HC Deb 25 November 1988 vol 142 cc335-57
Mr. Speaker

Before I call the Foreign Secretary, may I tell the House that a large number of right hon. and hon. Members are anxious to take part in the debate and ask for brief contributions?

9.35 am
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

It is five months since we had our last full-scale debate on foreign affairs. Today, as the House knows, we are to cover defence issues as well as foreign affairs, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence hopes to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, at the close of the debate. The fact that both topics are being considered together reminds me of the suggestion made by the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), that time should be more generously allocated to discussion of foreign affairs. That is an understandable point. I certainly will not be able to deal today with all the possible questions that might arise and my right hon. Friend's suggestion is still under consideration.

At our last debate I offered the House the opinion that the foreign policy climate had taken an undoubted turn for the better. Today one can go further than that. In the West, the European Community is pressing ahead with the revolution in the way its people live and do business. In the East, President Gorbachev is promoting a revolution of his own, the impact of which is being felt far beyond the borders of the Soviet Union. Together we are rediscovering the potential of some of the post-war institutions, perhaps most notably the United Nations.

In other words, we live in a time of great opportunity for constructive action by the United Kingdom in foreign affairs, of opportunity to shape the destiny of Europe as we approach 1992 and beyond, and of opportunity to shape the direction of what may be a new era in East-West relations.

If, then, we have reached a new beginning, it is one that Britain has helped to bring about. This Government have proved that they have the vision, capacity and will to build for the future. In foreign policy as in economic policy we have never hesitated to follow the course that we believe to be right. That has been true in our handling of arms control, the Community budget and Southern Africa, just as it was true when, as Chancellor, I confronted a large part of the economic establishment with the 1981 Budget and won my contest with the 364 long forgotten economists of that time.

So, too, with foreign policy. The lesson of the past decade is that Britain's influence in the world can grow and not forever retreat, as seemed inevitable with the Opposition. The Government's foreign policy rests upon a few simple and clear long-term objectives. We are determined to advance democracy, to defend freedom and to maintain and promote our prosperity. We shall defend our national interests and advance western values at the same time by being a reliable ally and trusted partner.

Our starting point is our place in Europe. The United Kingdom is an active and committed member of the European Community, which promotes democracy, enhances our competitive strength in world trade and plays a significant part in our prosperity.

Likewise, we are an active and committed member of NATO, the guarantor of our security. Through those organisations, we protect and promote our interests and determine our own destiny.

A moment ago, I said that we had helped to shape a new beginning in foreign affairs. In East-West relations—a topic on which the Foreign Affairs Committee is currently doing a great deal of work—we have consistently pursued a policy that combines strong defence with the search for dialogue, not dialogue for its own sake, but to get results.

After the years of confrontation following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, it was, finally, the Soviet Union, under Mr. Gorbachev, which began to move towards our agenda. Notable successes have followed: the INF treaty; and the prospect of withdrawal from Afghanistan itself. Throughout that period, NATO has been fortified by the strength of our bilateral relationship with the United States. The Prime Minister and President Reagan have forged a bond which, as we saw last week in Washington, in its closeness and warmth, has been unprecedented since the war. The election of Vice-President Bush—we warmly congratulate him on his success—offers the prospect of welcome continuity in American policy.

Meanwhile, we look forward to President Gorbachev's third visit to the United Kingdom next month. Discussions with him are always lively, in marked contrast to those with his predecessors. On the occasions when I challenged Mr. Gromyko, for example, on any point of Soviet policy, the almost invariable consequence was the replaying of a well-worn record. I have a particular instance in mind—one of many. When I raised with him the all-too-familiar catalogue of human rights cases—many of them now solved—his only response was to tell me that I was "lowering the tone of the conversation". There was no serious debate whatever.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm or deny whether, at the same meeting, representatives of the Soviet Government mentioned human rights abuses in this country and the number of people held in prison in Northern Ireland?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Absolutely not. The hon. Gentleman's question reveals just how little he has understood the purport of what I am saying. On other occasions when I have raised the question of human rights with Mr. Gromyko, he declined to comment at all. On that occasion, his contribution was remarkably generous, when he offered that one sentence and said that we were lowering the tone of our conversation. That was the character of the dialogue at the time—no serious debate at all.

With President Gorbachev and my opposite number Mr. Shevardnadze, we have established a real dialogue on the issues. It is refreshing to be able to explore, and often to diminish, our differences frankly and openly. Mr. Gorbachev has launched an historic process of political and economic reform in his country. His thinking has become more radical as he has come to realise the full extent of the overhaul that is needed. We welcome what Mr. Gorbachev is trying to do. If he succeeds, it will be an event of far-reaching importance for the Soviet Union and for the wider world. Surely we cannot be certain that he will succeed. His own country—from Tbilisi to Tallinn—is in ferment. The Soviet Union is not going to end up as a Western-style democracy. It is hard for Mr. Gorbachev to achieve democratic goals when the means at his disposal are essentially non-democratic. He wants to make the existing one-party system more efficient, not dismantle it.

We also have to face up to the fact that the Soviet Union will remain a military superpower. Soviet military might is a stark reality. The Soviet Union still spends at least 15 per cent. of its GNP on defence. Why does the Soviet Union need more than 5 million active members in its armed forces—as many as the entire population of Denmark? Why do the Russians still build twice as many tanks as NATO every year? What is it all for?

The Soviet Union claims that its force levels and deployments in Europe are purely defensive. Yet we see Warsaw pact forces superior in numbers and geared for offensive operations. The answer to that paradox lies in the facts—cold, simple facts. Without agreed facts, there can be no starting point for negotiations, no reliable verification, and no arms control agreements. We need the facts out in the open—facts that underpin our case and justify NATO's entire approach to arms control.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Surely the right hon. and learned Gentleman must know the history of the whole business. He must understand that, after the revolution in 1917, the Soviet Union was invaded by countries from the West, including our own. He must also be aware that, eventually, despite the agreement with Hitler for a short period, the Germans marched in against the Russians, and 20 million people were killed. In such circumstances, would not the right hon. and learned Gentleman be concerned about the future?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman made a point that I have made on many occasions, and it is important to concede it. But the two conflicts to which he referred—bloody and dreadful as were their consequences for the people of the Soviet Union—occurred decades ago. The points that he made show why we should be concerned about historial recollection in the Soviet Union. They do not show why, today, the Soviet Union, under its new dispensation, is still manufacturing twice as many tanks as the whole of NATO manufactures. They do not show why, today, the Soviet Union is still launching one new submarine every 37 days. They are the facts that we need to address in today's debate.

That is why I am glad to announce today that, as a result of a British initiative, the NATO allies are publishing—in this document—a new in-depth assessment of the balance of conventional forces in Europe. It is the most exhaustive analysis of the available data ever undertaken. The allies have concealed no detail of their own forces, and spared no efforts accurately to estimate the Warsaw pact forces.

The Warsaw pact may challenge our figures. My message to them—my message to President Gorbachev—is this: "Follow our example. Put your cards on the table. Face up."

Military glasnost is a prerequisite for successful arms control. The figures published today show that, despite the improved atmosphere of East-West relations, the balance has not improved in recent years. There is still an imbalance of three to one in the Warsaw pact's favour in tanks and artillery, and two to one in combat aircraft. The Soviet Union alone—I emphasise that—has more tanks and artillery in Europe than the whole of the rest of the Warsaw pact and NATO combined.

Faced with this huge conventional superiority, NATO cannot afford to abandon the policy of nuclear deterrence that has kept the peace for 40 years.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan)

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us, before its publication, whether the document will go beyond the kind of narrow bean counting that he has just been indulging in and whether it will involve the publication of net assessments of threat which, apparently, are available to the allies and to the Alliance, or will we get another version of Soviet military power in time for the Christmas fiction lists?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman's observations offer a tragically revealing insight into Opposition Members' approach to these matters. To describe the lethal comparison of Soviet military power with the rest of the military alliance as bean counting is to reveal the paucity of the hon. Gentleman's imagination and insight in the most catastrophic way.

The Labour party, as the hon. Gentleman's intervention and last month's Labour conference have confirmed, remains firmly shackled to unilateralism. Opposition Members fundamentally misunderstand or wilfully ignore the part that deterrence plays in our defence. Mr. Gorbachev, for all his talk of a nuclear-free world, is happy to leave unilateralism to somebody else. The Socialist Government of France would not dream of taking lessons from Labour. No nuclear power has ever given up its deterrent, nor would anybody follow us if we were to do so. That lesson has still not penetrated Opposition Members' minds.

It is vital that the West remains united in its approach to arms control. The Soviet Union can simply impose unanimity in defence matters on its Warsaw pact allies and on its own public opinion. In NATO, we have to build consensus. We have done so successfully in the past—for instance, over the difficult question of INF deployment. We must continue to do so when we face other difficult decisions—for instance, over nuclear modernisation.

Nine of the European members of NATO, now including Spain and Portugal, are members of the Western European Union. We believe that a stronger and more active WEU will strengthen NATO as well. We see a role for the WEU in the protection of out-of-area European security interests also. For example, we have led the WEU in co-ordinating common European naval patrols in the Gulf. The whole House will agree that our own Armilla patrol—still there—deserves our special thanks.

Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)

First, will the Secretary of State explain why the Prime Minister publicly opposed the entry of Spain into the WEU? Did he personally persuade her to change her mind? Secondly, if the Secretary of State regards the WEU as a possible pillar for Europe in NATO, does he accept that France, Germany and Belgium already disagree with Britain on the modernisation of tactical nuclear weapons in Germany?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The right hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make his own speech on that topic.

Mr. Healey

Will the Secretary of State answer the question?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to conclude my generous remarks about him. His insight on this question is uncharacteristically at fault. I cannot put it more gently than that, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me.

Mr. Healey

Will the Secretary of State answer the question?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am delighted to see the right hon. Gentleman sitting like a bird perched on the Back Benches. I am sure that he agrees that vigilance and a strong defence remain crucial to the future of Western security.

We want further progress in arms control as well. Here, too, NATO has set the agenda of 50 per cent. cuts in United States and Soviet strategic nuclear arsenals, a global ban on chemical weapons and the elimination of conventional imbalances in Europe.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to the prospects for the START negotiations in her speech on Tuesday. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence replies to the debate, he will emphasise the particular importance that we place on a chemical weapons ban with effective verification.

I shall now deal briefly with conventional arms control. I spent polling day in June 1987 at Reykjavik, and while I was there we were able to hammer out an agreed NATO position and an agreement that there should be talks on conventional stability. [Interruption.] I returned in time for the count and the result was never in doubt. It was agreed that talks on conventional stability—CST—and separate talks on confidence-building measures should both take place within the framework of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe.

We also agreed that the conventional stability talks should be confined to the 23 members of the Eastern and Western alliances, who would retain autonomy over the subject matter and procedure of those talks. We must stand by that agreement. NATO's overall objective for the talks is a stable and verifiable balance of conventional forces at lower levels.

At the Moscow peace forum in 1987, Mr. Gorbachev said that the right way to correct imbalances was for the side with the larger forces to make the reductions. Who can possibly disagree with that? The question now is whether the Soviet Union is ready to put those words into effect. We shall be putting that question squarely to the Warsaw pact at the Vienna CST meeting, and to Mr. Gorbachev when he visits London next month.

The Vienna meeting is not, however, just about military security. It is also about the kind of security that a citizen feels in a country where his human rights are respected. We want an agreement that strengthens respect for human rights.

When the Soviet Union first proposed some two years ago that a CSCE conference on human rights should be held in Moscow of all places, the reaction of Western delegations was one of sheer disbelief. But, in the time since that idea first surfaced, the Soviet human rights record has improved. It is now possible to begin to take the Soviet proposal seriously—so seriously, in fact, that we want to be sure that the proposed conference will genuinely advance the cause of human rights in the Soviet Union.

However, we are not prepared to take part in a propaganda showcase. If the Soviet Union wants the conference to take place it must provide clear evidence that it intends the improvement in its human rights record to be permanent, that it accepts that human rights must be respected as of right and that it will ensure open conditions for the holding of the conference itself. Not to set and insist on strict conditions of that kind would be to deny all the effort we have made over the years on behalf of those in the Soviet Union—and elsewhere—who are seeking their basic freedom.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)

May I confirm, having recently been in Moscow, that my right hon. Friend's words will be welcomed by many of those whom we met there, who are most concerned that the West may agree too easily to a conference on human rights and who have considerable support for the Government's line?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks, which underline the importance of the point I have made.

We see no inconsistency between firm Western positions on security and human rights issues and our overall desire for better relations with the Soviet Union. The facts show that Western firmness has helped rather than hindered dialogue by establishing a clear framework within which both sides can work.

Our active engagement with the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe in recent years has been graphically illustrated by the highly successful visit to Poland of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. It is the result, not of a cold war mentality, but of clear and consistent policies, plainly spelt out in my own earlier visits to every East European capital. The Governments of the Soviet Union and of Eastern Europe know that we are a Government with whom they can do business.

It is fascinating to study the current processes of change in the East. It is easy to see where their economies have gone wrong and to prescribe a greater role for market mechanisms and individual enterprise, but it is much harder for them to take the tough economic decisions that are necessary without the political framework of elections and free speech. It is there that the East is still groping for the solution.

We are under no illusions. We cannot directly influence these developments, but we believe that our efforts to encourage cultural, political commercial and personal links will, in the long term, exert an influence and, by example, help the East to evolve in our direction.

I sometimes find myself wondering whether it will ever be possible for the Labour party to learn what the Communist world is fast acknowledging—that the free market works. There is another crucial difference. Unlike the Labour party here, in the Soviet Union, it is those who oppose new thinking who are being shed from the Politburo—what a contrast to the Labour party.

There is another contrast between the economic stagnation of Eastern Europe and the dynamism of the West. Through our membership of the European Community, we are helping to transform Europe's future. Today's European agenda has, in large measure, been set by Britain. The concept of the single market owes a great deal to our way of thinking and will revolutionise the way in which Europe does business. We have worked energetically with our partners to put in place more than 100 of the 300 measures for the single market envisaged in the 1985 White Paper.

We can work towards the completion of the single market because we have cleared many of the old problems from our agenda. Agricultural spending is now finally being brought under control, stocks are being reduced—sometimes dramatically—finances have been put in order and the structural funds have been reformed.

The Europe that Britain wants to see will be a Europe not just of growing prosperity but of growing political significance in world affairs and a force for stability, democracy and economic freedom. It will be a Europe open for business and open to the world, and both are important.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Does the Secretary of State recall that when Mr. Delors made his famous forecast about 80 per cent. of our legislation stemming from Europe in 10 years' time, there was an immediate reaction from the Government and the media? Can he explain why, when I revealed in the House two weeks ago that the current rate was already 80 per cent., there was complete silence? The Government had to accept the unanimity of article 236 of the treaty of Rome in putting through the Single European Act. Will the Secretary of State undertake to accept full responsibility for any legal consequences which flow from that Act, particularly as it was put through the House on a guillotine and a three-line Whip?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I think that the House is more than glad to accept responsibility for that legislation, as it has done for the original legislation on accession to the European Community. The House had a full opportunity to debate the legislation, as the hon. Gentleman well knows.

Mr. Spearing

No—it was guillotined.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The House had a lengthy and full opportunity to consider the legislation.

Mr. Spearing

It was guillotined.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Nevertheless, the House had a full and lengthy opportunity to consider the legislation, and the House endorsed it with a substantial majority. We are now working within the framework endorsed by the House. That includes the proposition that I have just set out, of a Europe that is open for business and a Europe, as the hon. Gentleman often emphasises, that is open to the world, because we want other countries to make their markets as open as we are determined that the European market shall be after 1992. The Community has already scored successes with the United States over the recent trade legislation and with Japan over the importation of Scotch whisky.

We want to build on those successes at the forthcoming mid-term meeting of GATT in Montreal. With our partners, we shall be seeking agreements of substance and of principle, not just empty declarations. In particular, in the GATT forum, we must register gains in the key area of agriculture. The Community has cut agricultural support and protection. We must do more, but our GATT partners must make similar efforts so that, between us, we can bring agriculture back closer to market realities.

From our place in Europe, Britain derives additional authority for the influence we bring to bear in the wider world. The Commonwealth remains a significant focus of our political, aid and trade relationship with more than 40 developing countries. In the United Nations, we have led the search for solutions to regional conflicts through the Security Council and, in particular, through renewed co-operation between the five permanent members of the Council.

We have, for example, secured the resumption, after an interval of many years, of meetings between the five Foreign Ministers at the time of the General Assembly. Much of the ground for these important meetings was prepared by Britain's ambassador in New York, Sir Crispin Tickell, who has led the co-operation between the five permanent representatives.

As I sat down in New York with my four colleagues and the Secretary-General this September for the second such meeting we were all, I think, conscious of the historic importance of the institution that we were helping to recreate. The founding fathers of the United Nations had intended it to be built upon co-operation between the five permanent members, but, almost from the outset, that role was never fulfilled. Now, after more than 40 arid years, there is a clear sense that we really are moving towards genuine co-operation. A combination of changed superpower relations, and a determinations to use the Security Council to solve real problems, offer hope of effective action on regional issues which threaten peace. The House needs no reminding that, as a permanent member of the Security Council, under this Government, Britain is playing her full part in those important developments.

The first fruit of such efforts has been a ceasefire in the Iran-Iraq war, a year after the acceptance of resolution 598, which resulted from a British initiative. We support the efforts of the Secretary-General to negotiate the implementation in full of resolution 598. The House knows that we have recently agreed to restore full diplomatic representation with Iran. We did not take that step lightly, but we see it as a common-sense move as Iran emerges from a senseless war, apparently ready to rejoin the international community. Now is the right time to improve our channels of communication with a major power in the region.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

The Foreign Secretary earlier mentioned the Armilla patrol. In view of what he has now said, is the continued presence of the Armilla patrol being kept under review? Is there any end to that patrol, in view of the cost to the British taxpayer and of the number of foreign vessels that have been flagged to take advantage of the British presence?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The matter is kept under review, as it has been throughout. I shall leave my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to deal with the specific points raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Heffer

What is the Government's attitude to, and what they have done about, the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds? This is a vital question to which we ought to know the answer.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The House is right to emphasise this point, and we have laid great emphasis on it ourselves. We have pressed for action in the Security Council. I raised the matter in my speech to the General Assembly. We have noted the response by the Iraqi Government that they are seeking to comply with international obligations, but we believe that the matter needs to be kept continuously on the international agenda. Therefore, we are supporting the important conference being convened in Paris in January on the proposal of the Presidents of United States and France about the 1925 Geneva convention on chemical weapons. The hon. Gentleman can remain assured that chemical weapons, and the particular example that he cites, remain a source of continuous preoccupation to Her Majesty's Government. It is a ghastly feature of today's world scene that those dreadful weapons should have re-emerged into active use anywhere on the face of the globe. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will have more to say about it later on.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot give way. I am now dealing with other aspects of this question.

The House will want to know, but will need no reassurance, that we have made no deals over our hostages in the Lebanon or the two British subjects imprisoned without trial in Iran. We have long been urging the Iranian authorities to release Mr. Nicola and Mr. Cooper and to do all in their power to help secure the release of our hostages. I raised these issues personally with Iranian Foreign Minister, Mr. Velayati, when I met him in New York in September. Prospects for the further development of our relations must certainly be affected by the Iranian approach to these questions.

The Gulf ceasefire has shown what a sustained international endeavour can achieve. A similar international effort is urgently needed to tackle the Palestine problem. Mr. Bush assured my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in Washington last week that he would make this one of his priorities. We look forward to discussing it also with Mr. Gorbachev next month.

Our position is clear and consistent. We believe that the only answer is a negotiated settlement based on the principles of security for all states and justice for all peoples in the region, including Palestinian self-determination. An international conference still offers the best framework for negotiations.

The recent meeting of the Palestine National Council in Algiers gives some grounds for hope. The apparent willingness of the PNC to accept an international conference on the basis of Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 is a positive move, but ambiguities remain. The PNC has not moved as far as it will have to on renunciation of violence and explicit acceptance of Israel's right to exist. The declaration of a Palestinian state does not help to carry the matter forward. While recognising the movement that the Palestinians have made, we look to them to reinforce their more promising words with deeds.

It is high time for Israel, whose past policies have provoked the continuing Palestinian uprising, to move as well. Blanket rejection of Palestinian overtures is no answer. Each side must be prepared to make the other an offer it cannot refuse. Britain has been working consistently for a negotiated settlement, in co-operation with our EC partners. Our policy was reflected in the statement by Community Foreign Ministers earlier this week. The formation of a new Israeli Government offers a new opportunity. We will be ready to work with it to help Israel and her neighbours to obtain peace and security. I emphasise that the PNC decisions offer a good basis on which to build.

In another long-standing area of conflict, patient diplomacy has finally brought results. We warmly welcome the approval by the Cuban, Angolan and South African Governments of the Geneva agreement on a timetable for Cuban troop withdrawal. Namibian independence on the basis of UN Security Council resolution 435 is nearer now than at any time in the past 10 years. Patient, persistent and imaginative American diplomacy, ably managed by Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker, has brought results, and he deserves our thanks. We have given full support to the negotiations. The Soviet Union also played a constructive role during the talks. We very much welcome this positive example of United States-Soviet co-operation which could serve as a precedent for the resolution of other major regional problems.

We have confirmed our willingness to contribute to the United Nations transitional assistance group. As a permanent member of the Security Council, we shall have a special role in working for early implementation of resolution 435. With our Community and Commonwealth partners, we shall be ready to offer economic and other assistance to an independent Namibia. The main credit for the progress achieved must go to those who over the years have supported the unjustly derided policy of staying engaged. I see here an eloquent justification of our own policy towards South Africa. The lesson is that engagement achieves much more than walking away from a problem.

I am confident, too, that there is increasing understanding in black African countries of our position. They know that we are worrying for an end to apartheid, which is a violation of basic human rights and human dignity. They know that we are working for the unconditional—I emphasise "unconditional"—release of Nelson Mandela, whose case my right hon. Friend the Minister of State raised again during her visit to South Africa last week. They know of our concern for other prisoners in South Africa, including the Sharpeville Six. We had repeatedly urged the South African authorities to reprieve them. Now they have done so, and we welcome it.

Those countries know, too, we are helping black Africans within South Africa and that we are working to strengthen the prosperity and stability of neighbouring countries—for example, through the civil assistance and military training that we supply to Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Our voice is a positive one aimed at alleviating, not exacerbating, a difficult situation. That is why we reject punitive sanctions, which would impoverish and abandon the very people whom we are seeking to help.

Today this country is in the vanguard of an international community that is on the move. Our foreign policy is coherent and effective. In East-West relations we have put the wasted years behind us. Historic opportunities are opening up. While safeguarding our own security, we are working for arms control and greater freedom in the East. In NATO we are a robust ally and in Europe we are a committed partner advocating bold steps to strengthen the Community. On the global stage and in the United Nations we are an informed and influential participant.

Wherever one looks, the story is the same. One sees Britain acting as a force for freedom, a dynamo of democracy, and a champion of common sense. That is the philosophy and the effect of our foreign policy today; and that is why I commend it to the House.

10.12 am
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

In the five months since the House last debated foreign affairs it cannot be said that the world situation has improved overall. It is true that there have been some encouraging developments. As the Foreign Secretary has said, Iran has at last accepted United Nations Security Council resolution 598, and there is a good possibility that the murderous Iran-Iraq war will come to an end after so many years of needless slaughter. I join the Foreign Secretary in paying tribute to the Armilla patrol and to the men in our minesweepers in the Gulf. I was most impressed by their dedication and morale when I visited them last year.

The election last week in Pakistan seems to have signalled a return to democracy in that country. We trust that a Government will shortly be formed which will reflect the will of the Pakistani people as expressed at the polls. Elsewhere, however, there are too few promising signs.

The Foreign Secretary spoke about human rights. All over the world we see invasions of and attacks on human rights. I was interested to note the change of tone by the Government on the possibility of participating in the human rights conference proposed by the Soviet Government in Moscow. Of course, we are well aware of the problems about human rights in the Soviet bloc and in other countries and we are anxious about them. Sometimes we get a response that is difficult to answer.

I was in Prague this week, and in talks at the Foreign Ministry and with the secretary of the Communist party there I raised the question of human rights in Czechoslovakia and specifically discussed the response with tear gas and water cannon to the demonstration in Wenceslas square only a few days ago. I made very clear the feelings of the Labour party on matters like that. In that discussion I found it difficult to justify the legislation in this country which criminalises demonstrations and marches and which takes away the rights of defendants. I also found it difficult to justify the censorship of television and radio and the pursuit of newspapers through the courts for which the Government have now become notorious.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kaufman

Not at the outset of my speech.

It is sad that little further progress has been made in central America. We trust that president-elect Bush will end any further attempt to fund the Contra terrorists and will bend his efforts towards helping the peace initiative of President Arias of Costa Rica. Our Government continue to play a negative role. I understand that the Under-Secretary of State is shortly to visit central America but that he is not to include Nicaragua in his itinerary. Is that correct, and, if so, why? With the exception of Costa Rica any central American country that he visits will be less democratic and more authoritarian than Nicaragua. Is he to bestow his benison on the death squads of E1 Salvador but not on those working for better health and higher standards of literacy in Nicaragua?

The Government's initial response to the hurricane disaster in Nicaragua was disgraceful and even now ought to be improved upon. It is about time that the Government pursued a positive policy towards the central American peace process and to the one country which, despite adverse developments, has taken more positive steps than any other to implement that peace process. Of course, we welcome the results of the plebiscite in Chile, but here again the vote of the people does not seem to have resulted in genuine respect for that verdict by the bloodstained President Pinochet. Will the Government put much-needed pressure on Chile to return to democracy; and, if not, why not?

The situation in South Africa remains dim and depressing. We are happy that unprecedented international pressure has won the reprieve of the Sharpeville six, although those innocent people still face long prison sentences, and that Paul Setlaba has gained a stay of execution. These are simply welcome candles in appalling gloom. Five more people were hanged yesterday; and Nelson Mandela, at the age of 70, has been in captivity for 26 years. Peaceful organisations working for change continue to be banned. The whole vile apparatus of apartheid remains in place setting the stage for ultimate bloodshed on a horrifying scale unless peaceful change can be achieved.

In the middle east hopes for peace negotiations have, for the time being, been extinguished by the folly and shortsightedness of the Israeli electorate. Faced with the deepest crisis in the history of the Israeli state and with the Intifada approaching its annivarsary and showing no sign of fading away and still less sign of being suppressed, however brutal the methods used against it, Israel is in danger of throwing away the greatest chance that it has ever had for a negotiated peace. Her Arab neighbours have shown their readiness for a settlement that will provide for Israeli security. That readiness has been confirmed by latest discussions with senior members of the Syrian Government in Damascus and with President Mubarak in London, as well as by all the further contacts that I have continued to have with other Arab Governments. It has also been confirmed by the remarkable declaration made this month by the Palestine National Council meeting in Algiers.

If the PNC has not yet gone all the way to making the statements demanded by Israeli politicians before they are willing to talk to the PLO—and I hope that they will—it has certainly gone so far in denouncing terrorism and in accepting a two-state solution that it is now incumbent on Israel to respond in a positive manner. The problem for Israel is that, instead of being able to take initiatives, all it can do now is to respond or fail to respond to the initiatives of others.

The quarrelsome and divided Israeli electorate has turned away from the prospect of peace and, instead, created the prospect of a narrow, bigoted Israeli Government who would be expansionist abroad and, at home, would corrupt the dream of a Jewish homeland into a fundamentalist, Khomeinistic ghetto. The only hope for a sane and peaceful Israel now rests with the Labour party of Shimon Peres. I hope that the Israeli Labour party will ponder carefully before considering any coalition with Likud that would be based on a rejection of the peace process for which Shimon Peres fought so courageously up to and including the election campaign.

In the dialogue between the super-powers, which we greatly welcome, progress seems to have stalled since the Moscow summit. When I had discussions with Mr. Frank Carlucci, the United States Secretary of Defence, not long ago, he indicated to me that there were hopes of a START treaty by the end of the first half of 1989. I very much hope that those hopes will be fulfilled and that there will also be progress in the Vienna talks so that we can look forward to a breakthrough on conventional arms reductions. As the Soviet Union has publicly acknowledged asymmetry in conventional forces in favour of the Warsaw pact, such progress should be more likely.

Faced with such challenges, the British Government have scope for a major and constructive role. We may not be a super-power, nor any longer a major world power, but we are an important regional power which, alone among other significant regional powers, has unparalleleed influence through membership of the United Nations Security Council, the Commonwealth, the European Community, NATO and the economic summit. We are the only country in the world to be at the centre of all those intersecting circles, yet the influence available to us is mostly unused and, where used, mostly misused.

Mr. Spearing

I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments of my right hon. Friend, but does he agree that he is underestimating the potential of Great Britain in this respect? Is it not true that we are also the cultural and constitutional centre of the English language and of many democratic institutions throughout the world, that we have an unparalleled advantage in our language and that we would have used our world service and educational institutions to further the aims of peace and concord in the world if the Government had not squandered the opportunities given by both?

Mr. Kaufman

I fully agree with my hon. Friend. Wherever I travel in the world and to whomever I speak, whether in eastern Europe, the Arab countries or all the other places that I visit, I find that the greatest source of objective, genuine information that is valued in those countries is the BBC's world service. The British Council is also greatly valued. I very much hope that the Government will give every support both to the BBC world service and to the British Council because of the great good that they do for the British reputation throughout the world.

I certainly do not blame the Foreign Office or the Foreign Secretary for this lamentable state of affairs. Neither the Foreign Secretary nor his Department has demonstrated any overall cohesive view nor a comprhensive and consistent approach to world affairs, yet the Foreign Office is a remarkable repository of expertise.

From my own experience, I regularly see how hard those in our overseas posts work, and so often with such excellent intentions. I should like to take this opportunity of thanking them and those in the Foreign Office here in London, together with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's private office, for all the trouble to which they go to assist with my overseas visits. I should also like to thank the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State.

It is not the fault of our foreign service that Britain's influence in the world in practice is so much less than it could be, when it could be so substantial. It is the fault of the shadow Foreign Secretary. I do not here refer to myself, but to the shadow that looms over the Foreign Office from the building that faces it on the other side of Downing street—the shadow of the most interfering, meddlesome, negative and baneful Prime Minister with whom the Foreign Office has ever had to put up. If we read the memoirs of Lord Carrington, published only a few weeks ago, we see what hatred the Prime Minister has for the Foreign Office—it emerges from page after page of that lengthy book—and what damage she inflicts on the morale of the Foreign Office.

In almost 10 years the Government have only two achievements to their name in overseas affairs—the negotiations that led to the independence of Zimbabwe and the agreement with China on Hong Kong. They are both achievements entirely of the Foreign Office. Lord Carrington makes clear in his book that the Rhodesia settlement went completely against the instincts of the Prime Minister. She had to be talked into it. It is common knowledge that the remarkable achievement of the Foreign Office on Hong Kong was almost wrecked by the ignorance and arrogance of the Prime Minister.

The right hon. Lady goes marauding around the world, ever alert for the pop of a flashbulb. Her overseas travels are one long quest for the next photo opportunity. Tacit us said of the Romans, "Where they make a desert, they call it peace." The record in foreign affairs of the Prime Minister can be found not in the Stateman's Year Book, but in the Thatcher family photograph album. There is not a spot on earth that she has visited which is happier, better off or more peaceful as a result of her frenzied sojourn. Indeed, the record of havoc or broken hopes that she leaves behind is appalling.

When the Prime Minister visited Canada, she instructed the voluble Mr. Bernard Ingham to brief the press offensively and inaccurately against the Canadian Government. This month she went further and caused offence in Canada without even visiting the place. Her remarks in the United States led the leaders of both Opposition parties in Canada to complain that she was treating their country as though it were a colony.

The Prime Minister went to Turkey this year, proclaiming before she set out that she would bring back with her the contract for the new Bosphorus bridge. She declared, Building bridges is one purpose of my visit. Click, click went the cameras, but Britain lost the contract for the second bridge to the Japanese, and there is no sign of a contract for the third bridge for Britain.

The Prime Minister went to Poland and lectured the Government there on what she called having a real dialogue with representatives of all sections of society, including Solidarity that from a Prime Minister who never has a dialogue with any section of society in this country, most especially not with her Cabinet.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The right hon. Gentleman may for a moment bask in what little he can bask in—namely, the amusement of his hon. Friends at these absurd observations—but he may like to acknowledge the fact that one of the principal tasks of the Foreign Secretary is to fend off the immense torrent of invitations for the Prime Minister to visit countries, from Poland to Canada. She is recognised throughout the world as a formidable statesman of world stature, whereas the Leader of the Opposition is not recognised even in the countries that he does visit.

Mr. Kaufman

That was lovely, but one of the real jobs of the Foreign Secretary, as I shall have cause to describe in a few moments, is fending off the damage that the Prime Minister does and doing his best to explain it away when it has been done.

Protected by General Jaruzelski's police, the Prime Minister went to Gdansk. She is safer in Gdansk than she is in Gorton. Poles who know little of her, will tolerate her, but my constituents would give her a different reception. However, she does not dare to visit and prate to them as she does to people who live too far away to know much about her. She visited workers who were trying to prevent a shipyard closure when she has been responsible for the closure of most shipyards in Britain. Indeed, she forced a censure vote in this House against the Labour Government's shipbuilding deal with Poland. I stood there and had to defend it.

Mr. Brazier

As someone who worked a number of years as a consultant to the shipbuilding industry, I find it odd that anyone on either side of the House should say that the decline in shipbuilding throughout Europe is the responsibility of one person. Is the right hon. Gentleman unaware of the fact that shipbuilding throughout the world is shrinking and is in recession?

Mr. Kaufman

The chairman of British Shipbuilders, who was appointed by the Government, paid tribute to the Labour Government and to me for saving the shipbuilding industry by bringing it into public ownership. The Government have brought about a situation in which the merchant shipbuilding force has almost disappeared. The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) may be a consultant, but the workers in the shipyards—those who remain—know the truth, which is that the Government are the greatest enemy of shipbuilding. We could never have won the Falklands war without the dedicated work of British shipbuilding workers, especially on the Tyne.

The Prime Minister placed a wreath on a monument to strikers when she visited Gdansk. In Britain, the same strikers would have been penalised by her trade union legislation. She offered her sympathy to workers who are fighting for the recognition of trade union rights in Poland, when she is sacking and victimising Government employees in Britain for the specific "offence" of trade union membership.

On this subject, Mr. Jerzy Milewski, the director of the office abroad of Solidarity, said: Solidarity totally supports the call by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, to which it is affiliated, for the immediate reinstatement of the dismissed workers and the full restoration of trade union rights at GCHQ. We appreciate the British Government's stand on trade union rights in Poland and their support for Solidarity. But the British Government's legitimate concern and welcome sympathy for our struggle could only gain greater authority if they applied the same standards to British workers. He expressed full support for the British Trades Union Congress and its action, and said: They have been with us in the most difficult moments of our independent union's life and they can be sure of the support of Polish workers in their fight for freedom of association. The Prime Minister told the House a few days ago that Solidarity is different from British trade unions and represents what she called the only expression of opposition to Communism and Socialism in Poland."—[Official Report, 8 November 1988; Vol. 140, c. 167.] It is clear that the Prime Minister knows nothing about Solidarity. In his autobiography, "A Path of Hope," Lech Walesa makes it clear that he does not want Solidarity to be a political opposition in Poland and that he supports a Socialist Government for Poland. In response to the Prime Minister's statement that he expresses opposition to Socialism in Poland, Lech Walesa said: We're in the process of working out a Polish style of Socialism … For the great majority of people, socialism boils down to things we are accustomed to, which we pay no more attention to than the blood circulating in our veins: social benefits, hospitals, schools and so on—the basic essentials … all that is best in the economy and in the domain of social welfare is socialism". That is what Lech Walesa says when he refers to the elements of social benefits which the Government are destroying in Britain and for which proper trade unionism stands.

Mr. Walesa, in his book, specifically states that the aim of Solidarity is to win the right to negotiate on pay and conditions and the right to partcipate in decision-making in the workplace. Those are the proper rights of a trade union anywhere, but rights which the Prime Minister detests and tramples on in Britain. The Prime Minister went to Gdansk to cash in on Mr. Welesa's popularity, without having the faintest understanding of or sympathy for the concepts for which he really stands.

The Prime Minister—[Interruption.] I invite hon. Members to read the book. The Prime Minister does not care about democracy or human rights. She cares instead about being photographed with popular people. The right hon. Lady does not even have to start out on her travels to cause trouble and offence. Last week, the talkative Mr. Bernard Ingham briefed Lobby correspondents about the Prime Minister's plans for a visit to Africa. In Africa, millions are starving and thousands are dying in bloodshed through avoidable wars. Mr. Ingham told journalists nothing about the Prime Minister's plans to try to remedy both kinds of tragedy. Instead, the main item in his briefing was that the Prime Minister would use the trip to pay off a score against the President of Zambia through an act of petty spite.

The Prime Minister does not have to contemplate foreign travel of her own to cause serious damage. The press is still full of reverberations about Mr. Ingham's briefing of journalists a week ago on the Prime Minister's wish to ban a visit by the Queen to the Soviet Union. It is natural for the Prime Minister, following her pseudo regal progress through Russia last year, to wish to conceal from the Soviet people and their Government that we in Britain have a genuine and extremely popular monarch and that the Prime Minister herself is only a jumped-up and impertinent pretender. The problem is that the Prime Minister's court is a good deal more presumptuous and arrogant than anyone connected with Buckingham palace could ever be. It is time that that gang of placemen were put thoroughly in their place.

There is no doubt that Mr. Ingham gave that briefing. Why did he give that briefing? With whose authority did he give that briefing? What is to be done about Mr. Ingham having given that briefing? I do not expect the Foreign Secretary to know the answers. As so often, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was left in the dark. When questioned about this murky affair in Brussels, this is the way in which he dolefully responded: I have not had an opportunity to study this question and I have not been in London in the last few days. I do not want to comment on this. If you want a comment, you had better ask them in London. You had better talk to London. What a humiliation for the Foreign Secretary, who should be providing advice for the palace on such an issue. Instead, he is put in the shade by the people in 10 Downing street, who care so little for the office of Foreign Secretary.

Then there was the Prime Minister's visit to Bruges. The Foreign Secretary spoke a good deal about the Community, but for some reason which escapes me he did not refer to the Prime Minister's speech to the college of Europe on 20 September. I wish to put some detailed question to the right hon. and learned Gentleman about the speech, and I shall readily give way to allow him to answer each one. In her speech, the Prime Minister said that she is against decisions … taken by an appointed bureaucracy. Does the Foreign Secretary agree with that? If so, how does he reconcile it with the provision in the Single European Act, which adds to EEC treaty article 145, on powers of the Commission, a provision to confer further implementing powers on the Commission? The Commission is, of course, the Community's appointed bureaucracy. The Single European Act is now embedded in United Kingdom law through the European Communities (Amdt) Act 1988, which the Foreign Secretary guillotined to allow it to pass through Parliament.

At Bruges, the Prime Minister said that she is opposed to a European superstate. Does the Foreign Secretary agree with that? If so, how does he reconcile it with the provision in the Single European Act, which is now United Kingdom law because of the European Communities (Amendment) Act, which commits participants, including the United Kingdom, to transform relations among the member states into a European union? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree with the Prime Minister's insistence in Bruges on the need to preserve individual members' parliamentary powers? If so, how does he reconcile that with the provisions in the Single European Act to draw up by the end of 1992 an inventory of relevant national laws not yet harmonised and submit appropriate proposals?

Does the Foreign Secretary agree with the Prime Minister that it is a matter of plain common sense that we cannot totally abolish frontier controls"? If so, how does he reconcile that with the provision in the Single European Act for the Community, by the end of 1992, to comprise an area without internal frontiers?

Does the Foreign Secretary agree with the Prime Minister's opposition to what she called, in her Bruges speech, "power centralised in Brussels"? If so, how does he reconcile that with the provisions in the Single European Act that introduce majority voting, partly or wholly, into six articles of the EEC treaty at present requiring unanimity for action, and which provide for majority voting in five of the new supplementary articles?

How does the Foreign Secretary reconcile that with the commitment to ensure balanced progress by qualified majority and with the commitment to replace unanimity in the EEC treaty article 59(2)? As Mark Antony said in "Julius Caesar", I pause for a reply.

Mr. Tony Banks

The Foreign Secretary is not even listening.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

Come on, get up and answer.

Mr. Kaufman

The Foreign Secretary's lack of response is interesting.

Itemised, one by one, every one of the major issues to which the Prime Minister says she is opposed is embedded in British law. They were opposed by the Opposition, but they were forced upon this country by the use of the guillotine. Yet the Foreign Secretary has nothing to say and can only accept the yawning gap between the words of the Prime Minister and the truth of the matter.

We have the right to state our reservations and objections to these matters. We fought the legislation through the House, and it was guillotined because we did so. How does the Prime Minister purport to oppose for Britain what she ordered her parliamentary majority to impose on Britain? It is no wonder that the West German newspaper Die Zeit pronounced the Prime Minister as hypocritical. Nowhere else has that hypocritical attitude been more plainly manifest than in the areas of defence and disarmament. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister boasted that the defence budget will grow by nearly £1 billion a year over the next three years."—[Official Report, 22 November 1988; Vo1. 142, c. 27.] That is the measure of the Government's determination to ensure that our forces have the most modern and up-to-date equipment, both nuclear and conventional. Yet that cash increase masks a reduction in defence expenditure in real terms. It is certain that there will be a reduction in real terms in 1989–90. In 1990–91 and 1991–92, there will be further reductions unless inflation falls to 3.5 and then to 3 per cent. Yet inflation now stands at 6.4 per cent.

That brings me to another question for the Foreign Secretary. Perhaps he will answer this one because he has pointed out that, as well as holding his current post, he was once Chancellor of the Exchequer. During the Prime Minister's manic visit to Australia, she encountered a very rare Antipodean species. I refer not to a wallaby or a koala, but to a television interviewer who did not treat her with sycophantic self-abasement. It was Mr. Kerry O'Brien who had the cheek to pull up the Prime Minister when, letting her true sympathy for apartheid show through, she talked about the "small amount of poverty" in South Africa.

Discussing inflation with Mr. O'Brien, the Prime Minister said that inflation in Britain, then at 4.6 per cent., was not as low as I would wish". She then went on to declare: I should be very surprised if it got up to about seven. Can the former Chancellor confirm that statement by the Prime Minister and assure the House that inflation in Britain will definitely not rise to 7 per cent.? After all, in Australia the Prime Minister said that that would not happen.

Even if the Foreign Secretary can give us that assurance—although, once again, he is failing to respond to a very simple question—it is clear that, even on the Prime Minister's own boast, spending on defence in Britain will fall in real terms over the next three years and that, because of the pointless, wasteful and irrelevant expenditure on Trident, expenditure on conventional defence—which should be our real contribution to NATO—will fall substantially.

It therefore makes especial sense for Britain to play an active and constructive role in conventional disarmament talks. We are simply not playing such a part, and we have actually been obstructing those talks. Once again, the responsibility lies with the Prime Minister. When I met the United States Defence Secretary, Mr. Carlucci, for talks in Washington three months ago, we discussed these issues. I asked him why the West had not accepted the proposals by Mr. Yazov of the Soviet Union for an exchange of data, and Mr. Carlucci replied: You don't want to get me in trouble with Mrs. Thatcher, do you? I took down those words on his own Defence Department pad in his office. Mr. Carlucci said that he was ready to exchange published data. What the Foreign Secretary has announced today, with such a flourish, is not an exchange of data, but merely unilateral assessment.

The Prime Minister, obstructive on conventional disarmament, is positively destructive on nuclear disarmament. Wholly misunderstanding the role of battlefield nuclear weapons, she demands modernisation as a means of deterrence. By that stance, she shows that her real aim is to nullify the INF treaty, which is removing from Britain the cruise missiles to which she is so attached.

The Foreign Secretary said today that the West should remain united on arms control, but the West is not united on that issue. The Prime Minister is at serious odds with West Germany, as emerged clearly during my visit to Bonn a few weeks ago when I had discussions with Herr Genscher, the Foreign Minister, and Herr Scholz, the Defence Minister. There is also, of course, the opposition of the Belgians to modernisation. Chancellor Kohl of West Germany made it clear that he is opposed to any modernisation that would be a way around INF—[Interruption.] Oh, yes. Herr Genscher and Herr Scholz made it clear to me—I have published this and it has been accepted by the West German Government—that they do not regard modernisation as justified before it is necessary and that they regard battlefield nuclear weapons as a provocation to war rather than a protection against it. That is what those members of the Federal Government said to me, together with Herr Schäuble, who is the head of the Federal Chancellery. They do not regard any of those weapons as a deterrent.

Opposed to conventional disarmament, obstructive on NATO land-based nuclear arms, the Prime Minister stands clutching her so-called independent nuclear deterrent, the Trident missile, which she leases from the United States at massive cost and which can be serviced only by six day's journey across the Atlantic to King's Bay, Georgia, where every tiny spare part is kept. While she struts about the world stage like a Walter Mitty with megalomania, the poor old Foreign Secretary—now repudiated as her potential successor—is left to pick up the pieces.

The Prime Minister dismissed the notion of a common European currency. The Foreign Secretary, in his speech to the Kangaroo Group in Paris earlier this month, called for further practical concrete steps to greater currency stability in the context of an attack on the wastefulness of 12 different Community currencies. The Prime Minister attacks every major consequence of 1992. The Foreign Secretary pleads that we should regard 1992 as good news. The Prime Minister attacks the abolition of frontiers. The Foreign Secretary rejoices over what he calls "a barrier-free Europe", giving new dynamism to the Community. Going around trying to smooth out the offence that the Prime Minister causes wherever she goes and to sort out the confusion that she creates, our Foreign Secretary—who is in charge of one of the best Foreign Offices and Diplomatic Services in the world—has been reduced by the Prime Minister to the role of the man who comes along with the shovel at the end of the Lord Mayor's procession.

There are major opportunities for Britain and we could play a worthwhile and constructive role. Given the chance, the Foreign Secretary would do his best to play that role. Let him, at long last, stand up to the Prime Minister and assert his authority as a senior Secretary of State. If he does that, he will have the support of the Opposition.

10.49 am
Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

I suppose that we all agree that it is the duty of an Opposition to oppose, but the bitterness and waspishness of the attack of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) on the Prime Minister can be explained only by his sense of frustration at eight years in opposition.

The map of the world is undergoing great changes. We do not have many debates on foreign affairs, but this is an opportunity for constructive thinking. I hope that we shall have a more generous and constructive expression of views from the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), if he succeeds in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I shall, however, take up the remarks about Europe made by the right hon. Member for Gorton and add to the debate that has arisen since the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in Bruges. Nobody could doubt the commitment of the Government and of my right hon. Friend to Europe and European union. Our economy, security and role in the world depend on it. That is clear, and even the Labour party is coming round to recognising that our destiny lies in European union.

The debate has been over simplified in the press as one between inter-Government union and federation. There has never been any serious question of a European federation in the sense that the United States is federal. Our own experience points to that. At the beginning of the century, the British Government tried to create a federation of the self-governing parts of the British empire. They proposed an imperial Government, a customs union and an imperial navy. The people of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the two smaller South African colonies were most loyal and affectionate. But they turned down the proposal because, after 50 years of self-government they had acquired a sense of nationhood that forbade them accepting the federal proposal. Hon. Members cannot tell me that ancient and famous countries such as Britain, France, Spain and Germany will be corralled into an imitation of the constitution drawn up by Alexander Hamilton for the almost uninhabited United States where there were still almost as many Red Indian tribes and buffaloes as there were European settlers.

But there is a constitutional issue at stake—the relationship between Ministers and the European Commission. It is not a crisis but a European version of "Yes, Minister". There has always been a certain tension, as any of us who have held office will know, between a Minister and his officials. In private the officials often regard themselves as the real Government and regard the Ministers as the tribunes and public relations officers who are supposed to put across the Departments' views. There is a problem here. The real Government, in so far as we have an embryo Government of Europe, are the Council of Ministers.

As the right hon. Member for Gorton has said, the Commission is the bureaucracy. It is important for the Council of Ministers to keep the Commission in its place. I do not mean that Mr. Delors is a super "Sir Humphrey", but it is important that the Ministers should make their supremacy clear. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's speech may have been abrasive, but it delighted most of her ministerial colleagues on the Continent—at any rate, that is the impression that I have formed from talks with some of them.

Having expressed strong support for my right hon. Friends general view that the Council of Ministers' supremacy must prevail, I have one or two reservations about the speech she made in Bruges and to which the right hon. Member for Gorton has drawn attention. Is it really necessary to say that we must maintain border and customs control after 1992? Before 1914, there were virtually no border controls in Europe and one could travel almost anywhere in Europe, except in Turkey and Tsarist Russia, without a passport. Since we were a free trade country, we hardly bothered with Customs. We look a bit silly now talking about border controls against terrorism and drugs when the one open border in the United Kingdom is the border with the Irish Republic where many sympathisers of the IRA live. We should reconsider that matter.

The single currency is a long way away, but here again we should reflect on the past. For a long time we had a single currency in Europe in the form of gold. One could travel anywhere; and gold coins, the sovereign, the napoleon and the German gold mark were interchangeable.

In 1931 we had another limited experience of a single currency when we went off gold and created the sterling area. Although not all of the currencies in the sterling area had the same parities, there was virtually a single currency between them; and that currency, which became a reserve currency, was accepted, second only to the dollar, by the world until the 1960s.

I am not sure that we need a central bank to have a single currency. There was not a central bank for gold and, although the Bank of England acted as a reserve bank for the sterling area, it was not the only issuing house and it did not own the reserves which other sterling area countries pooled there.

Let me say something in parentheses. Hardly a month goes by without one of my right hon. Friends recommending the privatisation of something now in Government ownership. There is always some new privatisation plan, whether it is for water or electricity, or whatever, but I have never heard anyone suggest the privatisation of the Bank of England. Yet the German Bundesbank and the federal reserve bank of the United States are virtually privatized—or are at least independent of Government. Would it make things easier for the Government to contemplate a reserve bank for Europe if the Bank of England were privatised?

We must remember that the emerging European constitution will inevitably be outward-looking because all of us, in different ways, have close links with countries outside the European Community. The old imperial powers—France, Britain, Spain and Portugal—have close links with other parts of the world—North America, Latin America and Africa. The Germans still have hopes of reunification. None of us wants to see a tight, little western Europe—it should be outward looking. Already countries not yet in the Community are thinking about applying for membership, the Austrians are interested and also even Finland.

As the Soviet empire in Europe loosens up, the Community may well become a magnet to which countries such as Hungary and the Danube valley countries may be attracted. They know that the Soviet Union is incapable of giving them the necessary economic support to redeem their poverty. It is not surprising if they look towards the Community as a source of investment and funds.

We have travelled a long way since the idea of a united Europe was first launched in 1946. We are attempting something which has never been attempted before. Many people have tried to unite Europe by force, but this is the first time that an attempt has been made to do it with the free consent and will of those involved. It is not an easy task. We have certain uniting traditions, such as the classical traditions of Greece and Rome and the Judaeo-Christian tradition, but we also face some formidable difficulties which are not easy to overcome.

It being Eleven o'clock, MR. SPEAKER interrupted proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 5 (Friday sittings).