§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe)
This is the first foreign affairs debate of the new Parliament, an important occasion notable for several different features—first, from my own point of view. Rather unusually, I spent almost the whole of the last week of the election campaign in Venice, and the whole of polling day in Iceland. I was rewarded with a flattering increase in my majority. I am not sure what that proves.
The second feature is that, as far as we can judge, this is the last debate of its kind—or, indeed, of any kind—in which I shall share a Front-Bench role with the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), and the last time that the House will hear the right hon. Gentleman speak in that capacity. He will not mind if I say that he is a substantial enough figure to write his own political obituary. Indeed, he would probably not allow anyone else to have a shot at it. He will also allow me to say that his departure from the Opposition Front Bench is a matter of regret in both personal and House of Commons terms.
If the records are correct, the right hon. Gentleman has spent 28 years on the Front Bench. It is 23 years since he first took Government office in 1964, and it is an astonishing reflection that for just over half that time he and I have been shadowing or dogging one another in one capacity or another. I hope that he will regard it as something of a tribute if I describe him as a political acrobat who has performed more somersaults than most constitutions can stand. The right hon. Gentleman has featured in each election campaign by at least once testing his own luck and the patience of his colleagues almost to destruction. On this occasion I hope that he will honour the House by offering us some mature reflections on the faltering power of prayer within the Kremlin.
We wish the right hon. Gentleman a happy retirement, although it is only a provisional retirement, to the Back Benches and we offer this advice to him. If he is intent on producing any memoirs of his long time in office, it would probably be most prudent if he confined himself to the photographs and left his charming wife, to whom we all send our good wishes, to write the text, of which she has tremendous experience.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
On that happy, conjugal note, I turn to the subject of the debate.
It must be said that the election was hardly dominated by foreign policy questions, but most of us would agree that one important foreign policy issue was only just below the surface throughout the campaign—that of East-West relations and arms control. So it was, in a way, quite fitting that the conclusions reached at the meeting of the North Atlantic Council that opened in Reykjavik on polling day were indeed a notable fulfilment of this Government's tenacious efforts over a number of years to promote a real improvement in East-West relations. We intend to keep up that momentum. The Czech Foreign Minister was a welcome visitor to Britain last week, and we look forward to seeing his Polish, Bulgarian and Romanian colleagues in London in the autumn. I hope to visit the Soviet Union again later this year, and in due course we should certainly welcome a further visit to Britain by Mr. Gorbachev.
It is indeed the impact of Mr. Gorbachev on Soviet policy which enhances the prospect of change in the previously frozen immobility of East-West relations. I have no doubt that Mr. Gorbachev realises that he needs a stable international environment that will allow him to concentrate on his monumental task of domestic reform. There is some evidence that this realisation may be having some impact on his foreign policy decisions, but it remains far from clear that the full implications of this have been grasped by the Soviet leadership—far from clear that the destabilising ambitions and dogmas of past years have been abandoned. So, while we welcome the signs of change in Mr. Gorbachev's Soviet Union that are clearly positive, we remain vigilant for our own security. We are determined not to mistake a mirage for reality. Even so, there is one vision that may well become reality this year—the conclusion of an INF agreement. The Reykjavik meeting was crucial in shaping the Western approach to that.
The Government have been one of the main architects of the agreement reached at Reykjavik on the double zero option. The communique restated NATO's wish to see the global elimination of long range intermediate nuclear missiles. It also endorsed the objective of the reduction to zero on both sides, again on a global basis, of missiles with ranges down to 500 km. These decisions were not easy for all members of the NATO Alliance; they are a tribute to the unity of purpose of the Alliance.
The progress that has been made towards an INF agreement is a clear vindication of the policy of negotiation from strength—above all, of the twin track decision that NATO has pursued for many years. I can readily understand that Opposition Members may have mixed feelings about that, because they opposed the decision to introduce Pershing 2 and cruise missiles to European territory in response to the Soviet deployment of SS20 missiles. Experience underlines the fact that this was a grave misjudgment on their part. I believe that it was an important reason why the electorate rejected so decisively the outdated and discredited unilateralist policies of the Opposition.
At Reykjavik, the NATO Council also looked at the arms control agenda on a wider basis, because it would be wrong to allow the Soviet Union to confine the debate on 160 arms control to nuclear weapons. The more we make progress in reducing nuclear armouries, the more vital it becomes to tackle the Warsaw pact's overwhelming preponderance in chemical and conventional weapons. Our purpose is to prevent all war, not just nuclear war. The whole House will therefore welcome the confirmation again in the Reykjavik communiqué of the Alliance's priorities that were set out last December. They are the same priorities as are spelt out in the Gracious Speech from the Throne—50 per cent. cuts in strategic offensive weapons, the global elimination of chemical weapons and agreement to redress imbalances in conventional weapons.
Even those measures cannot be considered in isolation. It was for that reason that the Reykjavik meeting agreed to take further our work on a comprehensive concept of arms control and disarmament. Our aim is to ensure that progress in these and other potential areas, including shorter range missiles, continues to enhance, not to undermine, the prospects of peace in Europe.
The Reykjavik meeting also made important progress in preparing within the Alliance for negotiations on achieving a better conventional balance. The House will recall that since agreement at Halifax on the principle of such negotiations just a year ago, there have been difficulties in agreeing within the Alliance on the framework in which they should be pursued, so the House will, I hope, welcome the resolution of those difficulties at Reykjavik and again acknowledge the central role played by Her Majesty's Government in helping to bring that about.
Of course, security involves much more than just military balances. It is also about human issues—above all, about human rights.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Was it with the Foreign Secretary's authority or with the authority of some other Minister that the intelligence services arranged for the export of the Short Blowpipe missiles to Afghanistan?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
The hon. Gentleman will recall that the practice of successive Administrations has been to refrain from commenting on questions of that kind. However, I must add that it is astonishing that anybody should be alarmed or dismayed by the efforts of the Afghan people to defend themselves against the Soviet onslaught. They face the might of a vast, modern army, and most hon. Members will thank goodness that modern weapons are getting through to help them.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
The hon. Gentleman has had his bite of that cherry. He will make his speech later.
On the subject of human rights, it is relevant to reflect on the impact on human rights of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. It is an insight into the attitude of the Soviet Union to these questions. In Europe, we have a unique framework for pursuing these questions—namely, the Helsinki commitments and the CSCE process. Those commitments were freely entered into by the Soviet Union and her allies. The Russian performance in living up to the Helsinki commitments will inevitably, and quite rightly, be seen as a touchstone of its good faith in other respects.
During the election campaign I was struck, as perhaps were other hon. Members, by the number of people who raised with me the question of human rights. I was struck 161 also by the strength of feeling with which they did so. I think that the whole House will join me in stressing the importance of improving Soviet performance on human rights. In the last few months there has been some increase in the rate of Jewish emigration that it allows. Again I hope that the whole House will agree with me when I say that we look for further substantial improvements in that respect.
A better climate of East-West relations would also make a number of regional issues easier to deal with, although by itself it will not solve them. This is one of the challenges to which the Government will respond in the years ahead—the promotion of peaceful settlements to some of the endemic disputes in the middle east, southern Africa and more widely. That task is made much harder by the fact that so often the nations and cultures that are involved in these disputes are themselves disintegrating or are internally fragmented.
One vivid example of that sad disintegration is the Lebanon. When President Gemayel was here recently, we made clear to him our continuing support for Lebanon's territorial unity and integrity. However, we cannot close our eyes to the tragic divisions in Lebanese society—the bitter fighting and the continuing presence of foreign troops. I am sure that the House will join me in paying tribute to the dedication of our Beirut embassy, which is continuing to work in very difficult and dangerous circumstances. Like all of us, it is watching for any encouraging signs about our hostages. The lack of firm news is agonising for the families, who have our deepest sympathy. The continuing detention of innocent people is a constant reminder of the suffering that terrorism inflicts.
Such outrages do not benefit the terrorists' cause. Quite the reverse; they stiffen our resolve to stand firm. That policy is widely respected around the world. We remain in the forefront of concerted international efforts to prevent terrorist outrages and to reduce the room for manoeuvre for those who perpetrate them.
We need to take account of the root causes of terrorism; not to excuse them, but to understand them. That is part of the importance of the central Arab-Israel issue. We discussed that again this week with Foreign Minister Peres. It is no platitude to say that the Government remain deeply concerned about the lack of progress towards a negotiated settlement.
We and our European partners firmly support the principle of an international conference. It remains the most practical way forward to negotiations between the parties that are directly concerned. It would help to enhance Israel's security and lead to justice for the Palestinian people. In our view, the conference should act as a framework within which direct negotiations between the parties can take place. It should not have the right to impose solutions, nor to veto agreements that are reached between the parties. Britain is, as ever, ready to play her full part. Indeed, our history and responsibilities in the Security Council as a permanent member make it our duty to do so.
Much preparation will be needed before any conference can succeed. We welcome the efforts that have already been made, notably by Mr. Peres and His Majesty King Hussein, to reach agreement on arrangements for a conference, and those efforts should be energetically pursued.
162 No opportunity must be missed to take a major step forward in the process. All the permanent members of the Security Council and other parties should be involved. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is looking forward to discussing this further next month when she sees King Hussein in London and President Reagan in Washington.
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)
Will my right hon. and learned Friend spell out the Government's position with regard to the Palestine Liberation Organisation being invited to take part in such a conference, bearing in mind, whether we like it or not, that it represents the views of the Palestinian people?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I understand my hon. Friend's interest in that important question, but I shall not try to spell out the precise form of representation at the conference because, as he will recognise, it is one of the most important questions. Plainly—and I think that there is a consensus on this—Israel, her neighbours and the permanent members should be represented at the conference, but it is equally clear that proper Palestinian representation must be assured as well. I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not go further now, but we are treading in a sector which is of importance to all those who potentially wish to take part in this conference.
I turn now to the other main middle eastern question—the Iran-Iraq conflict, about which we are deeply disturbed. It is a shocking fact that hundreds of thousands of young lives have been lost in this senseless fight. The number of deaths is now about the same as Britain's losses in the trench warfare of the first world war. Iran and Iraq should realise the damage that the fighting does to the stability of the region. They must start looking realistically for a peaceful settlement.
The role of the United Nations' Secretary General is critical in that, and that is why we and the other four permanent members have been discussing how to stimulate progress. The Security Council met in informal session earlier this week. We want to mobilise the full authority of the United Nations to bring home to both belligerents the need to stop fighting and start talking. Our hope is that before long a resolution can be put forward which will command the necessary degree of support. Such progress will reduce the threat to freedom of navigation in the Gulf, which has increased in recent months. The attack on the USS Stark showed the high risk of miscalculation of confrontation. Royal Navy ships in the region are protecting our right to free navigation. Already this year they have successfully accompanied 119 merchant ships. They are not there to seek confrontation. Their presence is designed to protect genuine British interests, and we oppose any action which would increase tension in this important international waterway.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Has the Foreign Secretary noticed the speculation in Washington on this topic using the words, "A surgical operation" and comparing it to potential fruits claimed from the Falklands and Grenada? Does he agree that there is always a risk in any surgical operation, including that of gangrene?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I am not sure that I follow the point that the hon. Gentleman has made in his analogy, but he is right to draw attention to the need to avoid any action that increases tension in the area. The situation is tense, 163 and no one wants to make matters worse in any sense. It is a topic that I look forward to discussing later today, along with other regional issues, with my colleague from Oman, Mr. Yusuf Alawi.
That brings me to the question of our relations with Iran. The level of our relations has been sharply reduced in recent weeks. I want to emphasise quite clearly that that has been their choice, not ours. The House will not need to be reminded of the Iranians' violent abduction of Mr. Edward Chaplin, who was our No. 2 in Iran. Such behaviour undermines the basis on which Governments deal with each other. We were right to react strongly to such an incident and our partners and allies understand why we did so. Nevertheless, we remain ready to build a constructive long-term relationship with Iran. But that can only happen on the basis of strict reciprocity of representation. We are interested in the substance of relations between states, not in the preservation of an empty shell. On that basis we ask that others respect, as we do, the civilised code of diplomatic behaviour. Our consistent approach to matters of that kind has set a standard which is widely respected.
I said earlier that we live in a world where, sadly, many fundamental rules of international conduct are widely disregarded. That is all the more reason for the United Kingdom to act as a beacon of common sense and stability. That practical approach to problems is the one that we seek to commend in each of the international groupings to which we belong. The Commonwealth is one such important grouping. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I look forward to the Vancouver meeting in October. The European Community is also important in this context, and I shall return to that in a moment.
A good example of the international community making its collective voice heard against oppression is Afghanistan. For seven years the Soviet occupation has regularly been denounced by the United Nations and by a huge majority that has few parallels. In the same spirit the House will wish to praise the Afghan resistance for its heroism and to express support for Pakistan's courage in shouldering the enormous refugee burden. We and the world want an early, complete withdrawal of Soviet forces, leading to a neutral, non-aligned Afghanistan.
Mr. Gorbachev has said that he shares that objective. That may well be so. But, as I said during my visit to the Khyber Pass 15 months ago, "The time has come for action, not words." It is action by the Soviet Union that I meant. Will Mr. Gorbachev now make possible a breakthrough in negotiations? The acid test of success will be whether it is acceptable to the Afghan people. The world will wait to see how many of the 5 million Afghan refugees choose to return to their homeland.
§ Mr. Dalyell
What is the Government's policy on the sending of arms, such as Blowpipe missiles, to Afghanistan?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I have already answered that question. It is astonishing that anyone should be alarmed or dismayed at the efforts of the people of Afghanistan, who are facing an army of more than 100,000 Soviet troops, to defend themselves against the Soviet onslaught. Most people would say that we should give thanks that weapons are getting through to them.
I come to a different regional problem—the tragic problem of South Africa. It may seem less newsworthy 164 today than recently, but it has not gone away. The morally abhorrent structure of apartheid remains in place, and fundamental changes are needed to displace it. Sadly, but it must be faced, there is no dramatic action that can make that happen quickly. There is, however, a growing realisation of the complexity of the problem. The difficulties of the region, both in South Africa and in neighbouring states, are bad enough; mandatory sanctions would only make matters worse. Practical measures, not empty gestures, are needed. We shall go on pressing the case against violence, and for dialogue, for fundamental change and for an end to apartheid.
We shall sustain our programme of help to South Africa's neighbours. We have given them more than $1 billion worth of aid during the past five years. In Mozambique in particular economic difficulties have been compounded by famine and conflict. Heart-rending television reports have vividly portrayed the human suffering. Britain has led the way in the international response. We were delighted to welcome President Chissano to London a few weeks ago. We have recently doubled the scale of training which we are providing, with the help of our friends in Zimbabwe, for the Mozambican army. In food and other aid, this year alone we have already committed £34 million to help Mozambique. The whole House will want to pay tribute also to the notable part being played, as so often before, by British non-governmental organisations and charities. My hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development stands ready to consider further action. The food shortages in some developing countries contrast with surpluses in most of the rest of the world, not only in Europe.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
Noticeable in the Queen's Speech was a general reference to working along the lines that my right hon. and learned Friend has just described, but there was not this year—although my right hon. and learned Friend has used the words in his speech—a reference to working for peaceful and fundamental change in South Africa, and specifically the early independence of Namibia. Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that those are the Government's major thrusts in that area?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
My hon. Friend need feel no anxiety on that score. The policy and position remain unchanged. The preparation of the Queen's Speech cannot be confined by the obligation to repeat policy in carbon-copy terms from one year to the next. It was because of that type of anxiety that I took the opportunity in my speech of spelling out the need for fundamental change in South Africa.
Next week, European Heads of Government will meet in Brussels for the European Council. On the following day, the Single European Act, which the House debated at some length last year, will enter into force. Obviously, financing will be high on the Brussels agenda. This year's budget is the most immediate problem. The Heads of Government will not, of course, be drawn deeply into its detail, but they should insist on the need for an early agreement in the Budget Council. In our view, the short-term problems are far from insuperable. The key should be to make full use of the Commission's proposal to switch payments for agricultural support from advances to reimbursements. That will not only save money this year, but improve long-term financial control. It is our view that 165 the European Council should agree also on the need for an early decision on this year's agricultural price fixing. Beyond that lies the more fundamental question of the Community's long-term financing.
It is gradually becoming more widely understood that farm surpluses are not just a European problem; they are a worldwide consequence of explosive scientific success in boosting agricultural yields. Venice, like previous economic summits, urged Japan, the United States and others to root out agricultural protectionism. That does not relieve Europe of the need to do exactly the same. We have to find new ways of sustaining the vitality and prosperity of our rural communities which do not involve the production of wasteful food surpluses. So CAP reform is fundamental to the Community's longer-term finances. It must be made plain that we have made a start. This is the fifth year of successive price cuts. We have in place measures to curb over-production of milk and beef. This year's price package includes tough measures—action, for example, on cereals equivalent to a price cut of 11 per cent.
But the Community needs to step up the pace of change. It needs to be ready to take even more radical decisions. They will not be easy. We must set up stabilising mechanisms to prevent surplus production of individual commodities. We must reject non-solutions, such as the proposed oils and fats tax. We must dismantle the system of monetary compensatory amounts. We must develop fresh and imaginative ways of helping rural communities within the framework of common policies. All those changes have to be achieved within a firmer framework of budgetary discipline. Only when such advances have been set in hand would it make sense to consider the Community's overall revenue needs on the basis foreshadowed in the Fontainebleau agreement.
§ Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)
While on this important subject, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman say something about the United Kingdom's short-sighted and obstructionist view on the European framework research programme, which will lead directly to the loss of British jobs unless the British Government remove their veto within the next few days? What will happen?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
The hon. Gentleman must understand the importance of reaching conclusions that take account of the overall availability and non-availability of resources. One must take great care about agreeing on any programme without asking oneself, and getting an answer, whether resources will be available to meet the programme foreshadowed within that framework. [Interruption.] Even in respect of the whole Community, the question of the availability of resources arises. That is how one must look at it. In any event, the hon. Gentleman may have an opportunity to develop his case later in the debate.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
Perhaps one day he will.
Our aim is to build a secure long-term financial future for the Community as a whole—not just for agriculture but for the wider structural policies, including the one to which the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) 166 referred. Honest money is the foundation for Britain's industrial and commercial prosperity. It is no less essential for the Community.
In contrast to the dark days of the late 1970s—when the right hon. Member for Leeds, East was last in office—when Britain's economic and political performance was an object of international burlesque, this country is seen in a new light today. I dare say that the Opposition have been gratified in recent weeks to read some of the French newspapers. I hope that they have been able to observe some of the opinions recorded in the overseas press. For example, L'Express said :Britain has a foreign policy which has made the British proud of themselves again".Le Nouvel Economiste described Britain under a Conservative Government asthe defender of European independence".I could go on—[Interruption.]—but I see that I am provoking dismay among the Opposition because they well know that their proposals for Britain's defence would have endangered peace and freedom.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
Not now, I am afraid.
The simple fact is that today all countries of good will, and many that lack it, are thankful to deal with a British Government whose purpose and determination are unswerving, whose policies are consistent and whose talking is straight. It is supremely in Britain's interest that they should see us in that way and that we should continue to deserve that trust. Under this Conservative Government, we shall continue to do so.
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
I think that we all enjoyed another lugubrious concatenation of meaningless clichés from the Foreign Secretary, but I was deeply touched by his opening words of personal tribute. I was not quite sure whether they were intended as a garland or a wreath, but there were enough thorns concealed among the flowers to make me realise that, whatever else it was composed of, it was not a "helianthum".
Some commentators have described the speech on which I now embark as a swan-song. Politically, I have never seen myself as an elegant and decorative object of unsullied whiteness—and nor. I suspect, has the Conservative Front Bench. I suppose that politically I am a bird of prey, but in any case I can assure those who view this speech as a swan-song that I do not propose to die when I sit down in half an hour's time. Not being a swan but rather a bird of prey, I shall move to a somewhat higher perch, from which I shall be able to select my quarry from a wider range of animals, although I assure the Foreign Secretary that I shall not ignore the familiar fleece of friends from the Foreign Office flock.
As the Foreign Secretary suggested, before my elevation, I should like to reflect a little on my experiences over the last 33 years since I first spoke on foreign affairs from the Front Bench. Incidentally, I assure my hon. Friends that I intend to be elevated only four Benches up below the Gangway and not to another place.
I shall concentrate on the issues which first brought me into politics as a young man before the war, and which have occupied most of my active political life since I left the Army in 1945. The problem that concerns all of us 167 most of all is how to prevent a third world war, because we know that if a third world war ever takes place there will be no one left behind to reflect upon its lessons. In particular, I shall examine the problem presented to mankind by the nuclear arms race, which has led to the accumulation of some 50,000 nuclear warheads at unimaginable expense with a destructive power of a million Hiroshima bombs. That accumulation and expenditure have not added one jot to the security of any of the countries that have engaged in the race. That accumulation of weapons would mean suicide for a country that initiated their use and could mean the end of the human race north of the equator.
The Foreign Secretary had his customary bit of fun with the many changes of position made by myself and others in considering this problem. But any rational man who has lived through the past 40 years and reflected on the way in which the world has changed as a result of the invention of nuclear weapons will surely have changed his views. I well remember when, as a young officer in Italy, I heard the news of the explosions of nuclear weapons over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Like all my comrades, I simply felt an immense sense of relief that the prospect of five years of fighting Japan in Asia after five years of fighting Germany in Europe was finally lifted from me.
The conclusions that I have reached 40 years later have been reached independently by a growing number of military experts, including my main military advisers when I was Defence Secretary 20 years ago—Lord Mountbatten and Field Marshal Lord Carver. They have been reached, too, by two of the most outstanding international statesmen—with whom I have worked—Bob McNamara in America and Helmut Schmidt in Germany. The lessons are twofold. The first is that nuclear weapons are not a deterrent against conventional attack. The best proof of that is that during the Vietnam war the United States allowed itself to suffer more military casualties than it now has troops in Europe but never once so much as threatened to use nuclear weapons to bring that war to an end. Another example, which is perhaps a little nearer home, is the fact that Britain's nuclear weapons did not deter General Galtieri from invading the Falklands, nor did they play any role in getting him out after the invasion.
The second lesson that needs to be reflected on is that nuclear war is not a possible instrument of policy or a source of political influence in the modern world. Chernobyl reminded us all, I hope, that to use nuclear weapons against Western Europe—whoever used them—or in Western Europe would create a radioactive desert of no conceivable value to the aggressor. On the contrary, the fallout from the explosion of those nuclear weapons would pose major risks to the survival of any society within 1,000 miles of the explosions. Indeed, the growing number of civilian nuclear reactors in Western Europe poses similar risks—even from a large scale conventional war in Europe. The Royal Commission on the environment reported to the present Government in 1983 that, had there been as many nuclear civilian reactors during the last world war as there are today, large parts of the continent would still be uninhabitable.
I hope that the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues have reflected on these facts—because they are, indeed, facts—which have helped to produce the biggest change in Russia's approach to the world since 1917. The Foreign Secretary was far too ungenerous in his assessment of 168 Soviet intentions and, indeed, far too conservative. I recommend him to read an article by one of his officials—a Mr. Lyne—in the current issue of International Affairs. In that article Mr. Lyne expresses only his own view, but I understand that he has long experience of dealing with the Soviet Union in the diplomatic service.
The Russians—and I think the Americans, too—have accepted that peace can be secured today not by continuing the nuclear arms race but only by co-operating with one's political opponents in reducing and controlling armaments, both nuclear and conventional. President Reagan reached that conclusion five or six years ago, although the methods that he has chosen to deal with the problem are not approved by most of us in this House—certainly not by the Foreign Secretary, who made a courageous speech criticising the star wars programme, for which the Prime Minister later apologised to President Reagan.
What President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev set out to do at their meeting in Reykjavik only a few months ago is seen by them as the only way forward, and they have now almost agreed on the first major step in the removal of nuclear weapons from the world as a whole by agreeing to move two whole classes of nuclear missiles from Europe. I hope that that will lead to their removal from the rest of the world and I shall come to that point in a moment.
It became very evident during the election campaign that the military leaders of NATO strongly disapprove of the double zero proposals that their political leaders have now accepted. General Rogers has said that the proposals give him "gas pains" and I have no doubt that he will repeat his criticisms in the television interview to be shown on "Newsnight" tonight. The military bases its objections to the proposals on the perfectly accurate assessment that the removal of the missiles from the European theatre would make the strategy of flexible response impossible. General Rogers has repeatedly said that recently. I have no doubt that the Government have been given similar advice by some of their own military experts. General Rogers went on to state that such a strategy would be impossible unless such missiles are replaced by other weapons with a similar role and capability, in which case, of course, there would be little point in removing existing missiles.
It appalled me during the election campaign to hear that the Defence Secretary had agreed with his colleagues at Stavanger to consider basing cruise missiles on submarines in Holy Loch and to put more American nuclear bombers—perhaps B52s—on airfields all over Britain, just as the cruise missiles, the ground-launched missiles, were being trundled out of Greenham common and Molesworth. It seems to me, and, I hope, to the Foreign Secretary, to be insane to think in such terms. We were told a lot by the Foreign Secretary, and, indeed, the Prime Minister, about the importance of not allowing any country to circumvent an agreement to remove intermediate nuclear forces from Europe, but that would be circumvention on an absolutely colossal scale.
I congratulate the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office on becoming the Foreign Secretary's deputy. We always enjoy her speeches and the courage that she shows in making them. I hope that she will be able to tell us that the Government absolutely rule out any such ideas. They are calculated to destroy any 169 possibility of an agreement on the double zero option—an agreement to which the Government committed themselves in the Gracious Speech yesterday.
Chancellor Kohl, the leader of West Germany, moved in exactly the opposite direction when he finally decided to support the double zero option. He is not in the least reassured by the fact that, after the removal of longer-range missiles, there will remain 4,000 nuclear weapons in Western Europe, nearly all of them being of too short a range to be used anywhere except on German soil. He wants the triple zero option. He wants to remove battlefield nuclear weapons from Europe as well. He is quite right, but, of course, it would remove the last shred of credibility in NATO's current strategy of flexible response as it was first laid down over 20 years ago in a different situation. More interesting, Chancellor Kohl has proved the sincerity of his attachment to the triple zero option by warning the French Government that he could not allow them to use their tactical weapons such as Hades and Pluton because they could be used only against targets on German soil. He is asking for an assurance that they will not be used without the permission of the German Government.
I have no doubt that the German Government will, reasonably, now begin to insist to NATO that the control of NATO's nuclear weapons or their use should not lie just with the host country and with the possessor of weapons but with the country on whose soil they are likely to be used. To sweeten the pill, in return, Chancellor Kohl has offered to start building an integrated Franco-German army. The Foreign Secretary reminded us that he is to meet his French and German colleagues in Brussels in a couple of days. I hope that it concerns him that, at present, there is no place for Britain in movements by the French and German Governments to build a new type of army in Europe. It concerns me because there are many reasons for supporting the case for a European pillar inside NATO, but none for supporting a pillar that excludes Britain and the United States. I hope that the Minister, in replying to the debate, will make some comment on that issue. It is acquiring greater importance with every day that passes.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that an instrument that could more effectively be used to enhance the European identity within the Western Alliance in the security policy field would be genuinely to revive the Western European Union, not just to make speeches about it, but actually to do something practical to make at least the seven-nation collaboration really work?
§ Mr. Healey
I strongly agree with the need for European members of the Alliance, as loyal members of NATO, to try to develop more coherence in their policies and in the organisation of their military forces within NATO. Whether that is best done through the somewhat moribund organisation of WEU is quite another matter. If I may, without offence, refer to my own experience 20 years ago as Defence Secretary, I found it to be the case that, if the British Government presented a practical and coherent proposal to their European allies, they would accept it, as they did when we set up the Eurogroup and the nuclear planning group. The Americans, whatever 170 misgivings they may have, will accept it, too. Hon. Members will find some misgivings expressed in Dr. Kissinger's book.
There is one member of the Government who cannot complain about what is happening, and that is the Prime Minister. In an appalling speech on Television Moscow, she rejected the very concept of alliance between a nuclear power and a non-nuclear power. I shall quote from the Government's monitoring report. She said:Nuclear weapons are the only means allowing a small country to stand up to a big one.That statement appalled her listeners. I hope that it appals the Foreign Secretary, too. It would imply that Nicaragua should acquire nuclear weapons to stand up to the United States and that Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Angola should acquire nuclear weapons to stand up to South Africa. That idea rejects the very principle of collective security—the very principle of security through alliance—and it is a recipe for a universal nuclear arms race that could end only in the destruction of mankind.
Let me express a characteristically timid hope now that the election is over. Can we hope, now that she has left the hustings—although one would not have thought so while listening to her speech yesterday—that the Prime Minister will be a little more careful about the implications of her rhetoric? Her attempt to justify the Trident programme by attempting to revive the psychosis of the cold war is profoundly dangerous to peace. It is also dangerous to the unity of the Alliance. If she will not accept that stricture from me, I hope that she will accept it from Professor Sir Michael Howard. whom I know she respects, as I do, who wrote an article in The Times during the election. He stated:Mrs. Thatcher finds it necessary to try to foment another Red Scare, stirring up atavistic emotions on a scale she may one day regret. 'Of course there is a Soviet threat,' she dogmatically asserts, professing herself 'astonished' that anybody can believe otherwise.Professor Sir Michael Howard went on to state:if she means that the Soviet Union has a settled intention to attack Western Europe and subjugate it by armed force the moment we allow our guard to slip, then she had better get used to being astonished.If she will not take the advice of Professor Sir Michael Howard, I hope that she will re-read the writings of a great, robust Englishman who, after winning the election, she preferred to quote rather than St. Francis of Assisi. I refer, of course, to Rudyard Kipling. I hope that she will re-read the chapter in "Traffic and Discoveries" in which Kipling described a Conservative politician who talked at a public school as "A Jelly-bellied Flag flapper." I strongly support Rudyard Kipling's view of that type of behaviour and I hope that we shall have no more of it from the Prime Minister. I hope that there is a chance that she will think again about the kind of bellicose claptrap that she used during the election campaign because it is incompatible with the course of action that is recommended to the House through the Gracious Speech. There is no chance of the double zero option being agreed if the Prime Minister really believes what she previously said and acts on that belief. She has committed herself to support the double zero option now, even though The Times may be right in suggesting that she did so purely for electoral reasons.
I hope that the Minister will clear up another element of confusion in Government policy. During the election campaign, the Defence Secretary agreed with his colleagues in Brussels to increase British defence spending 171 by 3 per cent. per year in real terms or to go on improving our conventional forces. The Foreign Secretary will recall, however, that the Government told us in their last two White Papers that, on the contrary, they had decided to cut defence spending by 8 per cent. in the five years to 1990 and that the demands of the Trident programme meant cutting new equipment for our conventional forces by 30 per cent. in the next few years. The Foreign Secretary's colleagues will have told him that at present the Rhine Army's ammunition is sufficient for only two days' fighting rather than the nine or 10 days laid down by NATO as a requirement.
We should like the Minister to answer the following question : Was the Defence Secretary lying to his colleagues when he made that commitment in Brussels the other day? If not, what does the Chancellor think about it and where does he plan to find the extra £1,000 million per year that would be required to implement the Defence Secretary's pledge—from the poll tax, perhaps?
I hope that the Foreign Secretary, in his patient, dogged way, will succeed in persuading the Defence Secretary and the Prime Minister to abandon these excrescences which disfigure Britain's reputation as much as they damage the prospects of world peace. Absolute priority must be given to achieving agreement on the double zero option in the next few months. I understand that the only serious obstacles left relate to American agreement to allow the Germans to keep on their soil a number of clapped-out Pershing 1A missiles which, it is generally recognised, have no military value, and the insistence of the Soviet Government on preserving 100 SS20 warheads somewhere in Asia, to be matched by 100 American warheads somewhere in the United States but not in Alaska. Surely it is possible and sensible to resolve those problems by agreeing to abolish the Pershing 1As in Europe as well as the 100 warheads outside Europe which, as the Foreign Secretary rightly argued, would make verification of a deal covering the SS20s much more difficult.
The next step in the process will be 50 per cent. cuts in strategic weapons on both sides. The Government endorse that objective in the Gracious Speech even though they know that it will directly put the future of Britain's Trident programme in question because it would be the deep cut which the Government previously set as the condition for putting Trident and the French forces on the bargaining table. We must then—I hope that we are starting now—obtain cuts in conventional forces and the removal of superiorities, not only those that threaten Western security, as the Gracious Speech states, but, equally important if we are to reach agreement, those that threaten Soviet security. What I find intensely depressing about NATO's reaction is that it is already a year since the Russians proposed talks between the military staffs and the Governments of the two sides on the whole area between the Atlantic and the Urals but it was only a week or so ago at Reykjavik that NATO even agreed the procedures through which such negotiations should take place and it has still not agreed a negotiating mandate for those who have to carry out the discussions.
The one certain thing—no doubt this is why NATO has found it so difficult to agree on a mandate—is that any move towards cuts in conventional forces in Europe, attended as they are bound to be by cuts in the battlefield nuclear forces which accompany the conventional forces, will mean fundamental changes in NATO strategy. It will mean moving towards rapid abandonment of the concept 172 of using nuclear weapons first against a conventional attack and towards a defensive doctrine for a conventional deterrent as a guarantee of security in Europe.
Those movements will be needed in any case. Even the double zero option makes them necessary and I believe that they would have been wise for many years. I believe that NATO may well be in for another period of agonising reappraisal, such as I went through more than 20 years ago when we substituted the strategy of flexible response for the tripwire strategy which was clearly untenable. The flexible response strategy has clearly become untenable, for many reasons which I have often described, and I believe that a new strategic approach will be essential. Indeed, the NATO military have made that clear. I suspect that the negotiations within NATO will be very difficult and will cause serious strains, but they are inevitable.
Because of NATO's failure to reach agreement on a mandate and on a new strategy, I fear that Mr. Gorbachev will continue to make all the running in this area. and I regret that. However, even if NATO continues to be paralysed by institutional arthritis, from which it has suffered for many years, I still believe that the risk of the Soviet Union exploiting NATO's disarray by launching a n attack on Western Europe is almost inconceivable. For reasons that I have already given, the real danger of world war arises not from the possibility of deliberate aggression in Europe but from the risk of a chain reaction arising out of conflict somewhere else in the world where the super powers feel that their interests are deeply engaged but where they cannot control events. In other words, the model that we must bear in mind in this new world is not Munich but Sarajevo. I believe that the Russians, like many of us in the West, have already reached that conclusion.
In the coming years, there is bound to be increasing worry about instability in the western Pacific, which may threaten American bases in the Philippines and South Korea, and the way in which America reacts to such instabilities. As the Foreign Secretary rightly said, however, the immediate danger arises in the middle east, though also in south-west Asia, because the conflict between Israel and the Arabs is still unsettled and because of the prolonged, tragic and bloody war between Iraq and Iran. In the past few years, I have often reflected upon the words of my favourite poet:And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born'?The risk that a conflict in the middle east during the period of this Government would drag in the United States and the Soviet Union is very real. I wish that I had more confidence in the will and ability of the American Administration to face those dangers rationally. In the past two years we have seen President Reagan subcontract American policy in the middle east to an unbalanced middle-ranking officer who privatised the policy by involving a motley crew of retired generals and business men of all countries and none. The result was that he allowed Israel to manipulate American policy and involve America in sending arms to Iran. That made America enemies throughout the Arab world. When this seedy imbroglio finally came to light—and we have not heard the end of it yet by any means—President Reagan treated an attack by an Iraqi aircraft on an American destroyer as an excuse for reversing his policy towards Iran and instead threatened to bomb the territory of a country to which he had been supplying arms for the previous three 173 years if a local naval commander suspected the possibility of an attack. The rules of engagement given to American ships in the Gulf are horrifically dangerous in the present circumstances.
Mr. Howard Baker, the President's excellent new chief adviser in the White House, suggested the other day that it would be sensible to arrange common action between Russia and the United States to safeguard shipping in the Gulf. I solidly agree with Mr. Baker. However, he was slapped down by someone in Washington within hours of making that suggestion. I believe that his suggestion is the only possible way to move towards greater stability in the Gulf. It would set a very encouraging precedent for the international conference, which would help to tackle the settlement of the Arab Israeli problem which the Foreign Secretary endorsed this afternoon.
It is intolerable that the British Government should appear to go along with the American claim that the Gulf is an American lake or that if Nicaragua is in America's back yard the Gulf is in America's front parlour. I found the comments of the gallant doctor, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), even more extraordinary. He is the leader of that sturdy band of what is it now, four or five——
§ Mr. Healey
I am glad that the hopeful would-be leader of the Liberal party, the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), shares my view of the doctor.
I was not entirely surprised to learn that in a speech in Costa Rica, of all places, the other day the right hon. Member for Devonport adopted a new principle of international affairs. He said that any country could regard as its back yard any other country which was as far from its borders as the two most distant points in its own country.
§ Mr. Healey
On this occasion my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), as so often—well, perhaps occasionally—is absolutely right.
If we accept the Owen doctrine for international affairs, because the distance between Tallinn and Vladivostok is 11,000 miles, the Soviet Union can rightly claim not only the whole of Western Europe but all of the Indian subcontinent and most of Africa as its own back yard.
I suspect that the Foreign Secretary and some of his advisers, who are listening like members of a harem to this debate as it proceeds—they are enjoying it but remain mute—will recognise that a few traces of Iragua or Iranamok—I cannot remember which is the best word—have crept into the Foreign Office. I hope that the extent to which the Foreign Secretary is allowing an organisation which calls itself Keeny Meeny Services—a phrase that I remember well from my many visits to Aden in the old days—to send weapons to Afghanistan and Nicaragua and to help the Singhalese Government to suppress its Tamil population will allow him to recognise that such extravagance is very dangerous in the modern world.
In the United States, Congress is allowed to probe to the bottom of such activity. In our country the Foreign Secretary simply tells us blandly that it is not customary 174 to give any details. One job for the House in the coming years will be to insist that the Select Committees get to the bottom of some of these activities because I believe that they can only obstruct the development of rational policies to deal with these very dangerous parts of the world.
I conclude with my main theme. It is now recognised in Washington and Moscow that nuclear weapons are not only immoral but unusable. That recognition has produced a historic reversal in the Soviet doctrine on world affairs which offers us the first real prospect in history of ending the arms race and basing international security on some kind of world society. I believe that Britain has the experience that qualifies her to play a leading role in that process. We have as great a national interest in its success as any country.
I hope that the Foreign Secretary will help to ensure that the Prime Minister's unholy passion for nuclear missiles is not allowed to overrule our clear national interests and responsibilities in that regard. If he succeeds in that endeavour, we shall do everything possible to support him. If he does not attempt to do that, we shall unremittingly and mercilessly force a change.
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
It is with some trepidation that I speak in this debate on the Gracious Speech. Even after the excellent advice that the new boys receive from Mr. Speaker and many of the old hands that we should wait a bit before speaking, there are always a few of us who cannot restrain our enthusiasm.
It is a great privilege to succeed Sir David Crouch, as he now is. He was a very popular constituency Member, as was evidenced by the large number of people on the doorsteps of the constituency who told me that they hoped that I would work as hard for them as David did over the past 21 years. I also know that David was a popular Member of this House. As chairman of the Inter-Parliamentary Union he had friends in all parties. It was typical of the man that his penultimate important action in the House was to arrange for a bust of that great Socialist Nye Bevan to be unveiled in the autumn. I say penultimate because his ultimate move in the view of all of us in Canterbury was his courageous commentary on the deep unhappiness felt in Canterbury about the Channel tunnel—a subject to which I hope you will allow me to return, Mr. Speaker, in a week or two.
The constituency of Canterbury consists of the city of Canterbury, the town of Whitstable and a number of lovely villages set in the heart of the garden of England. The city is of course the principal seat of English Christendom. It is also the home of the Buffs and the Queen's Regiment. Whitstable is a historic fishing town which has become the home of many retired people. Less is known about the industrial side of the constituency. Over the past 15 years we have had enormous success on our trading estates in the development of small businesses. One of these, which has now become a rather larger business, captured a major order exporting electrical parts to Taiwan a few weeks ago.
Sir David Crouch and I have shared an interest in the Territorial Army for many years. He chose to join the TA in 1938. Within a year his service was transformed into war service and he served with great distinction. I thank God that my generation have not had to face that, and that is why defence is my greatest single political interest.
175 Before I go on to speak about defence I should like to relate a slightly lurid personal story. The proudest moment in my election campaign was when I opened the door and a man said to me, "Good grief, you must be the old bastard's son." I said, "No, I am his grandson." The man that he was talking about was Clifford Brazier, who in 1932 was running a cement works in Kent. At the request of the Ministry of Defence he set up a specialist unit, the Kent Fortress Royal Engineers, a specialist Territorial Army unit. In war, it proved itself to be no "grandad's army." In 1940, during the four weeks of utter confusion around Dunkirk, the members of the unit crossed the Channel in small parties and attacked and destroyed every major oil installation from the banks of the Seine to Rotterdam.
I have listened to the illustrious previous speakers talking on the high ground of foreign and strategic policy, but I should like to touch on the less controversial area of defence procurement. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). He and successive Secretaries of State for Defence have made enormous efforts to modernise and improve defence procurement. Among the general public there is a strong feeling that procurement is still wasteful, expensive and inefficient. Last autumn I was privileged to play a small role in a study that my former employers were conducting for a number of defence suppliers. It was to compare the procurement methods of several major Western powers. The most enduring memory of that study was the sheer complexity and difficulty of the issues that faced the procurement teams in all seven of those countries. Many of the difficulties and the apparent mistakes stem from the length of the time scale and the complexity of the technical and military issues involved in the process of procurement itself.
I should like briefly to mention four of the lessons that came out of the study—one positive and three negative. The positive one is that there is a welcome growth in collaboration in defence procurement between the NATO countries. Interestingly, some of the most successful examples are projects like the Harrier GR5 and the third phase of the multiple launch rocket system, the momentum for which came largely from industry.
The second lesson is one that I hope the House will forgive me for mentioning, because I am its youngest and humblest Member. This lesson is slightly worrying for the House. We discovered when looking at the American picture that those projects that had consistently been the least successful were those, such as the Bradley armoured personnel carrier and the DIVAD anti-aircraft system, in which Congress played the greatest role in scrutiny and micro-management. By contrast, some of the best and most successful projects, those which had come in fastest and closest to lime and budget, were those which by dint of their high security rating had been managed by project managers without any scrutiny at all.
The lesson from this is not that congressional or parliamentary scrutiny is a bad thing. It is essential that it takes place, but perhaps the method of scrutiny used in these long-term projects needs to be different in the defence sector from the method in other sectors. I should like to give a specific example of that. In two or three of his reports the Comptroller and Auditor General reported to the Select Committee that the Ministry project managers were responsible for breaking the laid down procedures for completing each step of development 176 before going on to the next one. I can tell him that the reason why that occurred in six out of the 10 projects that he examined and reported on in this document is that any weapons system that contains built-in test equipment must involve some jumbling of stages of procurement. There was a five-year delay on Rapier because the project team tried to do it without completing production on the other phases before developing the built-in test equipment. However, the use of built-in test equipment is one area in which much money can be saved in the long run.
The third lesson that emerged was about the value that has undoubtedly come from the increase in competition that took place under the previous two Secretaries of State for Defence. Along with the better climate has come serious reservations, and I should like to mention one of them. It is essential that when we go out to competition and seek fixed-price contracts we look for value not just in the front-end price. When we compare our warship programme with the Dutch programme, it is a little upsetting to find that, by spending a little more money earlier on various automated systems to save manpower, the Dutch have come up with vessels which, in the long run, are cheaper to operate. For this reason it is essential that we take the broadest possible view about assessing value and do not look just at the front-end buying price.
That brings me to my fourth and final point on defence procurement. Every successful organisation that I looked at when I was training as a management consultant, whether they were Japanese industrial giants or a retail company such as our own Marks and Spencer, had one characteristic in common. At the same time as trying to keep its overhead costs down, it allowed itself to be lavish in expenditure in marketing and procurement.
The people in the Ministry of Defence who tell the other people in the Ministry what the customer, the user, our soldiers, sailors and airmen need are the operational requirements staff. I need hardly tell the House that procurement staff consist of the project teams and the research establishments in the procurement executive and their opposite numbers in industry.
It saddens me to know that under successive Governments both those areas have suffered heavy cuts in manning. Those cuts cost money in the long run; they do not save money. In summary, defence procurement is critical and terrifyingly complex. We are making progress, but we might make more if we centred it more firmly on the needs of the user and ensured that at all stages we had adequate manning to carry out what we are trying to do. This will ensure that our soldiers, sailors and airmen of the next century are properly equipped.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) on his maiden speech. He obviously spoke as an expert in his chosen subject. I also congratulate him on choosing such an early occasion to do so. It is good advice to young Members of Parliament to do that. I followed it myself when I arrived in the House half a century ago, or whatever time it was. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could convey our good wishes to his predecessor who had a very high reputation in this House for his independence and his readiness at all times to disobey Government Whips, even newly appointed Government Whips. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will follow his predecessor's example.
177 My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said that he was not accustomed to swan-songs. I am glad to know that his speech was nothing of the sort. In oratorical terms, it might be said that he follows a kind of flexible response strategy and adapts his invective to suit the immediate target. He usually does it with wonderful skill, as he did today. One of the most serious tragedies of the recent election was that my right hon. Friend is no longer dealing with the foreign affairs of this country at such a critical moment, because he is better qualified to do so than anyone else in the House. He has accumulated knowledge over many years. People have sometimes said that he is capable only of using a bludgeon. However, I assure all concerned that he can use every type of weapon, suited to every circumstance.
My right hon. Friend and I started out in the House at much the same time, although I arrived a little earlier. The closer I saw him in Cabinet and elsewhere, the higher became my estimate of his capacities and of the wonderful service that he has done for the Labour party and the Labour movement, which he has served so loyally for many years in the past and which he will no doubt continue to serve for many years to come. I hope that there will be an election from which he will emerge to give his advice to the next Foreign Secretary, if he is not finally recalled to perform that task himself at a critical moment. No words can be too strong in offering him our thanks for what he has done for our party and country. His speech today should be read all over the country because it showed all his wisdom, courage and capacity to reflect. The subtlety of his intelligence is as important as its vitality, and he showed all of those characteristics today.
I turn now to two matters which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East touched on to some degree, and which were omitted from the Queen's Speech. However, first I should like to refer to another aspect of the Gracious Speech, because, coming from the constituency that I represent, it would be wrong not to comment on the reference in the Queen's Speech to the so-called "special regard" that the Government are to have for the cities. I cannot help thinking that that phrase must have been written by Lord Young. No one who did not have Lord Young's gift for sanctimonious hypocrisy could have put such a phrase in the Queen's Speech.
It is said that there will be "special regard" for the inner cities from a Government who, among their first measures in 1979, set out to inflict injury upon injury on the inner cities. First, they removed a large part of the physical and financial resources that had been provided by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), and the financial support for the inner cities that was provided in the last Budget of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East. My right hon. Friends provided a plan to give finances and resources to try to assist the inner cities and especially the local authorities in their work. All that was dismantled within two or three years. Indeed, many of the tax concessions that were made in the first wicked years of the Tory Administration were made possible by the money that was taken from the inner cities.
I speak with special feeling about that because we in the valleys of Wales suffered, and still suffer, the same problems and difficulties as the inner cities as a result of the Government's actions. We suffer the same 178 consequences of what the Government have inflicted upon us, and the same consequences of losing the money that they took from us, but the Government now talk about having "special regard".
The first thing that the Government should do for the inner cities and valley towns is to restore the money that they took from us. If they did that in their next Budget, huge resources would be made available for us. I am not saying that that would be sufficient, because the situation has become so serious. There has been 20 per cent. unemployment year after year and the consequences of that are felt as much in the valley towns as in the inner cities. Those consequences were described eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) yesterday, and he referred to the possible political consequences of allowing them to continue. The Government should set out now to restore the money that was taken from us and they should start to listen to the local authorities.
Part of the difficulty arose from the insensate hostility to local democracy with which the Tory Government have acted and with which they are apparently acting now. They have the idea that in some way the city slickers always know best how to deal with such matters. We want the restoration of the rights of locally elected authorities so that they will have the financial resources to do the job that they are crying out to do. The Government could start by restoring the hundreds of millions of pounds that they took from us. They should provide that and should not seek to conceal their intentions behind their hypocritical statement that they will have "special regard" to the inner cities. The Government's actions on the inner cities will play an important part in this Parliament and they should start with a restitution of the money that they have taken from us.
I turn now to foreign affairs. I suppose that the first omission may be excusable because the document to which I refer was published only this week by the Commonwealth Secretariat. It is entitled "Towards a Commonwealth of Learning : A Proposal to create a University of the Commonwealth for Co-operation in Distance Education". The foreword is signed by the Secretary-General at Marlborough House, Shridath Ramphal. He wrote:It is with a sense of excitement that I commend this Report both to Commonwealth Governments and to the wider Commonwealth of all thinking people".The document is one of the major initiatives that has been proposed in the history of the Commonwealth. I should have thought that the Government would know enough about it to have wanted to give their support to such a proposition in the Queen's Speech. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) on her appointment and hope that she will respond to that document today and say that the Government not only welcome it but that they will provide the resources to enable it to be put into effect. I hope also that she will say that the proposals outlined in the document will have the fullest financial and every other type of support from the Government and that the entire project will be carried through in the most imaginative manner.
The document sets out the way in which the special knowledge that we have in this country, thanks to the development of the Open university, should be used throughout the entire Commonwealth. Thanks to the establishment of the Open university we have a greater 179 knowledge of such matters than any other country. The Open university is the biggest university in Europe and the biggest of the Government's training agencies. It has a greater knowledge of the technology that can be used in spreading university education than any other university in the world. It is under the chairmanship of Lord Briggs, who has special experience as its head. There is now a recommendation and a proposition whereby all that knowledge could be used throughout the Commonwealth to transform the possibilities of university education during the next 10 to 15 years. I repeat that this initiative comes from the developments made in this country.
The first person who fought for the Open university was Lord Wilson of Rievaulx when he was Prime Minister. Jennie Lee was the person who carried it through and insisted that if we were to have an Open university it should be founded on the basis of the highest possible academic standards. She said that they should prevail from the beginning and that the resources must be made available to enable that to happen. That was done in this country at the end of the 1960s. There were many financial difficulties but they were all overcome.
It is thanks to the fact that the Open university was launched in that way that it has now become the largest university in the country and our most successful training agency. It is far more successful than any of the institutions that the Government have sought to proffer. Although the Government have been criticised as being ungenerous in the way in which they have assisted the Open university—they have held it back and forced it to increase its fees and that has curtailed the number of students that can be accommodated—each year more and more people of all ages apply for its qualifications and for entry to the Open university. I hope that the Government will begin to think differently about it, especially in view of their appalling record during the past seven or eight years over the treatment of universities in general.
I hope that the Government will start this Parliament in an entirely new way, first, by saying that they will provide full facilities to the Open university; then, when they see the wide possibilities of extending university education throughout the world and how beneficial it would be for the English language, which is our greatest possession, I hope that they will give full-scale backing to the proposal. They should have considered the matter already, and I hope that the Minister of State will remedy that this afternoon when she replies to the debate.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East said, the Government should be alarmed at the way in which debates developed during the election campaign and the way in which the Prime Minister put the case. My right hon. Friend has already dealt with that effectively, especially with the appalling speech made by the Prime Minister on television in Moscow, which was a recipe for spreading nuclear weapons all over the world, not for securing agreement on their reduction. But those who noted what was presented to the House just before the election will have been prepared for that speech. The Defence White Paper has not yet been debated, but if all the doctrines enunciated in it were carried into effect it would be impossible to have all the arms control agreements to which the Government say they are attached and which my right hon. Friend outlined so well today.
180 Three or four pink pages in the White Paper purport to give a history of the Soviet Union and say how we should deal with Mr. Gorbachev and his proposals. My right hon. Friend underlined the importance of those matters. But this is a puerile treatment of Soviet history. It purports to be an account of events in the Soviet Union on the 70th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution. I searched through it to see what it said about the second world war, when the Soviet Union was our ally, and it was hard to discover. But I do not wish to mislead the House in any way. It states:In more recent times, Western intervention during the Russian civil war and, later, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, with its appalling toll of 20 million Soviet dead, reinforced the obsession.The obsession is that they might be invaded. Of course, it is something more than an obsession. It was a reality in this century, and it greatly affects Soviet thinking. No civil servant would have put his name to this section of the defence document. It might have been written by the Secretary of State for Defence, but my guess is that the author was Jeffrey Archer. They called him back and asked him to write the history of the Soviet Union.
Anyone who thinks that I am straying from the facts should read the document for himself. The conclusion is that we must be ultra-suspicious in dealing with propositions that come from the Soviet Union. It overlooks the few sentences which refer to an important period in British history, when the Soviet Union and Britain had a similar interest, just as we have now. But from listening to the Prime Minister's statement in Moscow, no one would have dreamt that that similar interest was being underlined—especially when she rejected any proposal that might have sustained the non-proliferation treaty.
An important omission from the Queen's Speech is any reference to the non-proliferation treaty or to the necessity of stopping the spread of nuclear weapons into other countries. As my right hon. Friend said, if the Prime Minister's doctrine was adopted, it would mean tearing up the non-proliferation treaty which we have signed. During the election, the Prime Minister was asked whether she still abided by the treaty, and she tried to claim that she does.
The last time that I was part of a deputation to the Foreign Secretary, he said that the British Government adhered to the non-proliferation treaty and wished to sustain it. I had just returned from India, whose Prime Minister stressed to me with all the power at his command—he has many terrible difficulties to face—that a major hazard is that there might be a development of nuclear weapons in the Indian subcontinent or in Asia. He stressed how dangerous it would be if Pakistan was encouraged to develop nuclear weapons. When I put that to the Foreign Secretary, he confirmed that the British Government are committed to the non-proliferation treaty. But it is impossible to be committed to the non-proliferation treaty and at the same time to the Defence White Paper, which would breach the treaty in many aspects. If it was carried into effect, it would be hopeless for the Government to believe that they could sustain the non-proliferation treaty.
The treaty is in enough danger. International conferences are held every five years to discuss how the non-proliferation process shall be sustained, and on each occasion the safeguards have looked weaker. At the next conference, any possibility of stopping the proliferation of 181 nuclear weapons may be ended. Despite what the Government say, they are doing nothing to sustain it. Indeed, anyone who examines the non-proliferation treaty carefully will see that the Government are in breach of it with this White Paper, which underlines the necessity for a nuclear deterrent in defence of this country and others. That breaches the spirit of the treaty. It would be impossible to ensure that all the countries which are about to get nuclear weapons would support the non-proliferation treaty if we went ahead with the sort of programme contained in the White Paper.
All of us hope that we can stop those problems arising and that there will be an international agreement. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East has spelt out far more clearly than the Foreign Secretary is allowed to do by the Prime Minister the conditions on getting such an agreement at this historic moment. It would be a tragedy if the opportunity was lost. Some of us recall the equally important proposals put forward by Khrushchev, although they were by no means comparable in imagination. They did not go as far as the proposals now before the world. We have the chance to make a much more adventurous settlement of the use of nuclear weapons than we have ever had. It is a real opportunity for disarmament. If it was neglected or abandoned, we would face a very dark world—a world described eloquently by my right hon. Friend at the beginning of his speech.
My right hon. Friend's outline of the way in which we should negotiate is right. It is the basis on which the Labour party fought the election and sought to present these matters to the electorate.
I believe that there still may be a danger from the United States, although I agree with my right hon. Friend that we should welcome the speeches that President Reagan has made on this subject. However, that does not alter the fact that there are considerable forces in the United States, there may also be some similar elements in the Soviet Union, who do not want to see agreement. They would rather see the arms race continue. That has been the case on some previous occasions when we have almost come to the eve of a general agreement but when there have been some developments—an accident, an airline flying over the Soviet Union or the destruction of an aeroplane. In later years some incidents have been revealed as manufactured incidents. Such things have occurred on previous occasions to destroy the atmosphere of détente and the atmosphere of disarmament.
I hope that we can guard against such developments now. Nobody can say that such ideas are fanciful, especially as my right hon. Friend has described how the American Government are not in full control of many of the most essential departments of their Government. I trust that what has been said by my right hon. Friend will be accepted by the House. The way that my right hon. Friend has spoken is the way in which Britain should be speaking in these negotiations. If Britain does think in such terms, we may play our proper part in guiding nations towards what could be the greatest settlement since nuclear weapons were invented.
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)
I do not wish to follow the speech of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) in any great detail, but he mentioned the Gracious Speech and its proposals on inner cities.
I warmly welcome the Government's new initiatives for the inner cities, but I admit to being cautious. The right hon. Gentleman and I have seen exciting new initiatives from Labour and Conservative Governments, but we have not noticed that the problems of the inner cities have been ameliorated in a manner that we would like.
I should also like to touch briefly on the reference made to the Soviet Union by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent. I believe that at this stage we have every reason to be extremely cautious about the new leadership of that country. I would like to see some good will gestures coming from Russia. An obvious starting point would be Afghanistan. That country has 5 million refugees out of a total population of 7 million and there are still more than 100,000 Soviet troops in Afghanistan. A decision by the Soviet Union on Afghanistan would be an obvious gesture to the West if Mr. Gorbachev wishes to get our relationship on a better basis. What about those persecuted Christians who are so numerous that no one has a true idea of the numbers involved? What about the 300,000 tonnes of offensive chemical weapons? What on earth do they need that amount for? Perhaps those are the sort of areas in which we can look for some response from the Soviet Union.
A debate on international affairs and defence matters presents one with an astonishing menu and we have to pick and choose in the few minutes that are allowed to us once the great men have taken up their half-hour plus. I want to confine myself to the middle east and to two small islands.
I hope that the Government will be unsparing in their attempts to get the Israeli forces of occupation in southern Lebanon to move out of that country. They have no conceivable right to be there so long after their last invasion of the Lebanon. It is monstrous that UNIFIL—the international force in the Lebanon—that is supported from our British bases in Cyprus is not allowed up to the internationally recognised boundary with Israel.
I also hope the Government will be unceasing in their attempts to find out what is happening in those prison camps that Israel has set up in south Lebanon. Amnesty International has produced an extremely good report on what is apparently going on in one of those camps called Khiam. We, as Members of Parliament and individual citizens, must rely on the Government of the day to help us to find out what is happening and to protest in the strongest language on our behalf to the Israeli authorities. It is also monstrous that individual Lebanese citizens are taken into Israel and kept in captivity with the absolute minimum of any form of legal process.
I wish to turn to the extraordinary and exciting prospect of an international conference on the middle east. Will the United States play the part that it will need to play if we are to make progress? I briefly intervened in the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, because it seemed essential to me that the Palestine Liberation Organisation should he invited to take part in that conference.
A couple of years ago I visited the occupied West Bank and Gaza. In the slums and the degradation and despair 183 of those settlements I met Palestinian after Palestinian who made it absolutely clear that, as far as they were concerned. the PLO represented them. The King was not their representative, but according to eight out of 10 people the PLO did. If we are to make progress on the crucial issue of the middle east and the new Palestinian state, we must involve the representatives of the Palestinian people. I hope that my Government will not continue to duck this point as they have been inclined to do in previous years.
Of course, Syria must be involved in the search for a peaceful settlement. That brings our attention to the fact that we have still been unable to restore diplomatic relations with Syria. That country has a major role to play in the middle east and is of great importance to that area. I believe that we were absolutely right to expel the Syrian ambassador and his staff, but there is a French saying, "To govern is to foresee." Before long I hope that we shall see the resumption of low level diplomatic relations between our country and Syria.
Some of my colleagues are in favour of cutting off diplomatic relations, but I say to them that the countries with which we most need diplomatic relations are not nice, sensible places like Switzerland. Any fool could be ambassador in Switzerland, and I would volunteer my services tomorrow. It is the froward children of the international community, the awkward squad, and those who treat their citizens abominably with whom we need diplomatic relations. Those are the countries where British subjects need some protection and help and where British business men need support. I call upon the Government to do all they can to resume diplomatic relations with Syria ere long.
During the election campaign we were all conscious of the mounting tension in the Gulf. I am a strong supporter of the United Nations. The only thing wrong with the United Nations is its 160 individual members who do not use that organisation properly. I could not help but notice that when the multinational force withdrew from Beirut some years ago the British Government handed the problem over to the United Nations. We had tried, but it was all very difficult; the Americans had tried, but it was was all very difficult. It was left to the United Nations, which, in previous years, has not been our most blue-eyed boy. I would like to see the Government show some support for the concept of United Nations control of the waterways of the Gulf. It is curious that at the moment there are American, British and Soviet warships accompanying—I gather that that is the OK word, rather than escorting—international ships going about their legal and proper duties in the Gulf.
I do not believe that the United States alone or the European Community or NATO should have responsibility for such shipping. It must be controlled by an international organisation. I look to the United Nations to play a part, and I shall be interested to hear the Minister's thoughts on greater UN involvement in the Gulf when she replies this afternoon.
In the previous Parliament I spent a considerable amount of time talking about the south Atlantic. In March 1967 the then Labour Government agreed in principle, subject to certain conditions, to cede sovereignty of the Falklands to the Argentines. A large number of people in Britain are quite unaware of that fact. It was a watershed in the dispute. Of course, in doing so, the Government drew attention to the fact that they were thinking of giving 184 up sovereignty, and that, if they did so at some time, they thought that Argentina would be the correct country to receive that sovereignty.
Only a few months before the invasion of the islands in 1982, when we now know that the invasion had been planned by the junta, the Conservative Government, with the noble Lord Carrington as Foreign Secretary, carried out talks in New York. They were prepared to talk about sovereignty in those discussions. We knew about the nature of the junta, the appallingly repressive regime that it was, and that naval helicopters were being tasked to throw nuns into the River Plate from 1,000 ft. I am not criticising either my Government or the Labour Government, yet there were various forces and factors at work in the south Atlantic that led those respective Governments to those particular positions. I say this to my Front Bench. I am thinking of the military, political, economic and diplomatic factors. Those forces and factors are still at work.
The most recent vote that we had on the south Atlantic in the United Nations was the worst rebuff for British diplomacy since the Suez campaign. Each year we have to marshal our forces to seek support for our viewpoint. I like to think that there arc those in the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence who say that in due course we must have a better relationship with Argentina, and we must restore diplomatic relations. There are only some 35 countries in this world which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I would regard as having some sort of democratic structure. Argentina happens to be one of them. Not only has it restored democracy but it has since had a successful election, which the British people hardly noticed. If we cannot even have diplomatic relations with such a country, why on earth are we wasting time on some of the abominable countries where we are happy to have an ambassador, an embassy and a flag?
I do not want to talk about the long-term solutions. An organisation with which I work, called the South Atlantic Council, has produced several academic proposals, many of which would give the Falkland islanders better prospects than they now have in their present artificial setting. But I hope that we shall see in this Parliament a serious attempt by the Government to show some flexibility and understanding of the problem and to restore diplomatic relations with the democratic Government of Argentina.
§ Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)
My hon. Friend has painted rather a rosy picture of Argentina at present. Would he like to add a brief comment on the present situation, where all those people who were involved in the hideous crimes that my hon. Friend has been cataloguing have been given a blanket amnesty by that Government?
§ Mr. Townsend
I do not want to follow my hon. Friend too far in that direction. We can all recognise the gigantic task that faces a democracy in those circumstances. Does one wish to make alien a whole echelon of one's defence forces? For how many years must one go on prosecuting one's citizens? It might be realistic to draw a line somewhere. I would not like to say whether the line is drawn in the correct place. However, the Government of President Alfonsin have shown great courage in what they have been doing in that direction since he became President.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer) and I have considerable interest in Cyprus. It was 185 a Conservative Government who became a guarantor of a free, sovereign, independent Cyprus. I do not believe that we have fulfilled our obligations in the way that most hon. Members would expect. It would be monstrous and, I hope, unthinkable to recognise the Turkish regime in northern Cyprus when it still has some 25,000 troops occupying the north and when it is still allowing at least a similar number of Anatolian settlers to take up the farms in the north that have been seized from the Greek Cypriots. We have an obligation to work for a settlement through the United Nations and the Secretary-General, who has great knowledge of that subject. I like to think that we shall strain every sinew over the next four years to try to achieve a settlement of an admittedly extremely difficult problem.
I should like to end where I began. When I was first in Cyprus as a young soldier, I went to Beirut, courtesy of the Royal Navy. I remember how struck I was with the Lebanon of those days. There were marvellous universities, schools, roads and banks. It was the Switzerland of the middle east. To be honest, I was more interested in the night clubs and the contents therein, but I shall not go into that. But it was a prosperous, successful nation. I was invited back in 1982 to observe the presidential elections, with colleagues from different parties. I was appalled by the damage that had overtaken that prosperous and successful country. Surely there is a simple lesson there. While that country may have had good universities, schools and roads, it did not have good defence forces. The Syrians, Israelis and Palestinians have all moved into that territory to conduct their operations and campaigns on that nation's soil. If we want peace, good universities, schools, and so on, we must be prepared to defend our own borders in the most appropriate way. The noble Lord Home, when he was Foreign Secretary, used the phrase, "to deal in conciliation from a basis of strength." That has been the traditional approach of the Conservative Government. I look forward to it continuing over this Parliament.
§ Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)
I thank the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) for his helpful speech. I hope that hon. Members will understand that I want to talk about my constituency, Halifax.
First, I pay tribute to the single-mindedness, some might say obsession, that my predecessor, Roy Galley, showed towards the problem of litter and rubbish in Halifax. Even in his last few weeks as a Member of Parliament he was to be seen on the precinct with his black plastic bag, cleaning up rubbish.
My constituency, my home town, of Halifax was until 1979 a thriving northern manufacturing town with a diversity of industries of which many areas would have been proud. We had a long history behind us. For centuries the people of Halifax had produced goods to sell in the market places of this country, and, since the industrial revolution, in the markets of the world. Before 1979 we were a proud and highly skilled people. We produced some of the finest carpets known. Our expertise in the manufacture of machine tools was legend and we had an excellent record of passing on those skills, through good apprenticeships, to the next generation. That was how it stood. I emphasise the past tense.
186 Since 1979 we have lost 9,500 jobs in that small town, mainly in the manufacturing sector. We have gained only 1,250 jobs in return. Most of them have been in the service industries, and many have been low-paid and part-time. That means that well over 8,000 jobs in manufacturing have gone. In place of the highly skilled and rewarding jobs we have been offered 1,000 youth training scheme places and 1,500 on community programme schemes. That minor palliative has its cost, for by and large those schemes replace existing real jobs.
In Halifax we have another record—the lowest wage levels in west Yorkshire. West Yorkshire has another record—it pays the lowest wages in the country. We have a subdued and acquiescent work force frightened of losing their jobs and only too willing to work for low pay. We have very low-cost housing and low factory start-up and operating costs compared with other parts of the country, so if the prophets of the present Government's policies had had it right, Halifax would be blossoming. The reverse is the truth and no amount of Government fiddling with the figures can hide the reality. What we get is a succession of Ministers telling us that the upturn is just around the corner. They all came to Halifax during the election campaign. The right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) was chased out of town. One of them told us to work for less, and the logic of that escapes me. Report after report says that we are the lowest paid area in the country, yet firm after firm is moving out.
What are the Government going to do? I listened intently to the Queen's Speech yesterday. What will the Government do for towns such as Halifax? If we look at the past, we see something of what they planned for us. One scheme that was launched in Halifax was the UK 2000 scheme, of which hon. Members may have heard. That brings us back to the subject of cleaning up and rubbish. That well-known millionaire Mr. Richard Branson breezed into town : he did not bring his balloon, but there was plenty of hot air. The press was there, and the television cameras were there. It was a huge public relations exercise, but what they were covering had all the hallmarks of a cartoon. Rocks were brought in by lorry, a couple of YTS trainees were drafted in and pictures were taken of Mr. Branson holding a pick, but the picture was totally false. We were offered gimmicks. I do not think that even now the UK 2000 scheme employs more than a dozen people on community programme schemes, yet it was a national launch. It was an insult to the intelligence of the people of Halifax.
We have a perfectly good local authority with the expertise to clean up, to improve the environment and to provide leisure services. If the millions of pounds in rate support grant that have been taken away from us could be given back the local authority would be able to do that, and Mr. Branson could go and fly his balloon quite happily.
One thing is certain : a healthy manufacturing sector is essential if we are to pay our way in the world. The decline of towns such as Halifax has been severe and intensely damaging to the British economy. Nationally, our poor industrial performance has been obscured by the huge contribution made by North sea oil. How will we avert a major crisis when the oil runs out? We should be planning and investing, but I heard nothing in the Queen's Speech that gave me hope that investment would return to the manufacturing sector.
187 I know that Halifax is not unique. Many of my comrades' constituencies have suffered huge job losses, but we have an added burden. In the early 1980s we lost assisted area status, and that has cost us 1,850 jobs in the past 12 months alone clue to firms moving out of the area or investing in other areas. We are surrounded by areas that are in receipt of grant, and we cannot compete on the same basis. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) visited our area during the campaign he called it the hole in the middle of the doughnut, and that is how we feel. We had another kick in the teeth last year when the Government withdrew urban aid, which is desperately needed in Halifax. I could show hon. Members the worst slum housing in the country in north Halifax. The voluntary sector needs grants such as urban aid, and so does the council. However, the aid has been withdrawn.
What should the Government be doing? I read in detail the Select Committee report on overseas trade which looked at other countries that have been more successful and have kept up their success in manufacturing trade. The report put forward some excellent recommendations. It said that what we need is a sense of national purpose, but how can we have any national purpose when there is a gulf between the north and the south, when the employed and the unemployed are pitted against each other and when greed and sell-interest are put forward as virtues?
We need links between the different groups in society, said the Select Committee report. But what were we promised yesterday? We were promised more trade union-bashing, and during the election campaign there were attacks by leading politicians on minority groups and allegations that people are part of the "loony Left" if they stand up and defend those minority groups, which I am proud to say that my party does defend.
The Select Committee report mentioned the need for a long-term view, when we have the free-market philosophy that failed in the 19th century and is failing the British people yet again. The Committee put forward the idea that we needed investment in education and training. We have the worst trained work force in Europe, and, listening to the Queen's Speech yesterday, I wondered what on earth would happen to education in the future.
The Prime Minister talks about being free to choose, but what choice is there for those who cannot pay? What will be the options for those on low incomes and the unemployed? There was talk about the need for partnership between local government and central Government, but what did we hear yesterday? We heard further proposals to weaken local government. Let us look at the Government's record on any kind of partnership. If people vote for Labour councils, the Government abolish those councils. That is what happened to the county councils and the GLC. The Government's aim is to cut off financial support from such councils, to discredit them and make them unpopular. And what is planned for the future? The wholesale privatisation of services.
Finally, the Select Committee talked about the financial institutions playing a major role in regenerating industry. The City of London has abandoned the British people when it comes to the industrial sector. Last year only £1 in every £50 on the 'stock market went to fund fresh investment by industry. That speaks volumes for the impoverished north and for the patriotism of those who own the wealth in this country.
188 Unless the Government start listening to Members of Parliament like me who represent towns such as Halifax, unless they stop turning their back on manufacturing. and unless they are prepared to help towns such as mine and to restore assisted area status where it has been removed, I believe that times look even bleaker for our increasingly divided country. How on earth can any responsible Government tolerate that?
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I congratulate warmly the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) on her maiden speech. She presented effectively and sincerely the problems that confront so many northern communities and, indeed, communities in other parts of the United Kingdom that are among the have-nots in our current social divide. What she said has been echoed on the doorsteps by voters, not only in my constituency but in many of the constituencies in the north and the midlands that I visited during the election campaign.
The feelings that the hon. Lady echoed were so widely voiced, and so widely reflected in the votes given to parties other than the Conservatives, that the Government must listen carefully in the course of this Parliament. The Gracious Speech gave no evidence that they are ready to listen, but they must listen to hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Halifax who represent parts of the country that are facing severe problems. I congratulate the hon. Lady on making her case so effectively, and I wish her well during her time in the House.
Let me also add a note of congratulation to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) on his maiden speech, not least because he was my Conservative opponent in the general election before last. I sought to console his successor with the thought that being my Conservative opponent is a ladder to success, and that in a subsequent election he, too, might find himself successful elsewhere: indeed, the House contains both a previous Conservative and a previous Labour opponent of mine. I congratulate the hon. Member for Canterbury on his maiden speech, with the knowledge that it brought to the debate on defence procurement. I also share the high regard that he expressed for his predecessor, Sir David Crouch, who made such a great contribution to the House, and with whom I travelled to Moscow, along with the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and Lord Whitelaw last year in the first in the round of discussions that paved the way for greater understanding between our two countries. Sir David played a large part in making that visit, and the earlier visit of Mr. Gorbachev to this country, such a success.
I congratulate also the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker). Her preferment was nearly snatched from her by the electorate, but I console her with the thought that I started with a majority of 57 and that the opportunities that I have enjoyed since then could so easily have been denied to me. But she made it and she received the promotion that she well deserved. We look forward to her contributions in her new role.
I wish the right hon. Member for Leeds, East well. I hope that his early departure from this debate does not mean that we have lost his contribution to many of our debates. I still want to press him on an issue about which I pressed him on many occasions during the election campaign. I am eager to find out whether his conversion from the standpoint that NATO's strategy needs nuclear 189 weapons and that some of those weapons need to be based in Britain to the standpoint that NATO does not need nuclear weapons and that any that NATO has should not be based in Britain is of the Damascus variety or of the Vicar of Bray variety. Its timing suggested the latter, but his standpoint is still not clear to me. This morning the right hon. Gentleman made a very good and quite moving speech, but the question is still unanswered. When he reaches the Back Benches I hope that he will feel more free to answer than he felt while carrying the burden of office.
There is no part of the Gracious Speech in which the words so belie reality as those on foreign affairs. It says :My Government will stand fully by their obligations to the NATO alliance.It refers also toincreasing the effectiveness of the nation's conventional forces.The United Kingdom defence budget is to fall by 8 per cent. up to 1989–90. During that period there will be considerable pressures on the equipment programme because of the purchase of Trident, and it is inevitable that the NATO obligations to which the Gracious Speech referred will not be satisfied unless something gives.
It would be helpful if the Minister who is to reply to the debate could give us the date of the post-election defence review and tell us what will be its terms. The Defence White Paper said that choices would have to be made, but in anticipation of the election there was no suggestion of what those choices would be—whether it would be the surface fleet orders, or the European fighter aircraft programme.
Furthermore, on the significance of the NATO Ministers' decision to have a 3 per cent. annual increase in defence expenditure, why did the British representative agree to that decision if he did not intend to take part in it, and what is the Government's view of it? It was a very strange decision to make at a time when the Government had made it clear that, having increased defence expenditure over the earlier period, they had now decided to reduce it. There should be a clear statement about that, and also about how and when choices will be made that will result from the Government's insistence on going ahead with the Trident programme.
On the wider issue of arms control we welcome the Prime Minister's conversion to the double zero option. She has moved away from her ridiculous stance that there should be an increase in short-range nuclear weapons held by the West and by Britain to match present Soviet weapon stocks. Those weapons would be of no conceivable military use to us; any such weapons stationed in Britain could be targeted only on our allies in Western Europe and could not conceivably reach the Soviet Union. The Prime Minister now appears to be giving her backing to the double zero option. I hope that that backing remains firm and that there will be no behind-the-scenes resistance to an agreement that, thankfully, the two super powers seem intent upon bringing about. Britain should be assisting that process, not resisting it.
The Gracious Speech also says :My Government will play a leading role in the development of the European Community".The Government are still unable to decide whether the time is ripe for Britain to join the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system. Whenever he is asked about it, the Chancellor of the Exchequer says: 190There is much to be said for fully joining the European monetary system … We keep this matter regularly under review. The balance of argument has shifted considerably, but the Government have not yet decided that the time is right."—[Official Report, 6 November 1986; Vol. 103, c. 1072.]At the beginning of a third term of office for the Prime Minister we are entitled to ask whether we shall ever join the European monetary system and gain the benefits that would flow from it, including lower interest rates. Or is it that the Prime Minister says that as long as she is around Britain will not join the EMS? We ought to know the answer to that question if the Government intend to play a leading role in the development of the European Community.
If we intend to play a leading role in its development, why are we resisting the European Community research programme? Current programmes have been unable to continue because of the British Government's resistance to them. The jobs of 600 to 1,000 scientists are at stake. Participation in programmes on such vital issues as AIDS is at stake. Another meeting is to take place next week at which this matter may be resolved. What will be the Government's stance? Shall we continue to resist a joint European research programme of enormous potential value? That is not playing a leading role in the development of the European Community.
All the indications are that the British Government do not want the European Community to develop, either in its ability to tackle the problems that face Europe or in its ability to run itself democratically by means of a properly and fairly elected European Parliament according to a common system to which we are committed by treaty but which we still resist, and with institutions that are properly accountable to that Parliament.
The Gracious Speech says that the Government will beseeking more normal relations with Argentina.That is a subject to which the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) referred. Normal relations with a Government usually include diplomatic relations and a willingness to discuss any issues of common concern without restricting the agenda. The British Government are refusing to have any discussions with the Government of Argentina in which the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands might be discussed. That is quite a different position from insisting that Britain is not prepared to cede that sovereignty or that it insists on retaining certain rights for the Falkland Islanders. The British Government will not discuss the matter. It is not possible to have more normal relations with a country if issues of discussion are excluded from the agenda. It is insulting to the democratic Government of Argentina to say that the British Government will not talk about the subject with them when that same British Government, as was pointed out from the Government Benches, were prepared to consider ceding the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands to a military dictatorship which subsequently attempted to seize them by force. That is an absurd and indefensible position.
The Gracious Speech says that the Governmentwill fulfil their responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong.That is an issue on which we are entitled to some contemporary comment because there is increasing concern in Hong Kong that the steady if slow developments towards greater democracy in the colony will be arrested before the hand-over date. The first expressions of concern came with the enactment of the new provisions which consolidated and reaffirmed some restrictions on press freedom. Fears are now being 191 expressed that the development of more elective mechanisms in the Government of Hong Kong will be prevented or resisted. Under British colonial rule, progress towards democracy in Hong Kong has been extremely slow and no one could deny that. But for that progress to be stopped altogether as if it were a requirement of the Sino-British joint declaration is not true to what the declaration says. The way of life is to continue for 50 years and the natural development that was occurring is surely part of that way of life.
We read that Her Majesty's Government will play their full part in the United Nations. What happened to the British membership of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation? The British Government took people out of that United Nations institution, which British scientists established and helped to achieve its early success. The Government have denied themselves an opportunity to play any part in securing a new director-general for UNESCO. They have denied themselves any opportunity to play a part in the reform process and the improvements that are occurring there.
§ Mr. Jim Spicer
In saying that, is the hon. Gentleman seeking to defend a situation where 80 per cent. of the budget of UNESCO was spent in Paris by Mr. M'Bow and his colleagues?
§ Mr. Beith
The British Government should play a part in raising the administration of UNESCO up to the standards that it should be, but the Government have denied themselves that opportunity. Is it to be the policy of Her Majesty's Government that if anything is wrong with the international organisations to which we belong—including the United Nations itself, of which one could make many criticisms—they should leave them? Surely we believe in the universality of these international institutions, on which their effectiveness depends, particularly those in which there has been a large British commitment.
In the speech we read that Her Majesty's Government will be seekingpeaceful and lasting solutions to the most difficult international problems.The middle east is mentioned as one of those problems and I welcome the talks that occurred last week. Unfortunately they were talks with the more reasonable half of the Israeli Government, and that remains a very depressing picture.
One of the specific sectors of difficulty that is mentioned in the speech is that of Afghanistan. We are entitled to a little more comment on that. We should have a clear statement of Government policy on arms for the Afghan freedom fighters and the means by which they reach them. We should not assume so readily, as did the right hon. Member for Leeds, East, that the people who have been driven out of their country and are fighting to have it restored to them are not entitled to be armed in the face of the Soviet occupation. That seemed to be the implication of the right hon. Gentleman's question, but we are entitled to know by what routes the British Government believe it right or proper for arms to reach them and whether the British Government would connive at an abuse of the end-user certificate system or whether they would accept that it is right that there should be channels of arms for those who have resisted the Soviet invasion of their country.
What about central America, which is not specifically mentioned in the Gracious Speech? Today a summit 192 meeting of the leaders of the central American countries should have begun in order to make further progress on the ARIAS plan and the approach that started with the Contadora process. That meeting is not taking place because the American Government brought pressure to bear on the Government of El Salvador, a particularly frail Government, greatly susceptible to that American pressure. It is the British Government's express view that there should be a peaceful solution to the crisis in central America, yet they have never distanced themselves from the United States' clear violation of that principle. The United States continues to arm, not least by illegal routes which are now the subject of investigation, the Contras who attack the Government of Nicaragua. The British Government have never distanced themselves from that position other than by making a general observation. What is now their view?
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
Would it not be helpful also if the British Government announced that they were to investigate the activities of KMS and its funding of mercenary activities in central America and to investigate the illegal export of Blowpipe missiles, which are apparently used by the Contra forces in the war against the democratically elected Government of Nicaragua?
§ Mr. Beith
Like the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), I have asked the Government several times for clarification on that issue. I am not yet satisfied that there is evidence of Government guilt, but there is sufficient doubt for the matter to need greater clarification.
The Gracious Speech refers to the Government's commitment tomaintain their substantial aid programme.Expenditure on the Government's overseas aid programme has gone down from 0.5 per cent. of gross national product to 0.33 per cent. during their term in office. That has occurred at a time when the British people have shown enormous generosity and concern for the peoples of the poorest and hungriest parts of the world. Does maintaining the Government's substantial aid programme mean maintaining that rate of decline? Is that decline to continue? Does it mean keeping aid at its present inadequate level? It certainly cannot mean, by any reading of the text, that we will make any attempt to achieve the United Nations target. All this is happening in the lace of problems of mounting gravity.
What will be the Government's attitude to the international debt crisis faced by so many Third world countries? I hope that they will look seriously at the report produced by the all-party group on overseas development, chaired by the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), which was produced just before the election and which perhaps did not gain the attention that it deserved because of other events. I hope that that document and other sensible recommendations will he looked at by the Government, who should be taking a lead in international bodies in seeking an international solution. Mere declarations by banks that they have made provision to write off some portion of their enormous commitment in South America will not meet a crisis of such major proportions.
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)
Does my hon. Friend agree that, apart from considering the 193 mounting debt crisis and the need to increase aid, the Government should review their attitude towards full cost fees for overseas students?
§ Mr. Beith
My hon. Friend is right to remind me that our policy on students in particular and on the work of the British Council and the BBC's Overseas Service is part of our aid and development activity. In recent years, there has been a further reduction in Britain's development work and help for Third world countries, and steps should be taken to remedy that.
At home, the measures in the Gracious Speech will increase rather than reduce social divisions and will greatly increase rather than reduce the centralisation of power in Whitehall. Abroad, they will confirm the Prime Minister's preferred role as an unquestioning devotee of President Reagan rather than as a partner in a mature alliance with the United States. They will confirm the Government's unwillingness to take a lead in making the European Community more effective and more democratic. They underline the insularity of the Government, illustrated in their attitude to UNESCO, the Commonwealth and overseas aid. They do nothing to dispel the fear that the Government are less willing even than the super powers to reduce and eventually get rid of the nuclear armoury.
§ 12.5 pm
§ Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) on his excellent maiden speech. I do not wonder that he chose not to wait to make it, because he delivered it with such confidence and grace. I am sure that he will he the envy of many of us who started later and much more tentatively. I wish him well in the House and I am sure that we shall benefit greatly from his presence.
I congratulate, too, the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) and thank her for her kind words about the former hon. Member for Halifax, Mr. Roy Galley, who took a great interest in many things—not just rubbish on the streets of Halifax. He took a real and compassionate interest in the social and health services and made a great contribution to our proceedings. In accordance with the traditions of the House, I shall leave the more controversial aspects of the hon. Lady's speech to be taken up in later debates when, along with other hon. Members, no doubt, I shall enjoy taking issue with her.
I hurry on to the subject raised by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who opened for the Liberal party, at the end of his speech. Like him, I welcome the Queen's Speech, but, unlike him, I welcome it for its determination on the domestic front—the determination to confront the problems of our nation and to find new solutions for them.
For far too long we have failed to do very much to correct our lack of competitiveness and efficiency, with the result that our nation has been unable to afford the level of pensions or the investment in education and the social services to ensure that those in need are looked after to a standard of which we can be proud. The first two terms of the Conservative Government have transformed Britain's economy so that we can claim in some industries that we can offer costs of production lower than those offered by any of our European competitors. Who would have thought, in 1979, that the Ford Motor Company 194 would be investing in Britian, rather than in Spain or Germany, on the basis of British efficiency? That illustrates the enormous achievements of the British people led by a Conservative Government with a determined, hard-working and straight-talking Prime Mininster.
However, Britain is still one of the least prosperous of the European allies. Our wealth now exceeds only that of Spain, Portugal, Greece and Eire. Italy has recently overtaken us in total wealth. We have a long way to go if we are to catch up so that the British people can enjoy a better standard of living, as demanded on the doorsteps during the general election campaign, in health, education, pensions and so on. But, first, Britain must earn the money to afford those services. The British people are now confident that they can do so, given the right economic climate both at home and overseas.
It is the overseas economic climate to which I now address my remarks. The House does not need to be reminded that Britian is a trading nation, which exports 30 per cent. plus of its gross national product—a proportion three times greater than that exported by Japan or even the United States. That means that we depend heavily on the world economic and financial climate. To achieve the aims set out in the Queen's Speech, many of which involve spending more public money, we must work to bring about an expanding world market.
I draw the attention of the House to the recent report of the OECD, which comments on the present economic conditions in the world :many of the conditions for faster growth remain favourable: inflation is under control in most countries; corporate financial positions arc generally good; interest rates have declined markedly in recent years … The fact that, in spite of this, the outlook is not better is due in large part to an apparent weakening of private-sector confidence, related in particular to recent wide swings in exchange rates and uncertainty about their future evolution. For confidence to be restored, it is important for Governments swiftly to implement internationally-agreed commitments in both the macroeconomic and structural policy areas.The report states:The economic situation has deteriorated in recent months, and OECD projections to the end of 1988 point to little improvement. Slow growth, high unemployment and large payments imbalances are likely to persist. Recent downward movements in the dollar, which occurred despite unprecedented interventions in exchange markets, have led to rising inflation expectations and higher interest rates in the United States. These developments, together with the growing tensions in international trade relations and continuing debt problems, have increased the risks of a worsening world economic situation.That points out the very real dangers that confront us. We might be entering into a serious world economic crisis that could lead to serious economic dislocation and, indeed, make the standard of living worse in this country and in many others. At present. the world market place is not expanding. Indeed, in some areas it is contracting. Many Third world economies are continuing to contract, as they have done since 1982. Instead of investment increasing in such countries, most are paying back more in interest and capital repayments than they are receiving from trade, investment and overseas aid. That means that Britain is not able to expand her exports rapidly enough to many of her traditional Third world markets because they are too poor—and getting poorer—to buy from us. If we can move towards reversing the contraction of our overseas markets, and indeed those of the United States, South America and all other trading nations, we can begin 195 to solve our unemployment problems more quickly and raise our income to pay for new and radical domestic policies.
Two of the major difficulties in the world market place are the overhang of debt and rising tariff and non-tariff barriers, particularly the latter. To that list I should add two other factors. One involves competing export credit and other means of subsidising exports, which, sadly, is quite often achieved through the aid budgets of countries such as Japan and Italy. In my view, that is much to the disgrace of those countries. The other factor is the volatility of exchange and interest rates, which discourages trade and investment.
On the question of debt, I should like, as the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed did, to bring to the attention of the House the all-party group's report on managing Third world debt. It is intended to be an easily read document on a complex subject, designed to produce the political will to tackle the problem and to put it right. It has already attracted the appraisal of no less a figure than Lord Roll of Ipsden, who said that it was the most concise, sound and innovative document on the subject that he had read. I commend it to my colleagues. It could lead to the formation of political opinion in the House and in Britain to make certain that the Government fulfil the commitment in the Queen's Speech to do something more about it.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and my hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development, who, largely stimulated by the work of the all-party group on overseas development, took up these matters and last April made proposals in relation to the African debt to the development committee of the World Bank and to the interim committee of the International Monetary Fund. Indeed, they took up the proposals again in Venice, with little success, and have submitted them to the Paris Club, which is to report in July. That was an important step. Of course, it was resisted by many other countries such as the United States, but, none the less, Britain is taking a lead in this complex area.
The proposals that my hon. Friend put to the World Bank and the IMF are intended to find a longer-term solution for some of the poorest countries in Africa, by rescheduling debt repayments over a longer period, by limiting interest rates payable to a suggested 8 per cent., and by converting at least bilateral loans to grants. In this matter Britain has taken a much greater lead than any other country that gives bilateral aid. Such action would recognise the impossibility of meeting repayment schedules and interest rates in return for undertakings by the country concerned to adopt economic policies that are likely to lead to growth and, therefore, to a resumption of exports and imports from Britain and other countries.
That initiative will need to be followed up vigorously if it is to gain acceptance, but the process must be taken further. Longer-term solutions to the indebtedness of Argentina, Brazil and Mexico—the largest debtors—must also be sought. It is commonly accepted that the Baker plan has failed to bring about such a settlement, one of the main reasons being that private banks are reluctant to put more good resources into debtor countries, with the result that investment has virtually ceased. The settlement made in Mexico last year is about to break down. The settlement in relation to Brazil has already failed, and that country is paying only part of the interest on a truly stupendous indebtedness of $103 billion. That is likely to 196 bring the world financial system, especially banks in the United States and Britain, into serious financial difficulty, with potential knock-on implications for further contraction in world trade.
The IMF has been trying to deal with the problems of those countries but has not been able to do so and is finding itself owed money by countries which cannot repay it. I believe that the IMF is the wrong institution to deal with these matters. I believe that the task should be undertaken by the World Bank, which can take a longer view, but to do so it will need additional resources both in its main financing and in its soft loans to the International Development Association. A reappraisal of the World Bank's lending policies will also be needed to permit at least the rescheduling of some countries' debts if any long-term solution is to be achieved. Ministers at the Foreign Office and the Treasury who are concerned with these matters will have to work extremely hard and vigorously if those adjustments are to be achieved in the time remaining.
I shall not say too much about tariff barriers, save to give two illustrative examples. Non-tariff barriers such as that operated by Japan in relation to Scotch whisky mean that the imported product is taxed so severely as to become an extremely expensive item for local consumers while the local product is not so taxed. I hope that the Foreign Office will also take up vigorously the problem caused by the Government of Kenya, whom we would normally regard as friends, but who have begun to do exactly the same thing. British companies which have invested in Kenya and are producing goods for the liquor market are taxed extremely severely compared with the Kenyan producer recently licensed to operate in that sector. if non-tariff barriers of that kind spread we shall be unable to export even to the richest countries, such as Japan, and world trade will contract, with consequential unemployment and, indeed, starvation in some Third world countries.
There is no more urgent need for action on tariffs than in the agriculture sector. In this context I welcome the assurance that the Government will continue to seek a reduction in agricultural support schemes in the European Community and to discourage, for example, the subsidising of rape seed oil production which has spread beautiful yellow fields across the countryside of Britain at the expense of oil palm producers in some of the poorest countries of the world. We can compete with those countries only if our production is subsidised by the European Community. We should have more respect for our Third world trading partners than to seek to compete with them in that way. We must therefore lower tariff barriers into both developed and developing countries if world trade is to expand.
I want to describe my agenda for the domestic programmes which I believe need additional money if we are to fulfil the needs of our people. These aims can be financed only through an expansion in world trade. First, I believe that it is essential that we continue to seek equal opportunity for all our children in education. We must find additional resources especially for inner city schools to ensure that children there receive the additional skills and resources necessary to make their education equivalent to that enjoyed by children in my constituency in Hertfordshire. It is inequitable that other children receive an education that does not allow them to compete with graduates from schools in my constituency.I 197 welcome the initiatives taken by the Government in that area. However, as I have told the Government for many years, to raise the standards they must devote additional resources to inner city schools. There must be more and better qualified school teachers and more resources for computers and technical equipment so that children can be trained and acquire skills.
Secondly, I am certain that we cannot continue to finance the Health Service purely through taxation. We must encourage the British people to enter a universal insurance fund that will be independent of the Government and will be used only for the development of the Health Service. We will not spend anything like the required resources on the Health Service unless we have such a fund.
Thirdly, I believe that there is primarily a human problem in the inner cities. One of the difficulties in the inner cities is that they have been built over, largely by the Labour party, led by Mr. Herbert Morrison, who proudly boasted that he would build the Conservative party out of London. He has done that, but at what expense to the people living in those areas? The right hon. Member for Blaneau Gwent (Mr. Foot) complained about that earlier. There must be a balance between human skills and abilities in those areas. The achievements in London docklands and the start that has been made on Merseyside must be replicated in the inner cities. That will take more money.
We should not increase taxation. The Government should introduce a programme to alter radically our personal income tax system. I hope that they will do that and combine it with the social security system.
We live in an interdependant world in which Britain is a major trading partner. We must ensure that our policies are diverted to expanding world trade and so make sure that Third world countries can stop contracting and improve themselves and therefore trade and buy from us. We can then in turn sell to them and improve our unemployment position and achieve a continued reduction in unemployment. We can therefore begin, through our exports, to solve the very difficult agricultural position facing those Third world countries, many of which find it difficult to feed their people. We must work on the problems of debt and against protectionism. We must work in the GATT, and we must work for an interdependent world, which will benefit our country and the whole of mankind.
§ Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)
It is with a certain amount of trepidation that I rise to address the House so soon after my entry into Parliament. However, I am fortified in my purpose by the knowledge that there is a tradition in this House that one's maiden speech is treated with a degree of courtesy and consideration that is never thereafter afforded to an hon. Member. In saying that, I echo the words and sentiments of my distinguished predecessor the former hon. Member for Brent, South Mr. Laurie Pavitt. As many hon. Members know, Mr. Pavitt entered this House in 1959, and at the time he was described as the first voluntary speaker in the debate after the Gracious Speech. He spoke on the Health Service, a topic to which he was to return on many occasions in this House and in his constituency. It is a cause to which he made a very great contribution.
198 Mr. Pavitt was noted for his warmth and sincerity and for his depth of knowledge on his specialist subjects. He was also well known for his consideration to his colleagues and, I am bound to say, to his successor. The advice that he gave to a new Member in relation to a maiden speech was also given to and taken up in his book by Mr. Speaker Thomas. It was that one should get it over with. That was the advice that he gave, and it is the advice that I have taken.
When one considers, as one has had to consider over the past day, the Gracious Speech, it is clear that that word has also been passed to the Prime Minister. It is quite clear that it has been suggested to her and to her Government that they should get it over with. When one looks at the contents of the Gracious Speech, one sees why there could not be a more divisive or a more destructive programme. One wonders whence the Prime Minister's advice came. I received friendly advice. The Prime Minister's advice could not have come from her predecessor, her one remaining predecessor in this House, because, if he were to give her any advice, it would certainly not be friendly and the surprise would be if she accepted it anyway. It must have come from some other guardian angel, or perhaps more likely from a malign familiar. Perhaps it came from the Secretary of State for the Environment, the cat that the Prime Minister has set to catch the local authority mouse. Perhaps it came from that quarter.
Quite clearly there is nothing in the Gracious Speech to which we can look to promote consensus. There is everything in it to provoke controversy. Therefore, in my maiden speech I find myself in some difficulty in terms of even attempting to keep to the tradition of avoiding controversy. I am conscious of the fact that this is a foreign affairs day. I crave the indulgence of the House. I shall speak not about the sub-Saharan debt crisis or about South Africa, although they are two problems of real and immediate concern to my constituents and I hope in due course to be allowed to return to them; I shall concentrate instead on domestic issues.
When one listens to the way in which the occupants of the Conservative Benches speak about the inner cities and how they refer to Brent, Haringey, Islington, Leicester and Glasgow, one might well think they were speaking about another country. That is because of the lack of knowledge and shallowness of understanding that they show and, indeed, for all that they care. Those places might just as well be the Balkans. Indeed, when one thinks about it, that is precisely what the Government intend for the inner cities. They intend the Balkanisation of the inner cities of our country. They intend to break them up, divide them and to set one against the other to prevent them being a real power or force for change or progress. They intend to divide and rule. They intend the Balkanisation of the inner cities. The Gracious Speech reveals that to be the prospect for the inner cities in the years ahead.
Nowhere is that more clear or evident than in education and housing. It is clear that what is proposed is the destruction of municipal Socialism, not the development of the municipalities. The Government care nothing for that, but they care everything for the destruction of the gains that have been made by the people of the inner cities since the war.
It is useful to compare the Gracious Speech that my distinguished predecessor, Mr. Laurie Pavitt, addressed in his remarks in 1959 with the Gracious Speech that we heard yesterday. It is an interesting comparison, not least 199 on the subject of housing because in 1959 it was possible for a Conservative Government to say that new house building would be mantained at a high level and that the slum clearance campaign would continue. That is what a Conservative Government said in 1959. What do they say today? They say :Measures will he brought before you to effect a major reform of housing legislation in England and Wales.The consensus on housing during the past 28 years has been broken and shattered, and one can see why. In the rise of the Conservative party during the past 28 years we have seen the replacement of any hope of consensus and of any real care for the people and problems of the inner cities by the men and woman who now swell the ranks of the Conservative party and sit on the Government Benches. We have seen consensus replaced by zealots and place persons who want nothing so much as the destruction of our gains and our party, and who will do anything to achieve that goal. [Interruption.] Ministers may well laugh and lounge on the Front Bench now, but they should bear in mind what happended to some of the other zealots and place persons who lounged there before, when the Conservatives sought the destruction of the inner cities and moved against the Greater London council. Those Ministers soon found themselves languishing on the Back Benches. Lounge now and languish later is the message that some Ministers should take with them when they return to their places outside the House.
When one considers the proposals for housing, one sees a pattern and set of proposals that in no way even begin to address the crisis of the time. We need only consider the situation in London. There are 30,000 homeless families, 9,000 in bed-and-breakfast, half a million families on council waiting lists, and one in five live in unsatisfactory accommodation. About £7 billion is needed to repair the existing housing stock. Those are the stark figures for London.
In the borough of Brent, which is seventh on the list of housing deprivation in Greater London, the position grows worse daily. More than 800 families are crammed into bed-and-breakfast accommodation, and there are 1,500 homeless families in all. What do those figures mean? They mean the woman who comes to my constituency surgery with three children and tells me that she has only one room to which to return in a shabby bed-and-breakfast hotel in Earl's Court. There is nowhere for the children to go, nowhere for her to deal with the dirty nappies, and nowhere that she can try to bring up a family. And the Government say that they are concerned about that.
What do the Government's policies mean in terms of alleviating the suffering of the people whom we are sent here to represent? They include the parents who come to my surgery from the Stonebridge estate and tell me that they have five children and live in a three-bedroomed house. The youngest child, who is hyperactive, is obliged to share a bed with two teenage sons—one bed for three boys. The child has no garden in which to play and runs round in the house tearing up the carpets and the lining of the sofas because of his frustration. What am I supposed to tell them, based on this Queen's Speech? What hope can I give them that they will obtain a transfer? There is no hope and no chance, because the Government's proposals hold out nothing but a deterioration in the housing and living conditions of our people.
200 We need to give our people some hope and some chance, and there is a basis, in housing at least, for some consensus. But the Government have set their faces against that. They have set their hands to a course that is determined to create in our inner cities the development of welfare housing along American lines—sink estates to which people are condemned, with no prospect of getting out. The better estates, with low-rise housing and perhaps gardens, will be privatised—put out to the highest bidder. Then there is no telling what will happen to the rents, and there is no explanation in their proposals of what will happen to homeless families. Where will they go?
There is no telling and no explanation in the Government's proposals about what will happen to housing transfers. How will they be affected? There is no telling and no explanation in their proposals of how they envisage the role of building societies and housing associations. They have told the Government many times, as they have told us, that they need co-operation among local authorities, building societies and housing associations. They do not want one to be set against the other in a spurious competition in which the consumer—- the person who seeks housing—is never the winner. The Government should listen to them and to the advice that they must be receiving from those responsible for telling them what damage and harm their proposals will bring They must find another way and find it soon, because the crisis is growing.
I give an example of another way in which we can try to resolve the two central problems of our inner cities—unemployment and homelessness. In Brent, 2,500 building workers are unemployed and there are 1,500 homeless families. It cost £5,000 to keep each of those families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. It costs £5,000 a year to keep a family in the misery of bed-and-breakfast The total cost of rent for that accommodation is almost £4 million a year.
With such money and the waste that directly arises from the housing policies that have been carried out in the past by the Government and that will be made worse in the future, we could build 500 new homes a year for five years. We could create 1,300 jobs to absorb some of the unemployment in my borough alone. Imagine what could be done throughout the country if the Government were prepared to put resources into housing. Those resources would generate wealth, employment and opportunity. At the same time, the Government should call upon the willingness, the skills and resources that exist in our country to address the problems of homelessness in a way that recognises, as we on the Labour Benches have shown by our actions, the importance of having a multiplicity of tenures and forms of ownership. Housing associations should be involved. We want their co-operation and flexibility. We want to encourage owner-occupiers and to ensure—as the GLC sought to do before the Government stripped it of its housing powers—the provision of mortgages for first-time buyers.
In the last years of the GLC we produced, as a major housing authority in London, more mortgages and gave a greater chance to first-time buyers than any Conservative GLC administration ever did. However. the Government took away the GLC's housing powers and gave them to the boroughs. The line given then was that those powers best belonged with the boroughs. When the Government were stripping the GLC of its housing powers, the boroughs could do no wrong, but now, 201 suddenly, the line has changed. Now the boroughs are not the right authorities after all and there should be no strategic housing provision—it should be left to the market.
We cannot leave this matter to the market because that will not address the concerns of the young couples in my constituency who want to buy their own homes and want low-cost house building to enable them to do so. It will not address the concerns of the people on the Stonebridge or Church End estates. It will not address the concerns of people who are currently trapped in intolerable housing conditions.
The Opposition will oppose the Government tooth and nail on this and other issues that stem from the Gracious Speech. We will seek to mobilise our communities around a great campaign for homes in all our cities. We will seek to mobilise the enthusiasm and commitment that there is in those cities for homes for all. That is the message that will come from the Labour party. It is a message of optimism and of hope that there is in an alternative, there is another way. We represent that way.
The Government are closing the shutters on housing in London, in my constituency and in Britain. The Government are doing so for a simple, squalid purpose. It is a party purpose, not a national purpose. The Government will be condemned by communities that will be affected in this way. The Government will be condemned by history. Indeed, the Government can be absolutely sure that, as they seek to close the shutters over the next weeks and months, we will not go quietly into the night.
§ Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)
I am sure the House listened with great interest as the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) made his maiden speech. I do not believe that it would be inappropriate for me to say at this point that I hope that, as he spends longer in the House, he will come to learn that there is no monopoly of caring on one side of the House or the other. The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), who is just leaving the Chamber, will bear witness to the fact that he has many friends on both sides of the House. If we come into this House determined to create barriers, these two sword lines will begin to have some meaning again, and that is the last thing that most of us would wish to see happen.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) made a very interesting speech. It was a characteristic speech, in that it was totally lacking in any form of humility. He said that he would give us some reflections on his time in the House, but I wonder whether, instead of ambling across the scene, it would have been better if he had made some attempt to justify his total change in view, which has happened during the past 12 months, over the need for nuclear weapons. I wonder whether at some point he will be able to give us some idea of the part that he played in 1974 in creating the horrifying situation that we now have to face on the island of Cyprus where both the Greek and Turkish Cypriots have suffered for so many years as a result of the inability of the Labour Government of that time to take any decisive action, which they could and should have done as a guarantor power at that time.
202 We face many world problems—the Gulf, the middle east, southern Africa and East-West relations—but I shall refer only to a relatively small island in the Mediterranean, which has strong links with the United Kingdom and has always been a friend of this country—the island of Malta. Lest we forget, I should like to spend a moment reading the citation when King George VI awarded the George Cross to the island. In April 1942, he said :To honour her brave people, I award the George Cross to the island fortress of Malta, to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history.That was in April 1942, but the people of Malta suffered until 1943 a consistent bombardment and attack by the Axis powers, with 14,000 tonnes of bombs, 1,468 civilians killed, countless thousands wounded and 24,000 buildings destroyed. It is no exaggeration to say, as any student of history knows, that, without the work and heroic devotion of the Maltese people, it would have been impossible for us to win the battle of Alamein in October that year, and we would not therefore have won the war in the middle east. It is too dreadful to contemplate the consequences of that.
After the war, we repaid the Maltese people by creating a situation in which it might have been possible for Malta to be integrated with this country. Indeed, if the events of 1956 and 1957 had continued, today we would have seen three or four Maltese Members of Parliament sitting in the House. For my part, I believe that it is the greatest tragedy that that did not occur. There is no time today to go into the reasons why there was a breakdown in the negotiations, but I found it very sad.
However, we have to live not with the past but with the present. We know that from 1971 until 1987 the people of Malta had lived under a Socialist Government, with all the usual consequences that follow from that. I shall not dwell on the role of Mr. Dom Mintoff or his successor, whom I found to be a much more reasonable person to deal with, but it is clear that when the nationalist Government came into office on 9 May this year they inherited the usual chaos and mess that Socialists always leave behind them wherever they have been in office. There were massive economic problems.
Sixteen years of Socialism had created that chaos and mess, but, beyond that, it had built into the structure of society in Malta people with a vested interest in Socialism who are still in positions of authority from which they can begin to undermine the authority of a democratically elected Government. We hope that the number of people who will attempt to do that is small, but they do exist. As a result, many major difficulties face the incoming Government. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office is back in her seat and that she holds her present office. I must ask her what we are to do for Malta, and how we, who should be closest to its people, can help them in their hour of need.
I have three "action" areas. First, there should be a total commitment from Her Majesty's Government not only to support the full payment from the EEC as proposed by the European Commission and the Parliament, but to throw our weight immediately behind the request that we know is coming from Malta for full membership of the European Community. Indeed, the Maltese Prime Minister has already made it clear that that is what he is going to press for.
203 Secondly, will we give every possible encouragement to investment from this country in Malta, and do all that we can to encourage tourism from this country to Malta? It is no understatement to say that Malta depends upon tourism to a very large extent, and 57 per cent. of those who go there on holiday come from this country. Of course, during those years of Socialist Government, the numbers fell dramatically, from about 520,000 in 1980 to 247,000 in 1985. Now Malta has problems in rebuilding its tourist industry. Investment is needed in hotels that need refurbishment and investment. Will we give the necessary encouragement?
Thirdly, we should help in the provision of training facilities. We all know that successive Italian Governments, through the very fact of Italy's proximity to Malta, have been the major donors to and supporters of successive Governments in Malta. It must surely be fact, however, that the people of Malta would naturally look to us for training facilities for their police and armed services. At the present time, when changes may be necessary within the armed services and the police—some of whom have proved slightly unreliable in certain areas during the past few weeks—we should come forward and offer training. Whilst I would never make any apology for the aid and support that we give to Zimbabwe, Mozambique and other African countries in respect of training, we are now considering Malta, which is close to home. If Malta makes such a request, I hope that we shall accede to it.
What other links have we and how can we strengthen them? The new High Commissioner for Malta has not yet been named as far as I know, but he will arrive here shortly. I hope that my right hon. Friend will take an early opportunity to meet him, discuss these matters and extend the hand of friendship in the truest possible way to the people to whom we owe so much.
I return to the point at which I started. It is easy in this world to look around for new friends : they exist, and thank God that they do. However, we must never forget those who stood steadfastly beside us in our time of need. Their time of' need is now, and we should help them in every way that we can.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Wise Ministers and a wise Government would have listened carefully to the powerful speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), and inwardly digested the message that he was bringing to us.
Twenty-five years ago, when I made my maiden speech, the Government of Harold Macmillan would have listened to such a contribution. Having lost the Conservative deposit in our rolling countryside, Macmillan sacked half his Cabinet on the "night of the long knives"—as Harold Wilson was to say, the wrong half. I am not sure that I can say to my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South that Ministers—from what Peregrine Worsthorne and not somebody on the Left called "bourgeois triumphalism"—will listen to what he has to say, but they would be wise to do so.
In his great speech, for such it was, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said in his penultimate paragraph—which I commend to the new Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement, the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) who I am glad. for personal reasons, to see on the Front Bench—that the Foreign Secretary should say more 204 about the supply of British arms to Afghanistan and about the possibility of the supply of British arms to Nicaragua. I shall devote my speech to just that topic: to the agreement between decision-makers in Britain—we have not been told about the extent to which Ministers were involved—and decision-makers in the United States, who may have been no more senior than Colonel Oliver North and his ilk, to send surface-to-air missiles to the Afghan forces fighting the Russians and to the possibility that British armaments found their way to the Contras in Nicaragua.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) has just entered the Chamber because he wrote to the Foreign Secretary on the question of arms to Afghanistan. I interrupted the Foreign Secretary during his speech. He said that we should he glad about what the Afghan people are doing, but he did not answer the question that was asked about ministerial authority. Although the Foreign Secretary did not answer that question, it is legitimate for the House to ask for an explicit and open policy, not for a covert policy. II' our country is sending arms, the House of Commons deserves to be told. Parliament is entitled to an honest explanation of what exactly our country is up to in Afghanistan. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East rightly says that it raises Irangate issues.
The story seems to me to run like this. In the autumn of 1985, Blowpipe missiles made by Shorts of Belfast reached Afghanistan through third parties. That was in response to Afghan forces who were fighting the Russians making a request to the West for anti-aircraft missiles to blunt Soviet air attacks. In 1985, the American CIA was ready to step up its support for the guerrillas. With the knowledge of the Americans in 1985, I believe that an MI6 officer who had established close contact with the Afghan resistance was posted to the British joint intelligence committee staff at the Cabinet Office. That is not just my imagination. It was stated in print on the front page of The Independent under the byline of its defence correspondent, Mark Urban, whose work first brought this issue to public attention.
I believe, from more than one source, that MI6, or elements of M16, wanted to support the Islamic party of Yunis Khalis, a fundamentalist guerrilla group. I believe also that the secret intelligence service wanted to support this fundamentalist guerrilla group and that it had developed relations with one of its field commanders by the name of Abdul Haq. Abdul Haq and his colleagues wanted missiles to destroy aircraft using Kabul airport. In particular, Haq asked for Blowpipe, a shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missile with a range of several miles. The first shipment of about a dozen Blowpipe launchers and about 30 rockets was arranged by the CIA via Saudi Arabia. Such was the success of Blowpipe that the Afghans asked the CIA for about 300 missiles and a smaller number of launchers. That order would work out at a cost of many millions of pounds, yet I am told that only four men at Shorts knew the full scope of the plan. I emphasise that Shorts is a publicly owned enterprise.
The response of the Foreign Secretary to this was that. I should understand that most people supported what the Afghan guerrillas were doing. That is as may be and it is open to argument, but I am bound to say to the House that I think that there is another side to this coin. When I was one of my party's delegates to the United Nations I had an interview with Oleg Tryanovsky, who was the Russian 205 ambassador at the United Nations, and I expressed to him the concern of many people in this country with regard to what was happening in Afghanistan.
His reaction was to arrange for me an interview the following day with the lady who was the Deputy Prime Minister of the Kigizi Republic, who explained in detailed and powerful terms, which I believed, that it was only after 14 requests that the Russians went into Afghanistan. She explained that in the first instance there were her people, the Kigizi, 2 million on the Russian side of the border, and I million on the Afghan side of the border. That is a split of 4 million and 2 million Turkmen on either side of the frontier and the Uzbek and Kazakhs likewise. There were tribes on both sides of the border and there were persecutions of fellow nationalities in Afghanistan. They—the Russians—were sucked into it against their better judgment just, as a rough parallel, we were sucked into Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I shall continue my argument and then I shall give way.
I think that this situation is at least open to argument and discussion in the House as to whether it is very clever to do this when we want an agreement with the Russians and when there is a hypersensitive situation. I begin to wonder whether it is in the interests of the people of Afghanistan themselves.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Why did the hon. Gentleman not mention that the man who supposedly invited the Soviets in, Hafizullah Amin, was murdered within 24 hours?
§ Mr. Dalyell
As in Northern Ireland, there are great difficulties and I do not pretend that it is a black and white situation. I am saying that in matters of arms policy the House has a right to know.
I confine myself to certain questions. First, on 11 March 1986, the Prime Minister received Abdul Haq, the guerrilla leader, at 10 Downing street. Did Haq request missiles? If not, why was the Prime Minister seeing a guerrilla leader? If so, what did the Prime Minister reply and why did she not make a statement to the House? I tabled a question, No. 119, on the Order Paper on 25 June.
Secondly, in April 1986, the Foreign Secretary visited Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. He is quoted as saying :After more than six years of occupation the time has come for action not words.What did he mean by that? Did he mean that missiles should be sent? In his speech today he said that he meant action by the Russians. I will accept a correction, but that did not seem to be the sense in which the speech was first made. I have tabled question No. 18 for next Wednesday and I hope that some clarification will be given by the Foreign Office.
Thirdly, were Blowpipe missiles flown from Aldergrove airport, via a British base, to Cyprus? Did the Blowpipes travel from there, either via Egypt or the Gulf states, to Afghanistan? If so, what happens to the policy of end-user certificates? Do we turn the Nelson eye? Is there any way in which end-user certificates can be monitored?
206 Fourthly, were the Blowpipe missiles—about 30 of them—captured by the Kabul Government in August 1986? Was missile serial No. 186522A displayed in Kabul and was it part of the missile's first production batch? If those questions cannot be answered, I ask : how did British missiles ever get into such a position?
Fifthly, was Shorts asked to supply the missiles and, as Colonel Oliver North said in writing,willing to arrange the deal, conduct the training and even send U.K. 'tech. reps' forward if we can close the arrangement"?Page 465 of the Tower Commission report states :In spring 1986, Lt-Col North also was involved in other efforts to help facilitate Contra military purchases through third countries. On March 26, 1986, three months after Mr. McFarlane left Government service, Lt-Col North informed Mr. McFarlane of his efforts (again, with Secord's assistance) to obtain Blowpipe launchers and missiles for the Contras:[W]e are trying to find a way to get 10 Blowpipe launchers and 20 missiles from [a South American Country] thru the Short Bros. Rep. … Short Bros., the mfgr. of the Blowpipe, is willing to arrange the deal, conduct the training and even send U.K. 'tech. reps' fwd if we can close the arrangement. Dick Secord has already paid 10% down on the delivery and we have a [country deleted] EUC [end user certificates] which is acceptable to [that South American country].On April 4, Mr. McFarlane replied to Lt-Col North, 'I've been thinking about the Blowpipe problem and the Contras. Could you ask the CIA to identify which countries the Brits have sold them to. I ought to have a contract in at least one of them.'In the same message, Mr. McFarlane also asked : 'How are you coming on the loose ends for the material transfer? Anything I can do? If for any reason you need some mortars or other artillery—which I doubt—please let me know.'
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
May I add to my hon. Friend's list of questions? What were the sales of Blowpipe missiles to the Government of Honduras for certain onward transmission to the Contras?
§ Mr. Dalyell
I should like to echo that question. I am doubly glad that my hon. Friend has asked it from the Labour Front Bench, because there are deep issues which senior Opposition colleagues recognise and which should be answered either in the Minister's response or at some early stage. In supporting my hon. Friend, I should like to make that my sixth question.
Seventhly, since Shorts is Government-owned, how can the Government persuade us that they did not know about traffic in Blowpipe missiles? That is beyond comprehension. We have a publicly owned firm, yet the Government say, "We knew nothing about it." This raises questions of control. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has been deeply interested in the whole matter of arms sales to central America, a subject in which he has specialised. On 7 May 1987 the Prime Minister said, and I had better quote in context :I have made out position on Iran clear. It is exactly the same as my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary indicated in October 1984. I have also made it clear that the British Government have not authorised the supply of Blowpipe to the Contras. Our actions have been entirely consistent with our support for a political rather than a military settlement of the problems of central America."—[Official Report, 7 May 1987; Vol. 115, c. 859.]The wording is odd. I concede that the supply may not literally have been authorised, but did the Government know about arms going to the Contras? That is not made absolutely clear in that answer—or in any subsequent answer that I can trace—whether Ministers knew that British arms were going to the Contras. Therefore, I ask 207 the direct question: are British arms going to the Contras or are they not and are Ministers sure that they have sufficient knowledge of what the intelligence and security services may be doing in this respect?
My eighth question is: why has an operation of such cost and scope been kept covert and gone unreported to Parliament? This speech is about facts being given to Parliament. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East believes that this should be a matter for the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and perhaps he is right, but somehow or other this information should come into the public domain.
Ninthly, is Mark Urban right in suggesting that a fresh batch is being ordered? I refer to an article which appeared on the front page of a major national newspaper—The Independent—on 18 June, headed "Another Blowpipe order set for rebels". Is that true or is it not? There may be explanations and answers to these questions, but it looks as though the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary either knew about Blowpipes going to Afghanistan or they did not. If they did know, why was not the House of Commons told? If they did not have perfect information—or if it was decided that it was better that they should not know—the question arises whether the British intelligence services are formulating foreign policy, as has been suggested by serious people in the press whose remarks have remained unrefuted? If so, as my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East has asked, what is the difference between what is happening here and what is happening in Washington at the moment? If my facts are at all right, what is happening in Britain is no less reprehensible than the goings-on in Irangate. The difference between London and Washington is that in our system parliamentary loyalty and governmental secrecy make it much harder to winkle out the truth than it is on the other side of the Atlantic.
I know that others wish to speak. I lay my case on two grounds. First, the export of arms is a matter of considerable substance and is central to foreign policy. Secondly, what are we, who have had the privilege of being returned to this House, going to do to ascertain what exactly is being done in our name?
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
This has been a rich debate, and one of dramatic contrasts. Before the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) leaves, I would like to congratulate him on a particularly eloquent and forceful maiden speech, which will long be remembered by those who heard it. I am sure that he will make important contributions in the House.
No less effective, in a very different way, was the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier). My hon. Friend has had a hard political schooling. He fought Berwick-upon-Tweed and had a tough military training in addition to a business background that equipped him well for his maiden speech. I am only sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury), whom I am very glad to see on the Front Bench in his new post as Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement, was not present to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury speak on arms procurement. The subject exercises the House a great deal, but not many hon. Members have the expertise of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury in this matter.
208 The hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) spoke with great sincerity. I am sure that, following as she does in the illustrious footsteps of Dr. Shirley Summerskill on the Opposition side of the House and Mr. Maurice Macmillan, whom Conservative Members remember with great affection, she will play her part in making sure that the concerns of the West Riding and of textile towns such as Halifax are regularly brought to our attention.
At the beginning of the debate we had the swan song—the valedictory—of the great entertainer, the man who is remembered as much for bashing out well-loved tunes on an old honky tonk with a tankard of beer on top as for the role for which he would have us remember him, the role of the wise, elder statesman in the tradition of Haldane and Cardwell—a reforming Secretary of State for Defence who, among his other achievements, impelled me to give up a regular commission in the Royal Air Force and turn to politics. I refer, of course, to the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey).
I wish to address the second and third paragraphs of the most Gracious Speech which deal with our contribution to the North Atlantic Alliance and arms control. In a short period, I shall seek to suggest how, in the light of initiatives on arms control, we should modify our defence policy and try to bring our security arrangements up to date. There seems to be little doubt that an agreement with the USSR on intermediate range nuclear missiles is to be signed on our behalf by the United States. This agreement has moved from being an agreement on longer range INF systems—that is, Pershing 2s and ground-launched cruise missiles on the part of NATO and SS20s on the part of Russia—to one that is more comprehensive, taking into account shorter range systems with a range of 500 to 100 km on both sides of the iron curtain. Of course, we wish the agreement to be global. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend's views on the matter are shared by the other Foreign Ministers and Defence Ministers in the Alliance, and that this agreement was clearly expressed at the NATO Council meeting in Reykjavik. Nevertheless, we should bear in mind the overall importance of maintaining intact the NATO strategy of flexible response. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East sought to pour cold water on flexible response and to indicate that it was no longer valid.
I shall quote from a White Paper on defence which expresses the doctrine clearly, relevantly and well. It states:For NATO, the theatre nuclear forces are an important factor, underscoring its credible capability of responding by deliberate escalation under its strategy of deterrence. NATO's INF are closely interlinked with the strategic long-range potential of the United States in terms of concept and structure. The nuclear force balance in Europe is not an isolated quantity and can only be perceived and evaluated under the overall aspect of the global balance of nuclear forces.An additional observation in the same White Paper states:The important point will be to preclude armament trends in the East from causing gaps in NATO's deterrence spectrum which would result in a loss of flexibility and thus jeopardise the combined deterrent power of the Alliance.Those wise observations are from the last defence White Paper of Helmut Schmidt's SPD Government in 1979 and were produced under the imprimatur of former Defence Minister Hans Apel.
We are now, however, about to go into uncharted waters in seeking to eliminate the cornerstone of flexible response, the centre of our spectrum of nuclear retaliation. 209 There will, of course, still be sea-launched systems and Poseidon submarines available to the Alliance and there will still be manned bombers, but to eliminate ground-launched cruise missiles and Pershing 2s is an action with major ramifications. First, the strategic threat to Europe from the USSR will still remain. Until we achieve the hoped-for 50 per cent. reduction in strategic warheads, that threat will remain undiminished. It is a major threat to our continent which, as a consequence of INF eliminations, will in some sense be less firmly coupled to our NATO allies on the other side of the Atlantic—the United States.
It therefore behoves us more than ever to modernise our own nuclear deterrent forces, as we are doing. with the procurement of the Trident D5 submarine-launched ballistic missile system. But we shall need to do more than that. We shall need to co-ordinate our nuclear strategy more closely with the French, because their force de frappe will have an enhanced value in the era after the zero-zero INF option is put into effect. We shall have to improve our air-launched systems, which must mean introducing effective stand-off weaponry to enable the Tornado force to fulfil, at least to some enhanced degree, the roles previously carried out by ground-launched cruise missiles and Pershing 2 ballistic missiles.
We shall also need to enhance our conventional capability. Reference has been made to this in earlier speeches and it is contained in the Gracious Speech, but one wonders how that objective is to be achieved on current budgetary projections. We have rightly embarked on the Trident programme. We need new helicopters. The H101 is to be bought for the Navy and also for the Royal Air Force. We still have not finished procuring Tornado, especially for the air defence role. We need a new European fighter aircraft. We require advanced personnel carriers and other vital equipment for the Army, especially in Germany. We need to modernise and improve our fleet, especially in relation to anti-submarine warfare.
Many major equipment programmes, all of considerable cost, are reaching the point at which they will impact very severely on our defence budget. Yet we are supposed to do all that and thus, it is to be hoped, increase our conventional defence capability further at a time when British defence expenditure will be declining in real terms. I do not believe that the circle can be squared or that one can get a quart out of a pint pot. We need a fundamental reappraisal of how we are to carry out our roles within the Alliance. We must judge whether we are to maintain intact the Brussels treaty commitment of 55,000 men on the continent of Europe and a tactical air force, whether we shall have to reduce our intervention capability out of area to some extent, whether, as in 1981, our commitment to the east Atlantic and Channel areas will have to be reduced or whether the air defence of the home base is to be diminished. There are hard, stark choices to be faced. Otherwise, there will have to be more salami slicing, and we all know that there comes a point at which the overall capability of our armed forces is seriously degraded by continued slicing of that kind.
I suggest that the main security threat to this country clearly lies outside Europe and outside the NATO theatre. At the moment, it is necessary to deploy three frigates with attendant oilers and replenishment vessels to the Gulf. That particular threat to our lifelines in Europe may grow. 210 Our American friends may rightly believe that we Europeans, who are more dependent on Gulf oil than they are, should be doing more and that, if we are not prepared to do more, they must begin to reduce their forces committed to Europe.
The strategic position is drastically changing. We must wake up to this fact and take the necessary steps. We should do so in concert with our closest allies—not just the United States, but France and, in particular, the Federal Republic of Germany. Our allies are fed up with British unilateral defence reviews which are presented as fait accompli. Although I accept that we have been told that there is to be no review as such, nevertheless I believe that a reappraisal is necessary.
Our French and German friends are building an ever closer system of military co-operation. This is necessary for the Germans who feel more exposed in the run-up to the zero-zero option implementation on INF. The French, to their credit, are increasing defence expenditure by 12 per cent. this year and by 8 per cent. next year. The French need to do so because they are committed both to the defence of France further forward than before through the force d'action rapide and also to an important out-of-area role as well as to a key role in the strategic, INF and tactical nuclear deterrent areas.
In conclusion, in this period when arms control measures of the greatest significance are likely to be implemented, we must recognise the consequences of those measures for our national and Alliance defences. We should endeavour to seek through such machineries of cooperation as exist—for example, the Eurogroup and the Western European Union—to enhance the effectiveness of the European component of NATO defence. With the current United States budgetary deficit, the weakness of the United States presidency, the extent of United States commitments in central America and the Gulf and perhaps in the future to a greater extent in the western Pacific areas, the Americans will not for ever and aye be able to sustain immutably the current burden of defence in Europe which they bear so importantly on our behalf.
Having said that, I welcome the Gracious Speech and its commitment to Alliance defence, to the United Kingdom strategic deterrent and to our support of the Alliance arms control proposals. In so doing, I associate my congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) on her assumption to high office. It is long overdue and is much to be welcomed.
§ Mr. Jimmy Dunnachie (Glasgow, Pollok)
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to address the House today. It is a privilege to represent the constituency of Glasgow, Pollok. I have lived in the constituency for 11 years and was one of Pollok's local councillors for 15 years. In both capacities I know well the hard work of my predecessor, Mr. Jim White. He won the seat of Glasgow, Pollok from the Conservatives in 1970, and through his untiring constituency work he transformed the seat from a marginal to one of Labour's strongholds in the city of Glasgow. He is held in high esteem by the people of Pollok, particularly by the ethnic minority, whose cause he so valiantly championed. I am sure that the House will join me in wishing Mr. White well in his retirement.
Pollok faces many of the problems that have today been identified as part of inner city living. They are intertwined and have a domino effect on the lives of the people. I 211 welcome this opportunity to highlight to the House some of the main problems facing my constituents. Unemployment, bad housing and inadequate social services characterise a constituency that contains no fewer than 12 districts that have been designated as areas for priority treatment.
Industry in Pollok reflects the general trend of unemployment in Glasgow. Existing firms are forced to close or cut the work force, while new firms are not attracted to the constituency.
The recent closure of the large Presto food stores in the Pollok township centre and heavy redundancy imposed at the Coca Cola plant in the Carnwadric area of Pollok are two examples of Pollok's latest industrial decline, but they have in recent months intensified the fear of the dole that already rages throughout my constituency, where an unacceptably high percentage of the potential work force is unemployed. I hope that the Government's proposals for inner city regeneration will bring real jobs to my constituency. I hope also that any proposed training scheme will be effective and will hold out the promise of real jobs, rather than be the mere manipulation of the unemployment figures that has characterised so many previous schemes.
The despair that high unemployment produces is mirrored in the intolerable housing conditions in Pollok. Recent Government cuts have meant that large areas in my constituency are on the verge of becoming undesirable slums, unfit for human habitation, and a degrading insult to the good people who have to live in them.
My constituency has both private and public sector housing problems. I hope that the Government will review private sector housing grants so that my constituents who live in the Victorian tenements in the Shawlands and Pollokshields divisions of Pollok can carry out the repairs that are vitally needed to bring the houses up to a more tolerable standard. The overwhelming majority of my constituents in the Arden south, Nitshill and Crookston/Cowglen divisions, however, live in the large peripheral council housing schemes that were built in the '50s and '60s as Glasgow's answer to multiple deprivation of the slums. As a result of the recent Government cuts, these schemes are rapidly developing into slums that epitomise the inner city housing problem.
The flat-roofed houses in Craigbank and north Pollok produce dampness and water penetration, which lead to sickness and debility. The multi-storey and deck access blocks in Nitshill, Kennishead and Darnley produce problems of isolation, vandalism and a basic fear of living. They are all heavy testaments to the badly planned housing imposed on my constituents.
My constituents feel rejected and are worried that the proposed community charge will make them feel further alienated and intensify the divisions between rich and poor in Pollok. I look to the new Government to offer positive help and to secure social justice for my constituents. This necessitates the reversal of local government guideline cuts and a massive injection of money into Pollok. This would allow the local authorities to carry out much needed repairs and maintenance and to offer to my constituents the amenities and support services that they so desperately require.
I ask the Government to give local authorities enough money to enable them to enter into full negotiations with local community groups so that the people of Pollok can have a say in the type of new homes to be built in their 212 areas. In this way, the planning mistakes of past years will not be repeated. Such measures would allow Pollok to become an enriched community, by creating a proper housing mix that would cater for the special needs of such social groups as the elderly and the mentally and physically handicapped.
Any proper inner city regeneration also requires an immediate increase in the social services in constituencies such as Pollok. I hope that the new Government will finance such an increase. I look to them to provide money to train more social workers, to provide more welfare rights workers and to supply greater support services in my constituency, where there is an acute shortage of home helps, home makers and day carers. Such increased social work provision is essential if the harsh effects of unemployment and bad housing are to be alleviated and if the quality of life for the people of Pollok is to be improved.
Above all, the people of Pollok want hope. On 11 June the overwhelming majority of the people there placed their trust in the caring policies of the Labour party. Although a Labour Government were not elected, I look to the new Government to listen to the pleas of my constituents when they ask for a better life. In conclusion, I hope that the Government will revitalise Pollok in the coming years and give my constituents the hope and life to which they are surely entitled.
§ Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)
Like other hon. Members, it is my pleasure to congratulate the maiden speeches that we have heard today from the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and from my hon. Friends the Members for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), for Brent, South (M r. Boateng) and for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Dunnachia The hon. Member for Canterbury delved into the difficult area of defence procurement. I am sure that we shall hear more speeches from him on defence and foreign affairs during our debates in the next few years. My hon. Friends the Members for Halifax, for Brent, South and for Pollok sadly reminded us—if we needed reminding—of the decline that has taken place since 1979 in industrial Britain and in our public services. That decline has taken place against the enormous benefits that the Government have had from North sea oil revenues. Sadly, that benefit is now beginning to run down and during the next few years there will be fewer resources available to try to rebuild industrial Britain and our public services.
A debate on the Gracious Speech and foreign affairs is bound to cover a wide area. First, I should like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) who made a characteristically excellent speech, which he told us was his last speech from the Dispatch Box. I should like to pay my tribute to him as someone who worked with him in a junior capacity arid who served under him in the Treasury. I have served also as a deputy to him in a number of shadow portfolios in opposition. As the House knows, he is characteristically robust in argument but, over the years, I have found there is no malice to his robustness or to the strength of the way in which he argues.
I pay tribute also to the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) on her promotion to her important post as deputy in the Foreign Office. Several questions have been asked during this debate and perhaps the right hon. Lady will give us a few answers.
213 The Foreign Secretary mentioned the EEC and we should like to know first what will happen about the proposal for a Community-based research programme. As I understand it, meetings will take place this week, possibly as early as Wednesday. The Government should tell the House what they propose to do and, if they propose to continue their veto, they should explain to the House why they intend to do that in an area that is so important for Western Europe, in view of the challenge that we face, especially from the Americans and the Japanese.
There is also the issue of Blowpipe missile sales to Afghanistan. The Foreign Secretary should have given the House better answers than he did. It is no good him standing at the Dispatch Box and implying that those of us who ask such questions condone every aspect of the invasion of Afghanistan. The House deserves to know and should be told. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asked several questions about that. I repeat just one of them to the Minister. What sales of Blowpipe missiles took place to Honduras? There have been reports of sales going to Honduras. Perhaps the Government will tell us, because they must know. It is a publicly owned company and there are checks, balances and restrictions, end-user certificates and a vast plethora of controls in respect of sales of arms to areas of the world where fighting is taking place. We should receive some answer to that, if we do not receive answers to all of the questions that have been asked today. We need a better answer than that which we received from the Foreign Secretary. We need such an answer from the right hon. Lady.
I should like to point out, as several hon. Members have already pointed out, that the Prime Minister was quite happy to meet the rebel leader from Afghanistan. However, she has always refused to meet leaders of the majority communities in South Africa. That shows where the Government's morality lies.
I was interested to read in the Gracious Speech that the Government will,stand fully by their obligations to the NATO Alliance.Why was it necessary to say that? We are members of the NATO Alliance and we have signed a treaty. Perhaps the Government have a bad conscience. If they are to stand by their obligations to the Alliance, where will they get the money from? As the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) said, we do not have enough money to fund everything. There is not enough money to pay for Trident and to fund all our NATO commitments. Our defence budget will be cut by about £1 billion during the next three years, which is equivalent to 1p off income tax. Where will our commitment be reduced?
Before the general election, the Government were discussing quietly with Denmark and NATO reducing our commitment to Denmark in time of war. Will Norway be next after Denmark if the Government cannot afford the £1 billion needed to maintain and modernise our commitment? Will it be the British Army of the Rhine? Will it be our 50-warship Navy? The other day we read in the newspapers that the lives of frigates will be extended. There is no point in having a 50-warship Navy if the warships cannot sail much further than the Isle of Wight. Will the Navy be reduced? What about the commitment to radar for the Royal Air Force? We have not yet paid for AWACS, and there are problems with the Tornado 214 radar. We need another £2 billion to bring the Royal Air Force radar and early warning system up to date. The European fighter aircraft will also be in jeopardy.
Several hon. Members said that, because of the changes in flexible response and the probability of an arms deal, the military committee of NATO had suggested that there should be a 3 per cent. real increase in defence expenditure. That reminds me of the 3 per cent. increase which the Labour Government accepted in 1978 but which this Government have said they will not continue. Has the Secretary of State for Defence agreed to maintain a 3 per cent. real commitment? I do not know who agreed what at that meeting, but we should be told, because the repercussions for the defence budget could be enormous. The declining defence budget could not maintain a 3 per cent. real increase as well as buying Trident and meeting all our other commitments. Perhaps the Minister of State will tell us whether the British Government have agreed to increase our defence expenditure by 3 per cent. in real terms.
The Gracious Speech sets out the Government's strong support for the proposals for the elimination of intermediate-range nuclear missiles and the 50 per cent. reduction in American and Soviet strategic nuclear weapons. We welcome their support for those proposals. It is something of a conversion, but better late than never. It is easy to support a 50 per cent. reduction in someone else's missiles, especially at a time when the Government are vastly increasing Britain's nuclear arsenal by purchasing Trident. But we are happy that the Government have gone at least some way to showing that they believe that arms control agreements are important.
I notice that the Gracious Speech talks about intermediate-range nuclear missiles. I take it—perhaps the Minister can tell us—that that now includes both the longer-range and shorter-range missiles. I notice that the Foreign Secretary nods in agreement. The longer-range missiles arc the cruise missiles and Pershing 2 missiles. The shorter-range missiles on the NATO side consist solely of the Pershing 1A missiles in West Germany.
If the Government say that they are supporting the elimination of those shorter-range missiles, are the Government supporting the elimination of Pershing 1A? Are the Government maintaining the position—I understand that it is the NATO position—that the Pershing IA must remain in West Germany? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East said, it would be quite ridiculous if an agreement were held up because of arguments about this militarily useless weapon, the Pershing 1A, which has a range that could possibly take it as far as Poland, but no further.
What is the Government's position? Do they agree with the United States? Apparently, the United States says that this particular missile must be kept out of the discussions because it is a so-called "third country system." It is not a third country system. The missile may be owned by the West German Government, but certainly the warheads are owned by the United States Government. Indeed, as I understand it, they are under the custody and control of the United States Government. Do the Government support the removal of that missile or do they maintain the line that we understand has been put forward, that that missile is a third country missile and therefore outside the realm of this type of agreement?
215 From the Order Paper I notice and welcome the fact that a Bill was presented today entitled, the Arms Control and Disarmament (Privileges and Immunities) Bill. From reading the Order Paper I understand that this Bill would cover the obvious questions of verification and observers checking whether missiles have been removed or destroyed. Again we must come back to the point made during the election campaign: are the Government intending to go ahead with "compensatory measures"—I believe that is the phrase—to replace any missiles that leave Britain? Are we to see the removal of cruise missiles from Greenham common only to see them come back in another guise to Holy Loch, Lakenheath or Upper Heyford as sea-launched or air-launched cruise missiles? The Minister should answer this question as it is extremely important. What on earth is the point of sitting down and negotiating a historic agreement to get rid of a whole class of missiles from Europe and then, almost by the back door, bringing exactly the same type of missile, although not based on land, back into Britain?
My right hon. Friend pointed out that if these missiles are removed that will leave battlefield nuclear weapons solely in Germany. I know that there are other nuclear weapons in Europe, but battlefield nuclear weapons will be left in Germany. Frankly, I sympathise with the aide to Chancellor Kohl who pointed out that the shorter the range of the missile, the deader the Germans. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood because I believe that we are in a position where the flexible response is being dismantled. The nuclear part of the flexible response is disappearing. NATO might as well accept that and should start to think about how it wishes to frame its defence policy for the next 30 years.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I was suggesting not that the flexible response should remain intact, but that we could be removing the cornerstone from the edifice of the flexible response by eliminating the centre part of the spectrum of deterrents, our INF. We must make sure that the entire edifice does not crumble and fall by enhancing our conventional forces and our other overall deterrents.
§ Mr. Davies
Obviously, I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. However, the fact is that the nuclear part of the flexible response is being eroded and dismantled. It is being dismantled because the President of the United States and the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist party have decided that they want to remove those missiles from Europe. That is a political act as much as anything and there must be military consequences.
The only weapons left now are the battlefield weapons in Germany. They make no sense at all to anybody. They make no military sense. They do not make sense to the Germans themselves. Frankly, we must now move rapidly to a triple zero option. Once the cruise and Pershing missiles and the shorter-range missiles go, there will be no case for keeping battlefield nuclear weapons in that part of Germany. If a war broke out in central Europe, and if they were used, they would destroy Germany first. What are Her Majesty's Government's views on that last and possibly most dangerous layer of missiles in Europe? It makes no sense to keep them.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) quoted from the Defence White Paper, and we have heard from the Government time and again about their view on the Soviet Union. It is a superficial attitude. 216 During and before the election we were told the reason why negotiations were going on about those missiles. The reason was that we were negotiating from strength. Apparently, that is the sole reason why Mr. Gorbachev came to the negotiating table. All the changes taking place in the Soviet Union are totally ignored. Apparently it is all because cruise missiles are on Greenham common that Mr. Gorbachev decided to negotiate. If that is the Government's view—I hope that it is not—it shows that they have understood nothing of the changes taking place in the Soviet Union today and it means that Mr. Gorbachev will capture the initiative time and again. If we do not realistically assess what is happening, we shall be put constantly on the wrong foot by Mr. Gorbachev's proposals. Nobody wants to see that happen.
The changes in the Soviet Union are far deeper and go much further than merely the election of Mr. Gorbachev as General Secretary. Even if somebody else were to replace Mr. Gorbachev, the changes in the Soviet Union would continue, for the simple reason that the Soviet Union is now coming out of what I would describe as a long dark age. We must understand that that was a country that lived through the first world war, the traumas of the revolution and of Stalin's purges, the second world war and then Stalin's paranoia afterwards. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary appreciates this. There is now increasingly in the Soviet Union, in the bureaucracy of the Government and of the party, an almost middle-class membership of people who do not remember those traumas, but who are highly educated and look to their European heritage. They are looking back beyond 1917. They are not pretending that Russian history stopped in 1917.
§ Mr. Jim Spicer
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that exactly the same thing might have been said at the time of Khrushchev? Indeed, it was said by many people in this country. We all hope that the right hon. Gentleman is right, but there is no certainty in this world. Until the day before Khrushchev died, few Soviet-watchers ever gave a thought to the fact that he was not going to go on to do exactly what the right hon. Gentleman has been talking about now.
§ Mr. Davies
The changes were not as far-reaching under Mr. Khrushchev as they are under Mr. Gorbachev, but they continued. They were not reversed. There was a period of consolidation under Mr. Brezhnev, but the changes continued, and they have been continuing. The movement is in that direction all the time. We make a terrible mistake if we sit back and wait for the hawks to drive Mr. Gorbachev out of the Kremlin. Even if they were to do so, the changes would carry on because they are fundamental changes brought about by time and other circumstances in Europe. The Soviet Union will look far more towards Europe and Germany. Our relationship with the Soviet Union will have to be re-examined as a result.
That brings me to my final point, which concerns the changes with regard to Germany. Changes are now being proposed in the Soviet Union by Mr. Gorbachev The relationship between the Communist party and the public will have some effect on countries in Eastern Europe and East Germany itself. What is happening now in relation to removing missiles from Germany will have an effect on thinking on both sides of the wall and the divide in 217 Germany. We must start to examine that matter and think about what will happen in Europe over the next 30 years instead of looking backwards. During the election campaign, we were told that nuclear weapons had kept the peace over the past 30 years. We were told nothing about the next 30 years. In fact, it is the British Government who are lagging behind. Mr. Gorbachev says that he wants to get rid of nuclear weapons, and President Reagan has said time and time again that they are immoral. The leaders of both super powers are gradually going to move away from reliance on nuclear weapons. The sooner that the British Government and people, and Conservative Members in particular, accept that and start to re-examine their attitudes to the Soviet Union, and the sooner that they understand what is going on in the Soviet Union and what is going to happen in Europe—certainly in central Europe, to Germany—as a result of these changes, the better it will be.
If we reach agreements on intermediate-range missiles, as I think that we shall, and if agreement is eventually reached on a 50 per cent. cut, it will be important not only in itself, but because the super powers will have sat down and negotiated a reduction in the most lethal and dangerous weapons that they possess. If they can do that, they can also improve their relationship in other spheres. Then, perhaps, we shall not see Nicaragua and other countries being used for a battle between the super powers. It will be the best contribution to regional stability and to preventing war from breaking out in different parts of the world. If the super powers trust each other to that extent, they are not likely to try to fight each other in other parts of the world.
I hope that the Government have realised the importance of reaching these agreements, and of what is happening in the Soviet Union, and that they understand that the Americans are also moving away from reliance on nuclear weapons. I also hope that we shall not hear the rhetoric that we have heard from the Prime Minister about how every small country should have nuclear weapons. I hope that we have put that rhetoric behind us, and that we shall try to construct a proper, stable and sensible security policy for Europe for the next 30 or 40 years.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)
I have listened with interest to the contributions of right hon. and hon. Members. Let me begin by thanking the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and many others for the kind remarks that they have made about me.
I should also like to congratulate hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches. We have heard four maiden speeches today, and, while they may not all have been on the subject of foreign affairs, those hon. Members spoke with the customary passion, interest in their constituents and desire to do their best. Whether or not we agree with what they said, we are glad that they have the opportunity to make those speeches on behalf of their constituents. Let me refer particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), who made a thoughtful speech about the very defence issues on which the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) has just spoken. He based that thoughtful speech on his industrial 218 experience of dealing, as a management consultant, with some of the more involved aspects of defence procurement. We shall listen very carefully to what he says in future, as he made some interesting reflections on the scrutiny of defence procurement.
The hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) spoke about her own area. I was glad that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Whip was present to listen to her speech, for his constituency is only about 20 miles from hers, and he knows what is happening in the valleys. I also listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Dunnachie). I am sorry that I missed that of the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), but I shall read what he said with great interest.
We heard a characteristically ebullient speech from the right hon. Member for Leeds, East. I am sure that it will not be his last speech on foreign affairs. I must say that I rather agreed with the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) when he said that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East uses every type of weapon. He certainly does. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman will still be around to make me blush occasionally with his cheery greeting of "Allo, gorgeous" as he comes up the corridor. However wrong he may be about that, as he is about so many other matters, I am sorry that he will not be around for our foreign affairs debates. He raises a laugh wherever he goes, but I am glad that now at last he will have time for his serious music, as well as being that very convincing music hall entertainer that, for light relief, we have grown to love.
The right hon. Gentleman gave us one of his usual happy openings, but that did not prevent us from thinking very carefully about what he had learnt over the many years that he has served his constituents and politics. The debate has ranged from the inner city to many areas of the world. We have concentrated on many defence issues and I shall try to answer a number of the questions that have been asked. However, I hope that right hon. and learned Members will understand if the more detailed points that they have made are left for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence in the defence debate that will undoubtedly take place before long. Some of the questions that I do not have time to answer today may be answered by means of the Order Paper in the coming weeks.
The relationship between East and West is the backdrop to our security and our defence. We welcome the new opportunities for progress in East-West relations. The policies that this country and our allies have consistently pursued are paying off. Mr. Shultz and Mr. Shevardnadze intend to meet in July. It is now possible that President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev will meet again later this year. We should welcome a summit. We hope that it will achieve progress on arms control and also on human rights and regional questions.
The right hon. Member for Llanelli was absolutely right when he said that there are many regional issues that all sides need to address to lessen conflict throughout the world. We may disagree on the means, but we do not disagree on the need to reduce conflict.
§ Mr. Denzil Davies
If the right hon. Lady is leaving arms control, may I point out that the Gracious Speech says that the Government support the elimination of all these missiles. Does that include the elimination of Pershing 1A?
§ Mrs. Chalker
The right hon. Gentleman anticipates what I shall say later in my speech. I hope that he will allow me to make progress with it, because I should like to answer as many of his questions as I can.
As well as these steps to achieve real progress in multilateral disarmament, we are looking towards building on our relationship with the Soviet Union. The Government are continuing to try to increase trade with the Soviet Union, cultural exchanges between the two countries and contact at all levels. Because we want to increase that contact, which would bring increased understanding, we very much welcome the progress that is being made on arms control.
Some Opposition Members were rather reserved in what they had to say about arms control. They know that the reason why an INF agreement is in sight is that this Government and our Western allies have taken such a firm stand in recent years in our dealings with the Soviet Union. We have at long last made real progress not only on long-range INF but also on short-range INF. This prize has long been sought, and it is almost impossible to believe that it is nearly within our grasp. The major achievement—Mr. Gorbachev dropping the link with SDI—is a further justification of NATO's position.
In accepting the zero-zero option in Europe Mr. Gorbachev has gone a long way to accepting the position that NATO has adopted since 1981, and so this major achievement of security at lower levels of armaments is almost within our grasp.
Only two weeks ago we had the successful outcome of the Reykjavik meeting on 11 and 12 June. We saw NATO cohesion on INF and on conventional arms control. The Council reiterated the wish for the global elimination of long-range missiles. Of course, there will be detailed problems in the negotiations that will have to be resolved, but that does not mean that we will not achieve it. A rigorous system of verification will be essential, but both sides have agreed that the United Kingdom's deterrent is no part of that INF agreement, and in working towards the zero-zero option I believe that we have achieved a prize for the Western world.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Before my right hon. Friend leaves that optimistic catalogue of progress that has been made in the arms control sector, does she believe that if an INF agreement is secured—at least in Europe, and hopefully globally—there will not be an enhanced need for Europe to have at its disposal a strategic defence against ballistic missile attack? The Soviet strategic threat will remain, yet the linkage in deterrent terms with our United States allies will, as a consequence of INF arms controls, be somewhat diminished.
§ Mrs. Chalker
I think my hon. Friend is right. That must be part of our consideration in working towards the reduction in armaments that we all wish to see.
§ Mr. Healey
I think that the right hon. Lady has misunderstood the question that she has just been asked, and I see that the face of the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) is wreathed in rather sinister smiles. Does the Minister believe that strategic defence against the remaining Soviet missiles is essential for western Europe if these agreements go through? That is the question that the hon. Gentleman asked. I suspect that fie thought he asked a rather different one when she said that she agreed.
§ Mrs. Chalker
Knowing the skill of the right hon. Gentleman to confuse at the Dispatch Box, I will look carefully at what my hon. Friend said. I hope that in reducing armaments on both sides the strategic defence initiative will not be needed. That is exactly what everybody wishes to see. I will examine exactly what my hon. Friend said when I read the report in Hansard.
Great efforts have been made in the last year to achieve the zero-zero option and we have only been able to do that because we knew that we had to respond to the Soviet deployment of the SS20s. We have always said that we would cease that deployment if the Russians withdrew their INF weapons. I get very frightened when I hear some of the speeches of Labour Members because, if we were to do as they wish and simply give up our nuclear weapons and inquire rather gently of Mr. Gorbachev whether he would like to do the same, we would be in dead trouble. Britain knows that and that was the response that they gave to the Labour party in the recent election. We have heard a lot of stuff and nonsense in this debate about how easy it would be to give up our weapons.
While I am dealing with this issue, I will put right some of the other points that right hon. and hon. Members made which were also nonsense. I was quite surprised by the remarks of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent with regard to the non-proliferation treaty. There is no basis for his allegation that our commitment to the non-proliferation treaty is wavering. The United Kingdom is a co-depository power of the non-proliferation treaty. We have taken our responsibilities seriously from the beginning. We played a major role in negotiating the latest major extension of the related nuclear trade regime, the missile technology control exercise. We have no intention of changing that position.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, East asked me a number of specific questions. His right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli asked about financing and the commitment that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence gave, in common with other NATO Ministers, on conventional arms spending. The 3 per cent. resource target has existed for a long time, as I am sure the right hon. Member for Llanelli knows from listening to the right hon. Member for Leeds, East. It has always been the aim that there should be a 3 per cent. real increase per annum in defence spending, and that has been confirmed by NATO's defence planning committee and by previous Governments. That guidance makes it clear that we should take account of the share of national resources already devoted to defence and of past and present defence efforts. The right hon. Member for Llanelli knows full well that our record is very good. We commit a higher proportion of GDP to defence than any other major European nation. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor fully supports our NATO commitment, which was made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, so the right hon. Gentleman cannot seek to divide us on that point.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, East asked about the Franco-German brigade. We have heard that suggestion several times in recent years. We welcome the growing signs that the French are prepared to contribute to forward defence in the central region. We have not seen it happen. It is an idea which has been around for a long time and we shall follow with interest how it develops, but we await some concrete proposal.
A number of other questions have been asked, not only on the big issue of arms control, which we are all 221 determined should be successful, but on other issues. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East said that we were preventing our forces from having a flexible response capability. Whatever some military commentators might argue, it is Governments, and it must remain Governments, who decide on the route to achieve multilateral disarmament. While those commentators note the concern about the continuing need for a flexible response, Governments have confirmed, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary did at Reykjavik, that the NATO Alliance will continue to require effective nuclear deterrence based on a mix of systems. When we say, "based on a mix of systems", that is exactly what we mean by flexible response. It is an agreed NATO aim to maintain security at a lower level of armaments. That is what we seek, but it requires us to have a mix of systems.
I am encouraged, as I am sure are hundreds of thousands of people, by the progress to cut warheads to a specific number. But we must always remember that cutting them to a specific number will make verification a much more complicated task than eliminating a class of weapons. I think that everyone looks to the day when elimination of a class of weapons can be achieved. We must ensure in all our striving for multilateral disarmament that the strictest verification rules are established and adhered to, and that is exactly our aim.
We cannot look at nuclear weapons in isolation. The conventional imbalance in Europe, which so favours the Warsaw pact, must not be lost sight of. The prospect of INF agreement this year only reinforces that point. The fact that the Warsaw pact outguns and outmans us in Europe is worrying to all of us. The Warsaw pact has 4 million soldiers; NATO has 3 million. The Warsaw pact has three times as many tanks and artillery and twice as many tactical aircraft as NATO. We should never forget those facts. Agreements on nuclear weapons, vital as they are, cannot disguise them. If we are to achieve our goal of maintaining security at a lower level of forces, the primary focus must be on eliminating capacity for surprise attack and offensive action. To that end, the Government are participating in informal discussions between NATO and the Warsaw pact in Vienna. Those talks are aimed at agreeing a mandate for negotiations on conventional stability. I am glad to say that steady progress is being made, and we look for more. A number of points have been raised about arms exports.
§ Mr. Denzil Davies
Will the Minister of State now answer my question? The Gracious Speech refers to the elimination of all the missiles. Does that include the elimination of Pershing IA missiles in Germany?
§ Mrs. Chalker
The Gracious Speech refers to the United States proposals, which do not include those missiles. I believe that we are right to go for the solution represented by the zero-zero option and to make steady progress. Once that has been achieved, we can perhaps consider other issues as well.
I am sorry that I could not be in the Chamber to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), but I have had his remarks reported to me. I note that he has already tabled a number of questions about exports of British armaments, which will, of course, be answered in due course. I do not have the Order Paper 222 with all his questions on it so he will forgive me if I answer in more general terms. I believe that the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber at the beginning of the debate when my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary addressed himself to the question of the Afghan rebels.
§ Mrs. Chalker
My hon. Friend is right; they are freedom fighters. However, they are rebelling, and rebelling well, against the invading Soviet troops. I am astonished, therefore, that anyone should express dismay that they should be in a position to take effective action in their own defence. I believe that they should do so.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow also referred to the wider question of arms sales to other areas. I assure him that recent allegations concerning the involvement of Her Majesty's Government in supplying arms or training for the Contras are totally unfounded. Our activities are consistent with the policy that we have long supported for a peaceful solution in that area, and we hope that that peaceful solution will be achieved.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Are we to assume that Short Brothers of Belfast did not undertake any of these dealings? Setting aside the merits or demerits of the Afghan case, are we to assume from what the right hon. Lady has said that Ministers knew about the export of Blowpipe?
§ Mrs. Chalker
The hon. Gentleman knows full well that, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said clearly at the beginning of the debate, we do not—and the right hon. Member for Leeds, East did not in his time as Defence Secretary—enter into detailed discussions of these matters. This is not a matter for this debate, but let me just say further——
§ Mrs. Chalker
I am not windy at all; I am short of time. I want to finish my remarks about arms sales policy—the subject raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow.
Successive Governments have supported the sale of defence equipment wherever it is compatible with the United Kingdom's political, strategic and security interests. In political terms, the supply of equipment to friendly nations has often been backed by military advice, training and support. That underlines our concern for security. We have to strengthen our ability to resist aggression and to help to protect Western interests. That we do in our own defence, and it has always been important for this country.
Arms exports are strictly controlled and export licences are not issued for items that might exacerbate regional or local tensions or contribute to the violation of human rights. We have complied fully with the United Nations arms embargo on South Africa and we shall continue to do so. We are also exceedingly careful in countries with poor human rights records. There are careful controls to prevent the export of equipment that might be used for internal repression. We have rigorous procedures. We keep to those procedures and we intend to continue to do so.
Many hon. Members have posed questions about different parts of the world, and I shall do my best to answer them in the time remaining. My hon. Friend the 223 Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer) showed especial interest in Malta. He referred to the new Government there. He asked whether we will help Malta. I take this opportunity to welcome Dr. Adami's Nationalist party as the new Government of Malta. I much enjoyed my visit to Malta when I was a Transport Minister. I saw many of the growing problems that the small island had and which, we hope, the new Government will have the courage and the help to put right.
We are looking forward to a further strengthening of the traditional relationship between our two countries. We want greater contact. We shall also welcome the Maltese Government's wish to strengthen ties with the European Community. With my new responsibility for Malta, I hope that I may be able to form a bridge between Malta and the European Community. If there should be an application from Malta to join the Community, it will be considered in the normal way, as for all countries.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend), together with my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West, mentioned the tragedy of Cyprus. We offered to hold consultations in 1974 after the Turkish intervention and we have done all that we can through the United Nations to ensure that a settlement will be brought about. I understand the concern about the number of Turkish settlers in the north of the island, but I still believe that the problem is best tackled through the initiative of the United Nations Secretary General. We back that initiative all the way. We shall continue to encourage the United Nations and all interested members to follow that path to try to resolve the sad division of Cyprus that has bedevilled the island for so long.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath also went on to talk about the middle east. He spoke particularly about the conflict in the Gulf at present. He referred to the dreadful conflict, and it is dreadful. Many hon. Members consider that the United Nations activity is moving forward perhaps all too slowly. I can tell my hon. Friend that the United Nations Secretary General has been consulting the parties involved and has made his good offices available. The five permanent Security Council members have agreed the text of a draft resolution, and it is now being discussed with other members of the Security Council. That draft resolution covers a cease-fire, withdrawal and an exchange of prisoners. The work is by no means complete yet, but we sincerely hope that the Secretary General of the United Nations, and indeed the Security Council, will be able to bring influence to bear on both sides to cease the terrible fighting that is going on in the Gulf at present.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath went on to talk about the middle east and the need for an international conference. He will know that this week my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary met Mr. Shimon Peres. An international conference on the middle east is very much in everyone's mind at present. We sincerely hope that, when such a conference comes about, there will be representation of the Palestinians as their future will be being discussed. The parties concerned are the ones to agree on the most appropriate formula to bring that about.
We have had a long debate on many issues, but hardly any hon. Member raised the issue of the European Community, except in respect of one main matter—research and development. I apologise to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. He referred to the European 224 Community, and I shall say a few words about it. I am sad that so little time was spent on the issue. It is important that we should not he abashed about putting Britain's stamp on the European Community. It is our Community and we have a duty to shape it to reflect our interests. That is what we did, and did most successfully, during our six-month presidency in the second half of last year, but we are going on doing it, and we are indeed well placed to do so. Our European partners are already following many of the leads that we have set in Europe. They are seeking to pursue the completion of the internal market as a top priority. Together we are taking common measures to combat terrorism and to push forward an improvement of the present totally unsatisfactory common agricultural policy.
Above all, it is the British Government who have shown the way. We have shown the way to economic regeneration, and other countries in Europe are now following exactly the policies that we have pursued. In this context, I will explain why I believe that it is so very important to get the research and development framework right. I have never hesitated in saying that money should be spent on research and development in the Community, but we must have the right framework. I am not surprised at what has been said, but some of the comments and criticisms are misplaced. We fully support Community research and are strongly behind the development of programmes of real relevance to British industry.
The House may know that only 28 per cent. of current Community research and development spending goes to areas relevant to industry. We did not believe that that was right. We believe that the programme should be far more relevant to the needs of British industry and thus to the expansion of industry which brings expansion in employment. That is why we have pressed for the percentage to be increased. I hope that we are almost ready to ensure that in the proposed new programme not only will the proportion be more than doubled, to 57 per cent., but that improved monitoring will increase the industrial content of the programme.
The Belgian presidency proposal is to spend 5.6 billion ecu—about £3.9 billion—in the next four-year period. That is a very large increase on the present four-year programme of 3.6 billion ecu. In the present financial situation, and with such large sums at stake. it is absolutely right to ensure that every aspect of the programme will meet the needs of industry and provide value for money, and that is exactly what officials are doing now. I hope that all that we have been doing in this respect will be brought to speedy fruition.
Research and development, however, is just one part of increasing collaboration. Because many Community countries have suffered greatly from the recession in recent years, they have watched to see who would be able to create new enterprises and new jobs. They saw that Britain had the key to economic regeneration because we were prepared to put cutting inflation, curbing bureaucratic regulation and allowing enterprise to flourish at the head of our programme. That is why one European Community country after another is adopting that approach and also learning that European industry must compete across Community frontiers, because only if we compete well across internal frontiers can we compete beyond them.
It is in everyone's interests in the wider world that the European Community should continue to be strong. We have a major aid programme to developing countries, 225 which can only come from a stronger Community. The important lesson for Governments throughout the Community is to follow the lesson of the Government here. The harsh disciplines of economic reality in Britain do not end at national frontiers. The debate that we had to have to put right what was wrong in this country is now taking place across the Community.
British foreign policy in these past years has developed a signal principle. If a country sticks firmly to its declared policies, be they economic or for the defence of the nation, and if it gives no ground for doubt to its friends or for miscalculation to its adversaries, not only will its influence grow and the respect that it commands in the world be increased immeasurably, but the path that it pursues will be emulated well beyond its borders. In our foreign policy in this country we have taken an unwavering stand against international terrorism, and our European Community partners have followed us in that. We have a resolute position on the defence of this nation and all our partners—in NATO and in the wider world—are following us. Those are just two examples of how the constancy of the policy of this Government can bring dividends. In Europe it has also been gratifying to see that our patient——
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.