§ Question again proposed,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.—[Sir Giles Shaw.]
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
I thank the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) for the tone of his remarks. Although he has been in Opposition for 24 years—and it does not seem to have affected his amiability—I do not see why he should believe that a mere nine years in Opposition should have done anything to the character of my sunny friend, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman).
I propose to spread a little ointment on the bruises that the Foreign Secretary may be suffering as a result of my right hon. Friend's brilliant speech. The Foreign Secretary deserves the support of all right-minded people in the difficult task that he has as a member of a Cabinet with the particular Prime Minister under whom he suffers. We shall do our best to help him and accept with tolerable equanimity any misquotation of history or partisan remarks that he may find it necessary to make from time to time to remain not exactly in his leader's affections, but as a tolerated member of her Cabinet.
Many have said that the five months since we debated foreign affairs confirm that we now stand at a watershed in the post-war world, and I hope, conceivably, at a watershed in the history of the human race. In 1945 Russia and the United States emerged as super-powers confronting one another over the middle of a divided Germany in a divided Europe; but in 1988 both super-powers feel increasingly unable to sustain the role that they assumed to themselves in 1945, and particularly if they are compelled to compete in an arms race that they know neither can win.
In the Soviet Union Mr. Gorbachev is, in my opinion—I do not think many would now deny it—trying to change the entire basis on which the Soviet regime has rested at least since 1924—some would say since 1917. Although his domestic perestroika—the reconstruction of the Soviet economy—has failed so far to produce results and is clearly running into heavy weather, the greater openness—the glasnost—that has accompanied perestroika has released a pent-up demand for national freedom not only in eastern Europe but in all the non-Russian republics of the Soviet Union: in the Baltic states, in White Russia, in the Ukraine, in Georgia and, most conspicuously, in the republics of central Asia.
We now find ourselves at a point that appeared to be coming way back in 1956 when the Hungarians rose against Soviet domination, a point at which the possibility of reuniting Europe, which has been divided for nearly half a century, is sufficiently real for the two halves of Europe to exert an increasingly magnetic attraction on one another. One of the challenges to Western diplomacy in 367 the coming years will be to try to create a framework in which this explosive demand for national freedom in eastern Europe can lead to increasing unity between the two halves of Europe. I believe—I do not propose to develop this point now—that to achieve the reunification of Europe may require some important and difficult concessions and revisions of policy on the Western side as well as on the Eastern.
In the United States there has been another presidential election. Mr. Bush has just been elected President of what is still the richest and most powerful country in the world, in an election in which one third of those who might have voted did not bother to register and another third did not bother to vote. He finds himself President with the votes of fewer than one in five of the population and facing a Congress dominated by the other party, which is still bruised by the way in which he fought the campaign.
There is no doubt that the new American Administration will face great difficulties in confronting the formidable problems that await them and which were almost completely ignored in the election campaign. Mr. Bush cannot claim to have a mandate for anything, because he put nothing before the American electorate and only one in five of them bothered to vote for him when the time came.
I have some sympathy with those who say—it is increasingly popular to say it, even in Britain, let alone the United States—that America's domestic deficit is not a major problem. As a percentage of America's national output it is a good deal lower than most deficits in the Western world. But the foreign trade deficit is very serious indeed. America is already the biggest single sovereign debtor in the world. Unless something is done about the foreign trade deficit, within two or three years America will owe more than $1,000 billion to the rest of the world—more than all the other sovereign debtors put together. As a result, money from the surplus countries which should be going to help the developing world is flowing into the richest country in the world to finance its trade deficit; so is money from some of the poorest countries, which incurred debts to the United States during the binge of lending to the Latin American countries earlier this decade.
No one is yet taking seriously enough the difficulty of continuing to finance an American external deficit on that scale, and there is the growing reluctance at least of Japan, if not of Germany, to go on buying American bonds, which we are told by the Americans' chief economic adviser are liable to lose 20 per cent. of their value in the next year or two. I am surprised that the Foreign Secretary had nothing to say about the shift in the balance of economic and military power that has taken place in the world in the past decade. Japan is already the strongest economy in the world, although not the largest. It is the third strongest military power, although it is spending only a fraction more than 1 per cent. of its GNP on defence. Nevertheless, it spends a great deal more than Britain, France or West Germany.
The Japanese Government have already made it clear that they want to dethrone the dollar as the world's only reserve currency. Both their central banker and his deputy, Mr. Gyohten, who spoke in London last week, have said that they want the yen to become a key currency.
All this will have an important impact on the removal of barriers inside the European Community, because it is clear that the Japanese Government and institutions will 368 not continue to buy American Government bonds which are certain to lose their value. Increasingly, they will buy hard assets in the United States and elsewhere, and they calculate that if the yen reaches 110 to the dollar, as, according to Mr. Marty Feldstein, is likely, Japan could make a profit exporting from factories in the United States to Japan in any branch of manufacturing industry. It is already making a profit exporting motor cars from the Honda factory in the United States to Japan, and Nissan is hoping to make a profit by exporting cars from Britain to the Community.
I do not believe that the British or European Governments have yet come to terms with the possibility that we shall have a flood of highly reliable, high quality, low-priced Japanese goods produced in Japanese factories in countries inside the European Community and the United States.
All this has an important impact on the problems of defence and disarmament which have featured largely in our discussions today. If the United States fails to deal with its external trade deficit, there is likely to be a collapse of the dollar and a big increase in American interest rates. If those things are accompanied, as is more than possible, by a collapse in the price of oil, revolution and default in the debtor countries in Latin America could follow, with consequences that could distract America's attention from the outside world for at least a generation.
One thing is already certain. If the United States is to make progress mending its foreign deficit, it will have to reduce domestic spending, because it is already working at full capacity. Any cut in domestic spending and a consequent cut in domestic deficit is bound to include a cut of at least $300 billion in American defence programmes over the next few years. As Mr. Bush—unlike Mr. Dukakis—has committed himself to continue all American nuclear programmes, that is bound to mean substantial cuts in America's conventional forces, which are bound to affect the strength of NATO in Western Europe. This is at a time when, because of demographic trends, manpower available for the German army will be 40 per cent. short, and when Britain is cutting its defence spending, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton pointed out.
I am sure that the Secretary of State for Defence will agree that for demographic reasons, we, too, are facing real problems in manning our armed services. In other words, NATO is entering a period of unilateral disarmament, led by the United States, with the co-operation of Britain, West Germany and the Low Countries at least. I challenge the Secretary of State to deny—I will not say the exact truth but the probability—that we are moving into that situation.
It is absolute lunacy not to get on fast with multilateral negotiations, so that the unilateral cuts on which the Government and Western Governments are already embarking become multilateral. I must confess that I found the Foreign Secretary's remarks on that matter somewhat lacking in candour. It is 18 months since Mr. Gorbachev first made his proposal for conventional arms control between the Atlantic and the Urals, to start—contrary to what the Foreign Secretary said—with an inspected verification of the size of forces on both sides of the area, and to be followed by the removal of disparities that are found to exist. I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will tell us why NATO has not got on with 369 that process. Why are we putting up arguments that are known to be untrue as a reason for not getting conventional arms cuts going?
I suggest that the main obstacles are coming from the French and British Governments. The French Government do not want negotiations between NATO and the Warsaw pact. They want negotiations to take place only in the conventional stability talks framework, including neutral countries. At the moment, they are proposing a three-year delay before serious negotiations take place. I hope that the Defence Secretary will tell us what position the British Government are taking on that matter.
I hope that he will tell us also why the British Government are joining the French in holding up progress by refusing to go to the human rights conference in Moscow, yet, at the same time, are saying that progress on human rights matters must be a precondition to progress on conventional disarmament. Having known and loved the Forein Secretary for many years, and knowing that he is a skilled lawyer, I have tried hard to read between the lines churned out for him by the Foreign Office word processor. Incidentally, I congratulate the Box on getting some new softwear. The adjectives were a good deal fresher today than they were in earlier speeches.
It seemed that the Foreign Secretary was trying to get the Prime Minister off the human rights hook on which she has impaled herself. I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence has recovered from his jet lag and from the extraordinary meeting that he attended yesterday at which, apparently, his own Department was unable to put forward any recommendation to the relevant Cabinet Committee on whether the Prime Minister should be allowed to suck up to President Reagan by buying an American instead of a British tank. I hope that he will be able to tell us whether there are just some conditions in respect of human rights to be met, in which case they should be met fairly fast. We should be able to have the conference and get the process started.
I had hoped to be able to make a speech without referring to the Prime Minister. I apologise, especially to my old friend the right hon. Member for Pavilion, but I shall make a few gentle animadversions on the Prime Minister's role in these affairs. She is increasingly seen throughout the world as the major obstacle to all progress—from progress in the Common Market to progress in East-West relations—by standing out alone with impossible demands on human rights. I do not blame the Foreign Secretary for leaving the Chamber. He kindly let me know that he is to make a television broadcast, and we wish him well.
The Prime Minister is a major obstacle to progress in East-West relations. She is a major obstacle to progress in the Western European Union. She said that Spain should not be allowed to join, a week before she went off on an official visit to Spain, thereby showing that unerring sense of tact and timing for which she has become famous, if not loved, throughout the world. She finds herself practically alone now in the Western European Union in pressing for the modernisation of tactical nuclear forces in Germany—something that is absolutely opposed by the German 370 and Belgian Governments, and which the French Government have said they want to delay for at least three years until they see how the conventional arms talks go.
For many years, I have been trying hard to understand the Prime Minister. I am sorry that the Secretary of State for Health has left the Chamber. I have discovered that there is a medical term for the condition from which she suffers. In the psychiatric profession it is known as cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a psychiatric condition in which the patient finds it absolutely impossible to accept a reality which conflicts with her prejudices or offends her vanity. One of the most famous politicians to suffer from it was Robespierre during the French revolution. That is an analogy that hon. Members with an historical bent might find it worth exploring.
We have seen cognitive dissonance in domestic policy—for example, the poll tax, and the creation of private monopolies to make water and electricity more expensive. We saw it this morning in the National Health Service. I often compare the Prime Minister with Florence Nightingale. She stalks through the wards of our hospitals as a lady with a lamp—unfortunately, it is a blow lamp. [Laughter.] I am glad that the Secretary of State for Defence can see the joke. It means that he has recovered from his torpor.
The Prime Minister has already made it clear that she wants to replace the Treasury with an immigrant acolyte from the United States who is regarded by many people as Dr. Who. He certainly resembles Mr. Jon Pertwee, who once acted in that capacity. It now appears that she wants to abolish the Foreign Office and, no doubt, replace the Foreign Secretary with Colonel Oliver North—if Colonel North is able to escape imprisonment in the next few months. She has already shown that she wants to abolish the BBC, the House of Lords, the Church of England and the monarchy. No institution will be left to protect our democracy, except for the Special Air Service and MI5. If I were a member of either of those bodies, I would be waiting to see when her beady eye would fall on me.
Against that background, it is astonishing that the Prime Minister's official mafia at No. 10, led by her Pudovkin, Mr. Bernard Ingham, should have persuaded the sycophants in the Right-wing British press that the right hon. Lady is now the key to world peace and the bridge between Washington and Moscow. However, President Reagan invited Chancellor Kohl to visit Washington before the Prime Minister managed to edge her way in for a cursory working breakfast in Washington—something which I am sure the Foreign Secretary would like to forget. As for being the bridge between Mr. Gorbachev and Washington, we were told that Mr. Gorbachev was coming here to find out from the Prime Minister what the new American Administration thought. Unfortunately, Mr. Gorbachev will already have met the new American Administration in the United States when he comes here.
Indeed, Mr. Gorbachev has already spent many days each with the Prime Minister of Italy, the Chancellor of West Germany and, this week, the President of France. He is fitting in the British Prime Minister right at the end of that long queue, and she has to take second place to President Castro. In many ways, that is appropriate because some of us have always regarded the right hon. Lady as the Castro of the Western world—an embarrassment to all her friends. All she lacks is the beard. If we could once see her as the bearded lady—
§ Mr. Healey
—I am sure that we would all realise the aptness of that comparison.
It is a bit thick for the Prime Minister to pose as a bridge builder when we are told by Mr. Bernard Ingham that her aim is to persuade Kohl to screw Genscher. I do not know whether that is a parliamentary expression, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I can assure you that I took it from reports in The Times and The Daily Telegraph. The Prime Minister has an uncanny knack of making friends and influencing people.
The obstacle that the Prime Minister presents to progress in any of those areas is serious. Although the Foreign Secretary will enjoy our support—if that is the right verb—in standing up to her and trying to weasel his way around the obstacles that she has created for him, we shall do our best to help.
I should like to finish with a few words to my own party, because in my sunset years—[Interruption.]—I should like to be bipartisan. The British Labour party has a heavy responsibility to offer a positive alternative. We shall not do that if we indulge in a Punch-and-Judy show between abstract unilataralism and abstract multilateral-ism. The plain fact is that we shall have to have both. The present Government have embarked on unilateral disarmament inside NATO. The United States is embarking on it, too. The really important thing is that we should develop policies calculated to help the movement towards a new basis for international security, which depends on co-operation between the two blocs and in which—I share the Foreign Secretary's hope—the United Nations may be able to perform the role that we all hoped it would perform when it was set up after the war.
If we work hard—I hope that we shall have support from some Conservative Members and perhaps even from some of those on the Government Front Bench—we may be able to shift our Castro in a more sensible direction, or possibly even to marginalise her. I am sure that we would have the support of many institutions, including one not a mile away across St. James's park, if we succeeded in that endeavour.
§ Sir Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)
I was surprised when the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) used the word, "ointment", because I do not think we would ever see him as an emollient. If my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary was bruised by the words of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)—although I think that he is virtually unbruisable—his bruises would not have been much affected by the remarks of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East. The right hon. Gentleman was interesting when he talked about foreign policy, but, like his right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton, most of his speech was not devoted to foreign policy. However, they were both interesting tours d'horizon as, of course, was the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. I do not want to follow them down their interesting byways, and, although I should like to touch on the issue of human rights, I shall refer mainly to the middle east and the Palestine problem.
The most depressing thing about the Israelis' reaction to the Intifada is that they do not seem to understand that things will never be the same again. The brave Palestinians 372 have permanently changed the middle east and the Palestinian situation. It is depressing that the Israelis do not seem to realise that, although some do.
It has been made perfectly clear that the myth that the occupation of the west bank and the Gaza Strip was in some way benign, has been exploded for ever. It never was benign because there was a great deal of violence and about half the land was appropriated by the Israelis, which is not exactly a benign thing to do. That was always a myth, but it is now seen to be a myth and there is no going back. The status quo cannot be maintained for long.
The second thing that the Intifada has done is to demonstrate the self-control of the Palestinians, because it has been a virtually non-violent operation. There have been one or two terrible instances, like the killing of the Jewish Israeli family at Jericho just before the election, and one or two other dreadful instances. Mostly, however, it has been a question of throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. The violence has come from Mr. Rabin, the settlers and the Israeli army, which has decided that the right way to deal with stone-throwing children is to break their bones or to shoot at them. That is what Mr. Rabin has advocated. Clearly, the violence has come mainly from that side.
The Israelis, however, are not the only guilty party—the Americans are also guilty. After all, they are now shelling out about $4.5 billion a year to be used by the Israelis to shore up the Israeli occupation and their present behaviour. As far as I can see, apart from one or two weak statements by Mr. Shultz, they have done absolutely nothing to stop the brutal repression or to make the Israelis see the error of their ways. The Americans could not even get as far as helping Mr. Peres in the run-up to the election. They were neutral as between him and Mr. Shamir, which was not very helpful.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Member for Gorton talked about human rights. The West is absolutely right to press the question of human rights in the Soviet Union. However, the Palestinians also have human rights. I very much hope that Mr. Gorbachev and Europe will point out that fact to the Americans, because it is absolutely wrong to continue to talk about human rights while supporting what is happening in Palestine. I thoroughly support, and always have supported, the human rights of Soviet Jews—for example, their right to emigrate—but it is grotesque to make an enormous fuss about that while condoning, if not supporting, what is going on on the west bank and the Gaza Strip.
My right hon. and learned Friend and the right hon. Member for Leeds, East talked about the Palestine National Council and its recent declaration, and I welcome what they said. I also welcome what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said about it in Washington. It was one of Mr. Bernard Ingham's happier pieces of reporting, and I do not think that anybody will hold that briefing against him. No doubt, the PNC could have gone further, but it has taken an enormous step forward. It is extraordinary—rather, it is not extraordinary, and one might have expected this—that the Israelis and the Americans were so unforthcoming in their reactions to it.
The Government's task is to push the Americans and the Israelis in the direction of peace, and I endorse what the right hon. Member for Gorton said. If the Israeli Labour party goes, en masse, into a coalition that will not 373 be devoted to the prospect of peace, there will be a serious lookout for Israel and the whole area. I hope that Mr. Peres will maintain his efforts. It is necessary for this country to try to bring pressure to bear on America, because we all know that American policy is, as it always has been, hamstrung by the great strength of the Israeli lobby there. It raises a great amount of money to elect Senators and Congressmen. Unless there is counter-pressure to that lobby, there is no way that American policy will change. Therefore, it is the task of Europe, and particularly of our Government—my right hon. and learned Friend spoke about our relationship with the American Government—to bring that counter-pressure to bear.
We can and should do one thing more. My right hon. and learned Friend did not speak about this, but surely it is high time that we had proper talks with the Palestine Liberation Organisation. We have waited far too long, but now we have a good reason to talk—the PNC statement. The Government have been understandably reluctant, because any comparison that might be made with Ireland and the IRA, but the situations are different. The IRA does not represent anybody. There is a clear majority in Northern Ireland against what it is seeking to do and probably, if there were a plebiscite throughout the whole of Ireland, there still would not be a majority in favour of what it seeks to do. Palestine is different. No serious person could deny that the PLO represents the overwhelming majority of Palestinian people, and it is clear that they and the PLO want a Palestinian state. Therefore, I hope that the Government will start talking to the PLO.
Another objection has been that, allegedly, the PLO believes in violence; but if we went on that criterion, the Government would have to stop talking to Mr. Rabin, Mr. Shamir and various other people like that. That criterion does not apply, and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will tell us that there will be a change of attitude. It is in the interests both of this country and of the Palestinians that we should talk to the PLO so that we can set out our policy and it can explain its policy to us.
The uprising has now been going on for more than a year. Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands maimed or wounded. There is a supreme opportunity for peace, as the right hon. Member for Gorton said. I hope that the British Government will do everything in their power to bring home the need for peace to both the Israeli and American Governments.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
I appeal for brevity, as Mr. Speaker did at the beginning of the debate. The debate has already been truncated by time spent on the private notice question and many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to contribute to the debate.
§ 12.3 pm
§ Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)
It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour), whose elegant, informed and wise remarks have enhanced so many similar debates.
374 The Foreign Secretary is a calming man. However, one should not allow the cuddly emollience for which he is so famed to mask the fact that there is a different interpretation of the Government's approach and contribution to foreign affairs from that which he provided. One does not need to go over the top to make it. Within the European Community, the Prime Minister continues to establish her reputation as a "Mrs. Nyet" of European co-operation. Her portrayal in the Bruges speech of a highly centralised Europe betrayed what she really thinks about the Community. In her heart, she sees it as being a free trade area, a European Free Trade Association writ large. Her vision is of a Europe of business men. Ours is of a Europe for all its citizens. We need economic success, so we support the single market, but if we are to have a successful single market, we also need common social, regional and environmental policies. That also means developing much more effective democratic institutions.
The Prime Minister's opposition to such changes could cost us dear, for the risk still remains, though it is not as strong as it was not so long ago, that, held up time and again by one or two reluctant members, the majority within the Community will go its own way. An example of this is the central European bank. It is a natural development, which will almost certainly happen in time. Members of the Community have committed themselves to the free flow of capital everywhere by 1990 and this is expected to be of major benefit to this country. However, in the absence of a common bank and a common currency, this would inevitably produce huge swings in interest rates as Governments tried to avoid harmful fluctuations in the value of their currencies. Furthermore, the sheer cost and bother of changing money, along with the added risk involved in dealing with fluctuating currencies, is a real barrier to the policy of economic convergence to which all Governments are committed.
The Prime Minister's vocal opposition to these sensible steps is sad, and it is a mistake for which Britain could pay, for if a common central bank were established with Britain participating, London would be a natural location. If Britain were less enthusiastic, Frankfurt would become the major contender. As we are all beginning to don habits of green, and talk about the environment, it is sad to see that within the European Community, the pushing for improved environmental standards is not coming from this country.
I am entitled to criticise the Prime Minister and the Government about their European attitudes, behaviour and intentions. We have been consistently arguing for many years for a more coherent Community moving in a federal direction. The Labour party spokesman, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), has no such track record. If he and his party had had their way, the Single European Act would not have been passed, and the forward development of the Community, which is essential to our prosperity and influence, would have been halted. The Labour party is in no position to proffer advice in the Community until it gets its own act together.
The Foreign Secretary was right to stress the major changes in East-West relations. The presence of a fresh mind at the head of the Soviet Union has opened up enormous possibilities which two or three years ago would have been unthinkable. We have had the first treaty to 375 reduce the level of nuclear weapons. In some of the world's worst trouble spots, from Afghanistan to Namibia and Angola, we have seen negotiated settlements.
Within the Soviet bloc, there has been a great improvement in human rights. I am not exaggerating that. Mr. Gorbachev has been moving further and faster than anyone imagined that any Soviet leader could or would. It will and has produced enormous stresses from Estonia to Azerbaijan. As the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said, while he was still talking about foreign affairs, this is undoubtedly an historic opportunity and brings with it considerable responsibilities. That is why the Government approach of pressing for the modernisation of the NATO short-range nuclear weapons is a mistake. It undermines the INF treaty and is also premature.
The right approach is to follow the advice of my Free Democratic party colleague, the German Liberal Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who is, after all, the most experienced Foreign Minister in the Western bloc, by attempting to negotiate a multilateral agreement to make modernisation unnecessary. That does not in any way give up the possibility of going ahead with it at a later stage if this proves necessary. It is a variant of the NATO two-stage proposal which did not work at that time but which I and the Secretary of State for Defence supported. The opportunity for the same kind of approach to work this time is much greater.
We must be more positive in our approach to the Eastern bloc and must appreciate the tremendous stress that changes are bringing about. It would be terrible if a generation younger than us looked back at the present Soviet leadership in the same way that we look back at Dubcek and the Prague spring saying that if only Western leaders had been prepared to deal with Gorbachev more effectively he might have survived. Mr. Gorbachev is not in all that strong a position. I accept that the West must not jeopardise its own security, but nor must we miss genuine opportunities to improve relations and the possibility for disarmament.
§ Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)
The hon. Gentleman has just put his finger on the problem. Mr. Gorbachev is under enormous pressures. He is taking on the party, the army and the KGB and is asking them to change against their own self-interest. What guarantees do the West have that he will succeed? We should welcome what he is trying to do and should help him, but that is not an argument for lowering our guard. On the contrary, we must safeguard our defences.
§ Sir Russell Johnston
I am not arguing that we should lower our guard. I am saying that it appears that the modernisation of short-range nuclear weapons in Europe is not immediately necessary. We do not need to take that decision now. If we do take the decision and proceed, it will not create the proper climate for the reductions that I know the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) wishes to see as much as I do. As the Foreign Secretary said, I accept that there is no evidence that the Soviet Union is in any way reducing its production of weapons of destruction. I accept that we must be prudent, but as far as possible we must seek to give the opportunity to the other side to respond.
As many hon. Member have said in the debate, the issue about the visit of the Queen to the Soviet Union was very 376 clumsily handled. It is difficult to find out what is True and what is not, but if what has been reported is true a remarkable mistake has been made.
The Gracious Speech talks about support for the United Nations. Can the Secretary of State for Defence tell us when the Government will reverse what I said from the beginning was a wrong decision and go back into UNESCO? It would have been of great encouragement if, when discussing regional problems in the world, the Foreign Secretary had spoken about improving the peace-keeping capacity of the United Nations. Against the background of East-West detente and less stress, there is an opportunity to strengthen the United Nations. Such an opportunity does not normally exist and we should take advantage of it.
It would also have been of great encouragement if when congratulating president-elect Bush—congratulations with which I associate myself—the Foreign Secretary had taken a more definite position on the middle east and on the new opportunity afforded by the PLO's simultaneous recognition of Israel and is assertion of statehood. The Americans are the only people who can get the Israelis to the conference table and we should press them very hard to do so. In that context, I agree entirely with the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham, who spoke with all the authority of a former Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
It is strange that the Government, who have taken such an uncompromising attitude towards human rights abuses in the East, have not put more emphasis on standing up for human rights in other places. South Africa is an obvious example. Rightly or wrongly, many people have the impression that the Prime Minister is more opposed to sanctions than she is to apartheid. More recently, the Iraqi regime were shown by overwhelming evidence to have violated the Geneva protocol by using chemical weapons against the Kurds. Perhaps to say that what the Foreign Secretary said was rhetoric would be a slight exaggeration, but I am afraid that the Government have not gone beyond the level of making rather feeble protests.
At a meeting in the House earlier this month, a first-hand account was given of the effects of these gas attacks by doctors who visited the town of Halabja shortly after it was attacked by Iraqi Government forces. They told of a town strewn with 2,500 corpses, most of them civilians. They were the victims of the indiscriminate use of chemical weapons. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), who is not in the Chamber, recently dealt with this matter and described the Iraqi actions. He spoke of,The deeply disturbing and indefensible use of these weapons by a Government against its own population.That appears to be the official Government position. Yet within two weeks of the hon. Gentleman using that expression the Government had signed an agreement with Iraq substantially to increase its export trade credits. That is indefensible. Today's papers carry pathetic pictures of Kurdish refugee camps, and I should like to know what the Government propose to do about them.
The Government never cease to tell us that under their stewardship the economy is stronger than ever before. Now is not the time to go into the details of whether that is so, but one of the things that is not stronger than ever before is our overseas aid contribution, which is worse than it has ever been before. The Government have 377 publicly accepted the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent. but have not done very much about it. They have allowed our contribution to fall rather than to increase. It was 0.52 per cent. in 1979 and is now 0.29 per cent.
Over the past few months, the Government have boasted that they plan to increase aid by 5 per cent. in real terms. The Minister with responsibility for overseas development developed that argument. One can do anything with statistics if one really tries. That increase works out at less than 1.5 per cent. a year, or less than half the present rate of growth in the economy. That means that the Government are planning to fall even further behind the United Nations aid target than they have already. It is a question of priorities, and I am afraid that, for the Government, overseas development is less of a priority than it was eight years ago when they came to office.
In Britain, overseas aid is less of a priority than in any other European Community country. Denmark and the Netherlands easily reached the 0.7 per cent. target and Belgium, France, West Germany and Italy all contribute a greater percentage than we do. The Government talk of a target. I thought that a target was something that one worked towards rather than worked away from. I hope that the recently announced change in Government policy about aid to Kampuchea will be implemented and successful. That country is perhaps one of the most needy, and to hold back any contribution was a moral mistake.
At the start of the debate the Foreign Secretary gave us a picture of the Government's stewardship of our international relations which was misleading and in some respects rather complacent. Because of the lack of time, I cannot cover all the ground, but I have referred to one or two important points.
I conclude by hoping that when the Secretary of State for Defence replies he will seek to answer some of the questions that have been asked, not only by me but by other hon. Members. In recent times in foreign affairs debates—and they are not very frequent—Ministers have tended to give more priority to making their own speeches than to answering hon. Members' questions. I believe that the House deserves better than that.
§ Sir Dennis Walters (Westbury)
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) made an interesting and well-informed speech which ranged widely over many topics. I agree with what he said about the middle east and, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour), with whom I wholly agreed, I intend to concentrate my remarks on that area.
In the many years that I have been addressing the problems of the middle east, the situation there, which was bleak and gloomy, has become progressively more so. If I set out to analyse in great detail why that is so, my speech would not remain the brief one that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would like me to make and which I intend it to be.
In a nutshell, it can fairly be said that the overwhelming responsibility for lack of progress falls on Israeli intransigence and on American acquiescence in such intransigence. There are many in Israel who want peace, 378 but sadly they have not been able to assert themselves, as we saw again in the recent election. Because of internal Zionist pressure, the might of the United States has remained firmly aligned on the side of Israel, regardless of American and Western interests and irrespective of international law, justice and morality. Israel has vehemently and with deplorable consistency rejected the concept of exchanging territory for peace when dealing with Palestinian territory and, as a result, initiative after initiative has foundered.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham rightly said, this debate is taking place only a few days after a new window has been opened. There is no doubt that the developments in Algiers, which have seen the Palestine Liberation Organisation accept resolutions 242 and 338 and renounce violence, have provided a new and welcome ray of hope. Whether that hope will be translated into progress depends on the response which is given to the PLO initiative. Mr. Shamir's response has been predictably and offensively dismissive and that of the United States disappointingly lukewarm, but these are early days in the life of the new Administration and, therefore, there is still much to hope and work for there.
On the other hand, the response of the European Community has been commendably positive, as has been that of most countries throughout the world. I was delighted that the Prime Minister raised the issue with President-elect Bush during her visit to Washington because, whatever Opposition Members may say, the Prime Minister, of all European leaders, carries the greatest influence and authority in Washington. We hope that the demarches that she made on the subject received a sympathetic hearing and that she will persevere in her efforts in that direction. To achieve a peace settlement in the middle east would be a sensational diplomatic triumph for President Bush and for the Prime Minister and the steps necessary to bring about such success would command the wholeheaerted support of our European partners, most of whom have usually been ahead of us in their attitude to middle east policies.
Acceptance of resolution 242 and rejection of the use of force are precisely the policies that successive British and other Western Governments have been continually urging the PLO to adopt. It needed courage for the PLO to do so, particularly at the moment, so soon after a Shamir electoral victory and with the continuing horrors on the West Bank. It required much skill and determination by Mr. Arafat to obtain agreement in Algiers and a warm response from Her Majesty's Government was both timely and right.
The Palestinian declaration offers a perfect opportunity for upgrading our relations with the PLO, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) pointed out—an upgrading that many of us believe to be long overdue—and for commencing a dialogue at ministerial level. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence or my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary will soon be able to say something specific about that.
If the legitimate rights of the Palestinians, which we and virtually everyone else have endorsed, mean anything they mean self-determination, and that in turn means a state. The two-state solution is the one that ordinary men and women everywhere, not least in Britain, regard as being sensible and fair. It now has the official backing of the 379 PLO. It deserves the support of all countries which wish to see peace and stability restored to one of the most volatile and dangerous areas in the world.
The uprising of the west bank and Gaza, after 21 years of illegal occupation, repression and suppression of human rights and liberties, has now continued for nearly a year. The response of the Israeli forces has been incredibly brutal. It has resulted in over 300 Palestinian men, women and children being shot dead The Israeli Minister of Defence has instructed his [...]diers to aim to wound demonstrators rather than arrest them. Earlier, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham said, the intention was to break their bones. Rightly, a good deal of world attention has been focused on the daily shooting, maiming, gassing and detention without charge or trial of Palestinians of both sexes and all ages who are seeking a minimum of respect and justice. That was especially so before the television cameras were excluded. These activities have been rightly condemned on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and by other Ministers responsible for foreign affairs.
Our historic responsibility for the plight of the Palestinians is greater than that of any other country except, perhaps, the United States. We should acknowledge this with a show of understanding and generosity instead of the qualifications and equivocations in which we too frequently indulge. In that context, the abstention on the recent United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning the Israeli violation of human rights in the occupied territories was hard to understand, let alone to explain. I hope that such equivocation and weakness is now behind us and that Her Majesty's Government will be in the vanguard of the countries that are ready to sieze the opportunity that is now on offer, and after 21 years to ensure that there is a start to real progress towards peace in the middle east.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I intended to make a fairly lengthy speech, but in view of the statements that have been made from the Chair I have decided to throw my notes away and speak off-the-cuff. We have had some great vintage speeches during the debate, certainly from my right hon. Friends the Members for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench. The same can be said of the Foreign Secretary's speech. There have been interesting contributions.
I approve entirely of the word of advice that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East gave to our people in the Labour party. He said that we must understand that we need both unilateral and multilateral disarmament. I could not agree more. On that basis, there is no need for us to get rid of our unilateral view on nuclear weapons. My right hon. Friend has reinforced the argument that some of us have been advancing for many years. We have always believed that we should start with ourselves and then work for multilateral nuclear disarmament throughout the world. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has underlined that argument. I hope that it will be repeated by my Front-Bench colleagues and that it will be underlined that that is the position of the Labour party.
I agree entirely with the remarks of the hon. Member 380 for Westbury (Sir D. Walters) and with those of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour). I was always a great supporter of the state of Israel. I have argued for it on many occasions. Those of us who spent our years in the forces during the last war took the view, when we heard of what had happened to Jewish people under Hitler, that the Jews had a right to a country of their own. We felt strongly about that and supported the state of Israel. It is interesting to note that the first country to recognise and give support to the state of Israel was the Soviet Union.
We all felt that it was right that the Jewish people should have' their own state, but the actions on the Gaza strip and the west bank are unacceptable. I have believed for a long time that the Palestinian people have a right to their own state. I welcome the declaration in Algiers and the fact that 50 nations have already recognised the proposed new state. It is not just a matter of talking to the Palestine Liberation Organisation, although I would agree with that wholeheartedly. I wish that the Labour party would invite the PLO to send a delegate to the Labour party conference. It has not done so yet, but I have argued for it for some time. Arising out of such talks would be an acceptance of the concept of a state for the Palestinian people. There will be no peace in the middle east unless that is recognised, especially by Britain. We have a special responsibility because we were the last people to dominate the Palestine area. We upped and left it, and, although many years have passed, we still have a responsibility to work for peace.
I was the leader of the first Labour party delegation to visit Israel, Palestine and the west bank after the six days war. The Israelis said that the area would be in their hands for only a short time and they would use it as a bargaining factor for peace. Twenty-one years later matters are worse, with area after area having been taken over by the Israeli's, new settlements established and new reactionary concepts developed.
There are people in Israel who are sick of what is happening and who want peace. Some of the early pioneers and their children want peace. The current state is not what they thought would happen and they are concerned about it. We must encourage the state of Israel to reconsider its future and we must help it in every possible way.
I have already raised with the Secretary of State the treatment of the Kurds, who are one of the oldest of peoples. When I was a lad I read about the Medes and the Persians. The Medes go back to 2,000 BC and are the oldest established people. The Kurds do not have a state of their own, although for a brief period after the first world war there was some acceptance of a state of Kurdistan, but that was overthrown at the Lausanne conference. The Kurds have a right to their own state. There are 20 million Kurds spread throughout five different countries. What has happened since the end of the Iraq-Iran war—an end that we all wanted—has been absolutely horrific. Thousands of people, including the elderly and children, have been killed by chemical weapons. We also have responsibility there but we tend to ignore it. At first our Government almost tried to pretend that nothing had happened. The Americans learnt through their intelligence service that chemical weapons had been used, but then the Americans are not that bothered about obtaining oil from that area. Our commercial and oil 381 interests determined that we did not say anything. We must speak out because history also shows that we have a responsibility to those people.
I know that I am straying far and wide, but I want to mention human rights. Some younger Members of the House, who came in at the previous election, always snigger and sneer when I speak on human rights as though I am a dedicated supporter of the internal regime of the Soviet Union. Obviously, they have never heard the speeches that I have made, the questions I have put or the delegations I have accompanied to the Polish, Czechoslovakian and Soviet embassies—you name it, I have been there. In fact, the two areas of the world where I have never been welcomed—certainly not by their embassies—are the Soviet Union and the United States. I have also argued about the role of the United States in countries such as Chile, Nicaragua and elsewhere.
We must not have double standards. If hon. Members are genuine democrats, they must fight for human rights in every part of the world. I did not take too kindly to the Prime Minister going to Poland—not that it seems to have made much difference. There is an interesting article in The Independent today by Anne Applebaum in Warsaw. She refers to Mr. Rakowski's themes since he was appointed Prime Minister. He is quoted as saying:'Mr. Walesa demands recognition of Solidarity before talks between government and opposition take place … This isn't possible.'The Prime Minister may not have helped events when she visited Poland.
To be honest, I found it a bit sickening that the right hon. Lady went over there and talked about the recognition of Solidarity, while, at the same time, introducing legislation here and acting against GCHQ. We have the worst anti-trade union legislation in western Europe.
§ Mr. Heffer
Yes, there is no question about that. We must not have double standards. For that reason I would love Conservative Members to get up—not many of them have done so—and fight for human rights in Chile and pledge their support for the people of Nicaragua who are trying to create a new society. Of course, people will make mistakes, but we should always be in favour of those who support the democratic process and real human rights.
I had a lot more to say, but I hope that I have at least made my position clear on the fundamental issues. The Secretary of State was slightly pessimistic, but I agree with him that, because of what Mr. Gorbachev is trying to do, we have an opportunity to develop relations with the Soviet Union. Here at last is a leader who recognises that if the Soviets continue to build up arms and maintain high levels of armaments, they cannot do the things that ordinary people want. We must help Mr. Gorbachev, despite the criticism and demands that we rightly make about human rights. We must help the Soviet Union because it is in everyone's interest to have a peaceful world.
§ Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) will not expect me to agree with everything that he said, but he confirmed the wisdom of throwing away one's notes by making a speech 382 which was easy to listen to. I regret that he did not elaborate on his point about the compatability of unilateral and multilateral disarmament. If he had done so, perhaps I would not have understood it any better than what he did say.
I shall follow other hon. Members and talk about the most important question of foreign policy—East-West relations. We should understand clearly why glasnost and perestroika have been adopted. There is general agreement that one reason is the failure of Socialism economically. About 30 years ago Khruschev forecast that the Soviet Union would overhaul the United States by the 1980s economically, but the reality has been the opposite. The gap between the two super-powers has grown ever wider, which is why Mr. Gorbachev is introducing market mechanisms and why he needs Western help. Let us be clear about what Mr. Gorbachev's objective is. Liberalisation will be limited. He is not striving for Western-style democracy. He is a Leninist, and he says so. His objective is not to abandon Communism, but to make it more efficient.
The second reason rests in Soviet relations with the rest of the world. Mr. Gorbachev has seen that a policy of Soviet expansion is inconsistent with expanding the Soviet domestic economy. He sees that a continued policy of expansion would take too much of the Soviet Union's limited resources, and the same is true of the Soviet Union's other adventures abroad, such as those in Afghanistan, Angola and south-east Asia. He sees that the Soviet Union could not match the United States if it came to an all-out arms race and that a policy of expansion would continue to alienate the West. In particular—and this is the most important point—he sees that his policy of expansion at the expense of the West has been a failure. It has failed because of the firmness, unity and strength of the free world. Years of propaganda, subversion, disinformation, menaces and cajolery have failed to split the Western world.
What do we expect to be the course of glasnost and perestroika? The Foreign Secretary said that economically the Soviet Union is groping for solutions, and the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said that perestroika is in heavy weather. The heavy weather that the Soviet Union is going through now is likely to be nothing compared with the heavy weather that it will face at home and abroad in coming years.
I cannot think of any example of a Communist state democratising successfully. One can think of examples of Right-wing dictatorships achieving democracy. Spain and Portugal are only two of the most striking. Argentina, with some assistance from Britain in the form of the Falklands war, achieved democracy, and it may be that Pakistan is about to achieve it. There is a simple explanation why it is so much more difficult for a Communist country to achieve democracy, and it is that in a Communist country the state owns the means of production, distribution and exchange. Everything—prices, wages, investment, output, credit and foreign exchange—is controlled by the state. To dismantle a Communist dictatorship, one would have to dismantle the economic side, whereas in Spain, Portugal and other Right-wing dictatorships, that was unnecessary.
There will be great opposition from the bureaucrats in the Soviet Union whose positions are threatened. There will be great confusion among business managers, who have no training in market techniques. There will be price rises, shortages and other problems.
383 On the political side, the differences between nationalities, such as those in Azerbaijan and Armenia, will become more numerous. The troubles in the Baltic states will spread to other parts of the Soviet Union. The rivalry between eastern European countries, such as Hungary and Rumania, will develop in other areas. The resentment of Soviet domination that is characteristic of the countries of eastern Europe will become more evident, and we may have repetitions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.
If that is a reasonably accurate, although pessimistic, forecast, what should Western policy be? We are right to welcome glasnost and perestroika and to hope that Mr. Gorbachev remains in power, but can we do anything to help? On the economic front, we should pursue our own interests. We shall not help by giving a great deal of aid to the Soviet Union. The banks which lend a great deal of money to the Soviet Union may lose much of it. But there is one way in which we could help Mr. Gorbachev and sustain the policies of glasnost and perestroika; that is, by continuing to be firm, united and strong. We should continue the policies that have helped to bring Mr. Gorbachev to his present way of thinking. If the problems that I foresee for the Soviet Union lead to a reaction from Mr. Gorbachev's political opponents, who still exist, the generals or the KGB, and if there is a call for a return to the hard line at home and abroad, it would be a great error if at that time it appeared to the Soviet Union that the West was disunited and weak. That would provide a justification for such a reaction and might tempt the generals and the KGB to return to foreign adventure.
We should place in that context the present policy of the Labour party, which is that we should give away 100 per cent. of our nuclear deterrent in return for 3 per cent. of the Soviet Union's deterrent. That form of unilateral disarmament, which is the policy of the Labour party for the moment, would not be helpful. Who knows what its policy will be in a few months' time?
Glasnost and perestroika have not yet penetrated the Soviet armed forces. I shall give a few examples of what the Soviet Union could do to confirm that it is not simply talking about moving to a defensive military strategy in Europe, but is doing something about it.
For example, it would be helpful if the Soviet army were to withdraw its offensive bridging capability from the Elbe to the Volga and the mobile fuel pipelines, which are designed to help Soviet tanks in a surprise invasion of Western Europe. They should withdraw them a long way back from where they are now. It would be helpful if the Soviets ceased to train their spetsnaz forces in the assassination of leading figures in the west, both political and military, in the hours leading up to a surprise attack by the Soviet Union. It would be helpful if the Soviets ceased to train their military forces in the offensive use of chemical weapons. Those are some of the things that we have yet to see. I do not see any sign, in practice, of the Soviet Union moving in such a direction.
I am not making a pessimistic speech. I hope that I am being realistic and constructive. I am optimistic that we could be at the beginning of a lasting new era of good relations between East and West. We have already made great progress. Ten years ago, the topic of discussion was how long Western Europe could survive. I remember Henry Kissinger, who was the American Secretary of State at the time, giving us about 10 years. He said that in one of his unguarded moments, but I think that he meant it. 384 Now the question is not that at all, but how long tyranny can survive in the Soviet Union. That is a massive step forward. We should continue the policies that have brought us success.
§ Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)
The Gracious Speech gave the emphasis that one would expect to the high priority that the Government put on national security and to the importance of the strength and effectiveness of our armed forces. However, there is one aspect to which Her Majesty's Government and the Secretary of State have given insufficient priority—the recruitment role and place of ethnic minorities in the armed forces.
That matter should not be seen purely as of esoteric interest to sympathetic and concerned royal colonels-in-chief or to Members of Parliament who have within their constituencies large numbers of constituents who are drawn from ethnic minorities. The matter goes to the heart of the vision that we have for our country and for our armed forces. It is vital for the maintenance of the security of the state and our country that the armed forces should be seen to be representative of a cross-section of our community in every way as well as pillars and examples of good practice in the promotion of equal opportunity. Therefore, it is not a matter of esoteric interest and certainly not of party political interest, but it goes straight to the heart of the effectiveness and honour of the armed forces.
The subject has been thrown into sharp relief over the past week through the response to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Sir B. Hayhoe) about the figures made available by the Ministry of Defence for recruitment into the armed forces from among the ethnic minorities. The figures show that there is real cause for concern about the level of recruitment. Ethnic minorities make up 1.6 per cent. of applicants to the armed forces, while in the age group most affected, between the ages of 19 and 24, they make up 5.7 per cent. of applicants. That must be a matter of concern.
So, too, must be the relative percentages of those who are accepted for service in the armed forces. The general acceptance rate is 28.4 per cent.; the rate for ethnic minorities is 19.1 per cent. The Ministry of Defence must hold an inquiry into what lies behind those figures, and the inquiry should lead to action. I hope that the Secretary of State will tell us what he proposes to do to improve those statistics and to make a concerted and focused recruitment drive which recognises the importance of placing advertisements in the ethnic minority press and of targeting the areas with the greatest numbers of ethnic minorities. Work must be done in schools, borough fairs and so on, and a positive effort should be made to hold up a career in the armed forces as something desirable, not only as service to the country but for acquiring the skills that will equip people in areas of high unemployment the better to go forward in later life.
The MOD should also examine the fact that fewer ethnic minority applicants are successful than general applicants. The Select Committee on Defence published a report earlier this year making clear, as the MOD's response agreed, the injunction and requirement for an impartial selection process—impartial in the letter and the spirit. I should like some reassurance about that impartiality.
385 We must go further. The publication of these figures gives the Secretary of State and the Ministry of Defence the chance to think again about their response to the Select Committee's first report, which stressed the importance of monitoring what was happening, in cap badge terms, in regiments around the country. I refer to the selection and the successful completion of entry into these regiments by the ethnic minority communities. If the armed forces are to be representative, as it is widely accepted that they should be, and if the public are to perceive them as not discriminating by reference to racial origins, the prestigious regiments, particularly the Guards regiments, should set an example by being seen to be fully integrated.
The Scots, Welsh and Irish Guards may advance the argument of the traditional territorial ethos governing the recruitment of their members. But the Coldstream and Grenadier Guards have a traditional image as national regiments that recruit from the cities and inner cities, and in them, particularly, there is no excuse for the present dearth of black faces.
One is not suggesting for one moment that there should be a reduction in standards, because there does not have to be a reduction in standards. One is not suggesting for one moment that there should be special favours for ethnic minority applicants, but one is saying that it is vital that the Ministry of Defence and the Secretary of State should be in a position to judge the success or otherwise of the recruitment of ethnic minority youngsters into the forces as the result of the concern that has been expressed by the Secretary of State and by hon. Members. Without the figures, one cannot do that.
There is no need for me to rehearse the arguments that were put to the Secretary of State in the dialogue that he had with the Committee on the occasion of his giving evidence to it, save to say that elsewhere in the service of the Crown—one recognises the differences that he himself highlighted—in the Civil Service the role of ethnic monitoring is recognised as taking a positive part in promoting equal opportunities. In the light of the figures and what they reveal and the benefit that has come from the response that has been given to the right hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth, the time has come to extend it to monitoring by cap badge, as the Defence Committee originally recommended. If the Secretary of State is not prepared to do that across the board, he should at least introduce a pilot scheme whereby it could be done.
The Secretary of State should recognise also the lessons that we can legitimately learn from the United States. We know the real differences that exist in force traditions between the United States and the United Kingdom. But the Secretary of State must surely recognise what an honour guard means and what it does for the spirit of a nation. In the honour guard that greeted the Prime Minister in that historic photo session only a few days ago there was seen to be a representative cross-section of the population of the United States. That guard said something not only about what President Reagan felt about our Prime Minister but about the ethos of the United States and where it is 25 years on from the assassination of President Kennedy. There is no denying that; it is a fact.
We should make sure that, for example, when President Bush comes to our country, we are in a position to have 386 similar photographs flashed across the Atlantic to say something about our country and where we are at this time.
Monitoring does not seem to put an intolerable strain on the resources and the ingenuity of the Ministry of Defence. The argument that it is not practicable to monitor does not carry much weight. If we have a mind to do it, and if we have a will to do it—and we should be of such a mind and will—it can be done.
While I am on the subject of the Prime Minister, may I say that we know her favourite poet. The Secretary of State should reflect on that point when he considers how to respond to the debate. The Prime Minister's favourite poet is a much misunderstood man—a man who was a real friend of the ordinary foot soldier. He is even more misunderstood now that he has become known as the Prime Minister's favourite poet, and he posthumously basks in her admiration. Rudyard Kipling had something to say in relation to the merits of service men, whatever their origin. He recognised that whether from "east or west", wherever people come from, regardless of border or breed or birth,When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth,they stand together as men in the service of a cause. We should recognise that in terms of our own armed forces. In this country, black and white come not from the ends of the earth, but from Harlesden, Handsworth, Brixton and Bradford, and they stand not face to face, but side by side. It is the responsibility of the House to ensure that they are able to do that.
§ Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)
Given the pressure of time, I shall forgo my comments on foreign policy except to refer to the contribution made by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston), who stressed the British Government's need—which I endorse—to take a major lead in Europe on green issues. Concern for the environment and ecology is mounting throughout Europe and we have to be seen to be delivering solutions. Moreover, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) stressed at Chatham house last week, if we do not, we shall find ourselves, as other democratic Governments, increasingly vulnerable to the peace movement—as we were in the 1960s and 1970s—and to the Soviet use of the growing green movement. That has happened in Germany with the green movement, and such movements will be orchestrated elsewhere.
I am not saying that the Soviet Union does not believe in environmental improvement, but it is a practitioner of realpolitik and will take advantage of any situation. It will try to obtain technology transfer from the West if it can and to persuade us to reduce our defence spending and our efforts to modernise our short-range missiles. It has turned on the pressure by saying that if we spend less on weapons, we could do more to protect the environment. We must seize the historic opportunity offered by the improved climate in the Soviet Union since Mr. Gorbachev has been in charge. We must help him to achieve the necessary reforms and we must act positively, but prudently.
I shall now turn to a defence matter that is close to my constituency interests—the decision that the Government must make in the process of modernising their weaponry and maintaining a serious capability, particularly on the 387 central front—the decision about which tank we should choose. I must put my comments in the context of the state of the threat, because procurement depends on the nature and immediacy of the threat. We have entered an improved international climate, so there is no pressing argument for the military to have a particular weapon on a particular date. I lived with generals and the military hierarchy for a while in the Ministry of Defence, so I know that one becomes frustrated when they argue for month after month about what they would like, and gold-plating it, and then, having come to a conclusion, expecting their choice to be delivered when they want it. It is not relevant to the argument to say that the Abrams tank could come into service two or three years before a British equivalent.
I want to refer to the helicopter fiasco and the length of time taken to make a decision. I must point out that we still do not have an effective helicopter strategy. It is difficult for the layman to judge the precise capability of different tanks and to decide whether the American tank might be heavier on fuel or have a higher infra-red profile. Obviously, the differences between the two are fine, otherwise the Ministry of Defence would have come to a definitive view. One argument that has been put forward by the Americans is that it would be too risky to wait for something that is on the drawing board when the American tank can be purchased off the shelf in working order and at a good price—and that view is shared by some people in the Ministry of Defence.
We may be looking at the issues in a false context. People cite the AWACS and the waste of procurement resources that that entailed, when we had eventually to buy the American version. The British did not deliver on time, nor at the agreed price, but that must be seen in the context of the feebleness of the project management and the fact that the Ministry kept changing its requirements. One should not compare the AWACS project with the tank project. Vickers had long identified the weaknesses of the Challenger, before it bought the company that is to make it. I urge the Government to give Vickers a little credit for buying the royal ordnance factories and, within a year, building the most modern tank factory in Europe at Leeds, to match the one in Newcastle, with over £10 million invested. Surely if that is the Government's philosophy—to move the state sector into private hands—we should give the company some encouragement.
The company knew that the tank had an ineffective fire control mechanism because it had a better one in the mark III tank and the designs for the Vickers mark VII can be, and are being, translated into the new Challenger. It is not a matter of this being a paper tank on the drawing board. It is already a good tank and we are losing sight of that fact among the welter of criticisms. It has a vulnerable aspect, but that can be, and is being, remedied.
We face more than a military choice. The issue that we face is how the British Government responds to industry, and particularly to the technological industries of the future. There is a military dimension. If we lose this order we will find ourselves incapable, as an industrial and military country, of producing a heavy tank. We have to look at American motives. It is not just that they want export orders. I believe that they wanted to take over Westland to use the Black Hawk to gain a monopoly position for the supply of helicopters in the free world. They wish to have a monopoly manufacturing capability for tanks in the free world.
388 Therefore, despite the accusations and many valid criticisms made by the Public Accounts Committee, we have to try to compare, more than we do, like with like. Our procurement system may be inept at times but so is that of the Americans and of every other country. What we forget when we criticise our manufacturing industry is the huge costs going into the production and development of American weaponry and the fact that the American Government are directly helping those American manufacturers to become the monopoly supplier in that sector, whether it be helicopters and the colossal orders for Black Hawk, which can be sold only to the American Department of Defence, or the Abrams tank. We have to bear in mind that their objective is to ensure that the British capability ceases to exist.
The Americans, particularly through the Darpa Organisation, and through the Department of Defence programmes, such as the strategic computer programme, consciously use defence spending to boost their main industrial base, particularly the new technological industries. We have a duty to do the same. Therefore, rather than lose the capability of making a tank, particularly, when it is a high technology part of the tank, the Government should support our tank, even though it may take a little longer to produce to precise specifications than the American one. Even that may be in doubt. I understand that modifications may be needed to the American tank, and I have no evidence that AWACS will be produced on time and to the conditions laid down. Why should the tank be any different?
We cannot go on assuming that the Americans will transfer their technology. We should not put ourselves into the position where we are not capable of developing these technologies ourselves. This decision is not or should not be a mere bottom of the line accounting decision. It is not clear that there is a lead-up on costs. There are major military, political and industrial considerations. Above all, they are political. We are still looking for better guarantees from a Conservative Government that they genuinely care about the north and regional development. We are concerned not just about the loss of jobs in Leeds if we lose the order, but about our perception of the intentions and seriousness of our Government.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
I shall be as brief as possible, as many hon. Members wish to speak. We should look at the methods of constructing foreign affairs debates, because it is not satisfactory to have five hours general ramble on any issue that any hon. Member cares to raise. That is unsatisfactory from all points of view, and it does not concentrate our minds on a particular region.
I shall raise two issues. The first is the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war. We have all witnessed, albeit through television and media reports, the needless deaths of 500,000 people. Every industrial country has had complicity in that either by the direct supply of weapons or by supply through third parties, or by the extension of trade and aid credits to either country. Those things have contributed to the war machines in Iran and Iraq and we are now dealing with the horror of the aftermath of that war.
Hon. Members have spoken about the plight of the Kurdish people and I shall deal with that later. I know that 389 the Government are in the process of reopening diplomatic relations with Iran. If those relations are reopened, some concern should be expressed about human rights in Iran. Ever since Khomeini came to power thousands of people have been put to death because they opposed the Islamic republic, or were trade unionists or people who opposed the war. That bloodthirsty regime has much blood on its hands.
Since the ceasefire and the opening of peace negotiations with Iraq new areas for killing have opened in Iran and figures ranging from a low estimate of 800 to a high estimate of 3,000 have been given as the numbers of people executed by the Khomeini regime since the end of the war. One hopes that if a British ambassador is restored to Teheran his first call of duty will be to express concern about the plight of prisoners in Iran, the people who are on death row there and the murders that are still going on. As with the regime in Iraq, the Iranian regime is not a clean one.
Some of my hon. Friends spoke about Iraq. The Government there are fascists and through the Ba'ath Socialist party they control all levels of activity and are brutal to political dissidents. One war that did not stop when the welcome ceasefire between Iran and Iraq took place was the war against the Kurdish people. That war is different in each country and in Iraq the treatment is vile and loathsome.
In the Easter Adjournment debate I raised the matter of the deaths at Halabja, and it has been raised again since then. Since Halabja many thousands of Kurdish people have been killed by chemical weapons in Iraq. On behalf of the Kurdish Front and other political parties Masoud Barzani has sent a letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and to all world leaders. It is a moving letter and I shall quote briefly from it:It seems that nothing will deter the Iraqi government from using Chemical weapons against the Kurdish People in the future also, unless the world community especially the Security Council takes some serious measures in this respect.Serious measures are indeed called for. Thousands of people have fled from Iraq into Turkey, but that is not because they welcome or recognise the contribution that the Turkish Government have made to Kurdish people in the past. They are fleeing out of a sense of absolute desperation because of what is happening to them in Iraq. I know that small amounts of aid have been offered to Turkey to look after those refugees, but we now learn that many refugees have fled from Turkey to Iran in order to avoid the winter cold and the persecution that many people have suffered.
The Kurdish people are in crisis and that crisis is probably worse than it has ever been. It is vital that western Europe, the United States and the Soviet Union wake up to that and demand that the United Nations be allowed to send in aid at least to maintain the life and limb of those Kurdish people. Above all, there must be some long-term solution to the Kurdish problem. I have had meetings with ambassadors and I have had meetings at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about the plight of the Kurdish people.
I accept that the officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) are appalled by the use of 390 chemical weapons against the Kurdish people. I believe them when they say they are appalled and understand how they feel about it, but words alone will not solve the problem. The Iraqi Government will not take seriously one word that is said by any industrial power unless something serious is done. Because of the heavily censored press of Iraq, mere condemnation will have no effect whatever. The only thing that they will understand is the refusal of credit of up to £200 million for further trade with Iraq. We should not encourage business men who made money out of the war to make money out of the peace. The Fascist regime in Iraq needs to be isolated until it stops murdering the Kurdish people in their thousands. If we do not speak up, no one else will do so. I hope that the Minister recognises the horror that the Kurdish people face and the responsibility of all Governments to do something to protect the precious lives of those people.
This year has been one of unprecedented so-called environmental disasters. There have been floods in Bangladesh and floods and drought in Africa, and a series of hurricanes have devasted the people of central America and the Caribbean. Some of those disasters are natural—for example, a weather cycle causes hurricanes and consequent death and destruction—but others are not so natural. There is a strong link between the likelihood of flooding in Bangladesh and the deforestation of the Himalayas, just as there is between the drought in north Africa and the deforestation of the mountains of Kenya. On the one hand, deforestation causes microclimatic changes which bring about drought and, on the other hand, lead to loss of ground cover to prevent the run-off of water which itself causes floods. That precious water could contribute to the agriculture of the future.
This subject perhaps warrants a special debate so that we can discuss the effects of environmental pollution in this country, western Europe and throughout the world. It has been known for a long time that, if we continue to burn up fossil fuels at the present rate, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will rise. That in turn will cause a global warming, the melting of the polar ice caps and the invasion of much land by rising sea levels. Such climatic changes will bring about drought, floods and other major changes in the earth, just as other forms of pollution, which have led to the rapid depletion of the ozone layer, will undoubtedly cause further environmental problems. It is not as if there will be a cataclysmic end to world civilisation as we know it at some point in the 21st century. We shall see a growth in what we are told are natural disasters and a growth in environmental illnesses, poverty and hunger.
It falls to all Governments, particularly this Government, to consider whether their policies are perhaps unwittingly contributing to this process of environmental disaster. There are strict rules in this country, western Europe and the United States governing the dumping of toxic waste. Unfortunately, however, a large amount of the toxic waste that is not dumped, because of the tight regulations, is exported to poorer countries for disposal, with ensuing environmental damage.
We must consider carefully the control of all toxic waste and insist that it is not exported but is kept in this country where it can be disposed of safely. It should not be dumped on the poor people of the Third world who often lack the facilities to deal with it. There is something evil about offering toxic waste, which would cost more than $250 a 391 tonne to dispose of in the United States, at a price of $40 a tonne to the people of poor countries. In some cases, the price offered to those people to deal with the toxic waste is greater than their gross national product. That shows how precious the wealthy countries of the world consider the disposal of such waste. Further action is required unless we are to see another incident such as that involving Karin B.
I wish to say a few words about debt and poverty in various parts of the world. Many of the environmental disasters in Brazil and elsewhere are a direct consequence of the debt crisis. Countries that are told that the only way that they can get themselves out of debt is to produce more cash crops for export to wealthy industrial countries more rapidly deplete their national resources, such as timber or anything else. They do so to increase their export revenue so that they can meet the rapidly rising interest rates of the World Bank and other financial institutions. This action contributes to environmental disaster. It serves to take wealth and resources from the Third world to the first world and the losers are the poor people of the poorest countries. Something must be done to stop the removal of wealth from the poorest countries to the richest, and that something is a world economy that does more than charge exorbitant interest rates to remove national resources from poor countries for the benefit of wealthy countries.
Many international agencies have tried, and continue to try, to do something about the important matters to which I have referred. The British Government left UNESCO—the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation—a few years ago. The Government are talking about returning when UNESCO is run in the way that is desired by the United States and Britain. I thought that the purpose of membership of an international agency was to participate in it, rather than dictate to it how it should be run. There is the United Nations environment programme. The total budget of the programme in 1986, the last year for which full accounts are available, was only $28 million, of which $1,471,000 was contributed by the British Government. It is the most woefully underfunded agency within the United Nations. It could be argued that it is the most vital of all the agencies. I hope that the Government will consider increasing Britain's contribution to it, increasing its powers and increasing its work. If they do not, we shall continue to see environmental disasters and continuing problems for the world's population. There is no room for complacency. It cannot be said that deregulation or free enterprise can solve the world's problems because they cannot. Instead they will lead to the destruction of the ozone layer, further pollution of the seas and, for example, destruction of the Antarctic.
I hope that the Government will be prepared to listen to the arguments and take them most seriously when they arise in the United Nations. I hope that the House will return to them on a full day's dabate.
§ Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for making it possible for a Conservative Member, who is neither a Privy Councillor nor a knight, to participate in the debate. I believe that I am only the second Conservative Member to come within this category.
392 I wish to refer to the middle east. I hesitate to pontificate on Israel's problems, for I have no qualifications or even ostensible reasons to do so. I am not a Jew and I have no Jewish votes in my constituency. I have no family or business connections with the middle east. If I presume to take an interest in it, it is because, ever since I was an undergraduate 25 years ago, I have considered the existence of the Jewish state of Israel to be an inspiring cause. It was and is a fitting outcome to centuries of pogrom, persecution and horror, culminating in the dreadful genocide of the Nazi beasts, that millions of Jews should live once again in their historic homeland. I make no opology for that deep emotional feeling. I know that many hon. Members feel differently and that their hearts go out to the plight of the Palestinian Arabs. I respect their honourable concern and I ask only that they should respect mine.
It is easy for us, sitting here, to forget the deep feelings of those who live with the problems all the time. Some of those problems are irreconcilable. There are religious or nationalistic fanatics on both sides who have bombs, guns and Molotov cocktails and are prepared to use them. There are others who answer terror with terror, and who have been inadequately punished and too speedily pardoned. Some of those Jewish fanatics view all Arabs as enemies to be mercilessly transferred—that is, deported—to live anywhere other than in the land of Israel. They are matched by Arabs whose blind hate festers in camps in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere, dreaming of revenge for 1948 and a return to olive groves and houses that have long since been destroyed. Those are the people on both sides who are driving out moderation, frequently through violence or murder. Several brave Palestinians within the PLO wanted to talk to Israel, but they have been cut down by bullets fired by men like Abu Nidal and others who are interested only in victory, not in settlement.
All of us who know and love Israel have been distressed by what has happened in recent years. There has been unacceptable brutality and shameful scenes of repression. There can be no justification for the aimless beating of captives who have surrendered or who have been arrested during a riot. Whatever the provocation, whatever the Jewish outrage after terrorist incidents such as the fire-bombing of the bus in Jericho the other day, none of us who love Israel can for one moment condone such brutal repression. We are not blind to Israel's faults, but we recognise her strengths and her remarkable achievements.
There must be negotiations if Israel is to survive as the sort of country in which so many of us have long believed. There can be no future in permanent occupation of the west bank and Gaza. The Arab majority do not want them there and the famous "double D" equation of democracy and demography cannot indefinitely be ignored. If Israel is to remain a Jewish democratic state, it cannot indefinitely rule over 1.5 million hostile Arabs with no vote. Either the west bank and Gaza must be annexed, and the Arabs offered full Israeli citizenship, or the issue of self-rule for the Arabs must be grasped. The status quo cannot be an option.
Annexation would be wrong in principle and, ultimately, fatal to the Jewish state. Instead of facing that desperate dilemma, some Israeli politicians have taken refuge in the dread word "transfer." Others believe that the problem will be solved by millions more Jews flooding in from the Soviet Union or elsewhere to create more facts on 393 the ground and so alter the demographic balance. Every serious student knows that those are impossible dreams and, for transfer, they are repulsive nightmares. The brutal language of Rabbi Kahane or the new Moledet party is light years away from the inspiring visions of the pioneers who struggled to build a modern democracy out of the ashes of Auschwitz.
On the question of the Palestine National Committee declaration in Algiers, the declared independence of Palestine is a less important part than the more or less explicit acceptance of resolutions 242 and 338, although without any unequivocal acceptance of Israel's right to exist and certainly without any promise of an end to violence. Nevertheless, it is certainly some progress. I do not believe that the Government should go overboard about it. They will doubtless wish to adhere to their usual policy of quiet and informal contact with the PLO at official level until there are considerably more forthcoming moves from the PLO towards public recognition of Israel and an end to violence. We certainly need to keep in close touch with the Bush Administration because of the important role that they play in this matter.
The difficulty of dealing with the PLO is twofold. First, it must explicitly accept Israel and stop the violence. Secondly, there is the question whether it can actually deliver a deal and, if so, whether it would be the sort of deal that Syria would tolerate or which any Government in Israel could accept and still last for more than five minutes. Since the Israeli elections, with their depressing outcome, and since the withdrawal of King Hussein—at least for the moment—from the scene, the position has become even more difficult. We can now forget about a United Nations international conference including the five members of the Security Council, which King Hussein wanted and which Mr. Peres and Mr. Schultz were prepared to accept. There is no support from Mr. Shamir and there is inadequate political backing in the Israeli electorate.
Further negotiations—and there must be such—need to involve the two super-powers and appropriate representatives of sovereign Arab countries, which can also include nominees of the PLO. At present, Israel will not sit down with the PLO, but she need not inquire too carefully into the antecedents of the Palestinians across the table. Mr. Arafat has plenty of experienced people whom he could use for that purpose and whose names are well known. Whether the Arab League, the Islamic Conference or some ad hoc grouping of Arab states is used for that purpose is not very important. It is a halfway house between bilateral negotiation and a United Nations-sponsored conference. The essential requirement is that the two super-powers are actively involved and that any Government of Israel can show their electorate that they are negotiating directly with sovereign Arab states and not solely with the PLO.
Israel is often told to speak to its enemies. The Arab League represents its enemies, and the PLO is part of it. Even if such negotiations can be set in motion—and it will need all the clout of the Americans and the Soviets to get Syria, Israel and the Palestinian deputation into the room at the same time—it is as well to be realistic about the negotiating aims. Heady talk from Algiers about a Palestinian independent state on the west bank and Gaza 394 —incidentally, that has been rejected, of course, by Iran and the Syrian-backed rivals to the PLO—will not be a suitable basis for success.
The only realistic possibility involves, at least for the foreseeable future, a condominium of Jordan and the Palestinians, led by the PLO, over a demilitarised west bank and Gaza. Those are the outlines of a settlement which every serious student can perceive. Many of us must know in our hearts that there will be no independent PLO state of Palestine on the west bank and Gaza in the foreseeable future because no Israeli Government could accept such a thing and survive for five minutes.
There can be no Yamit style evacuation of Ariel, Kiryat Arba or other West Bank settlements, let alone dismantling the Gilos or Ramots of greater Jerusalem. Yamit, for example, was a fine town of 15,000 people. Now it is sand again in Egyptian Sinai, but the demolition of that new town was a strategic necessity that Israel accepted. Although Sinai was never part of biblical Eretz Israel, the evacuation of Yamit—I remember it well—brought almost intolerable strains on the Israeli democracy and it was carried through by a Likud Government led by Begin. No Israeli Government led by Shamir, Peres or a combination of either could peacefully evacuate and demolish west bank settlements, but sovereignty over them could, conceivably, pass to Jordan or be jointly shared by a condominium of Jordan and the Palestinians.
The way must be found for the Arabs of Nablus, Ramallah, Hebron, Khan Yunis and all the rest of them on the west bank and Gaza to rule themselves, but without their also ruling Jewish Ariel, Kedumin and Emmanuel. God knows it is a daunting, dreadful problem, even if the negotiations can ever be begun, let alone successfully completed, but we must try, and the sooner the better.
I wish to address my concluding remarks to my Jewish friends in Israel and in this country. There are some who do not care a fig what anyone else thinks, let alone listen to Gentiles such as I who do not live in Israel. There are many others who will bear to their dying day the unspeakable traumas of the holocaust, whether through personal involvement or the murders of loved ones. They will trust no one else with their own security. Perhaps there is nothing that I can say to them, except to respect their fears and concerns. There are hundreds of thousands of other Israelis, however, who wait fearfully every day for telephone calls about their sons and daughters patrolling with the Israeli defence forces in Hebron, Gaza city or indeed Galilee.
There are also others who have grown weary of international condemnation and of the constant strain of violence, war and terrorism. There are yet others who know in their hearts that concessions can be made for peace, just as they were successfully made in Sinai. They should make their voices heard, even though the election is over, as people of good will. Their voices should be echoed by hundreds of thousands of Arabs who are fed up with the squalid conditions, miserable lives and absent leaders who have achieved nothing for them in 40 years.
It is a shame that the phrase in which many of us believe has become the slogan of one small section of Israeli political society. I believe that that phrase should belong to all decent Israelis, except those on the repulsive and lunatic outer fringe. It should also belong to all moderate and sensible Arabs yearning for a better existence. It should be the slogan of world leaders, of Bush and Gorbachev, as 395 well as King Hussein, Shamir, Peres and even Arafat—all those whose assent or acquiesence is vital for a lasting settlement. The words are simple and heartfelt and they are well known in Israel, "Peace now, before it is too late."
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I understand that the Front-Bench Members want to start their winding-up speeches at 1.50 pm. Time may prevent me from echoing what the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) said in his excellent speech. It was a thoughtful speech, which was delivered with sincerity. I listened with great interest, and I shall re-read with greater interest the points that he made.
I was disappointed with the content of the Queen's Speech on foreign affairs. A substantial chunk of the wording was directed towards foreign affairs, but it consisted largely of collective wishful thinking on the part of the Government. The real meat was on the second page where we got down to the legislative proposals that will affect us domestically. As we have lost a world role, this place now contemplates its legislative navel. We are about to get involved in a whole range of Bills that will do nothing to address, but will merely exacerbate, the country's problems, which have been created by the Government's policies.
I do not look for a return to the day when the country dominated the world militarily or economically, but I regret that we have so few chances to talk about world events. The Government do not seize the opportunities that our political and cultural traditions should give us—opportunities to influence world events more constructively than we do. We have a great deal to contribute to human experience. We could be visionary. Whatever is said about us, we remain a powerful, rich, influential nation capable of contributing greatly to the relief of world poverty, ignorance and enmity between nations. Indeed, we could solve such problems domestically if only the Government would turn their attention to them. Years of experience and expertise have produced enormous cultural and political respect for us around the world.
We could use those legacies, but instead we squander and abuse them under the leadership of a petty-minded xenophobe who struts around the world interfering and lecturing in her usual arrogant and high-handed manner. It is a pity that she does not spend a little more time going round this country and visiting the various communities of our inner-city areas to see the enormous and dangerous damage that her Government's policies have inflicted on so many of our people. She might try listening rather more than lecturing this and other nations. But I make those comments more in hope than in expectation.
In the past 18 months I have visited Nicaragua three times. The Government's attitude to Nicaragua emphasises the client-state status that we have in respect of United States foreign policy. I have heard the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State regularly say from the Dispatch Box that a political settlement in Nicaragua is needed, but never once has he or any of his Front-Bench colleagues voiced any criticism of United States policies there. There has been no word of condemnation about the mining of Nicaraguan territorial waters, the United States economic blockade of Nicaragua, or Contra terrorist forces being financed by the United States. We have heard 396 not a word of open criticism because the Government dare not criticise. They are poodles of the United States when it comes to its policies on central America.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State never loses an opportunity to condemn Nicaragua, and if he were to reply today he would once again seize the opportunity to attack it. He says that Nicaragua is not complying with the terms of the Esquipulas accord, but he does not say anything about the death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala. In Nicaragua there are no death squads and no terrorist bases, but there are terrorist bases in Honduras. Instead of criticising those countries for their failure to meet the Guatemala peace accord provisions, he merely seizes every opportunity to attack Nicaragua.
We have had a debate and a series of questions on the damage caused to Nicaragua by hurricane Joan. The extent of the damage in Nicaragua is even greater than we first feared. Some 231,000 people, representing 6.4 per cent. of the population, have lost everything. Some of the worst damage has occurred within the bread-basket regions of that country. The hurricane has added problems to the already critical economic position. Nicaragua has been suffering the cost of aggression that amounts to almost $12,000 million and there have been 54,000 victims of United States-inspired terrorism led by the Contras. The damage has been enormous, yet, despite our close political and cultural links with Nicaragua, our contribution will be a measly £413,000, which includes the money that has come from the EEC.
Perhaps the Secretary of State for Defence or the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will advise me whether more money will be made available to Nicaragua. Will the Under-Secretary of State reconsider his decision not to visit that country when he tours central America next year? He says a great deal about Nicaragua. Perhaps he should visit that country to see the reality; we might then have a little more respect for him when he talks about it. I hope that those questions will be answered today, if not later. I assure the Under-Secretary of State that many Labour Members will return constantly to the subject of Nicaragua and the problems of central America.
§ Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan)
When opening the debate the Foreign Secretary almost complained about the fact that part of it would be taken up by defence matters, but as the Gracious Speech linked the two subjects it is legitimate to take some time to discuss arms control and defence. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that foreign affairs debates are limited in length and frequency and that we should find more time for them. That would provide more opportunities for my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) to give the House more of his cool, thoughtful and moderate speeches. His speech today could be summed up, in the words of Ernest Bevan, as a tour d'horizon.
The debate has covered a wide range of topics. The stage was set by the opening speakers, so my remarks will relate to defence and arms control. There are few areas in which the gap between the rhetoric and the performance of the Government is wider. We have optimistic references in the Gracious Speech to support for the 50 per cent. cuts in strategic weapons in the United States and Soviet arsenals. We have yet to hear what will be the attitude of the 397 Government, as we approach the end of the first round of the strategic arms talks, to the Soviet suggestion that the United Kingdom should be involved in the second round. Perhaps the Soviets will place a condition on final agreement on the first round of British and French participation in the second round, as was envisaged at Reykjavik, when a further 50 per cent. of the nuclear arsenals will be subject to negotiation.
The Foreign Secretary made no meaningful reference to short-range and tactical weapons systems. The absence of concensus on modernising short-range and theatre weapons is one of the biggest problems confronting the Alliance, yet it appeared nowhere in the Foreign Secretary's speech. The agreement that was reached at Montebello about five years ago seems to have been made a long time ago in terms of the attitudes and priorities of the Alliance. The Secretary of State for Defence still bears the scars of the Monterey meeting shortly after the INF treaty was agreed, when he sought compensation for the cuts that that treaty envisaged. He was alone in the Alliance in seeking compensation and he returned so that his mistress could do better. She duly went to the NATO summit in March, when she sought to use her special relationship with President Reagan to secure consensus on modernisation.
As in so many instances, Chancellor Kohl arrived at Washington and spoke to President Reagan some time before the Prime Minister had even reached the starting blocks. We had the two communiques, one issued for European consumption and one for British consumption. The two did not add up to a consensus but were evidence of the wide gap between the British position on modernisation and the ambitions of the rest of Europe.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said, when we went to the Federal Republic and spoke to what can be called all three sections of the German coalition, we found that there was no enthusiasm for the process of modernisation as envisagd by this Government. It would not be true to say that there is yet within the Federal Republic widespread support for a third zero, but it is clear that within the Bundeswehr and the Ministry of Defence in the Federal Republic there is at least some support for a 2¼ zero. If one goes to the Chancellor's office, one finds that the figure is about 2½ zero. The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) referred to Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the Liberal Minister for Foreign Affairs. His proposition is clearer—he is certainly in the 2¾ zero position, getting towards the third zero position. In the most important European member of the Alliance, there is no enthusiasm for precipitate modernisation of those weapons systems.
§ Mr. Ian Taylor
Nevertheless, does not the hon. Gentleman think that the statement by Chancellor Kohl in the past few days about the modernisation of short-range nuclear forces is much more in line with the British Government's approach, and has he not had time to read it?
§ Mr. O'Neill
I am always reluctant to answer questions that start with the word "Nevertheless, does he not". I read the statement by Chancellor Kohl. His position is clear, that no decision will be taken until well after the general 398 elections of 1990. That may be for internal political reasons, but it is nothing like as speedy a decision as would be required by our Prime Minister. I believe that it will be a major issue in the general elections. I suspect that there will not be a majority Government and that a coalition will be formed. They will have to put up with Mr. Genscher, and one of his conditions for support is that there will be little progress in modernisation well into the 1990s.
By then, the matter may have become academic in any case. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) made the point about the failure of the West to pick up President Gorbachev's offer of substantial cuts in conventional weaponry. The definition of disparities seems to lie at the heart of the delay—that was the impression that my right hon. Friend got when he spoke to the present United States Secretary of Defence. It was not the United States that was to blame for the failure to obtain a clear expression of the differences and disparities between the two blocs in Europe.
The latest defence Estimates show that in several areas there are considerable contradictions, for example, in main battle tanks. If one compares the figures quoted by the Ministry of Defence with those of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, one finds that according to the MOD figures there are 4,600 fewer NATO main battle tanks, 500 fewer NATO artillery systems, 7,230 more Warsaw pact anti-tank guided weapons systems and 730 more Warsaw pact tactical aircraft.
I want not to dwell on these details but to go behind them, and when we examine the problem of whether the beans that we are counting are the same on each side we are struck by the aridity of the Foreign Secretary's approach, which is so depressing. That is why we are concerned. We may be optimistic that an Alliance-wide application of the bean counting process may prove more realistic and honest than publications emanating from the Ministry of Defence. Since Gorbachev took power—between 1985 and 1988—the Soviet Union has increased the numbers of its main battle tanks in the central region more slowly than NATO. The Soviets have also cut the numbers of tactical aircraft at a greater rate than NATO. I could expand on these figures; suffice it to say that the information was given me by the Library and is freely available to anyone who wants confirmation.
In addition to these problems of conventional stability, there is the problem of how we will get to the negotiating table. In all the Foreign Secretary's remarks about the quality of the Alliance and the good relations with other European nations we heard nothing about the French involvement in winding up the CSCE and the relationship between NATO, the Warsaw pact countries and the non-aligned countries of Europe. This critical problem must be addressed. I cannot imagine that it was merely good manners on the Foreign Secretary's part that prevented him from mentioning the subject, and that he did not want to offend the French. I realise that he has quite a job building bridges to Europe after the damage done by the Bruges speech, but it is incumbent on the Defence Secretary to answer this point and to state the Government's attitude to these serious problems, which we hope can be nipped in the bud so that CSCE can be wound up, human rights and associated matters can be sorted out, and confidence-building measures can be put aside to enable the Warsaw pact and the 23 countries of NATO to consider the complicated issues of conventional 399 stability as quickly as possible so that consultations may be held which can then be reported back to the other seven interested nations.
In the context of conventional arms we do not want the sort of haphazard cuts that have been made in British defences and which will continue to be made. The Gracious Speech did not mention defence expenditure, but the Prime Minister referred to an increase of more than £1 billion over the next three years—
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Younger)
One billion pounds a year.
§ Mr. O'Neill
This increase in no way repairs the damage done over the past few years. Between 1984–85 and 1988–89 there has been a cut in real terms of 7.8 per cent.; between 1988–89 and 1991–92 there is likely to be a cut of 0.8 per cent. A likely increase of 1.7 per cent. will follow in 1991, and an increase of 1.3 per cent. in the year after that. Perhaps those figures are the basis of the Prime Minister's confident predictions, but they are based on an assumption of inflation running at 5 per cent. this year, 3.5 per cent. next year and 3 per cent. the year after. Today we heard an announcement of a 1 per cent. increase in interest rates and of the largest ever monthly trade deficit, which is likely to result in the largest ever annual trade deficit, so these figures can clearly be given no credence and the confident noises by the Prime Minister are no more than noises made to try to appease realistic anxieties felt by her Back Benchers.
At this time of problems with the trade deficit we should delay no longer the decision to buy British tanks from Vickers, a decision that should have been taken yesterday on the basis of merit and of a planned and constructive development of our procurement policy. Certainly, on occasions, trade deficits impact upon defence expenditure and defence considerations. However, there can be no justification whatever for trade deficits being used as an excuse for sending the Chancellor of the Duchy to Iraq to bolster some kind of trade delegation when we have appalling evidence of the nature of the war that is being waged against the Kurds.
The Government deserve a degree of credit for their persistence in pursuing a chemical weapons ban treaty. We wish them well and hope that the optimism of the Gracious Speech is borne out by events.
One of the relatively few encouraging points that came out of the American election was the speech by George Bush in Toledo. He went so far as to say that, if he could get nothing else out of his presidency—I hope to God that he can—he hopes to get some form of chemical weapons ban treaty over as wide an area of the world as possible.
There was one reference during the debate to something that would cost precious little. That is how my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) referred to it in his measured and compelling speech. He spoke about the national shame that we must feel about the unrepresentative nature of much of our armed forces. He said that, if we are to encourage the confidence of our people, the armed forces must be truly representative of all our people and of all the communities that make up our society.
There have been several references to the new thinking in the Soviet Union and to new opportunities. Then there were remarks such as, "But, on the other hand." We heard a speech to that effect from the right hon. Member for 400 Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker). He made a characteristically thoughtful speech. I had some sympathy with much of it. He made constructive suggestions about the development of ways in which the Soviet Union could be brought to task. His views were echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller). In one of his characteristic speeches, he laid on the line the need to have wholehearted commitment to the improvement of human rights, not only in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe but throughout the world.
The new thinking must be supported not only by statements in the House but by positive economic support. If perestroika is about anything, it is about economic construction, just as it is about social reconstruction. The Soviets are basically materialists. Their Communist philosophy is basically economistic in its first application. With wealthy countries, we must seek a means of providing support for the best efforts of the Soviet Union.
It is a shame today that the Foreign Secretary has avoided the opportunity of backing Chancellor Kohl's suggestion that we should look towards new forms of economic assistance that would help and encourage the Soviet Union and encourage the economy of Eastern Europe. We are some considerable time and distance from the conditions that resulted in the COCOM arrangements. We should seek to assist the Soviet Union. At this time there are opportunities for new thinking and for new approaches to the problems of peace and disarmament. I am afraid to say that there is precious little in the Gracious Speech that suggests that there is evidence of new thinking on the part of the Government.
§ 2.9 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Younger)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neil) for his opening remarks. Having one day in the debate on the Gracious Speech to discuss defence and foreign affairs is almost traditional and is welcome to all of us. Although today's debate has not been entirely balanced between foreign affairs and defence, it has nevertheless been an opportunity for both of these important subjects to be aired in the House.
The Gracious Speech has emphasised again the importance that the Government attach to the maintenance of our country's defences and our membership of NATO. That has been a constant theme of much that has been said in the debate. The speeches made by hon. Members of all parties have been of great interest and I hope to say a few general words first, and then to do the best I can to meet the suggestion put forward by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) and to answer as many as possible of the points that have been raised.
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, who said—I think truthfully—that today there is great optimism in international affairs. It is widely thought that that is so, and that is the general atmosphere and attitude in any country that one visits.
Forty years ago, western European nations, struggling to recover from the devastation of a world war and threatened by the military might of a Soviet Union which was blatantly engaged in installing puppet regimes in the countries of eastern Europe, took an historic step. The 401 Governments of Britain, France and the Benelux countries signed the Brussels treaty committing themselves to building a common defence system.
As hon. Members know, that initiative led directly to the formation of NATO—the 40th anniversary of which we shall celebrate next year. We have much to celebrate, including the continued membership of all NATO's original members, despite many strains over the years and far-reaching changes in its strategy and the expansion of the Alliance to encompass most of the free nations of Europe. Most of all, we shall be celebrating next April peace—the peace which NATO has guaranteed throughout these intervening 40 years.
It was Ernest Bevin who said in 1948:If we are to preserve peace and our own safety at the same time we can only do so by the mobilisation of such a moral and material force as will create confidence in the west and inspire respect elsewhere".NATO has fulfilled those criteria admirably.
The resolve shown by the Alliance in recent years was rewarded with the INF agreement and the start of a process which, for the first time, will lead to the elimination of an entire class of nuclear weapons. It gave me particular pleasure to visit RAF Molesworth in September to witness the removal of the first cruise missiles from western Europe under the terms of the treaty.
The lessons learned during the long years while the Soviet Union refused to negotiate seriously about arms control should not be forgotten now that a more realistic outlook and less aggressive stance appear to have been adopted by the Soviet leaders.
The security of this country and the other NATO nations is vital and demands a sober approach to arms control negotiations, not an uncritical embrace of superficially attractive proposals.
§ Mr. Heffer
I should like to ask the Secretary of State a question about NATO. Is he really suggesting that it was good that the Greek colonels could use NATO weapons to suppress democracy in Greece and that the Turks could use NATO weapons to invade Cyprus?
§ Mr. Younger
The hon. Gentleman knows that those events happened some time ago. NATO made its position clear at the time. The good thing is that both those countries have survived those experiences and are still in NATO.
Only last Wednesday Dr. Worner, the Secretary General of NATO, emphasised the importance of maintaining strong modern forces in the Alastair Buchan memorial lecture which he delivered in London to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He remarked:
It would be very odd if the Alliance were to jeopardise its policy of deterrence just at a time when there are prospects of making the Soviet leadership understand the importance of its contribution to maintaining … stability in Europe …We are cautiously optimistic about the possibility of securing further arms control agreements, particularly on 402 conventional and strategic nuclear forces. It is disturbing that, despite Mr. Gorbachev's talk of "reasonable sufficiency" in defence, we have not yet seen any evidence of a slowing down in the rate at which the Soviet Union is modernising its own forces or, as my right hon. and learned Friend said in his opening remarks, a reduction in those forces, which are grossly in excess of what might legitimately be needed for defence. We have not seen a diversion of resources from the military to the civil sector, although it is rightly said to be one of Mr. Gorbachev's aims. We have not seen a change in the structure of Warsaw pact forces, which remain organised for large-scale offensive action. While this capability for aggression exists, it is vital that the West should keep up its guard.
There are some signs of change. Defence Secretary Carlucci has sat in the cockpit of a Blackjack bomber, and MiG 29 Fulcrum aircraft took part in this year's Farnborough air show.
The exchange of visits this summer between Porton Down and the Soviet chemical warfare establishment at Shikany provided an opportunity for the Soviet Union to be more forthcoming about its chemical weapon capabilities.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary reminded the House in his opening speech, a global ban on chemical weapons is a goal to which we attach a high priorty. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Clackmannan for mentioning that he appreciated that point. The Soviet Union possesses the world's largest and most comprehensive chemical warfare capability. It is right that we should look to it to give a lead in the negotiations to eliminate these inhuman weapons. We require greater openness from it to ensure that the complex problems of verificaton of any agreement could be met.
In this context, the fact that the visit to Shikany took place at all is encouraging, but while we showed considerable openness during the Soviet visit to the chemical defence establishment at Porton Down, the return visit revealed that the Soviets still take a different approach to secrecy. The helicopter overflight did not afford a view of the whole site, many of our questions were either evaded or not answered at all and access was denied to a facility which commercially available satellite photographs clearly indicated was closely connected to the Shikany complex. So, although the exchange of visits was a step forward, the Soviet Union will have to be far more open about its chemical weapons and other capabilities before we can have the confidence necessary for further arms control agreements.
In the meantime, we must take every step necessary to preserve our security. We must maintain a strong defence, and continue to invest in up-to-date forces, both conventional and nuclear. The importance that this Government attach to defence is demonstrated by our record. Defence spending last year was more than one fifth higher in real terms than when we took office. We have ordered 64 new vessels for the fleet, seven regiments of Challenger tanks and 23 battalions of armoured vehicles for the Army, and 500 new aircraft for the RAF. I am pleased to announce further today that the main development the day before contracts for the European fighter aircraft were signed yesterday in Munich. These contracts are a major step towards producing this advanced, agile fighter, which will enter service with the RAF in the 1990s.
403 The strength of our commitment to defence was re-emphasised earlier this month when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced substantial additions to prevous defence spending plans as a result of which the budget will now be growing by about £1 billion a year over the next three years. We intend to ensure that these extra resources are used effectively. Our drive to pursue value for money will continue—in the procurement of defence equipment and the management of defence.
§ Mr. O'Neill
Is the £1 billion per annum in real terms? If it is, will the Secretary of State confirm that that will be an increase of about 5 per cent. per annum?
§ Mr. Younger
I can confirm that the £1 billion extra each year is in cash terms. The figure in real terms is approximately an average of 1 per cent. growth per annum. that is much better than most of our NATO allies.
§ Mr. Younger
They are the same as for all the rest of public expenditure published in the expenditure White Paper. Therefore, it is certain that they are pari passu with the rest of the public expenditure provisions. We expect that to be a healthy and useful addition to the defence budget.
The money devoted to defence is not the whole story. We rely critically on the courage, efficiency and dedication of the members of our armed services. We see these qualities most obviously in the fight against terrorism. The contribution that the services make to preserving the peace in Northern Ireland against a vicious and ruthless enemy deserves our wholehearted admiration and gratitude. Our service people also contribute to internatinal peace keeping. A contingent serves in Egypt with the Sinai-based multinational force and observers group. Another contingent serves with the United Nations forces in Cyprus.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said earlier, our naval forces remain on patrol in the Gulf. In the two years up to the beginning of this month, when the Armilla patrol stopped accompanying entitled merchant ships, they had accompanied over 1,000 merchant vessels through the Strait of Hormuz, more than all the other Western navies put together. No merchant vessels have been attacked while in company with warships of the patrol. This is a magnificent record.
I am grateful to hon. Members who have contributed to make this a valuable and interesting debate. I am afraid that I cannot extend all of that fulsome praise to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I thought that his speech was thoroughly unworthy of the Front-Bench spokesman of a major political party. However, to be a little more generous to him, I have to say that he had an extremely unenviable task because speaking in a debate on defence and foreign affairs for a party that has a policy neither on defence nor on foreign affairs would tax the most skilled foreign affairs spokesman. The right hon. Gentleman did not reach the standard that he should have reached.
The right hon. Member for Gorton commented on the speech that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made in Bruges. In those comments, the right hon. Gentleman 404 was at his most waspish and unconvincing. He fought tooth and nail the Single European Act, and it is a bit rich for him to offer us lessons on how we should interpret it. That point was well made by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber.
The Single European Act sets out how decisions are to be taken to build up the kind of Europe that all member states want to see. It does not say or try to say what those decisions should be. Perhaps the Opposition have not fully appreciated that. The Prime Minister's speech at Bruges was a strong statement of Britain's commitment to Europe. She said, "Our destiny is in Europe". It was also a strong statement of the kind of Europe that Britain wants to see, one that is more interested in building prosperity than in building castles in the air. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) said, that vision is widely shared by the other member states.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) asked about the BBC world service, but he was very wide of the mark. To hear the hon. Gentleman one would think that the world service had virtually been wound up. The BBC world service has had a 40 per cent. increase in funding in real terms since 1979–80, and output has increased from 711 hours per week in 1979 to more than 767 hours per week now. The Government have already spent about £90 million on improving audibility, and capital funding will continue on the implementation of a 10-year audibility programme. The British Council has been given an extra £6 million for the financial year 1989–90, and that is a 10 per cent. increase in real terms in the direct grant that it receives from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. That means that the mixed money grant as a whole will be more than 7 per cent. higher in 1989–90 in real terms than it was this year.
§ Mr. Younger
I am sorry, but I wish to press on.
We are always pleased to see in these debates the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). His speech was delightful, except in the middle section where I fear that he ran out of material. It was much more entertaining in the middle but was devoid of content.
I wish to say a few words about the conventional stability talks to which the right hon. Member for Leeds, East rightly referred. We want those talks between the 23 members of NATO and the Warsaw pact to start as soon as possible. It is fair to say that we have played a leading role in discussions in Vienna on a mandate for those talks. The broad objectives of the Alliance for the forthcoming talks have already been agreed by NATO Heads of Government at their last summit, and we want to present to the Vienna meeting a substantive and balanced document. Progress on human rights is also important. It is thanks to Western efforts that we have come a long way on that subject.
The right hon. Gentleman also suggested that the NATO nations were entering a period of unilateral disarmament within NATO as a result of budgetary pressures. Of course, he is right that there were budgetary pressures. I have no doubt that the NATO Alliance collectively over the past nine years has made progress, thanks to the influence of the Government, and successively maintained a policy of deterring aggression through sustaining the strength of its nuclear and 405 conventional forces. Many NATO nations have achieved real growth following the lead given by the United States and the United Kingdom, which has permitted a substantial investment in modern and effective weapon systems, overwhelmingly in the conventional field.
In the case of the United Kingdom, it is now clear that we are back on the path of sustained real growth in the defence budget and there are encouraging signs in other NATO nations, such as Norway and Germany. We attach great importance to the continued commitment of American forces in Europe which is vital to European security. I am sure that the United States Administration, under President-elect Bush, will understand fully the importance of that commitment and the need to maintain it. We should not be rushed, as the right hon. Gentleman wished, into hasty or unilateral reductions. The goal is to tackle the massive Soviet superiority, a policy that we can follow only from a position of adequate strength.
I also wish to respond to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson). As the House is aware, we are considering the options for replacing the Chieftain tank. Ministers had a first meeting to discuss that yesterday, as widely mentioned, and it is a difficult procurement matter. No decisions were taken. Further work is required and has now been put in hand. It is still our intention to reach a decision on that by the end of the year.
§ Mr. Younger
I must press on.
I must also congratulate the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) on raising the issue of the results of the first year of ethnic monitoring of applicants and recruits to the armed services. I listened with great interest to his balanced and valuable speech. I can assure him that the armed services go to considerable lengths to ensure that their recruiting efforts reach all ethnic groups and that their selection procedures are without bias. In the light of the results of the initial survey, I wholly accept that further action is required, and we are already fully committed to such action.
406 The next step is to establish the reasons for the low rate of applications from ethnic minorities and the lower success rates when they occur. We are seeking the views of the Commission for Racial Equality and of the members of the Home Secretary's advisory council on race relations on how best to carry that work forward. I take the hon. Gentleman's point that we have an obligation not merely to be even-handed in this, but to appear to be over even-handed.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber raised the question of modernisation and force restructuring. To maintain deterrence at a minimum level of forces in the face of the Soviets' continuing modernisation of their own forces, including their short-range nuclear systems, we have to ensure continually that our forces are effective, responsive and survivable. The process of modernisation and restructuring the Alliance's forces will in no way undercut the real reduction in NATO's land-based nuclear weapons resulting from the implementation of the INF agreement.
NATO will continue to maintain only the minimum level of forces consistent with credible deterrence. The NATO nuclear stockpile in Europe is consistent with that. It is today at its lowest level for 20 years and has been reduced by 35 per cent. since 1979. That shows that our policy is working in the face of the need to keep a strong defence and to base upon that further armaments reductions. It is delivering a reduction in nuclear weapons when all previous attempts at such a policy did not succeed.
I hope that the House will give warm support to the Government for their continued pursuit of future reductions in nuclear weapons and the abolition of all chemical weapons throughout the world, and to do so from a position of strength. The Government have been able to provide that strength and to establish a firm basis from which to negotiate reductions in armaments. Without that strength, I am convinced that we would never have had the reductions. With it, we can say that it is a highly successful policy.
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed on Monday 28 November.