HC Deb 18 June 1986 vol 99 cc1147-71 10.13 pm
Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)

The theme throughout yesterday's debate was political and human rights in one country, South Africa. This evening, as well as referring to the situation in South Africa, I shall discuss our approach to human rights generally.

There is no doubt that Britain, perhaps more than any other country, stands for the maintenance of freedom. One can argue that the House is a symbol of that freedom, as was certainly the case during the last war. In every country, without exception that I have visited since 1979, the reputation of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has stood as high as Churchill's ever did in support of freedom.

Mr. Foulkes

Come off it.

Mr. Atkinson

The hon. Gentleman has obviously never been abroad, or, if he has, he has not listened to what people say.

There is no doubt that the denial of human rights remains the major obstacle to world peace and security, and to trust and confidence between nations. As the world knows, we as a nation have always accepted a major responsibility in attempting to make the international treaties and institutions concerned with human rights succeed, and one such is the Helsinki Final Act. There have been many times when I have questioned the continuation of the Helsinki process because of the continued failure of the Soviet Union and its allies to implement the provisions which they have approved and supported, but I accept that we must persevere.

The Helsinki process provides too valuable an opportunity for violations by participating states to be raised. It keeps them in the dock of world opinion and enables us to raise specific outrages, such as the current persecution of the Turkish ethnic minority in Bulgaria. That issue was raised at Ottawa last year, but the fate of the Turkish minority has not, in my view, been sufficiently appreciated by the free world, with the result that Bulgaria continues to force its Turkish citizens—about 10 per cent. of the population—to change their names, to close their schools, and to abandon their language and customs.

All this is highlighted in a report of the Council of Europe last year. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who is to reply, for raising this matter in Sofia last month. I look forward to his comments later.

Mr. Corbyn

The hon. Gentleman condemns the persecution that is taking place in Bulgaria, but will he condemn the Turkish Government for their denial of the liberty and identity of Kurdish people within the national boundaries of Turkey?

Mr. Atkinson

I think that the hon. Gentleman is confusing the attitude of the present democratically elected Turkish Government with that of their predecessors, when there was no democracy. Instead, there was chaos and anarchy and the military Government took over the running of the country to try to put matters right and to restore democracy to Turkey.

The Helsinki process enables the cases of individuals to be raised. These include those who are harassed or discriminated against, persecuted or imprisoned for courageously compaigning in their own countries for rights and freedoms which we take for granted. These include Rostislav Evdokimov, who is serving five years' imprisonment and five years internal exile for campaigning for free trade unions in the Soviet Union, and Father Gleb Yakunin, who is serving seven years' imprisonment and seven years internal exile for advocating the end of state control of religion. I had the privilege of meeting both these people in Leningrad and Moscow when I was gathering material as the Council of Europe's rapporteur on these matters.

I pay tribute to the work of Amnesty International, which is now 25 years old, and to other organisations, such as Christian Solidarity International, of which I am the United Kingdom president. I must say, however, that I continue to be disappointed that we as Members of Parliament receive so little lobbying on behalf of people such as those to whom I have referred from our own free trade unions and from our churches. In my view, they are put to shame by the Jewish communities in Britain, who so frequently and efficiently supply Members with the facts about refusniks. I was pleased when I heard that their cause was presented to Mr. Gorbachev by members of the recent IPU delegation to the Soviet Union.

As we know, such perseverance pays off. Shcharansky, Solzhenitzyn, Bukovski, Ginsberg, the Siberian Seven, Georgie Vins and more recently Father Calcui from Romania, and others are all living proof of that. They are now enjoying freedom in the West. Worldwide campaigns on their behalf made them an embarrassment to the Kremlin, and so they were released. But so many remain. These include Sakharov, Irina Ratushinskaya, the Russian Catholic poetess whose state of health is giving so much cause for concern, and Valeri Barinov, the rock gospel singer, who are others known to us. We must raise their case at every opportunity, not so much for them to be released to the West, because they do not want to come to it. They wish merely to be able to go home and to see an end to persecution. There are many thousands more whose names we do not know.

We should most certainly consider the withdrawal of any support that we might give by the way of aid to those countries where we learn that their citizens are being persecuted for being Christian or Jewish, for example, as is the position in Nepal at present. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary knows this as a result of my fact-finding visit earlier this year and from his visit later in February. As a policy of human rights that is not enough.

We know from our own experience and that of the 35 countries which enjoy the same freedoms as we do that it is democracy which represents the best guarantee of human rights and the best protection for minorities. Moreover, it remains the best force for peace. In recent times, I doubt whether a democratically elected Argentina would have occupied the Falklands or whether a democratically elected Soviet Union would have invaded Afghanistan. We need no reminding that two world wars were started by dictatorships and won by democracies.

The central theme running through British foreign policy should be the promotion of democracy to those 100 or so remaining countries which are neither democratic nor Communist. They must understand that they must make a choice before a choice is made for them. Unfortunately, that is a battle of ideas which democracy is not winning. More countries have had Communism foisted upon them since the last war than have opted for democracy. That has partially been because for too long democracy has been on the defensive. We have been too negative in advocating it for others. We have been too apologetic in defending our own colonial past, which has left behind throughout the world parliamentary systems and freedom under the law which we had attempted to introduce in good faith. In so doing, we sowed the seeds of freedom which led to independence. That is a record to be proud of and which we should defend at every opportunity in the United Nations and elsewhere. I wonder whether we do that enough.

I accept that we should not assume that parliamentary systems which work in our countries will always survive being foisted upon others. Our European systems have taken centuries to evolve. In most of black Africa, pluralism has already reverted to tribalism and we have to accept that. What we cannot accept is the end to the independent judiciary and the dismantling of those constitutional restraints on arbitrary power which guarantee human rights for all people. That is the true test of a free society.

The alternative is a regime where there is no justice because the judiciary and legislature are one, usually one party. Regrettably, that appears to be the direction in which Zimbabwe is now moving and that is the situation which already applies to almost one third of the states which make up the Commonwealth. In my view, it ill behoves the Commonwealth to seek to destroy the economy of one of its former members, South Africa, when millions of its own citizens enjoy far fewer rights and freedoms than South Africa's black citizens do.

I want to record my opposition to economic sanctions against South Africa, not just for all the good reasons given to the House yesterday by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary but for one other very good reason. Either we apply sanctions against all the regimes we object to or we do not apply any at all. If we are not prepared to take meaningful action against the Soviet Union for continuing to occupy Afghanistan or for applying far worse apartheid against Christians, Jews and others within its own country, we should forget any further economic sanctions against South Africa.

In my view, we should not underestimate the effect of what is already happening in South Africa — the damaged economy, the pressure for change from business, the effect of the present violence, the political reforms already undertaken, the negotiations going on behind the scenes with black leaders and the whole experience of the Eminent Persons Group

Even though the Nationalist Government may not admit to being shaken by those factors, I believe that they will be influenced by them and that further reforms will be forthcoming. South Africa needs a period of calm to work things out for itself. The Eminent Persons Group, the Community and the Commonwealth have not been helpful in suggesting how reforms should be implemented—reforms which will guarantee the protection of all 14 groups which make up South African society—bearing in mind that every group in South Africa constitutes a minority.

We in the West should continue to make our good offices available for that process to succeed, with the promise of aid if necessary. President Reagan's National Endowment for Democracy for leadership training, education and the strengthening of democratic institutions could also be applicable here. What we must not do is to contribute further to an economic desert with even higher unemployment in South Africa and in neighbouring states, which will serve only to encourage anarchy and civil war. That wouuld accord exactly with the highest expectations of the Kremlin.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his brevity. The first Front Bench spokesman is hoping to catch my eye at 11 o'clock, so further restraint is needed.

10.25 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I, too, welcome this debate on foreign affairs, although it is difficult to concentrate on a particular part of the world when other hon. Members understandably wish to cover other issues. I welcome the fact that there is now far greater public interest in foreign affairs debates than there has been for many years. I believe that that interest is occasioned partly by the actions of the Government and the opposition of so many people to those actions.

We had a full debate on the problems of southern Africa yesterday, so I shall not repeat those arguments, save to say that the issue of sanctions against South Africa has activated and united more people in this country in the past few months than, tragically, in the 26 years since Sharpeville and the consignment to prison of Nelson Mandela and others. I hope that we shall soon see the release of those people and a genuine democratic majority Government in South Africa, because until then there will be bloodshed, poverty and hunger in South Africa.

I have here a copy of the United Nations report on the adverse consequences for the enjoyment of human rights of political, economic and other forms of assistance given to the racist and colonial regime in South Africa. The report lists the international companies which have been and still are trading with South Africa and making a great deal of money out of it. There are also 42 pages of British firms, listing their military, economic and financial interests in southern Africa. I believe that that is why the House yesterday rejected the opportunity to impose economic sanctions against South Africa, although I believe that the time will come when this country will become party to an economic embargo against South Africa.

I wish today to deal with issues other than South Africa, because the atmosphere surrounding international affairs has changed a great deal in the past few months. When American planes took off from British bases for their bombing raid on Libya, we received a large number of letters from constituents complaining of the danger to this country following the use of those bases and the attack on defenceless people in Tripoli. I quote one typical example. My constituent, Ms. Jane Rollason, writes: I write simply to register my horror at Mrs. Thatcher's action on 15 April in allowing Reagan to launch his attack on Tripoli from British bases. Her arrogance in endangering the lives of British people at home and particularly in Libya is quite incredible, and she has surely made a considerable contribution to the escalation of terrorist activity throughout Europe. She goes on to applaud the response of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and concludes: roll on the day when we are no longer led by a Reagan acolyte, should we be fortunate enough to live that long. That is typical of the view expressed by many people. There has been much analysis, particularly by my lion. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), of the motives behind the use of British bases for the attack on Libya. Clearly there was no military need to use British bases, but it was pushed by the United States military high command to prove that those bases could be used and that they could fly F111 aircraft around the coast of Europe to bomb Libya. Aviation Week, which my hon. Friend mentioned, analysed this well and pointed out that the attack on Libya was partly a proving ground for the ability of the F111s to fly to Libya without going over the European mainland, to deliver their bomb loads and to return to this country.

We must remember that the motive behind all this and behind so much of British foreign policy has been a furious hatred, promulgated by the Government through the media, of the Soviet Union and of everything that the Soviet Union does. It is also motivated by a slavish following of everything that the United States does. We do not have an independent foreign policy, but a foreign policy that is essentially directed by the interests of the Government and of the military establishment of the United States.

Not so long ago, when this country did not consider itself to be half at war with the Soviet Union, Britain and the Soviet Union considered that they had many mutual interests and many British soldiers died fighting Nazi-ism, as did many more Soviet soldiers. What I complain about is the way in which we are constantly fed a diet of pro-American propaganda from the Government, through the newspapers, and a diet of anti-Soviet propaganda.

The influence of the United States on our foreign policy leads us into the most extraordinary positions. It has led us into NATO and into supporting United States policy in many places. We supported the raid on Libya solely because of our subservience to the United States. We are supporting the United States' attempt to destroy the democratic and independent Government of the people of Nicaragua for exactly the same reason. We have stood by and allowed the people of Chile to be trodden underfoot because we are dominated by the interests of the United States.

Central America is the classic example of poor countries trying to drag themselves out of the cycle of poverty, debt and deprivation by their own communal activities and by the development of a collectivist economy. Because such an economy is seen as a threat to the interests of United States multinationals, the United States has imposed sanctions against Nicaragua and the British Government have followed suit. There are many other examples in other parts of the world where we have dragged ourselves wrongly into the United States foreign policy domain because of our links with the United States.

More recently there have been huge demonstrations throughout western Europe and throughout this country against the siting of cruise and Trident missiles, the effect that such siting has had on national defence policies and the cost being imposed on European defence budgets. We are members of NATO, which controls about 90 per cent. of our armed forces. It has an enormous bearing on our defence expenditure. When hon. Members talk about democracy, they should remember that half the decisions relating to our defence expenditure are made, not in Whitehall, in the British Cabinet or in the House of Commons, but in the NATO Council of Ministers, which in turn takes its advice from the high command and the generals who have consistently argued for a higher and higher level of national defence spending by NATO members. That threat to democracy concerns me greatly.

When NATO was set up in 1948, the commander of the United States air force who arrived in Britain with the advance guard of the American forces to be stationed here said: Never before in history has one first-class power gone into another first-class power's country without any agreement. We were just told to come over and 'We shall he pleased to have you'. Since that time the growth of American bases in this country and the effect of those bases on our national life has got worse and worse.

There are now 21 United States bases, 150 F111 aircraft and some 50,000 members of American forces here. Hiroshima could happen dozens of times over with the nuclear weaponry that is based in Britain. That is why I seriously call into question a defence strategy which relies solely on the interests of the United States, which drags us into a military alliance which is not defensive but aggressive, which controls the national budgets of so many countries and which imposes nuclear weapons on every country in western Europe, in almost all of which there has been mammoth opposition to the siting of those weapons. That opposition will continue and grow.

Although the Spanish people undeniably voted to remain in the North Atlantic Alliance in the referendum, they were denied a vote on NATO membership. There was never a referendum on that, as the wording of the ballot papers concerned the nebulous subject of the North Atlantic Alliance rather than NATO membership. I believe that the opposition to NATO membership in Spain would be repeated in many other countries if people were given the opportunity to say so. The long-term future of NATO is in serious doubt. I hope that, in the long run, NATO and other military alliances will be broken up, because they destroy national economic interests and pose the danger of a further world war.

I have mentioned the effect of United States influence on us and its control of our armed forces. Our massive defence expenditure is a direct result of NATO membership. Because we are so tied to United States foreign policy, we are also tied to the United States in all other spheres of international relations. Thinking is centred on Europe or on North America. Because of that, we tend to shut our eyes to what is going on in the rest of the world. We tend to shut our eyes to the growing impoverishment of the rest of the world because of the Atlantic-centric, Eurocentric view. We put our hands in our pockets to give overseas aid, while bleeding the poorest countries of the world dry through debt repayments and low commodity prices.

War on Want was founded by hon. Members and others in 1951 because they recognised the poverty that was occurring in immediately post-colonial countries and the danger of a new form of colonialism through lack of development. It recently published a booklet entitled, "Profits out of Poverty?" in which it describes the debt burden as a percentage of exports in several Latin American countries. Latin American countries are not the only ones with such problems. Argentina's debts amount to $50 billion, and debt repayments represent 80 per cent. of exports. That is the highest, but other countries are in serious difficulties.

The booklet also describes the involvement of British banks in the debt burden of Latin American and other countries. It mentions the exposure of big British banks to the big debtors. For example, 84 per cent. of the National Westminster bank's notional capital is tied up in debts in Latin America. The same is true for 202 per cent. of the notional capital of Lloyd's bank and for 274 per cent. of the Midland bank's notional capital. All those banks have registered record and growing profits.

Many Third world countries are asked to borrow money against the sale of commodities to finance development. Neither commodity prices nor debt interest payments are in their control, so the loans do not benefit the Third world countries. Rather, by a process of low commodity prices and high interest rates, western European and North American banks have been subsidised by the poorest people in the poorest countries in the world—to the tune of $25 billion a year from Latin America alone.

Many other examples could be quoted. I merely refer to the publication that has recently been issued by the Third World Foundation, which also produces the well-respected "South" magazine, which chronicles the debt burden of sub-Saharan Africa. This is an area that has been debated many times in the House, and many people have correctly and generously given large amounts of their own money and resources to try to overcome the terrible problems of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.

Frankly, the debt burden is enormous. It has grown from $18.6 billion in 1975 to $88.1 billion in 1984. As a proportion to export earnings, it was 120 per cent. in 1975 and it is now 230.9 per cent. That absolutely crippling burden is being placed on the people of sub-Saharan Africa and similarly on Latin America. It is hardly surprising that there is a political process of opposition to this debt burden from those who demand a moratorium on debt repayments and a limit on debt repayments to no more than 10 per cent. of export earnings.

Because the American Administration realised the danger to their own supporters and banks, the Baker plan was put forward as a solution, but that plan does not provide an adequate solution, because it suggests more lending and a different form of economic development in those countries. The poorest people in the poorest countries of the world are fed up with being told how to run their economies and to reduce public expenditure in order to increase export earnings in order to increase their own poverty to assuage the appetites of the big banks. Unless the British and other Governments face this problem, there will he collapses of major banks and serious problems for the Third world countries.

In December 1985 the International Currency Review produced a report on the problems of commodity prices. It includes an index in which 1980 is taken as 100. For all commodities, the figure in 1970 was 34.8 and by 1985 it had reached 70.1. However, in real terms the price of coffee has fallen from 100 in 1980 to 79.6 now. and sugar has fallen from 100 to 14.8—a massive reduction in earnings for these key crops and commodities that are produced by these countries.

When Band Aid, Sport Aid, Live Aid and similar campaigns are mounted, many people rightly take part and give money, but they are also calling for a change in an economic system and relationship that automatically impoverishes so much of the rest of the world. That is the campaign that we are mounting.

I hope that in future debates on overseas aid and world poverty we shall look seriously at the problems of commodity prices and impoverishment of the Third world. If we do not, and if we become obsessed with the cost of the militaristic fervour imposed on us by the United States, we shall be turning our backs on the poorest people in the poorest countries and on the prospect of economic regeneration for them and ourselves.

In the future, I look forward to a British foreign policy which is genuinely independent, which is not dominated by the military and financial interests of western Europe and the United States, and which is genuinely part of an international effort to eliminate poverty throughout the world.

10.43 pm
Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

I wish to cover three topics, but I shall cut my remarks as much as possible in view of the time. I shall speak first about the position in South Africa; secondly, about the deterioration in Soviet-United States relations and the role of Britain and Europe; and, thirdly, the implications for our aid budget of the debt crisis in Africa.

I hope that the House, if not the press, will forgive me for continuing yesterday's debate, and therefore yesterday's news, on the future of South Africa. As The Daily Telegraph accurately observed, I did not vote against the motion proposed by the Opposition which called for "effective economic measures" compared with the Government's motion calling for "effective measures". I am grateful for the opportunity to explain and, perhaps, convince others of, my position.

As I see it, we believe that the internal policies of another sovereign independent state offend against our belief in natural justice, and deprive the majority of its citizens of the normal human rights of freedom, justice before the law, to be consulted and make representations on policies which effect their everyday life, to own property, and not to be discriminated against on the grounds of race, colour or creed. The black population of South Africa are denied many other matters against which I rail and which deeply offend the Conservative party and the House.

In the past we would have taken up arms against such a state, as we did at the beginning of the century in the Boer war and later against Nazi Germany in the name of freedom and justice, and as the north of the United States did in different circumstances against the south in the American civil war. In many ways the motivations then and now are similar.

No one is suggesting that we overthrow the South African regime by force or even use a United Nations force to do so, although in the past we would have done so and this House would have agreed to do so. Given that that is so and we are not prepared to use outside force, we must use the tools that Wilberforce used in his crusade to end slavery—the tools of argument, persuasion and patience, reinforced by economic forces, many of which are already at work in South Africa, and the moral condemnation of our nation and churches. There is no other course available to us.

We must take up the task of persuading the South African Government and the electorate who support them —it is important to remember that they are responsive to a limited white electorate—that it is in their interests to change their policy. Let us be clear that we are asking them to share power with the black majority, so we must analyse the political and economic factors which are most likely to affect that white electorate in influencing that white Government.

There is a great deal of evidence to show that there is a growing willingness within the electorate to consider making progress in that direction. The Eminent Persons Group recognised that when it stated that it believed that public opinion in South Africa, which is reasonably unfettered, is ahead of the Government in that respect. The Nationalist Government also have a Right-wing constituency which forbids and bans any progress in that direction. That probably explains why the Government are working behind public opinion.

If that analysis is correct, we must encourage those in government and opposition to combine together to begin the process of freeing Nelson Mandela and opening a dialogue with all sections of the black community. If we were to adopt mandatory economic sanctions which would impoverish and punish the black community still further, we would encourage the forces of revolution and combine the white electorate against making progress towards a political settlement with the black community.

I agree with and support the Government's view, put forward by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, my hon. Friend the Minister of State and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. My only disagreement is that they must be prepared to consider all options, even those of an economic character, if we are to identify the measures which will reinforce the determination of those in government and in opposition and of the wider electorate in South Africa to open negotiations without preconditions, but on the understanding that violence will be discouraged by both sides.

The identification of such measures must be given urgent and detailed consideration and they must be decided on at the next meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government in consultation with the United States and the European Economic Community, with special reference to West Germany, Holland, Japan and the United Nations. Although we must maintain and enforce diplomatic pressure where possible, experience has shown that such pressure has made only limited and too-slow progress. I believe that the most effective form of pressure — as the right hon. Lady the Member for Clydesdale (Dame J. Hart) and her co-authors of the report accepted by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in April said—can be exercised by the South African private sector and by those who have invested their money in South Africa.

The lack of confidence in South Africa has already resulted in a dramatic fall in the rand and there is a disinvestment programme. Such action affects the value of property owned by white South Africans and results in a loss of income enjoyed by white people who have a vote and the ability to influence Government policy. We must draw the private sector into Government discussions, led in this country by Sir Leslie Smith, a former chairman of the British Oxygen Company, with the American, German, French and Italian private sectors, to hammer out policies which will have the most effective influence on the South African Government and encourage them to change course. I hope that the Government will leave no stone unturned, including measures of an economic nature, in their determination to find measures which will encourage and enable, politically, the South African Government to alter their policies so that the South African economy can grow and prosper and thereby make the massive investment in black African housing, health and education which is badly needed to redress the balance which is the heritage of the years of apartheid and racial government.

The Soviet Union's relations with this country and the United States have been well covered during the debate. We should not forget, in our enthusiasm, to take advantage of what I believe is a window of opportunity offered by the accession of Mr. Gorbachev to the secretaryship of the Communist party in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. We must not forget that the Soviet Union has not abandoned its expansionist policies outside the boundaries of the Soviet Union.

Afghanistan has been mentioned. I add to that the commanding position that the Russians have gained in south-east Asia by their support of the Vietnam regime and their domination and use of Cam Ran Bay and Da Nang which are massive installations—built, ironically, by the Americans—and which enable them to threathen, by their expanded navy and air force, the northern parts of Australia and the whole or the south Pacific basin. It is not just a threat. The Russians are operating in the islands of the south Pacific. They are doing the same seduction job that they did in Grenada.

The Russians are responsible for finding the money for Vietnam to occupy Kampuchea and for maintaining the wretched regime in that country. Soviet expansionism can be seen in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Angola, Cuba, Nicaragua and Europe.

If there is to be an easement of tension between the Soviet Union and the West, we must build up trust. The Soviet Union must begin to show that it is willing to enter into such discussions and to reduce tension if we are to make progress on the serious issues of nuclear and conventional disarmament.

Africa's debt problems are residual problems which will affect the world well after the time when the debt problems of the larger countries have been settled or at least a means of living with them has been found. The World Bank estimates that, by 1990, all African countries presently in debt will be much further in debt. One can see no way of solving that problem, except by increasing concessional flows through aid budgets to those countries. The Government will have to deal with the replenishment of the International Development Association and the World Bank in the next two or three months.

I understand your impatience, Mr. Speaker, because. I, too, have been sitting listening to this debate for two days. I should like to make this point. It is essential for the Government to recognise the necessity of ensuring that Britain plays its part in expanding the resources—properly focused on economic development—which will enable those countries to begin to pay back what they owe, pay their interest, and produce an economy that will enable them to provide a better standard of living and to avoid starvation.

Without further ceremony, and thanking you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me and the House for listening to me, I shall sit down.

10.55 pm
Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

In the few minutes available to me I should like to talk about South Africa. I am completely opposed to apartheid, but, like most people in this country, I do not think that that implies that I am anti-South African.

Obviously, the situation is complex and time is running out. In fact, after my visit there, I would say that the time has already passed for a peaceful, internally generated solution to the problem facing the South Africans. In short, South Africa needs help. Two countries can offer some help—the United States and the United Kingdom, both of which have large economic and political interests in South Africa—for example militarily and with respect to raw materials. In a way, they have a historic as well as a present responsibility to work towards a peaceful solution.

I should like in the closing minutes of the debate humbly to offer one solution that should be considered seriously by the United States and the United Kingdom. President Reagan and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister should at least get together specifically to talk about the problem facing South Africa. It is not just a South African problem, but a free world one.

President Reagan and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister should call a meeting between themselves and State President Botha at which they should face him with the reality of the threat that faces South Africa and the West, outline their plans and offer incentives for working and co-operating. They will have to offer the stick, which basically is not sanctions—I wholly disapprove of them, for the reasons outlined in the debate—but disinvestment which would disproportionately hit white employment as opposed to black employment.

This should be the plan. A conference should be called by the South African Government and sponsored by the United States and the United Kingdom as the honest brokers. I believe that they are second to none in the world as brokers for peace. That conference, which should comprise the President of the United States and the British Prime Minister, should be chaired by the South African State President. The 15 or more parties who represent the various interest groups in South Africa should be called to the conference. The South African Government should negotiate away all the vestiges of apartheid, save the vote and the constitution. The parts of apartheid that would be destroyed would then have been negotiated with the moderate blacks and moderate leaders from all parties that turned up at the conference. The ANC might resist going to this first conference because it might not renounce violence.

There should then be a pause during which the dissolution of apartheid should be put into legislative form to convince people to create the necessary credibility. A second conference should then be called to discuss South Africa's future constitution. Even the ANC could do nothing other than attend, and would perhaps be forced to eschew violence to qualify to attend. The second conference, in discussing the constitution, would discuss voting. We are not after giving one man, one vote once, but one man, one vote for ever after. We have to design a constitution that will allay the fears inherent in South Africa, and felt by many more than whites, of being swamped by the majority.

A solution might be along the lines of that found by the Swiss many years ago when they were faced with people of three different nations and four different languages, all fighting. The big fear was that when they combined, the German-speaking majority would run the country. Their solution was based on the canton system — keeping power all the way down the ladder at the lowest, canton, level and not at the national level. The national Government of Switzerland have only two powers. One is their control over the currency, and the second is their power to make war or peace on behalf of the country.

In South Africa, there are already in place about 360 magistrates districts, each about the size of the smaller Swiss cantons. A canton solution could work in South Africa if it were well studied, and if people had a wish to make it work. Switzerland is not the same as South Africa, but it has similar problems. All the people in the western world who have interests in South Africa and all the blacks and whites there have as an overriding interest peace, and finding a peaceful solution.

I shall not take any more time from the speech of the Front Bench spokesman for the Opposition, upon which I know that I am encroaching. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and Mr. Reagan will talk over this solution because if it worked, it would bring something valuable to South Africa — a peace that would allay the fears of the minorities and protect them, and would offer one person one vote, and often.

11.2 pm

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) for curtailing his speech. I know that some hon. Members have had to exercise the self-denying ordinance requested by the Chair, despite the late hour at which the debate is being concluded.

There is no doubt that, across the wide range of subjects that have been discussed in the debate, what dominates world affairs in 1986 is the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States of America. There have been many changes. In Washington we have had a new unilateralist style of foreign policy, with all the attendant electric shocks to NATO that go along with abandoning SALT 2, the raid on Libya, the deployment of chemical weapons and the gearing up of the strategic defence initiative planning has come in. In the Kremlin, a new leadership is promoting almost every week new initiatives and proposals, ranging from conventional troop cuts to test ban verification, even to the elimination of all nuclear weapons by the end of the century. Even without these new dimensions, the superpower relationship would dominate world events, as it has for the past 30 to 40 years.

The genuine difficulty that faces the non-superpowers in both the West and the East is to know how at a time of almost unique danger, when new breeds of weapons systems could open up vastly more dangerous scenarios, to assist the superpowers to live with each other, to talk to each other and to reach decisions together in this increasingly constricted world.

During the last two years there has been a transformation of our view of world problems. Whatever the ideological divide, which is still very deep, and whatever the potential for escalation and proliferation, which remains staggeringly great, both sides seem to be more willing than they have been for many years to talk to each other and to compete for the command of world opinion rather than to rattle sabres and command military superiority. For that we must be grateful.

Last year's Reagan-Gorbachev summit was an enormous boost to the hope that agreement might be possible. The underlying relationship that was forged there seems to have prevented the worst of the misunderstandings that have characterised superpower relations in the last 15 years. It was good that this afternoon the Foreign Secretary was able to announce that the much-postponed visit of the Soviet Foreign Minister is to take place at an early date.

For many years the superpower dialogue on arms control has been bogged down in the capitals of Europe and we have grown used to inactivity. There were 13 years of mutual and balanced force reduction talks in Vienna, and there have been endless years of talks at the disarmament conference in Geneva. None of them has produced concrete results. Now there appears to be a flicker of hope, as new suggestions are made and as old objections seem to be of less consequence. Slowly, in all the different forums in which these matters are discussed, there seems to be a spluttering into life of one sort or another. However, there is a proliferation problem. Because so many talks are taking place on so many subjects and on so many overlapping areas, the result is that, in such a complex area, fine words and sentiments from the top people take far too long to be translated into detail and to reach the negotiating table.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and the hon. Members for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) and for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) told us this afternoon about their visit to the Soviet Union as members of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. They underlined very clearly the fact that at the top of the negotiating ladder there are clear ideas about the direction in which the superpowers wish to go, but we have yet to see concrete results in terms of rhetoric and those fine intentions at the negotiating table. Indeed, the enthusiasm of Mr. Gorbachev for more and more initiatives has had the effect of confusing both the United States of America and his own negotiators. Both of them seem to be incapable of keeping track of his latest initiatives.

The new Soviet obsession with public relations and its desire, perhaps, to out-act the old actor in the White House tends to devalue the merit of some of the suggestions. For example, it was suggested after Chernobyl that there should be yet another summit. It was Mr. Gorbachev's third summit suggestion this year. The fact that agreement on the main summit meeting had not been reached meant that this suggestion looked like a diversionary gimmick. This impression was reinforced by the suggestion that this particular summit meeting should be held in Hiroshima. Glosses such as these detracted from the sensible points about co-operation on civil nuclear power that were made at the same time.

The shocks that were administered to us by the United States' raid on Libya and by its more recent decision to abondon SALT 2 betray a deep division among the allies and disarray in the United States and in the Administration of that country. As my right hon. Friend so ably said, it is not to be percieved as being anti-American to express a view in Britain that is being openly and in increasing volume expressed in the United States.

There is a crisis in the Atlantic Alliance and it is not neutralist or anti-American to note it and to regret it. The crisis arises partly from the distance from the last war, whose ruinous tragedies hound together the NATO countries after it. Our electorates in the West are now, like myself and many other Members of the House, of the majority of our population who were born after the end of the second world war. There is, whether we like it or not, a declining interest in and consciousness of the seeds of that conflict and the adhesive that was invented in the late 1940s to prevent it happening, again.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) made an impassioned speech thus evening about the election of Dr. Kurt Waldheim to the presidency of Austria. He made points which deserve answering, not just in the international context where President Waldheim will find himself, and possibly find himself profoundly uncomfortable, but about the British Government providing access to documents which should now be within the public domain but which apparently are being denied to us for reasons that cannot readily be understood. I hope that those Ministers who listened to his speech this evening, a speech of great power, will take on board the points that he made and will come forward with the answers which the House would expect.

I do not necessarily see the election of Dr. Waldheim, in a country which has more than due cause to be grateful for the post-war settlement, as a step into the past or a rejection of world criticism. It is perhaps a reflection of the same trends that we see in the West, of a rejection of the values and standards and memories of the second world war. Although we may regret the decision of the Austrian people, it was a decision taken within a democracy and is therefore one which we in the outside world will have to accept.

There is also a crisis in our Alliance because interests here have changed. The political activist in the West is more interested in world famine than in any possible Soviet invasion; more concerned about Chernobyl than the Krasnoyarsk phased array radar, and far more worked up about famine in Africa, which exists a plane journey away from all the wealth of our countries, than in the size of Russia's tank battalions.

Even in the Federal Republic of Germany a couple of weeks ago a respected opinion poll for a newspaper there showed that there was a greater measured concern in the population over the Chernobyl nuclear accident than there was in 1961 at the building of the Berlin wall.

Opinions, and values are changing, and recently the new American ambassador to Bonn expressed views about the possibility of the Americans going home and the reunification of the continent that would have been heresy had they been expressed only a few years ago.

There is also a crisis in the Alliance because of the behaviour, so often seen as inexplicable, and emotional and reckless, in our western European countries of the major and dominant partner in the Alliance, the United States. Indeed, as has been said by a number of hon. Members in the debate, there is a genuine concern about the way in which the present Administration of the United States conduct their foreign policy, which seems to fail to take into account the sincerely held views of their allies and supporters.

Anti-Americanism is rife in Europe and it is being fuelled by the Reagan administration's often open contempt for the opinion of its all too often—far too often in some cases—loyal allies. That must be a matter of concern for all of us who have had the good fortune to grow up in a Europe mercifully spared the civil wars of almost every other previous generation. Before it is too late, we in western Europe must find new ingredients for the glue that keeps the Alliance together, to ensure that for the next 40 years it will be as successful in holding together our continent and its peoples as it has been for the last 40 years.

It is clear from the debate that superpower relationships dominate not only their own traditional spheres of influence. The waves of tension spread far beyond the areas of the Warsaw pact and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It is outwith these areas that some of the worst dangers to peace exist for all of us. There is no doubt that the raid by the United States on Libya in April did much to fuel anti-Americanism within the NATO countries. The effect of what was seen by the allies of the United States as a provocative, disproportionate and questionable legal military adventure will be considerable.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) articulated a view and asked again, with his usual skill, the uncomfortable questions for which he is now famous or notorious. I hope that the Government and Government hon. Members listened to him with great care, and that the Government will he able to provide the answers to his questions.

I was in East Berlin the day after that raid and with Mr. Gorbachev I was attending as an observer at the East German Communist party congress. Despite what the Americans did to Libya, few of the normally predictable reactions manifested themselves at that time. Of course, we had the expected rhetoric, but it was not overplayed.

East Berlin is known as a barometer of world tension. It is often said that if the temperature of the world goes up, Berlin reaches boiling point. The interest that day in East Berlin was less in world war 3 than in the 58-car cavalcade that Mr. Gorbachev used to visit the tourist sites of the city. Whatever the private anger at the Americans, and it must have been profound, the Soviet Union did not over-react, and instead of retaliation for an attack on a Soviet ally, Mr. Gorbachev used his East Berlin speech, delivered only two days after the bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi, to make yet another proposal for arms control, this time on conventional troop reductions.

Some hon. Members make the point that instead of superpower relations being permanently confined to nuclear weapons, even though they are of supreme importance to us all, more progress in establishing the trust and understanding that is required for any long-term agreement between the superpowers might be accomplished by looking at other areas of common interest.

The middle east, with its instability and unpredictability and its potential for spilling over on to the world stage, is a headache for both the Soviet Union and the United States. It is the very instability and unpredictability of President Gaddafi that denied him greater Soviet support after the attack on Tripoli. That still prevents the Soviet Union from signing a defence agreement with the Libyans—an agreement for which there is considerable pressure. We should bear in mind that Mr. Gorbachev has scarely more affection for the schizophrenic colonel than has Washington.

Both the superpowers have influence and interest in the middle east, and their common interest is to see greater stability in the area. Soviet influence in Syria is not decisive, but its military links give the Soviet Union some edge in influencing opinion. The United States does not pull the strings in Israel's Administration, but without the United States Israel would be very lonely in that part of the world. Both of the superpowers have worries and concerns, and both need to control and minimise them. Both know that no settlement in the middle east is possible without them both being involved, and both know that international security is not possible without a settlement in the middle east. It is, therefore, a tailor-made situation for genuine superpower co-operation, not just for the hell of it or as an experiment, but in their own naked self-interest.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East mentioned the Gulf war, with all the mind boggling casualty figures that have been cited and the constant escalation. That is another area in which talks are necessary and could produce results. Why not a superpower dialogue on other hot spots in the world, so many of which have already been discussed by hon. Members — I think, for example, of South Africa, Central America, Angola, Kampuchea, or Afghanistan—or even on something that the Foreign Secretary mentioned, terrorism? That is a problem for both East and West, and there is a common interest. Or why not a dialogue on keeping the sea lanes open?

I have referred to areas of considerable danger and damage, which pose a much more potent threat to world peace than any possible invasions across the German plains. They could provide a much more fruitful prospect for building confidence between the two great powers. As the Foreign Affairs Committee said in the very important and thoughtful report published a couple of months ago entitled, "UK-Soviet Relations", Perhaps the most constructive response which can be made by the individual countries of the west (and by the United Kingdom in particular) is to take seriously, and at face value, the Soviet leadership's new readiness to discuss issues of common concern and to seek Western cooperation in the resolution of these issues. Those hon. Members who have just returned from Moscow, and those who, like me, were there earlier this year, would say that that was a very perceptive viewpoint, which could well be adopted by this Government, especially when the Soviet Foreign Minister comes to London in the near future.

Several other questions were raised by hon. Members, and I shall comment on some of them. I know that the House may have a considerable period of reflection on the issues relating to the EC, but the Foreign Secretary chose to raise the issue of Britain's imminent presidency. Just a small elite regularly attend EC debates. I often feel that we should be either certified or given a medal. But we have tried desperately hard during the past few years to get the Government to recognise the importance to both Britain and Europe of the unemployment afflicting this, and many other countries in the Community.

We have regularly failed to obtain any commitment, or even interest, from the Government, but I am glad to say that with only a couple of weeks to go before Britain takes over the presidency of the Community our arguments appear to have borne fruit. Last week, in The Hague, the Foreign Secretary said: Unemployment is a scourge in all our countries. It is our greatest and most urgent challenge and one that can only be met with common policies and common determination. At this late stage, it is nice to welcome the conversion of the Foreign Secretary and the Government to that view, and to the belief that that is the priority that should be at the forefront of the EC's deliberations, whoever happens to be in the chair.

It is profoundly depressing that we can expect the prescription for Europe to be the same miserable prescription that has been applied to the British economy. More of the same will become a Euro-Thatcherism that is laid on the table for the European Council. If that is what the new frontierless internal market is all about, it is an undistinguished contribution to solving Europe's undoubted and massive problems.

We must hope that in future there is more that the Government can do to rise to the challenge of a budget crisis in Europe and an uncontrollable agriculture policy with all the potential that exists in the 12 nations that make up the Community.

A number of hon. Members, including the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), in a speech that was otherwise entirely undistinguished, referred to an area of alternative diplomacy which is extremely important, especially in the context of the present preoccupation with South Africa. He congratulated the BBC external services in glowing terms, with which I concur. In the BBC external services we have a valued advert for Britain and the way in which we conduct debates. The external services need to be expanded and not contracted. Nowhere and at no time is this better illustrated than here at the present, where there is so much concern on both sides of the House about South Africa.

I note that the hon. and learned Member for Burton has returned to the Chamber. Perhaps that is because he is so unused to hearing any praise from me of any contribution that he has made to a debate in the Chamber. This is an ideal opportunity for the voice of Britain and for British public opinion to be turned on the Republic of South Africa. The broadcasting stations, for geographical and topographical reasons, beam an inadequate signal into South Africa, and now that that country has been sealed off from all opinions other than those officially stated by its Government, this is the ideal opportunity for us to beam our voice into it. I pay tribute to the BBC external services as the instrument and arm of Britain's diplomacy.

Similarly, I pay tribute to the British Council. I declare an interest, as I am vice-chairman of the council. I believe, however, that the work that is done by the council on behalf of Britain is something that we cannot repay in words alone. That work should be expanded and the council should be given resources to enable it to promote Britain as a whole.

This debate and world events in general have been dominated by East-West relations, and that is not surprising. In this context, however, the world is changing as both East and West adjust to the changing circumstances in which they find themselves. There is a genuine debate in the West, and we are right to cherish our right to be self-critical and to have a free voice in declaring opinions. But society is changing in the East and its populations will not for ever be content to be sold an incredible threat of possible western attack, or even to be dragooned by the rattle of Adolf Hitler's bones. There is a new climate in the East. There are demands for consumer goods. There is a desire on the part of the people to have their voice heard if growth is to be achieved. There is a need for prices and production to reflect demand.

Hungary and China tell us that, when people taste the flavour of being listened to, that taste is not easily removed from their palate. There is nothing soft, neutralist or appeasing in recognising the process of change that is taking place in eastern Europe. We can encourage it through dialogue and co-operation, and in the process loosen the chains of ideology and repression that we rightly condemn; or we can challenge the East militarily, with an increasingly suicidal armoury. In the process we would probably drive it hack into the past.

Members of the IPU delegation who visited the Soviet Union and who have spoken in the debate seem to have come home with one clear message — that the new leadership means business. And it was the Prime Minister who told us that we can do business with it. Why do we not rise to the challenge and call its bluff? From our position of strength and freedom in our voluntary alliance, we could make the great step forward to secure freedom for the next generation as well as its survival.

11.29 pm
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tim Renton)

This has been a wide-ranging and thought-provoking debate and I would like to thank hon. Members on both sides of the House for the quality of their speeches. I have no time to comment on them all but I shall try to comment on as many as possible. As the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) said, many of those who took part in the recent IPU delegation have also spoken in the debate. It has, if anything, been something of a speech fest for them.

The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey)—I should like to join those who have thanked him for the part that he played in the delegation — my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) and the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) are all members of the IPU delegation who have spoken in the debate. Clearly they had a stimulating, thought-provoking and worthwhile trip.

I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury spoke about his intervention on the question of human rights while he was in Moscow and that was referred to by the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson). I propose to return to the important question of human rights, or their absence, in the Soviet Union.

I have thought before that the IPU reaches the parts that other envoys do not reach. That will be particularly true in the days and months ahead since I understand that the IPU is to hold its next annual conference in Buenos Aires. Where more appropriate than a foreign affairs debate to congratulate an English team on beating Paraguay in Mexico and what with the exciting football match next Sunday there will be plenty of opportunities for bilateral contact between us and Argentina in the near future.

Mr. Foulkes

We also shall support England on Sunday.

Mr. Renton

That is a very good tribute from the Scots. I am sorry that Scotland has not also moved on to the next stage of the world cup. I should like to deal with a few free-standing matters raised during the debate. I shall deal first with Namibia. I listened carefully to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton). The fact is that we, together with out contact group partners, the United States, Canada, France and Germany, consider that Security Council Resolution 435, which provides for free and fair elections for the people of Namibia, is still the best available basis for the independence of Namibia. It is the only internationally recognised plan for bringing about independence and it has been agreed by the South African Government. We believe that the best hope for progress is to press for implementation of that plan.

The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West—and here I agree with the hon. Member for Hamilton—in eloquent words raised the question of President Waldheim. As the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, he has written to my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Lord Privy Seal on this matter. I understand that he has raised a number of questions with the Ministry of Defence. He has apologised for the fact that he was not able to stay for the replies to the debate, but he said that he would read the record. Therefore, through the record I have to say that the Ministry of Defence's search of its records, which he requested, is still continuing. A matter as serious as that which he has raised, inevitably takes a long time to investigate and requires careful scrutiny. Therefore, I cannot comment further, other then to say that the Ministry's search of its records continues, and no doubt it will be in touch with the hon. and learned Gentleman as soon as the search is finished.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant), who also apologised for his absence from the end of the debate, mentioned the Western European Union and the potential contribution that it could make to the development of a common European defence policy. As hon. Members on both sides of the House acknowledge, Europe must pull its weight in East-West affairs generally and in the Western defence effort in particular. The WEU helps in that process. The Government took a leading part in the reactivation of the WEU, and we regard it as a significant forum for European political contributions to security. We have endeavoured consistently to ensure that Foreign and Defence Ministers attend WEU meetings and Assembly sessions.

The right hon. Member for Leeds, East mentioned the middle east. Anyone who is involved in the problems of the middle east at times reaches a sense of despair—of wondering whether a solution to the conflicts in the area will ever be achieved. But all of us would agree that the interested countries simply cannot walk away from the problems of the middle east. We must try to address the underlying problems, for stagnation in the middle east breeds despair, and that in turn encourages terrorism.

The balanced British approach to the Arab-Israel problem is unchanged. The 1980 Venice declaration remains the basis of our policy — the right of Palestinians to self-determination and of Israelis to security. The United Kingdom and the other EC countries are ready to help, but they cannot be a substitute for a regional initiative. I am glad that the Prime Minister's recent visit to Israel was welcomed by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and by the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West. That visit demonstrated our ability to speak frankly to Palestinians and Israelis without causing offence, but it would be wrong—

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

The Minister said that the Prime Minister's visit did not cause offence. Can he explain why the Palestinian leaders who met the Prime Minister in the consulate in Jerusalem made it clear to her that the only organisation that they recognised as their representatives was the Palestine Liberation Organisation? But she still insists that another group might represent the Palestinians. Which other group does she believe could do that?

Mr. Renton

I shall deal with Palestinian representation, but I must tell the hon. Gentleman that from all the records that I have seen it appears that the leading Palestinians who met the Prime Minister at the consul-general's house in Jerusalem believed it to be a satisfactory meeting and a good exchange of views.

We do not expect an early breakthrough in the Arab-Israel process. There are several reasons for that: first, the breakdown of King Hussein's efforts to co-ordinate his negotiating position with the PLO; secondly, the rotation of Government in Israel; and, thirdly, the United States mid-term elections. We shall do our best to continue, through quiet diplomacy, to encourage clear thinking. Yesterday, King Hussein had useful discussions with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

We recognise that Palestinian representation is a key issue. It is unrealistic for Israelis to hope for peace without talking to authentic Palestinian representatives. One makes peace with one's enemies, not with one's friends. It is equally unrealistic for Palestinians to expect to take part in negotiations unless they renounce violence and accept the Israeli right to a secure existence. Against that background we consider that it is up to the Palestinians to choose their own representatives.

During the Prime Minister's visit she focused attention particularly on the occupied territories. When I visited Gaza in December I was extremely depressed by the economic conditions in that part of the territories. There is no doubt that there is an urgent need for improvements in conditions there, but as a prelude to, not a substitution for, peace negotiations. We believe that the Palestinians should be allowed more freedom to run their own affairs, to engage in political activity and to develop the economy of the territories.

The other tragic conflict in the middle east is that between Iran and Iraq. We often tend to forget it because, rather like the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, it has been going on for so long—nearly six years. There is a tendency to overlook the fact that it is the most bloody armed conflict in the world with, we estimate, 500,000 killed so far. There is still stalemate at the front, particularly around the port of Fao that was occupied by the Iranians some months ago. Large numbers of men are being killed and maimed in continuing fighting. As many as 450,000 young Iranians reach draft age each year, thus giving the Iranians an ample supply of young men on which to continue to draw.

We are very concerned at the continuing suffering and the danger that the conflict poses for other states in the region, notably for the states in the northern part of the Gulf. The international community is now directly involved too. Attacks on neutral shipping in the first half of 1986 were more than those for the whole of 1985. This conflict has seen the use of chemical weapons by Iraq, which we unreservedly condemn, together with other members of the Security Council. The use of chemical weapons in the conflict underlines the need for a global ban, to which I shall return.

Efforts must continue to seek a negotiated settlement. But the sad fact is that many mediators have in the past attempted to intervene but have not succeeded—Olof Palme, the representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, whom we shall always remember for the part that he tried to play in the peace process, the Gulf Co-operation Council, the Japanese, the Pakistanis, the Algerians, the Australians, to name only some. In my judgment the prospects remain bleak. Only the United Nations Secretary-General remains active. My right hon. and learned Friend discussed the conflict with him last month. He offers the best hope of progress in mediation between the parties and we support his efforts.

Mr. Dalyell

May I have a comment later or by letter on any factual inaccuracies in my speech, in Malcolm Spaven's chapter in the book "Mad Dogs" by Pluto Press, or in the "World in Action" programme on Colonel Gaddafi? If there is anything that the Foreign Office thinks is factually wrong, may we be told?

Mr. Renton

I do not think that it is appropriate for the Foreign Office to comment on factual inaccuracies in the book to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. I regret that I was out of the Chamber for his speech, but even Ministers have occasionally to eat. I shall read his speech. If I see any factual inaccuracies of considerable importance in it I shall write to him about them.

Mr. Cohen


Mr. Renton

No, I must continue because I have many points to make on other subjects

Anglo-American relations were raised in several speeches and particularly by the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Abse) who, in what I regarded as a bitter and misguided speech, referred to Britain's thraldom to the United States and to the sick culture of the United States. I am sorry that he is not in his seat. He was supported by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) in a sad little speech. They gave a ridiculous portrayal of the United States. I must ask them which country opens its arms to take in refugees from all over the world? Which country still tries to follow the lines of the poem that are engraved on the Statue of Liberty which run: Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.'? Which is the country that has taken so many more refugees from the Thai-Cambodian camps about which we are so worried? It is, of course, the United States, which has so far taken 365,000 Indo-Chinese refugees. France is next, with about one fifth of that number. Which is the country that gives comfort to Jewish refugees? Which is the country that is always opening its doors to those who are leaving the Soviet Union? Again, it is the United States.

I find it absolutely astonishing that Opposition Members, who get so lyrical in their defence of human rights and who write to me so frequently about Irina Ratsushinskaya, whose book of poetry I was sent in translation today—this sad, ill poetess is forbidden to leave the USSR for the moment—turn so much of their venom on the United States without ever looking at the mote in the eye of the USSR.

Mr. Foulkes


Mr. Renton

The hon. Gentleman has only to listen to the speeches that have been made today to learn how tragically true what I have said is.

Of course the Government have close contact with the United States Administration on a variety of world issues. I am glad that we do. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary saw Secretary Shultz on 22 May. He had useful talks, and they will be continued regularly at a high level. The United States Government listen to our views.

Mr. George Robertson


Mr. Renton

That does not mean that they do what we say all of the time, but should we give up every opportunity to influence them? I can tell the hon. Gentleman when. The Camp David four points on SDI were agreed between the President and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in December 1984. They have gained wide acceptance in the Alliance as fundamental elements in the approach to SDI. It is absurd to say that we follow the United States slavishly. Opposition Members who accuse my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister one moment of being a poodle and the next of being an iron lady, entrust her with a quality of metamorphosis of which even she, with all of her undoubted qualities, is not capable.

The greater part of the debate was taken up with arms control. My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster, in a thoughtful and sensible speech with much of which I agreed, said how important it is that we should work in every way we can to help to maintain the momentum of the talks that have started in Geneva. I entirely agree. We are not party to the Geneva talks between the United States and the Soviets on strategic arms and intermediate forces, but we attach the highest priority to them. We believe, however, that we should never sacrifice our long-term aims for short-term gains. The agreed aim of the talks is to work out effective agreements to prevent the arms race in space and to terminate it on earth, to limit and reduce nuclear arms and to strengthen strategic stability It is the Americans who have made most of the running to turn those objectives into reality by tabling concrete proposals in Geneva.

It was they who in November proposed a 50 per cent. reduction in nuclear weapons and in February a global elimination of all intermediate nuclear zones. These are radical proposals to achieve deep cuts in nuclear arsenals. If implemented, they would provide a basis for lessening East-West tensions.

But until very recently, these proposals of November and February have been without specific Soviet response. Finally, in the last few days—and my right hon. and learned Friend referred to these proposals — the Russians have come back with a specific counter-proposal strategic weapons to be limited by equal ceilings, 1,600 launchers on each side, nuclear warheads not to exceed 8,000, and separate negotiation on long range intermediate nuclear forces. They have also proposed a commitment to give at least 15 years' notice of withdrawal from the ABM treaty and to restrict work on SDI to laboratory research.

Full details are not yet available to us, and the detail is obviously of fundamental importance. But I agree with the right hon. Member for Leeds, East when he described these proposals as important. They will require very careful study by the United States. I very much hope that they mark a shift away from the former negative Soviet approach and that they will bring closer the prospect of a balanced and fair agreement. Our initial reaction would be that there seems to be an element of flexibility and an opportunity for understanding in the proposals that the Soviets have now tabled.

Much has been said about chemical weapons. This Government are wholly committed to the aim of ridding the world of chemical weapons. We have tabled no fewer than six detailed papers for consideration at the conference on disarmament in Geneva. This is an issue on which NATO is wholly united. But we abandoned chemical weapons in the 1950s and the United States has since 1969 imposed a unilateral moratorium on their manufacture. In other words, there have been 17 years of unilateral restraints.

What matching restraint has there been from the Soviet Union? Its response has been relentlessly to build up stocks of chemical weapons—300,000 tonnes of nerve agents alone. I submit to the right hon. Member for Leeds, East that that is an eloquent example of the failure of unilateralism, even the leap-frogging type of unilateralism to which he referred.

Mr. George Robertson

So the Government wish to do nothing?

Mr. Renton

We do want to do something.

The Soviet Union says that it wants a ban, so why has a ban not been agreed? The answer is simply verification. The only treaty worth having is one in which all sides have confidence. That means ensuring that there are adequate arrangements to prevent cheating.

Both the right hon. Member for Leeds, East and my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster asked for details about progress on verification. Among the crucial issues remaining to be determined are how to check that civil chemicals are not diverted for chemical weapons purposes, how to check on non-production, and, most important of all, how to agree a stringent challenge inspection regime.

I welcomed the opportunity of discussing these matters today with Mr. Issraelyan, the chief Soviet negotiator at the chemical weapons talks in Geneva. I made it plain to him that we looked to the Soviet Union to show new flexibility in the negotiations if we are to believe that they are genuinely serious about a ban—if, in the words of the Prime Minister that have been frequently quoted, they are to show that Mr. Gorbachev is really a man with whom we can now do business.

Iraq's use of chemical weapons in the Gulf has brought home sharply to all nations how accessible and terrible these weapons are. A comprehensive global ban must be agreed quickly to prevent proliferation. This dreadful genie must be put back in its bottle. Meanwhile the United States has decided to restore a deterrent capability if, and only if, negotiations on a global ban do not succeed between now and late 1987. This binary decision is not escalation, as the right hon. Member for Leeds, East suggested, but an opportunity for negotiation of a total ban. The ball is in the Soviet court. It must decide whether negotiations can succeed. NATO has absolutely no wish to see the United States resume production of chemical weapons if the better option, a negotiated ban, can be achieved. We have a negotiating window now of 18 months. A chemical weapons ban is needed by the West, the East and the whole world.

Three events of possible historic significance have already happened in 1986. The first is Chernobyl, to which the hon. Member for Hamilton referred. It could be as important as Nagasaki or Hiroshima in changing perceptions about the future nuclear world. The second is the American strike on Libyan bases. It is now clear that the effect was to administer a sharp shock to Mr. Gaddafi and to serve notice on other countries which might have considered indulging in state inspired terrorism. Since then the Tokyo and Luxembourg meetings have put together packages of non-military measures to deal with international terrorism. We greatly hope that this will have a growing effect. The third event has been the oil surprise. It is devastating for the Soviets, the Libyans and some friendly states, such as Mexico, but it presents an opportunity for Western and world growth as good as a tax cut, and it must give added impetus to the international discussions on world debt. But none of those events is as significant as the talks on arms control and whether there is progress in those talks.

Mr. Healey

I asked the Minister to answer a specific question which was whether the answer given by the Secretary of State for Defence to questions on the Government's attitude to a comprehensive test ban and which contradicted itself in the same sentence represents a change in the Government's position? Or, are the Government prepared to seek a comprehensive test ban only if the verification problem can be solved?

Mr. Renton

As both my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have said in answer to questions on a comprehensive test ban treaty, there has been no change in our position.

The issue of arms control talks will certainly affect us, our children and our grandchildren because it reflects the capacity of human beings to inflict on one another virtually infinite harm. It asks the question whether we collectively have the ability to rein in that capacity. There is no doubt that we in the West, while seeing the propaganda, the shallowness and the public relations value of so many Russian proposals, must test to the full whether there is ground in their proposals on which we can build the future hopes of mankind. Today we have had discussions with ambassador Issraelyan, and shortly my right hon. and learned Friend will have important discussions with Foreign Minister, Mr. Shevardnadze.

Yet, it is strange that while the issue of arms control is of such paramount importance, it is the issue on which our political opponents are at their most perverse. The Social Democrats and Liberals—[Interruption.] Indeed, where are they? They have given new meaning to the phrase dual track: one David going one way, the other David going the other. I listened to the comments of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed on nuclear deterrence, and I have no clearer idea of his policy now than I did previously.

As to the Labour party and the right hon. Member for Leeds, East with his recent lessons in arithmetic, I shall first correct the right hon. Gentleman on the cost of the necessary replacement for Polaris in the 1990s which he said would cost 40 per cent. of the equipment budget. It will cost not 40 per cent. but an average of 3 per cent. of the total defence budget, and 6 per cent. of the equipment budget.

Mr. Healey


Mr. Renton

The right hon. Gentleman reminds me of Max Beerbohm's character the happy hypocrite who was, as Max Beerbohm said, rather like Caligula with a dash of Sir John Falstaff. Hypocrisy is a dangerous trait for those who wish to lead political parties, let alone countries.

The message is clear. The Conservative Government, and they alone, will pursue their path of careful negotiation with Moscow as a friend of the United States, and as a member of NATO and the European Community. Whenever it is appropriate, we shall do that independently and in our own right.

It being Twelve o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put, pursuant to order [18 June]

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