government's desire to improve relations with the Soviet Union is a recent phenomenon. I must lay that idea to rest, because it is simply not true. We have consistently sought good relations with the Soviet Union and shall certainly continue to do so. I am dismayed that the Oppostion Front Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Swansea, East, (Mr. Anderson), described the defence of our values and freedoms made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in Toronto as "going over the top". It is an essential part of the duties of the Government to defend those freedoms and it in no way implies any unwillingness to establish good relations with the Soviet Union.

First, therefore, the Government's attitude is not a recent phenomenon. In recent months, senior members of the Government have made a series of public statements pointing to the direction in which we are moving. We are ready to move, but in the right circumstances, and to grasp every genuine opportunity for dialogue with the Soviet Union. We recognise that that is in the interests of both East and West.

We have also made it clear that, in our view, arms control negotiations alone could not and should not bear the full weight of East-West relations. The dialogue between East and West should be widened and given much more substance. The British Government certainly have a role to play in that. Our present policy is by no means a seven days' wonder, an ad hoc or interim policy. As the Prime Minister said in Moscow last month, it is a policy evolved over time that will be applied over time. It is suggested in the motion, and has been suggested in some speeches today, that there have already been improvements in relations between the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. That suggestion illustrates the understandable tendency, which we all share, to anticipate events. So far, we have only started on the spadework for building the foundations of a better relationship. To raise even the most unambitious edifice on those foundations will require skill and persistence on our part, and a very long haul. Above all, it will also require a substantial contribution from the Soviet Union in substance as well as goodwill. That is recognised on both sides of the House, but it is too easy to forget—there has been a tendency to forget it today—the other half of this complex and important equation.

The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) correctly said that he was the last Foreign Secretary to visit Moscow for substantive talks. That was in 1977. Of course, my right hon. and learned Friend was there the other day. The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not want to involve himself in history, and nor do I. However, he did not remind the House that since 1977 the actions which have set back the progress towards good relations—and actions are what matter—have been inspired not by the West, by this country or our allies, but by the Soviet Union. That is the problem. We look, therefore, for a response from the Soviet Union.

Dr. Glyn

Would not my hon. Friend agree that the key issue in connection with arms reductions, especially reductions in stocks of chemical weapons, is the extent to which the Soviet Union will allow us to verify them?

Mr. Whitney

I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend. I shall take up that point in a moment.

There has been an improvement in the atmosphere, which must be a matter for satisfaction on both sides. I believe that both sides were happy with the tone of the Prime Minister's short meeting with the new General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, on the occasion of President Andropov's funeral. That was a useful signpost in the right direction.

The first element that is required for improvement has already been suggested by the right hon. Member for Devonport. The frequency of contacts between East and West must be increased. For the reasons that I have mentioned, there have been too few personal contacts in recent years. Given the appropriate safeguards, we are determined that there should be a change. The Prime Minister made it clear to Mr. Chernenko that she hoped that their meeting would lead to other contacts between Governments.

We are exploring with the Russians the possibilities of a range of other exchanges. The most immediate plans are already known to this House. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary announced on 24 January his intention of arranging with Mr. Gromyko a substantive meeting to follow their relatively brief encounter in Stockholm in January. He also informed the House that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade intends to visit the Soviet Union in May for the next meeting of the Anglo-Soviet joint commission. Other possibilities will be considered in due course. In the next few years we hope to welcome Soviet Ministers here, including those with a specific interest in trade. We do not wish to raise unrealistic expectations. We shall also take care to avoid rushing into ill-prepared summitry. It is essential that the build-up is gradual and that the channel of communication between the two Governments and directly with the Soviet leadership is opened.

We all recognise the problems of Soviet society. Its closed nature has been acknowledged today. It is crucial for us to get through on an individual level to the Soviet leadership so that there is no danger of misunderstanding. We always recognise that we live in a dangerous world so, however great the ideological and conceptual gap between East and West might be, we are determined to make every effort to establish an understanding between the leaders, the Governments and, as far as possible, the people. However, we must not fall into the trap of over-estimating what such contacts can achieve. Nor must we under-estimate the time that will be needed to establish proper confidence. As many hon. Members have recognised, we are talking in terms of years rather than months.

The discernible change since the election of Mr. Chernenko is real, but there has not yet been a substantive alteration in the Soviet stance on major issues. That serves to emphasise the long-term nature of the process in which we are engaged. Doing nothing is the surest recipe for getting nowhere. We have no guarantee of success and are bound to encounter setbacks and disappointments, but we have made a start and I assure the House that we intend to pursue a consistent appproach for a long time.

We are not emphasising talk for its own sake. I hope that I can carry Opposition Members with me when say that we are not recommending the abandonment of our own principles or suggesting that we should sweep under the carpet the awkward issues that certainly remain. We shall not achieve the necessary understanding by failing to say what we think or by failing to stand by what we believe to be right. We must be true to our principles and constantly make clear our unshakeable belief in democracy and the freedom of the individual. Speeches such as that which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made in Toronto, to which the hon. Member for Swansea, East referred, demonstrate the principles that we must continue to uphold.

I do not believe that the chance of establishing a sensible relationship with the Soviet Union will be damaged by frankness or openness on our part. We must be ready to tackle the awkward issues with the Soviet Union and enter a realistic dialogue. We should continue to try to find common ground. In matters such as nuclear proliferation there are some grounds for hoping that if we persist we may achieve some success.

We cannot pursue the East-West dialogue in isolation, as is recognised in my hon. Friend's motion. We must do so in close co-ordination with our Allies. There must be a cohesive, co-ordinated and imaginative Allied approach. That is why I was disappointed today to hear again today the propensity of Opposition Members to attack the United States rather than to recognise the weaknesses of the Soviet Union.

The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) rightly underlined some of the weaknesses in the Soviet system, but he said that the Soviet Union and the United States have a common approach to their regions. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The United States has made it clear, by President Reagan's speech in April, by the recommendations of the Kissinger committee and by the aid that it gave the Nicaraguan Government after the fall of General Somoza, that recognises the social and economic needs of central America.

Mr. Winnick

Will the Minister comment on the way in which the democratic regime in Guatemala was destroyed by the United Slates in 1954—that is not challenged—how the democratic regime in Chile was de-stabilised, as can be seen from the information that has come out since the Freedom of Information Bill was passed in America, the way in which the Castro forces had to fight in the Bay of Pigs in 1961, and American support for the present murderous regime in El Salvador?

Mr. Whitney

The hon. Gentleman must go back to the 1950s and 1960s to make his point. He should also say that when President Castro came to power he was given a ticker-tape welcome in the streets of New York. When the Sandinistas came to power in Nicaragua they were given $118 million in the first 18 months of their existence. I remind him that the elections in El Salvador were designed to give the people of that country a voice, as are the elections to be held later this month —[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman laughs at the word "elections". That shows the supposed even-handedness with which Labour Members treat the Soviet Union and the United States, which is dangerous when dealing with such serious matters. We shall not reach a correct balance in East-West relations if Opposition Members continue to have such a lopsided view.

Mr. Anderson

The Minister says that we have a lopsided view. Can he confirm whether the Government disagree with the United States arming, controlling and aiding the counter-revolutionaries who are trying to lay siege to the Nicaraguan Government? That issue has caused much dissension in America.

Mr. Whitney

The hon. Gentleman knows that we do not answer for the American Government. Of course we do not agree with every action of the American Government or Congress. The hon. Gentleman, with the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland), visited four central American countries in three days—or it might have been three countries in four days—and wrote an 80-page pamphlet entitled, "Kissinger's Kingdom?", which was a diatribe of anti-Americanism. One of their colleagues—I shall not mention his name—compared their effrontery with that of Spike Milligan who, at least with his tongue in his cheek and with some humour, entitled his autobiography, "Adolf Hitler: My part in his downfall."

Mr. Anderson

We spent one day less in the region than did the members of the Kissinger committee.

Mr. Whitney

The Kissinger committee devoted hundreds of hours and great resources to reaching a solution that provided for $8 billion for the region. I should be surprised if that could be called military aggression and if it could be compared with Soviet action in Poland, other countries in eastern Europe or Afghanistan. [Interruption.] I must continue; this is a vital subject, in which Labour Members can do much harm.

We must continue with our dialogue, aided by our friends. On defence and security, our objective must always be to find security at a lower level of weapons. We can only do this from a point of departure that ensures that our defences are fully adequate. We cannot be blackmailed by the threat of nuclear force. I am picking up the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). I assure him that we do not seek superiority or equality of weapons or men. The Alliance has made it clear that, although we do not say that we shall never use any of our weapons — this is the one point about no first use of nuclear weapons—we shall have, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North pointed out, no first use of any weapon. That is the important difference between the two sides. Nevertheless, we must maintain such forces as are required to make the price of attacking us too high to be worth taking a risk. Equally, we are dedicated to achieving progress in arms control, but it has to be balanced and verifiable in the reduction of both nuclear and conventional forces.

The right hon. Member for Devonport was somewhat ambitious in his suggestion that we should relax our determination on the level of verification. This is most serious, and we look carefully at each individual aspect. As he will know from his experience in Government, no Government would take any step that would weaken the reliability of verification, as that would not be sensible or responsible.

Dialogue and deterrence continue to be the twin pillars of NATO defence policy. We shall continue to make it clear to the Soviet Union that peace, mutual security and the avoidance of any possible misunderstanding on defence is in the interests of both sides. That is why we are committed to achieving continuing arms control measures. We have seen this in the twin-track decision of 1979, which gave the Soviet Union the opportunity to halt the installation of the SS20s, which has done so much harm not only to the military position but to general East-West relations. However, from the beginning of the INF talks in November 1981, the Soviet Union increased SS20 deployment by about 50 per cent. It rejected the zero option and the offer of ceiling arrangements and finally walked away from the INF talks.

This gambit failed, as has the pressure put on Western democratic Governments by the peace movement. It is now recognised that we are determined to meet this Soviet threat, but also that we are ready to talk and to consider sensibly with the Soviet Union a means of finding a safer relationship. There is no lack of flexibility on our side. It is for the Russians to decide how far NATO deployment goes, by returning to the negotiating table and negotiating seriously. To take up the suggestion that we might instal a few weapons now and stop would be to hand the initiative back to the Soviet Union just as it is becoming clear that there is a chance to make progress.

The same approach is adopted by us towards strategic nuclear arms. At START in Geneva, the United States, supported by its NATO allies, has proposed radical reductions in these weapons, including a cut of one third in the number of warheads carried by United States and Soviet strategic ballistic missiles.

Those talks were interrupted in December, again by the Soviets, whose intentions towards them remain unclear. If they are genuinely prepared to reduce their strategic nuclear arsenal, they could show that clearly by resuming the negotiations in earnest. If they did so, they would find the West receptive to their legitimate security interests and ready to meet them half-way.

The hon. Member for Swansea, East and the right hon. Member for Devonport raised the possibility of merging START and the INF talks. If the United States and Soviet Governments decided that combining the talks would increase the chances of progress, the British Government would have no objection in principle; but neither Government have suggested that combining them would help, and in the absence of a desire for merger by the two negotiators, bringing the talks together would only risk aggregating the two sets of practical obstacles.

A number of hon. Members have suggested that some further carrot or concession should be offered by the West to bring the Russians back to the negotiating table. I believe that that would be a mistake and that it would be wrong for the Russians to look for it. Indeed, they would look for it in vain.

The West believes in an immediate resumption of negotiations on intermediate-range and strategic nuclear weapons, but without any preconditions on either side. Unilateral western concessions at this stage would not offer the hope of progress towards an agreement which would satisfy the security interests of the West, and that must remain our overriding concern.

Nuclear arms are not the only problem. In the unlikely event of a breakdown of peace in Europe, war would almost certainly begin with a conventional rather than a nuclear exchange. That is why NATO, as a defensive alliance, as we have repeatedly emphasised, will never use nuclear or non-nuclear weapons except in response to an attack.

The right hon. Member for Devonport made an important speech, as he always does on these matters, and again aired his views on the importance of more conventional weapons. Few hon. Members would differ with him on that, but he will recognise the resource implications involved. We look constantly at means of improving the balance and, as he knows, over the years the West has removed about 2,000 warheads, with no response from the Soviet Union, with no lessening of the risk of a nuclear war and with no lifting of the nuclear threshold.

There is, therefore, no soft option, no alternative, between conventional versus nuclear weapons, and any move to lift the nuclear threshold higher and higher has serious resource as well as security implications. I know that the right hon. Member for Devonport appreciates that fundamental point.

The emphasis at the conference convened in Stockholm in January is on security measures. From the first, the West has recognised that the Stockholm conference represents a unique opportunity to build a climate of confidence, and it is an opportunity for the Soviet Union to take. If it is successful, it will make force limitations and reductions much easier to achieve. Our aim at Stockholm is, therefore, to agree measures that are militarily significant, politically binding, verifiable and applicable to the whole of Europe. We hope that there will be a positive response to the initiatives that we have taken.

The Government and their allies attach similar importance to the conference on disarmament in Geneva in relation to multinational arms control and disarmament, and, on chemical weapons, the House will be aware that last month the United Kingdom tabled an important proposal on verification. We welcomed the recent Soviet statement on the continous inspection and destruction of stockpiles of chemical weapons. The Government will continue to play an active part and to seek agreement on a range of practical measures in arms control. We hope very much that the Soviet Union will join us.

The motion refers to freedom of movement and obstacles to trade. I think that we can all agree with what has been said on both sides of the House about the problems of movement. Of course, we are responsible for no problems of movement involving the Soviet Union except those to which the hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond) referred, which involved the non-arrival of five gentlemen from Communist front organisations. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not able to be with us for the conclusion of the debate.

As for the hon. Gentleman's challenge in volunteering to resign as vice-president of the World Peace Council, I welcome that and hope that before he resigns he will give us and the United Nations a clear statement on the funding of the council. The council is widely accepted as a front organisation. Basically, problems of movement apply entirely in the Soviet Union. It is sadly true that there has been a drastic reduction in the level of Jewish and ethnic German emigration. In 1979, for example, 51,00 Jews were granted exit visas, in 1982, 2,600 were granted exit visas and last year the number fell to about half that figure. To put it mildly, these gestures sit uncomfortably with Soviet commitments in the Helsinki and Madrid documents.

I pay due tribute to the passionate and effective speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend). My hon. Friend recognises the Government's commitment on the Hess issue. I hope that he recognises also that we face serious problems with the binding nature of the quadripartite agreement and the wider effects that might ensue should we break that agreement. It is the Soviet Union which is taking the inhumane line on the future of the 90-year-old Rudolf Hess.

I hope that the Soviet Union will remove any impediments to increased trade. Subject only to the compatibility of our security interests, we encourage British firms to take steps to increase trade between our two countries. We look forward to narrowing the trade gap, which is substantially in the Russians' favour. I have already mentioned that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade will be in Moscow in May. I hope that flowing from that, and from the meeting of the British-Soviet joint commission, we shall have a further development and expansion of Soviet-British trade.

The feature which has emerged from the debate is the complex and interlocking nature of the issues raised in the motion. The thread that has run through the issues that I have tried to cover and those which have been mentioned by hon. Members on both sides of the House is the sense that there is now great potential, wherever we look, to improve Anglo-Soviet relations. There is potential to improve East-West relations generally. There is potential for progress in arms control and for increased trade. If we can realise some of the potential, we shall make a significant achievement to the peace and security of the world and the prosperity of our own people. We must recognise, however, that this process is bound to be slow and will require greater persistence and great determination. I promise the House that the Government will provide that persistence and determination and look forward to a Soviet response. I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this important motion to the House.

1.40 pm
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

It is a matter of speculation as to whether the Prime Minister is included in the "we" to which the Under-Secretary of State referred. I commend to the hon. Gentleman the merit of judicial sub-editing.

I thank the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) for moving this motion. He said that he had to wait three or more years before he could make his speech on this subject. We have been waiting for four years for speeches on matters relating to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and no fewer than 14 years for the main theme to be debated. I cannot support the motion, because I cannot congratulate the Prime Minister on her performance in foreign affairs.

I am a passionate advocate of parliamentary democracy and its potential in reconciling the pertinent features of the two philosophies whose extremes we all reject. The clash of those philosophies should be avoided, because we all know that it can finish in virtually the end of civilisation as we know it.

The hon. Member for Tayside, North said that the two pillars of his defence philosophy were the building up of defence power and conciliation aimed at arms reduction. They are not easily reconcilable, and some would claim that they are mutually exclusive. I may have got the point wrong, but I believe that previously his right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) said that the twin pillars of British security must be firmness with the Soviets coupled with conciliation. At that time, the Prime Minister was being more firm than conciliatory. More recently, she has incorporated the other feature of the right hon. Gentleman's dictum, and I suppose we can be grateful for that.

The Prime Minister has never made one feature clear, and this may divide the House and the nation. It is crucial to this fundamental issue. The right hon. Lady seems to suggest that she wants to roll back the area of tyranny inside the Soviet Union and have a different form of government. Some of us might be cautious about that, but we do not necessarily wish an extension of Marxist imperialism outside the Soviet Union. I suggest that there is a big distinction, at least in the eyes of those in the Soviet Union, between those wishing to defend their rights and those wishing to attack the integrity of the Soviet Union, its constitution and its forces, which have been well established since 1918. That fundamental distinction has not yet received sufficient attention.

The fifth report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, Session 1979–80, "Afghanistan: the Soviet Invasion and its Consequences for British Policy". The Select Committee report was never debated. I have no quarrel about that, but some of its evidence and conclusions are extremely pertinent to current events. Recommendation No. 8 recommends that the Government While continuing to work for the principles of détente, using the Madrid CSCE Conference, for arms control and disarmament and for the advancement of human rights, give further consideration to the working definitions of détente and seek to establish a greater degree of mutual understanding within each specific area of actual or potential conflict. Unfortunately, the Government rejected that recommendation. I am especially sorry about that because the Committee made clear its reasons in paragraph 29. I will quote: Even within the Western Alliance, there was a problem over differing interpretations of detente. The United States tended to regard detente as Indivisible', that is, Soviet misconduct in one part of the world was bound to affect superpower relations throughout the world. For the Europeans this was perhaps becoming a luxury they could not afford. That could have been put rather more explicitly, because it spells out what we have already heard, that Russian policy for the centralities tends to be slow-moving and consistent. I suggest that in those areas detente is possible and can be fruitful. Nevertheless, there are areas on the periphery, philosophical and geographical, where there can be upsets. It is those that have upset the Americans in the past few years, and when something happens in the centralities outside the area of detente, they say, "You cannot trust them," and everything goes.

That is true in respect of Afghanistan where the Select Committee, in its conclusions, found that there was no evidence to suggest that the Afghanistan invasion represented a major or, indeed, a significant change in overall Soviet policy. At the time, in this country and the United States, it was represented as that very thing. There can be legitimate differences about that, but I suggest that until the matter of the two interpretations of detente is settled between ourselves and our American friends, the confidence-building measures and real progress to understanding and peace that we all want will not be easy or possible.

Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of the Select Committee report on Afghanistan, may I ask:did the Select Committee then know that one of the reasons why the West was, perhaps, caught napping over the Afghanistan invasion, so that we could not give advanced warning of the consequences of its actions to the Soviet Union, was because radio operators at GCHQ Cheltenham were engaged in an industrial dispute?

Mr. Spearing

The Select Committee did not refer to GCHQ, but—one of the tragedies in a democracy is that we have a great deal of information that is not read—the evidence given to the Select Committee showed that we were not caught napping. It was clear for many months that something was up. I commend to the hon. Gentleman the evidence of Professor Erickson, professor of politics at Edinburgh university, whose evidence was remarkable and unnoticed at the time.

Mr. Bill Walker

Professor John Erickson is a good friend of mine. At the time of Mr. Andropov's death, Professor Erickson was still saying that Mr. Andropov was in charge and that he had been informed by those in the Kremlin that he was in charge. When he was saying that, Andropov was probably dead.

Mr. Spearing

I will not comment on that, because I was referring to the evidence which Professor Erickson gave to the Select Committee and which the hon. Gentleman can read.

Over and above the considerations at that time — Afghanistan and the Olympic games—hon. Members will remember that there was another factor, which is again with us—the American election. I suggest that there is some risk in respect of foreign affairs for all democracies at such times. It was clear that the stance of the then American Government and the prospective President was influenced by the prospect of power and the campaigning issues, which were alive at that time, in respect of foreign policy.

While we read that people's perceptions of each other are usually seen through the eyes of their political leaders, we know that the peoples of the world abhor the prospect of world conflagration. The democracies have a specific responsibility in that respect. In whipping up or in providing perceptions of other countries, leaders, bidding for democratic power, have a specific responsibility. Perhaps in the coming months, there will be a particular responsibility on democratic Governments, especially the United States, and aspirants to power alike.

Today is symbolic for me. By chance, a party of 25 young people from Moscow are visiting Newham this week. By chance, they asked to come to see the House of Commons. By chance, in about two hours' time I shall be conducting them through this Chamber. I shall emphasise our different form of democracy and what might have happened in the Soviet Union if the October 1918 revolution had not occurred. There might even have been a chance of some developments in the May 1918 revolution.

Everyone in the country knows that young people just starting life, even in the Russian or American forces, have the same aspirations. They are looking for a place in society and want to make a contribution to it through work. The present Government's economic policies do not assist the attainment of that aspiration. Young people also want recreation and a full life. They look forward to family life and perhaps passing on human existence—co-operation, recreation and procreation. The young people in Moscow and Newham have those aspirations in common, along with young people in the rest of the world.

How can we ensure that people will achieve their aspirations within the security of their own social systems without destabilising or unduly interfering — or interfering at all—with other people's systems?

The Conservative manifesto for 1983 states: The Western Alliance can keep the peace"— that is what it is about— only if we can convince any potential aggressor that he would have to pay an unacceptable price. that is the Conservative party's philosophy, as far as it goes. Up to now it certainly has been the Prime Minister's philosophy.

Can a policy of temporary fear be a satisfactory long-term solution? I suggest that it cannot. Those of us who are not pacifists may at times go along with elements of that sentiment, but it is inadequate as a long-term solution to any conflict, and an even more inadequate solution to the potential conflict in the world today. It is short-sighted and carries with it terrible risks. That manifesto statement contains no element of de-escalation.

It is true that in the past few months the Prime Minister appears to have changed her approach. Megaphone diplomacy is out, we are told, and talks with Soviet leaders round the samovar, however brief, are now in. It was not always so, but that is the burden of today's motion.

In her north American tour the Prime Minister made different noises. In her tours of China and Hong Kong she probably made different noises. What she said or did in the Gulf is still a matter for wide speculation. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I do not think that any Foreign Office Minister accompanied the Prime Minister on those visits. I have made inquiries and that is my information. Certainly the Foreign Secretary did not accompany her. I find that a remarkable fact, which ought to be given much greater prominence.

Mr. Whitney

I find it remarkable that the hon. Gentleman should find that so surprising. If he examines the records of Labour Prime Ministers, he will find that there were many occasions when the Foreign Secretary — whether the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) or any other Foreign Secretary—did not accompany the Prime Minister on foreign trips. There is nothing unique about what has happened.

Mr. Spearing

If what the hon. Gentleman says is correct — and he should know the facts — I stand corrected. However, I still find the fact significant in respect of this Prime Minister. She has conducted the foreign affairs of this country in a different way from previous Prime Ministers, including, particularly, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan).

Reverting to the right hon. Lady's high-profile, megaphone approach, she said some remarkable things in her famous speech in Washington at the Winston Churchill Foundation award dinner on Thursday 29 September last year. Although the speech was high-profile, part of it included some new thinking. The Prime Minister referred to the Hungarian poet who wrote about the flame of freedom, and she said: every noble ideal will die with it. It is not by force of weapons but by force of ideas that we seek to spread liberty to the world's oppressed. It is not only ideals, but conscience that impels us to do so. I agree wholeheartedly with that. The Prime Minister spoke about conscience and, talking about the leaders of the Soviet Union, she said: Their creed is barren of conscience, immune to the promptings of good and evil. To them it is the system that counts, and all men must conform. That was a marked difference. Having earlier expressed what I hope is a universal desire, the Prime Minister reverted to the megaphone.

The second quotation could apply to, for example, President Samoza. Any Right-wing, capitalist, absolutist dictator requires people to conform — in exactly the same way that the Prime Minister was accusing the leaders of the Kremlin of requiring people to conform. Indeed, the same could be said of Mister, Colonel or Major D'Aubuisson in El Salvador. His is an absolutist creed that is as alien to us as any other.

Many of our difficulties and misunderstandings with our friends in America have been caused because they do not realise that in a feudal country, with a vast mass of urban or rural poor, conforming to the powers—that—be is conforming to something that we would not put up with, and nor would the hon. Member for Tayside, North. I am glad to see that he agrees with me.

The Prime Minister is on better ground when she looks for security through ideas, debate and argument rather than through weaponry, which is the sole feature of the Conservative manifesto and has been the main emphasis of the Prime Minister and many of her hon. Friends.

I said earlier that I spoke as a passionate advocate of parliamentary democracy. However, I do not suggest that we can impose our form of democracy on democracies everywhere. We have learnt that lesson in the Commonwealth. Nevertheless, there is a peculiar and important obligation on this country and the House to deal with world affairs against the background of our privilege of free speech and free debate.

There are good reasons for that. This country has special relationships with a wide range of people throughout the world. The north American link is well known. That includes Canada. There is the rest of the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth itself is a microcosm not only of the peoples of the world but of different philosophies. There is the wider Europe, with which we have generally good relations when they are not upset by extraneous features. We are leading members of world institutions, including the United Nations. People look to Britain and the House for procedures of democracy in all sorts of respects.

I believe that the BBC World Service is a much under-rated factor for good in the world. The BBC television service might be just as important. English is rapidly becoming the world language. Therefore, people inevitably look to this country.

Great responsibilities are placed upon us, but alas we cannot look to the present Prime Minister to fulfil those functions. She is excellent when it comes to coercion and pretty good when it comes to conflict. Occasionally, those qualities are necessary, but unfortunately they are not always the qualities that are required. Indeed, they are sometimes extremely dangerous in the wrong place at the wrong time.

With regard to those terrible problems, the United Kingdom and any leader of the British Government should seek to provide confidence, co-operation and conciliation, which are reflected in the history of the House and British democracy itself. We leave our swords in the little red loops that are provided before we come to the Chamber. That is not just a silly thing, but it is highly symbolic. However, I believe that the Prime Minister is not the person for the job of instilling the qualities of confidence, co-operation and conciliation into progress on world peace. I cannot agree with the congratulations in the motion of the hon. Member for Tayside, North, because the right hon. Lady has not shown those qualities in the United Kingdom. Indeed, the very opposite has occurred. She has not shown them in parliamentary democracy. She has not even shown them in regard to affairs inside her own party and, almost certainly, inside her own Cabinet. If she cannot show those qualities in those spheres, how can we look to her to do so for the nation in its world role?

2.2 pm

Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster)

Until the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) made his closing remarks, the debate was extremely useful and wide-ranging, concentrating on the main issue — how best to establish detente with the Soviet Union and to strengthen the NATO Alliance to ensure that that detente works. I shall keep my remarks brief, because I am conscious of the fact that three other hon. Members are longing to speak, and we have limited time. In cutting what I had intended to say, I may lose some of the point of it, but that is a risk that I shall have to take.

My first point is important and has not yet been referred to. It is the extent to which the British people have already led the West in its detente approaches to the Soviet Union over most of this century. Lloyd George first acknowledged the Soviet leadership of Russia after the revolution. Since 1955, when we had the first post-second world war summit with the Soviet Union, British Prime Ministers or Foreign Secretaries have gone to the Soviet Union on no fewer than 12 separate years out of the 24 that have since elapsed.

The benchmark for the efforts on detente was laid down on the first of those visits by Mr. Harold Macmillan, now my noble Friend Lord Stockton. He made a broadcast to the Russian people in 1954 that had a great impact upon them. The words that he spoke are as true today as they were then. He said: We must somehow establish confidence between our countries and Governments. How are we to do this? I suggest 3 ways. First, we should each avoid acts which disturb the existing position anywhere in the world to the other's disadvantage; for such acts must, to use your Prime Minster's words, produce dangerous situations. Secondly, let us recognise that each side needs concrete reassurances. Words are not enough. Deeds count. Thirdly, let us see if we can make a start and go forward step by step. He made two further positive suggestions: first, that delegations should be exchanged on a much wider basis than was then the case; and, secondly, that neither side should seek total victory in military or diplomatic terms when dealing with the other.

That remains as important and strongly true today, and I was extremely pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State say that there are plans to widen the base of the exchanges planned and to have a wide-ranging exchange of views and delegations in the near future. It is 25 years since that was first suggested, and I fear that at all but the highest levels of Government and on all occasions other than those relating directly to disarmament it has largely failed to be put into effect, generally not through any fault of the British Government but through lack of co-operation by the Russians or, in some instances, by other western Governments. With the advent of Mr. Chernenko and the two much younger members of the politburo, Mr. Romanov and Mr. Gorbachev, I believe that we have a chance to re-establish the initiative and impetus of such exchanges. I hope very much that that will be the case.

I agree entirely with the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) about the need to establish disarmament talks, to ensure that they continue, however long and hard the process, and that they lead to ultimate success. In particular, as soon as we have deployed our cruise and Pershing missiles and the West has a concrete bargaining counter to set directly against the deployment of SS20s, which currently threaten our shores in such great numbers, we must negotiate further for the mutual removal of both Western and Soviet systems.

In these matters, I cannot emphasise too strongly the need to look for deeds rather than words from the Soviet Union. The difficulties of verification have already been widely canvassed in the debate. Negotiations must not be carried out from a position of weakness or one which could be seen as weak. I was glad that the Opposition widely acknowledged the real danger of trusting too deeply Soviet words not accompanied by deeds. The hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond) spoke at some length of the way in which the British Isles, and Winston Churchill in particular, supported the Russians in the second world war and of the assistance and welcome that we extended to them. That was both true and right, and I believe that British influence in Russia even today is considerably the stronger for it.

Even Winston Churchill, however, was not entirely immune to mistakes in his assessment of diplomatic situations or the future. On 2 August 1944, he said: The Russian Armies now stand before the gates of Warsaw. They bring the liberation of Poland in their hands. They offer freedom, sovereignty and independence to the Poles." — [Official Report, 2 August 1944; Vol. 402, c. 1482.] What a great tragedy it is for the human race that those words were so wrong and the reality so different.

To summarise the main points of the debate, I believe that this country has a twofold duty — to cement the NATO Alliance and hold together the other European countries and our American allies and to ensure the strength of Western defences so that the Russians cannot underestimate our determination and ability to defend the freedoms that we hold so dear.

In 1945 — these are words with which it may be easier for us all to agree—Sir Winston Churchill said: Sombre indeed would be the fortunes of mankind if some awful schism arose between the Western democracies and the Russian Soviet Union, if the future world organisation were rent asunder, and if new cataclysms of inconceivable violence destroyed all that is left of the treasures and liberties of mankind."—[Official Report, 27 February 1945; Vol. 408, c. 1284.] Time has moved on. It is not only the treasures and liberties of mankind which now stand threatened; it is the life and future of mankind itself. This nation's success in holding together the Western allies and gradually breaking down the curtain between ourselves and the Soviet Union will be the key to man's survival for all generations to come.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his brevity.

2.12 pm
Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

Détente has broken out in the Labour party with the election of a new leader. Let us hope that the selection—one could not call it an election—of a new leader in the Soviet Union may result in détente in world relations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has said, electoral periods—which are something that the Soviet Union does not experience very frequently — make a complicated international situation yet more complicated, because internal politics is the basis of external relations. That is something that we have learnt from recent events.

I welcome the initiative in the motion of the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). However, without wishing to be churlish or over-critical, I wonder whether such a motion could have been tabled by the hon. Gentleman or by many of his hon. Friends 18 months ago. Time leads to greater maturity, and experience can lead one to amend one's analysis of the world situation. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South rightly emphasised the importance of being defended by ideas. However, if ideas alone cannot defend one, one must have the requisite defences too. I do not wish to put words into my hon. Friend's mouth, but it is important to emphasise both sides of the equation. Many of my hon. Friends are concerned that the Soviet Union should not feel too threatened. The Soviet Union must show the world that history has had an awful effect upon its political culture. Other nations, too, have a right to defend themselves with armaments. Both East and West must be able to feel that their armaments are adequate to enable them to live in security. We must secure, as early as possible, an overall reduction in armaments. That would enhance world security and enable the negotiations begun some years ago—INF, MBFR, CSCE and START—to be reactivated.

We live in a dangerous world that becomes more dangerous by the day and by the hour. East-West relations are not the only question. A world crisis could develop very swiftly not because of any direct move by the Warsaw pact against NATO or vice versa but because of events outside the direct control of those powers. The surrogate of one of the major alliances could become involved in a conflict that would suck in the rest of us. We would then not be here to debate the future of world relations. It is in everyone's interests to have proper crisis management which could be the prelude to negotiations, arms control talks and weapons reductions, and lead eventually to the beating of swords into ploughshares.

I should like to digress briefly on the question of freedom. I put in a plea for the freedom of senior officers of the armed forces. Apparently, from this week, they are not to be permitted to talk to the press without the prior approval of the Secretary of State. It is an appalling intrusion into the rights of able and experienced senior officers that they should have to seek approval from a senior politician before talking to gentlemen from the media.

A dangerous world is made more dangerous as we approach the presidential election in the United States. Before the previous election, the then Mr. Reagan appeared anxious to demonstrate his strength as a candidate. I hope that that has changed and that he will now want to demonstrate how strong and firm the United States is and how conciliatory it might be. I hope that that is not just an electoral ploy.

I have been interested to read about some of the other candidates who have emerged in the past few days, notably Gary Hart. They have been talking about new defence strategies and relying less on nuclear weapons. Present circumstances will be made worse, not so much by the fluid situation in the West as the less than fluid situation in the East. If there were a momentum in President Andropov's policies, it is likely to be maintained for some time, as the leadership of the Soviet Union is aged and leadership squabbles will continue. With his uncertain health and advancing years, the present leader cannot be expected to be around for very long and the resulting succession problems might make the establishment of détente easier.

Moreover, the Soviet Union faces problems among its allies and ex-allies. A leadership crisis might emerge in Albania, for example, and the same is true for Yugoslavia and Romania. The Soviet Union is no longer dominant in what used to be its bloc, any more than the United States is able to dictate to other members of the Western Alliance. In the Western Alliance there is now much more conciliation and bargaining. The succession problems that I have outlined make the problem of détente greater but they also make the need for stability in international relations even more imperative.

The problems of alliances are not confined to the Warsaw pact. Chatham house has recently published a book entitled "The Troubled Alliance; Atlantic Relations.in the 1980s" on the crisis in our alliance. Such strains have always existed, but we must ask whether the Atlantic Alliance is getting wider and whether the crisis is qualitatively different from those of the past 20 years. When in Brussels I observed an exchange—that is the politest word that I can use—between Helmut Schmidt and the former American Secretary of Defence which showed the tensions in the Alliance that must be resolved. We must avoid the disintegration of the Alliance and do all we can to avoid the tendency in the United States to withdraw forces from Europe, leaving Europe, if not undefended, inadequately defended.

There has recently been much criticism about emerging technologies. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) said that emerging technologies might result in problems, as if technological advance were confined to the West. There is enormous use of technology in the Soviet Union—much of it is ours—and therefore any control of emerging technology should be exercised throughout both alliances. I am not as convinced as some people that the exploitation of technology is necessarily dangerous for mankind. If we have resources in the form of a superior technology, there is no reason why it should not be applied to defence. Many people now argue that if there is a numerical imbalance between East and West in conventional forces — I shall not bore the House by giving the rather unfortunate figures—the fuse will be lengthened if the West enhances its conventional capability.

There is enormous scope in the defence industries of Europe and the United States to get better value for money. If it is impractical to increase conventional defence expenditure, we must ensure that we get good value for our diminishing resources. If we can enhance significantly our conventional capability, should there be a conflict in western Europe — it is not likely in the light of improving Western capability — a conventional attack could be met adequately by conventional forces, which will make the escalation of the conflict less probable. I do not belong to the group that believes that the world will become a more dangerous place by trying to exploit technology in conventional defence and by improving tactics and strategies.

We have gone through a horrendous period in international relations when the likelihood of war was great. We have survived. It is wrong to assume that the West should make many concessions simply for the purpose of returning to the negotiating table. We should not jeopardise our security during the next 10 years simply for that purpose. However, many concessions must be made on both sides. We must start by reactivating negotiations in one forum, which I hope will lead to other forums being established. If we get round the conference table again, and if both alliances can resolve their internal problems, perhaps the events of the past two years will not be repeated but we can live in a much more secure and peaceful environment. Then perhaps we can use the world's scarce resources to improve not only the economic position of our constituencies, which must be a high priority, but that of poorer countries. Future conflicts might emanate from poor countries and the problem could spread to and inflame more wealthy nations.

I welcome the debate and I hope that the improvement in relations, which may be slight, will not be seen by both sides as a means of enhancing their negotiating positions. We want some action in the light of the glimmer of hope that we see at present.

2.23 pm
Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

My hon. Friend the Minister will understand if I say that foreign policy can easily become an area of pious generalities. He and other hon. Members who have spoken in the debate will agree that generalities are never more pious, and pieties never more general, than when we talk about the Soviet Union. East-West relations are better. The waters are calmer, and we must congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on her recent initiatives. The fact that there is a caliper atmosphere means that we can get away from generalities and consider specifics, because there is a need for specific action in many areas. The first important area is our capability to assess the intentions of the Soviet Union. Recent years have shown a considerable floundering and violent fluctuation in western assessment of the Soviet Union. In practical terms, what does that mean for Britain? There have been intimations of decline in the study of the Soviet Union and the Russian language in Britain over recent years. This is bad, because the cost of those studies measured against the cost of our national defence budget is minuscule, and a little more readjustment towards that academic side would not come amiss. Nor would it be purely academic, because it would enable us better to assess what we and the Alliance need to spend on defence against the Soviet Union.

My practical proposal is this. In this country we have a lot of expertise, which unfortunately is very scattered. I should like to see a political counterpart of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, based on one of the existing centres of excellence in Russian studies. This would enable us to look at the Soviet Union not only through military eyes but through political eyes. We could build it up and attract expertise from abroad. We could give it a European as well as a British role. The question is, who will pay? I suggest that the Ministry of Defence could find a shaving off its £17 billion, as this would be a good investment for British security. The University Grants Committee would have to come in as well, but wherever the funds came from, they would be relatively small compared to the enormous amounts of money that we are, rightly, spending on our military defence.

My second point concerns the western assessment of the Soviet defence effort. Recently, there have been alarming reports of a retrospective miscalculation not only by the CIA but by NATO. They are now saying that perhaps they got the growth of Soviet spending wrong by a factor of about 100 per cent. after 1976. I know that it is difficult to calculate exactly what the Russians are spending, but it is alarming for the layman—it is the layman who pays the taxes that keep our defence and western defence going—to be told that perhaps the rate of growth in the Soviet military budget is half as much as was first thought. I know that there are expert explanations for this and that the important thing is the outturn of the Soviet military budget. I know that Russia has a huge preponderance in certain sectors, but that does not get away from the fact that NATO and the CIA have made a big mistake or miscalculation in their estimate of Soviet military spending.

Perhaps we should concentrate on this and try to get it more accurate this time. When we are discussing budgets of that size, a small mistake means a big increase in military spending. That brushes off on the western economy as a whole because it means huge deficits in the United States, higher interest rates and a slowing down of recovery in Europe. Hence, it affects the ability of western Europe to contribute to its own defence.

Finally, I shall touch on something that has not been mentioned so far, but which is fundamental. However many pieties we utter in this Chamber — I include myself as I inadvertently utter pieties occasionally, and I see the Under-Secretary nodding—their effect on the international situation will decrease as long as our economy is not strong. Without a strong economy and strong defence, our influence will be minimal.

Let me finish by quoting the following: I get accused of tying Great Britain up to America. My God! I am here this morning to appeal to you to fight for our independence in the workshop, in the mine, in the field. It is a very ignoble thing for any Foreign Secretary to have to deal with anybody upon whom you are dependent … I want Britain to stand self-reliant and to come back, and I can only do that if you come forward. That is what Ernest Bevin said when he was talking to the workers of this country 35 years ago. I only wish that Labour Members would take the same line today with the British working class, and I include people of my social class in that. Unless we are honest about the need for a sound economy in Britain, we shall not have sound diplomacy and no one will listen to our pieties, however well intentioned they may be.

1.29 pm
Mr. Richard Ryder (Mid-Norfolk)

It is not surprising that an imperialist power, the Soviet Union, which has wiped out 20 million of its own people—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

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