§ Mr. Neil Hamilton
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the incalculable cost in human lives and poverty imposed upon the world by communist regimes and socialism in all its forms; welcomes the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the withering away of socialism in Western democracies; and recognises the important role played in these processes by Her Majesty's Government, firstly through its determination to maintain strong defences, thereby creating the conditions for political change in Eastern Europe, and, secondly, through the success of its free market policies in inspiring socialist parties in the East and West to abandon much of their ideology in order to secure peace and prosperity.I think that there will still be time for me to finish my speech, despite the attempt at organised disruption with which our proceeding began this morning.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As a conscientious Member of the House, I resent hearing efforts by my hon. Friends and myself to protect the rights of the electorate described by a Conservative Member as "organised disruption."
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Who said that? [HON. MEMBERS: "He did".] Order. Today is Friday, and it is a private Members' day. I am not disposed to allow organised disruption of any kind. I should tell the House that I have not selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn).
§ Mr. Neil Hamilton
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for protecting me also from my hon. Friends.
I begin my speech on a sombre note, introduced by the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), but the gentleman whose memory I should like to salute today is that of Dr. Andrei Sakharov, whose death was announced on the radio this morning. Dr. Sakharov represented the indomitable spirit of individual liberty. He survived decades of attempts by a monstrous tyranny to crush him and the principles of freedom, democracy and liberty for which he stood. In that, if in nothing else that I shall say, I hope that I carry the whole House with me in saluting his memory and sending our best wishes and condolences to his widow and to all those for whom Dr. Sakharov, in the Soviet Union and throughout the world, was an inspiration.
Sixty-six years ago, another Back-Bench Member drew first place in the ballot for private Member's Bills—Mr. Philip Snowden, the first Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer. He introduced rather a different kind of motion on Socialism from mine. It drew attention to what he called the failure of capitalism. I have decided to introduce the debate to exorcise the notion that Mr. Snowden introduced all those years ago. His biography gives some of the background to that debate.
Most interestingly, it shows that in the days before television there was considerable interest in the proceedings of this House. Mr. Snowden said:The interest in the debate I was to raise was … intense, both in Parliament and in the country. For a week before it took place the newspapers had paragraphs and articles every day, and members of Parliament were inundated with 1302 requests from their constituents for tickets for the Strangers' Gallery. Socialists from all parts of the country were ready to come to London for this historic occasion".I regret to say that there seem to be very few Socialists, particularly Labour Members, who have been prepared to come to London today to participate in this important debate. There are only five here today—admittedly, five distinguished Labour Members. It is a matter of particular regret that only such a small number seem to be interested in the future of the grand political philosophy in which they believe.
Mr. Snowden then said:On the day the debate was to take place the Outer Lobbies were crowded with men and women who had conic down in the vain expectation that by some fortunate accident they might be able to get admission to the House.In consequence of the intense interest in the debate, Mr. Bonar Law, who was then Prime Minister, was asked if he would give further time for the debate to be continued and properly discussed. I am happy to say that in those more enlightened days, he gave a whole day of Government time to debate the future of Socialism in this country.
§ Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)
I was disappointed by something that my hon. Friend said at the beginning of his remarks before the first interruption and by the general tenor of his argument so far. Surely, this message should not take very long to get over. Why does my hon. Friend need additional time to debate what is already on the way out?
§ Mr. Hamilton
I have to admit that it is difficult to get the message across, although not to my hon. Friends. Despite decades of experience of Socialism and its failure in this country, it does not yet seem to have got through to Opposition Members that what they believe in has been a disaster for the people of this country and for people throughout the world. I hope that the way in which I wish to rationalise the experience of the last 50 or 60 years will at last convince them that their true path lies in crossing the Floor of the House and joining us.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of Philip Snowden, does he recollect that he betrayed Socialism by joining the national Government in 1931, and that he died a convinced capitalist?
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am sure that that point will appeal to at least two hon. Gentlemen and one hon. Lady on the Opposition Benches. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), who is sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, may take a different view, because I imagine that he intends to tread a rather different path
I wondered who might answer the debate from the Treasury Bench. Which Minister, I asked myself, is responsible in our Government for the future of Socialism? There is, of course, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, whose Department is responsible for endangered species. Would it be my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) whose responsibility within the Department of Trade and Industry is for matters concerning intellectual property? However, I did not think that that would be quite apposite in this instance. Then there is my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), another Minister in the Department of Trade and Industry, whose responsibility is for bankruptcy. If we had conflated those two 1303 responsibilities, one of them could have come here today with responsibility for intellectual bankruptcy and adequately answered this debate.
However, I am delighted to see that my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) is on the Treasury Bench—the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the county of the red rose. I am certain that that is the reason why he has been selected, in addition to his formidable debating abilities, to be with us today.
I am sure that you will agree with me, Madam Deputy Speaker, that a crisis exists in the Communist world and, I contend, in the Socialist world more widely. A few redoubts of the old regime still exist. Romania comes instantly to mind. Unfortunately, I no longer have quite enough time to emulate President Ceausescu's great six-hour oration before the latest party congress. However, I may be able to say as much as he did, if my hon. Friends will control themselves and not give me the 67 standing ovations that President Ceausescu won on that occasion.
In addition to Romania, there are Chesterfield, Bolsover, Liverpool, Walton and a few other redoubts of Socialism left in this country. I think it is fair to say that the international Socialist movement has suffered a stroke and that the left side of its body is completely paralysed.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) recognises that that has happened in the Labour party. In the edition of Militant which was published on 1 December—a newspaper that is still widely read in Birkenhead and other parts of the country—the hon. Gentleman is quoted as saying that the Labour party has swung to the Right. He complains ofthe abandonment of genuine socialist concepts, a trend which has developed throughout the European socialist movement".I am delighted to have confirmation of the first part of my motion.
Mr. Eric S. Haffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I have been saying that for years.
§ Mr. Hamilton
The hon. Gentleman says that he has been saying that for years. The hon. Gentleman has been instrumental in teaching me that, in truth, the Socialist movement has collapsed and is in terminal decline. I have the greatest possible respect for the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that, in this also, I carry all my hon. Friends with me when I say that he is a valued Member of the House. I was very sorry to hear that he has decided to retire at the next general election. In the terminology of Marxism, the hon. Gentleman is a worker and an intellectual. He is certainly not, in my opinion, a peasant. There are those on that side of the House to whom that description might apply, although happily none of them has thought fit to be with us today.
As for the extent to which the change in the Labour party to which the hon. Member for Walton referred has taken place, I began by musing on which Minister would be on the Treasury Bench to answer the debate. A more interesting question was who would be sitting on the Opposition Front Bench to speak for Socialism. We might have chosen many candidates for that august position. The hon. Member for Hamilton, who no doubt wandered in 1304 out of curiosity to see what would happen today, found himself unwittingly in the position of having to give us the Labour party's views on the future of Socialism.
Perhaps it is only a coincidence, although it may not be, that he is the Member of Parliament for the Hamilton constituency. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), who is rarely heard in this House so I am delighted to refer to his remark and get it on record, says that that is a tribute to me. I am delighted that there is now a shadow spokesman for Hamilton. I hope that we shall see the hon. Gentleman very much more frequently in that position.
Not everyone accepts that Socialism is collapsing. I refer to the debate in the House on eastern Europe on 1 December in which a number of distinguished speeches were made by Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Walton. The hon. Gentleman does not believe that Socialism is in a state of collapse, as he believes that all the countries in eastern Europe that are now in crisis are not Socialist countries. He said:Many of us who are, I hope, genuine Socialists, have never believed that what has existed in the Soviet Union is a Socialist society."—[Official Report, 1 December 1989; Vol. 162, c. 978.]He considers that neither the countries behind the Iron Curtain—East Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, the Soviet Union—nor those countries where moderate Socialist Governments have abandoned their theories, such as New Zealand, Australia, Spain or West Germany—I could list a catalogue of them around the world—are Socialist countries.
So it appears that the countries that we have accepted as Socialist or Communist are not Communist because they have never been Communist, and those countries which have never had Communist Governments are not Socialist because they are capitalist. So the hon. Member for Walton imagines that there has never been a true democratic Socialist country. I believe that there are good reasons for accepting that view, because wherever voters are given the opportunity to reject Socialism, they do so, and that is now happening throughout eastern Europe.
The pursuit of abstractions such as those that no doubt will be voiced today by Opposition Members has produced all the tyrannies that are now throwing off their shackles. It was said of Robespierre that mankind was everything to him and men were nothing. Despite the humane and tolerant attitudes of individual Opposition Members, those ideals have produced some of the more bestial tyrannies in the world in the past 200 years.
It is an inconstestable fact that there are no refugees from liberal capitalist countries such as ours or any of the other countries that have followed our example. All refugees come from countries that in some shape or form are in thrall to some variety of Communism or Socialism. I hope that Opposition Members now reproach themselves for the line that they took in the 1960s and 1970s when, however inadequately and efficiently, we were attempting to create some form of democratic or liberal capitalist system in Vietnam, which was ultimately overthrown by invasion from the north, and now a Socialist, Communist tyranny has been imposed upon its people from which the only escape is to get into small boats and sail across the ocean.
§ Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)
On the very day that the Chilean republic has elected its first democratic president following a despotic Right-wing military regime, 1305 will the hon. Gentleman now face the fact that large numbers of refugees from that capitalist free market model litter all the countries of the free world willing to give them asylum?
§ Mr. Hamilton
President Pinochet has accepted the result of the plebiscite in Chile, and I am sure that we all approve of that. I am delighted that today we have heard the results of a free election. President Pinochet, whom I have not come here to defend, took over the Government of Chile in the midst of much turmoil and confusion. I am delighted that his undemocratic regime has now been translated into a democratic one, and, in the process, over the past 15 years through the application of Thatcherite nostrums, the economy of Chile has transformed from one of the most shambolic countries in south America into one of the most advanced.
§ Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)
Will my hon. Friend note that it is significant that the Opposition in Chile did not field a Socialist candidate? Does he consider that that is particularly relevant to the situation there?
§ Mr. Hamilton
I certainly do. My hon. Friend has a very deep knowledge of South America and speaks from personal experience.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I have forgotten the point I was about to raise.
§ Mr. Hamilton
In the debate on eastern Europe, on 1 December, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) made a very distinguished speech. In some respects he joined the hon. Member for Walton in his analysis of the political changes in eastern Europe, but, unlike almost all other commentators, who say that it is undoubtedly a crisis of Communism and Socialism, the hon. Member for Broadgreen reached the conclusion that the turmoil in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe showsthat there is an international crisis of capitalism".Conservative Members may find it difficult to follow the logic of that.
§ Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)
Is my hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) has just remembered his point? Will my hon. Friend therefore give way to him immediately?
§ Mr. Hamilton
My hon. Friend obviously believes that it will add force to my remarks, so I certainly shall give way to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes
I refer to the hon. Gentleman's point about Thatcherism in connection with Chile. He claimed that, because of correct monetarist policies, as the hon. Gentleman sees them, under the Pinochet regime the economy of Chile has improved, making it possible for democracy to be introduced. Is it not interesting that the major impact of Thatcherism, which claims to be associated with individualism, seems to have worked most effectively in a dictatorial system? Is that not relevant to the notion of Thatcherism in Britain?
§ Mr. Hamilton
No, that is not correct, because the best examples of the workings of Thatcherism are in the country that gave rise to it. We have led the way in the 1306 economic policy which has transformed Britain—and many other Socialist countries which were on the verge of collapse—from the shambles of 1979 into mainstream economic success.
The hon. Member for Broadgreen believes that there is an international crisis of capitalism. He said:The crisis in eastern Europe has nothing to do with Socialism or Communism".He referred to the Soviet Union, saying:All went well under the plan until about 10 years ago."—[Official Report, 1 December 1989; Vol. 162, c. 988.]Presumably, for the hon. Member for Broadgreen, the disaster was the death of President Brezhnev. That is a somewhat unusual view, but we should devote a small amount of time to it, as it is evidently a view which is of some importance in the Labour party.
The hon. Gentleman has tabled an early-day motion calling for the true spirit of the October revolution of 1917 to be restored in the Soviet Union. I do not know what the hon. Member for Hamilton will have to say about that. No doubt, appealing to his own Back Benchers, he will devote a certain amount of time to it. The truth is that, for 70-odd years, until very recently the Soviet Union was a prison which enslaved millions of its people and caused millions of deaths under the Leninist and Stalinist dictatorships and what succeeded them, including the deaths of many distinguished men such as Dr. Sakharov. Chronic incompetence in economic affairs turned a country which was a major exporter of grain under the Tsars into a major importer that cannot feed its own people, where the staples of ordinary everyday life are unavailable to ordinary workers and citizens. It has been a militarist totalitarian dictatorship. Although we all welcome its imminent demise, I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that the October revolution, in so far as it gave rise to that, was an unmitigated disaster for the entire human race.
§ Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)
Thousands, if not millions, of peasants starved under the Tsars while they were exporting grain. What does the hon. Gentleman have to say about that?
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am not supporting feudalism: the chairman of the Feudal party stood against me at the last general election. However, the rate of economic advance in Russia in the early years of the century was considerable. Had liberal capitalist economic and political structures been allowed to develop, instead of being nipped in the bud by the October revolution in 1917, Russia would today be one of the richest countries in the world, enjoying one of the highest standards of living.
The political effects of the October revolution gave rise to a monstrous tyranny. The hon. Member for Broadgreen admires the late Leon Trotsky. An analysis of Trotsky's works shows why the October revolution inevitably gave rise to a political tyranny on the back of an incompetent economic tyranny. Trotsky said:In a country where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation. The old principle—who does not work shall not eat has been replaced by a new one: who does not obey shall not eat.That is the history of the past 70 years in the Soviet Union.
It is the suppression of markets in Russia that has produced the poverty and the tyranny.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stafford)
Does my hon. Friend recall that John Bright, whose centenary was celebrated 1307 this year—the advocate of free trade and democracy—was Karl Marx's greatest opponent in the 1840s and 1850s, when Marx was developing his notions of Communism which lie at the root of the demise of the Soviet Union today?
§ Mr. Hamilton
I accept entirely what my hon. Friend says.
It is the suppression of markets that has produced the political conditions in the Soviet Union. I forget who said that, if the Soviet Union successfully invaded the Sahara desert, nothing would happen for 10 years and then there would be a shortage of sand. That is the story of the Soviet Union. It is richly endowed with natural resources but has been constitutionally incapable of exploiting them successfully.
The human face of Socialism, which is authentically represented by the hon. Member for Walton is an impossibility because of the nature of mankind. When we centralise power, we encourage the worst instincts of humankind and produce the kind of state that we now see withering away.
There is no example of a state with a centralised or command economy that has managed to preserve political liberties. E. H. Carr—no Right-wing Conservative—said:It is significant that the nationalisation of thought has proceeded everywhere part passu with the nationalisation of industry.The philosophy espoused by the hon. Member for Walton is a fantasy that can never be translated into a reality. As we know well, power corrupts—or tends to—and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The scale of corruption in eastern Europe is now being revealed. I am sure that all hon. Members have read with interest the recent reports from East Germany about the standard of living which was enjoyed by the top dogs of the political system—a system supposedly based on equality—which contrasts markedly with the miserable living conditions of the people groaning under their yoke. I am sure that we have all seen television photographs of Mr. Honecker's magnificent country estate at Wandlitz outside Berlin. It has now been turned into a 400-bed hospital for the handicapped.
The top Communist party officials in East Germany had 6,745 miles of territory in New Brandenberg designated as their hunting reserves. Some £2 million is said to have been diverted from a special state fund in 1988 for the upkeep of those estates for the privileged. The veteran trade union leader Mr. Harry Tisch had a sprawling hunting estate which required 35 full-time gamekeepers to look after the lodge.
The Berliner Zeitung newspaper reported that a luxury home was being built for Gerhard Nemmstiel, the leader of the country's metalworkers' union. The paper also revealed that DM 250,000 were held illegally in foreign bank accounts by another trade union leader. Mr. Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski, who ran the foreign trade agency of East Germany, who has also achieved some celebrity because of the kickbacks that he was being paid by countries in Latin America, the middle east and Africa, which were then paid into Swiss bank accounts. He announced that he is willing to return to East Germany up to £22 million which had been siphoned off, to partly repay 1308 his depredations. However, he is not keen to return to answer the charges now that the country is no longer controlled by the Communist party.
I know that some Opposition Members are true Socialists who do not seek personal enrichment but there are many cases of personal enrichment among those who espouse even a very Left-wing brand of Socialism. Mr. Clive Jenkins has now taken his millions off to Australia.
§ Mr. Hamilton
Millions, not minions—my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne may be referring to his mistress.
We can find many similar examples. The decentralisation of economic decision-taking reduces corruption and political power and hence the chance of tyranny. The great John Keynes, although no Right-wing Conservative, said in "The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money":There are valuable human activities which require the motive of money-making and the environment of private wealth-ownership for their full fruition … Dangerous human proclivities can be canalized, into comparatively harmless channels by the existence of opportunities for money-making and private wealth, which, if they cannot be satisfied in this way, may find their outlet in cruelty, the reckless pursuit of personal power and authority, and other forms of self-aggrandisement.It is better that a man should tyrannize over his bank balance than over his fellow citizens.That is a true analysis of the circumstances we are debating.
The collapse in eastern Europe owes much to the unity and firmness of western countries, particularly over the past 10 years.
Through our strong defence policies, as my motion says, and through our successful economies, we have shown that the Soviet bloc is incapable of keeping up with us because it does not have the same rate of economic advance as us. It cannot compete with weapons modernisation and the quantity of armaments required to oppress its own people and to extend that repression around the world.
We owe a debt to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and to President Reagan. Had it not been for them, I do not believe that the NATO Alliance would have been so successful in the past 10 years in the defence of freedom against the real threat of Communist tyranny from the East.
The Labour party showed no firmness of resolve on defence in the 1973 or 1987 general elections. No doubt the Soviet Union was looking carefully at the 1987 election because if we had a Labour Government now who were not committed to a strong defence policy, one part of the incentive for change in eastern Europe would not have existed. After all it was my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who first recognised the leadership qualities of President Gorbachev when he was a member of the Politburo. She said that she could do business with him.
President Reagan, like the Leader of the Opposition, was not a man for detail but he was able to grasp the simplicities of freedom. We owe him a great debt of gratitude. The strategic defence initiative and the modernisation programme of nuclear weapons ultimately showed the Soviet bloc that it could not win. The bankruptcy of Communism is now recognised worldwide.
1309 That leads me to the second part of my motion, referring to the "withering away" of Socialism outside the Communist bloc. I believe that 1975–76 saw the beginning of this great movement. The election of my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) as the leader of the Conservative party in 1972 brought about a significant change in the political ethos of the United Kingdom. Since 1979, we have introduced many permanent changes. it has been the sort of irreversible shift, although in a different direction, to which the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) frequently refers. In 1976, my hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced that she was undertaking a crusade not merely to put a temporary block on Socialism but to stop its onward march once and for all. I believe that that is what we are achieving.
Socialist parties throughout the world are now in headlong retreat. In Australia, there is a Labour Government under the leadership of Mr. Hawke. They have decided to float the dollar. They have reduced taxes and they have a budget surplus of A$5.5 billion. They have cut tariffs and they have targeted welfare spending.
The same is true in New Zealand. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) is a distinguished export from New Zealand. No doubt anticipating the death of Socialism in his country, he decided that his only future was in the Labour party in Britain, which is one of the few Socialist parties in the world in which a significant number of members remain wedded to outmoded and exploded class-war concepts.
In New Zealand, an even more radical Thatcherite programme has been pushed through in the past four years. The Government have abolished exchange controls, subsidies for industry and agriculture, an incomes policy and rent controls and energy price controls. There has been a mammoth programme of privatisation. There have been massive tax reductions, and the top income tax rate is now 33p in the pound.
Spain, too, has a Socialist Government. My hon. Friend the Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household, who sits in his place on the Government Front Bench, has no doubt had an important part to play in the conversion of the Socialist party in Spain into a Thatcherite party. The Spanish Government are engaged in a mammoth privatisation programme that includes the coal and electricity industries.
§ Mr. Hamilton
My hon. Friend, with his usual perspicacity, has anticipated the next part of my speech. I intend to devote some attention to the somewhat embarrassing position in which the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) finds himself as he languishes on the Opposition Front Bench.
Germany abandoned any pretence of Socialism long ago. Even France, recoiling from the disaster of the early years of the leadership of President Mitterrand, is now engaged in the demolition of the Socialist state.
In Latin America, apart from some revolutionary paradises of the sort represented by Nicaragua, Socialism is in headlong retreat throughout the continent. I have a 1310 great expert on Latin America sitting behind me in the form of my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold). In Honduras, a free-market, United States-trained economist has been elected President. In Uruguay, a privatisation advocate has been elected in the first free elections since 1971. In Peru, Mario Vargos Llosa leads in the election campaign, despite the worst excesses of Marxist guerrillas there. Chile has already been mentioned this morning.
In Mexico, President Portillo—no relation, I am sure, of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo), the Minister for Public Transport—nationalised the banks in 1982. He having been succeeded by a more free-market leader, Mexico has been denationalising on a large scale. Opposition Members may have read in The Economist not so long ago that Aeromexico had a strike as a result of a protest about the cancellation of uneconomic routes and the sale of 13 airliners. The Mexican Government responded by declaring the company bankrupt, sacking all the employees and putting all the aeroplanes up for sale. I believe that that is symptomatic of changes that are taking place in Socialist movements throughout the world.
In Britain, the Labour party has spent the last 10 years in implacable opposition to all the changes, of whatever sort, that the Government have introduced, on the basis of which a transformation has taken place. If matters were left to them, we would still be stuck in the world of the 1970s of corporatism, failure and decline. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), there has been some superficial change in the leadership of the Labour party. It is now only the Bourbons of Bexley and Sidcup who support unreconstructed and arbitrary interventionism without apology. The leader of the Labour party deserves some credit for dragging the Labour party into the 20th century, just in time for the rest of us to enter the 21st century.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I believe that there is much common ground between the hon. Member for Walton, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield and my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne. I believe that we shall hear a considerable amount of agreement expressed across the Floor of the House during this debate. Although the hon. Member for Hamilton is being subjected to a barrage of criticism from my hon. Friends and me, he is about to be subjected to an even greater barrage from those who sit behind him. He will be ground between the upper and the nether millstones of the Government and the leader of the opposition to the Leader of the Opposition.
The Labour party has been engaged in a policy review for some time. This has resulted in the dropping of many of its policies, and they have not been replaced by new policies. I am beginning to think that the policy review was about whether the Labour party should have any policy at all. Some Labour Members do not like the results of the review. The hon. Member for Walton said not so long ago:There are … suggestions that policies on housing, defence, etc., must be further changed to make them more 1311 palatable to the Establishment and the USA. I trust that the party will reject such false advice … and that our policies will not be further watered down.The right hon. Member for Chesterfield said:There is a real risk that … we could come to be seen as a purely opportunistic party that is prepared to say anything to get into office and is ready to sacrifice good policies when the opinion polls swing against us.The Government Front Bench and the Conservative party represent the principle of equality of opportunity. Those who occupy the Opposition Front Bench represent nothing but the equality of opportunism; I agree with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield about that.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) made this announcement on 16 June:There is not a single policy issue or a cause, no matter how worth while, which … is more important to us than winning the next general election.Therein lies the key to what is going on in the Labour party. There are some men of principle on the Opposition Benches who cannot stomach this. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), who I am sorry not to see in his place, said recently:I sadly fundamentally find myself at odds with the current Labour credo that power and the desire to win is more important than principle.As a result, the hon. Gentleman has decided that he will not seek re-election to the House at the next general election.
We have been seeing a sort of Boston tea party, with the Labour party jettisoning electoral liabilities wherever they are discovered. The Labour party is attempting to convince the British people that it has changed. The reality is that, if it were ever to form a Government, the same old Labour party would once again be revealed.
Nowhere do we see this trickery more blatantly than with the Labour party's defence policy. It has decided, supposedly, to drop its unilateral nuclear disarmament policy, but the Leader of the Opposition remains a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Either he believes in the policy of the CND or he believes in what is supposed to be the policy of his party. He cannot believe in both; he has to make the choice.
The Labour party has said that there should be no something-for-nothing disarmament, but the Leader of the Opposition has said:There are no circumstances in which I would order or permit the firing of a nuclear weapon.If we have a Prime Minister who supports that view, we shall effectively have disarmed, although we may still have nuclear weapons. If they are not to be used, they will be useless. By retaining nuclear weapons on that basis, the Labour party is retaining a worthless extravagance. In so far as it has changed its defence policy, it has done so not to improve the defensive capabilities of this country but to improve its chances of defending itself against the British electorate at the next election.
Mr. Bruce Kent, who is now a member of the Labour party—
§ Mr. Hamilton
I think that he is an ex-monsignor. Just before the Labour party conference, he put an advertisement in a newspaper, in which he offered £50 for information leading to the discovery of any Labour party national executive committee members willing to defend in 1312 open public debate their defence policy review before the party conference. There were no takers; it may be that £50 is no longer an attraction to Labour Members, and that, because of Thatcherite prosperity their expectations are far higher. However, it was significant that no one was prepared to debate that with Bruce Kent, the great guru of CND.
In a dramatic outbreak of fraternity, the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), who regrettably is not present today—in that, at least, he is consistent—recently said of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman):You do not seek Kaufman any more. He has crawled so far up the backside of NATO you can't see the soles of his feet.In his usual elegant manner of speech, the hon. Member exposed the dilemma in which the Labour party finds itself today: it dare not speak the language of Socialism, although it still harbours thoughts of it.
As with its defence policy—it has remained the same while attempting to appear different—with its economic policy the Labour party has changed its tune, although the same song is still hummed in private. No longer does it talk of privatisation—now, it is social ownership. We know that it got itself into some difficulties recently over the highly successful flotation of the water companies.
Conservative Members need no reminding that the hon. Member for Dagenham let the cat out of the bag. He hinted that, if Labour were to win the next election, dividend controls would be placed on the water companies, which might result in no dividends being paid. That would rob millions of ordinary people and pension funds, on which many more ordinary people will depend in years to come for the fruits of their investments and, as a result, water shares would fall rapidly in price.
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)
Does not the fact that, in spite of those threats, millions of people were prepared to buy water shares show just how far away they think a Labour Government may be?
§ Mr. Hamilton
That is true. I attempted to buy water shares to express my confidence in that view. Unfortunately, as I forgot to sign the form, I shall not benefit from my investment perspicuity.
§ Mr. Oppenheim
Is my hon. Friend aware that he is in extremely good company in that respect? The chief whip and one of the leading lights of the Labour group on Derbyshire county council not only acquired shares when British Telecom was privatised but has acquired further shares in it since? That shows that it is not too late to learn, even for Labour Members.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I should not be at all suprised if, in the secrecy of the ballot box, he votes for my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim).
The Leader of the Opposition swiftly rebuked the hon. Member for Dagenham for his honesty in revealing the truth about the Labour party's policy on nationalisation. But is that the same right hon. Gentleman who only a few years ago said that there wasNo need to be apologetic about the extension of public ownership or the establishment of workers' control"?Of course, that was before he joined the ambitious tendency. Now that he smells office he thinks that he can no longer afford the price of his former principles.
1313 Not every change in the Labour party policy review is a fudge, because the union paymasters will still claim their post-dated cheques. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), who was and may still be for all I know, its employment spokesman, finds it difficult to adjust to the new regime of the voter-friendly Labour leadership. He said:There can be no justification for limiting the freedom of workers to seek external assistancein industrial disputes.
Speaking on behalf of the Labour party on employment matters, he has committed it, in effect, to the repeal of all the trade union legislation that we have introduced over the past 10 years to enfranchise the ordinary trade union member against the tyranny of the trade union bosses, to the immeasurable advantage of British industry. That has been a major ingredient in the transformation of a failing and demoralised industrial sector into one of the leading industrial sectors in the world.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West has said that the Labour party will scrap the limit of six pickets in disputes. We shall return to the mass intimidation that we saw during the miners' strike, which was not opposed but supported by the Labour party at the time. We shall return to things such as the Saltley coke works picket, to riots and to the Grunwick picket lines. The Labour party has made it clear that, if it wins the next election, it will undo all the good work that we have done over the past few years.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West was even more unequivocal about judges, on whom he is not very keen. He thinks that they are class-based and anti-trade union. In Tribune on 1 September, he proposed regular assessments of judges to ensure that they conformed to the Socialist norms that he wishes to introduce.
I shall not go on for much longer, because I am anxious to allow Labour Members to add to the telling points that I have been making, but I cannot resist examining, for just a few minutes, the economic policy of the Labour party, as adumbrated by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith).
The Labour party believes that a number of cardinal principles must be applied to economic policy. Taxes and spending are always too low, and interest rates are always too high. It is always opposed to sensible economic policies and believes in high spending. It went before the British electorate in 1987 with a £34 billion programme, on the basis of which it was resoundingly rejected. It has not resiled from that high spending, although it is being rather more canny about its commitments.
The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East—the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer—was recently asked about his policies on credit controls. He found it difficult to say what he would do if, when the Labour party took office, it was faced with rampaging inflation. His idea was that he would appeal to the international banks for their co-operation in restricting lending. Japanese bankers were to be approached, no doubt over a jolly good lunch of beer and sandwiches at No. 10—
§ Mr. Hamilton
—over sake and sandwiches at No. 10—and asked to co-operate with a Labour Government to reduce inflation. Past Labour Governments have had close relationships with banks. I am sure that older hon. Members will recall the gnomes of Zurich during the first 1314 period of office of Lord Wilson of Rievaulx. The leaders of the last Labour Government had close relations with the international banks.
The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East misunderstands the nature of the relationship between the Labour party and the banks. It is not the Labour party that persuades the banks to do its bidding, but the Labour party that is ordered by the international banks to return to sensible economic policies. Mr. Johannes Witteveen, who I believe is well known to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne, was obliged to rescue the British people from the depredations of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), who I am sorry to say will leave the House at the next election. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Hamilton
We welcome the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) to the Chamber.
I should like to imagine the circumstances in which this appeal would be made to the international bankers. There would be the Leader of the Opposition, who presumably would be the Prime Minister if the Labour party won the next election, and who, in the 1970s, referred in a speech to the City of London as an army of brokers and jobbers and other quaintly named parasites. Imagine the letter that would go out to the international bankers in order to rescue the Labour Government. It would read: "I am inviting you to a luncheon at No. 10 Downing street so that you can rescue our Government from the disastrous economic policies that we have been implementing since the last general election." I do not believe that the international bankers would do anything but laugh in a false, hollow way at any appeal by a Labour Government. They would be obliged to come to the rescue once again, like the seventh cavalry.
The Labour party's economic policy is as threadbare and shot full of holes as the rest of its policies. At a time when the Labour party was execrating the Government for inadequate credit controls, it was launching its own credit card and marketing it widely. The truth has been revealed by another Labour Member, the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), who regrettably is not here today, who said:The Labour Party idea that you should have credit controls is rubbish. There is no way you can control credit except by controlling the price of credit, and the price of credit is the Bank Rate.There are some sensible Labour Members, but they no longer seem to find favour on the Opposition Front Bench. The right hon. Member for Llanelli was obliged to resign his defence portfolio because the Leader of the Opposition would not talk to him or listen to his advice. That is the story of the Labour party all over.
The Labour party's industrial policy is merely a resuscitation of the National Enterprise Board. We as taxpayers will be obliged to pour our money into other wizard investments like De Lorean, the Meriden motor cycle co-operative and Court Line. The history of the last Labour Governments show their fatal weaknesses. Referring to the right hon. Members for Chesterfield and for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), Richard Crossman described them in his diaries asyoung men who, with carefree arrogance, think they can enter the business world and make it more efficient. It is the amateurishness of Harold and his young men that gets me down.1315 I hope that they will not get us down in the future, because I do not believe that they have any chance of forming a Government.
The Labour party's policy is to dump its policies as soon as they are noticed by the electorate. Hence the policy to introduce a two-tax system for local government and to introduce mortgage restrictions. The truth has again been revealed by the hon. Member for Oldham, West in an article in Tribune on 1 December when, referring to the future of the Labour party's policy, he said:We can expect it to be slimmed down if we are going to have a campaign document next year, and slimmed down even further if we are to have a costed manifesto.That was the most blatant portrayal of the cynicism with which the Labour party treats the people.
On that basis, I propose to end my speech, in the time-honoured manner of a Labour party conference, by singing "The Red Flag"—although an updated version to take account of changes introduced by the policy review. I am not sure whether the words of "The Red Flag" were part of the policy review for reconsideration.
As I believe that it would not be in order to sing, despite the fact that the hon. Member for Bolsover burst into song when the cardboard boxes of petitions were brought in, I shall read the words of this new Labour party song which adequately sets out its change of policy:The people's flag is palest pinkWe're not as red as you might thinkSo we can triumph at the pollsWe've dumped our former Left-wing goals.Ban the bomb? Not on your life$We'll outlaw strikes in place of strifeWe'll keep your taxes well controlledFree enterprise will be extolled.In office we'll reveal the trickWe'll tax and spend and live on tick.We'll nationalise by smash and grabAnd City slickers we'll kebab.Through Labour's platform's total fudgeWe're Lefties still and will not budge.We're hoping you'll be taken inBy Mandelson's PR machine.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
The first time I attended the House was in 1937 when, as a little boy of 12, I sat in the Strangers Gallery. Neville Chamberlain was Prime Minister. He was a strong supporter of Hitler and sent Lord Halifax to see him, and the captured German Foreign Office documents reveal that he congratulated Hitler on behalf of the British Government for destroying Communism in Germany and being a bulwark against Communism in the Soviet Union. I heard the then discredited Churchill speak. He warned against the dangers of Fascism. At that time, Clem Attlee, the Labour leader, sat with 150 Labour Members—a small minority, which had been reduced to 50 by the 1931 election and had increased by only 100 in 1935. Two and a half years later, Chamberlain was gone and Churchill had been created Prime Minister by the Labour Government, who would not serve under anyone else.
In 1945, I campaigned in Westminster against Churchill. He was a popular figure—after all, he had won the war with his cigar and his siren suit. We did not have 1316 pollsters to mislead us or "Newsnight" to tell us what the public wanted. We absolutely destroyed the Tory party. With the defeat of Hitler and Fascism, people in Britain turned their back on appeasement, the means test and unemployment and decided to build a better Britain.
It is appropriate that today, when we are told to celebrate the death of Socialism, 4.5 million names were recorded on a petition to the House expressing their commitment to the National Health Service—the greatest Socialist monument of that post-war Government. I was proud to sit at the end of that Government as a Back Bencher under Mr. Attlee as Prime Minister and Aneurin Bevan as Minister of Health. Today we have witnessed one of the regular funerals of Socialism. So many coffins for Socialism go through Fleet street every day that one wonders why the newspapers have to keep having these funerals. They have to do so because Socialism is not dead.
Today Mr. Speaker had to rule—I think that he was unwise to do so—that because so many people supported the ambulance drivers the lists of their names could not all be brought to the House. I watched the Government Front Bench as box after box of petitions were brought in, showing the popular rejection of the Government's attitude towards the NHS.
This is the first time that we have discussed Socialism in the nearly 40 years during which I have been here, and I strongly welcome it. I am not surprised that there were no buses coming from all over the country, as when Snowden moved his resolution, because the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) had tabled such a rotten motion. However, the motion has allowed this debate to take place.
I have already ordered the entire debate from the sound archives of the House of Commons, because I have often said that if capitalism depended on the intellectual quality of the Conservative party it would end about lunchtime tomorrow. When the long speech of the hon. Member for Tatton is made available in Chesterfield and elsewhere, it will confirm my view that the ideas of capitalism are not well espoused and do not truthfully rest on the intellectual capacities of Conservative Members.
This is the first time that we have been able to debate Socialism without having to wear makeup, without having to depend upon the courtesy of a BBC producer and without having Robin Day trying to help us to bring out what we are really trying to say, and our speeches are reported in Hansard, which is my favourite newspaper because it is not owned by Murdoch, Maxwell or Stevens. The video will be available, although I doubt that the debate will feature on the television news bulletins today, because the television companies will be off trying to find people in Leipzig and Warsaw who are critical of their Governments so as not to publicise the ambulance drivers' petition.
I shall not devote a lot of time to the speech of the hon. Member for Tatton. However, it is an absurd theory to suggest that events in eastern Europe are because people there have been studying capitalism from the time of Selsdon park through to the present Government's new philosophy. Does the hon. Member for Tatton honestly believe that what happened in Warsaw was because Poles were longing for a poll tax, that people in Uzbekistan are yearning to sell of their water supply, that there is an almost irresistible demand for the YTS in Romania, or that they need more homeless people in East Berlin to prove the wisdom of market forces or that they are longing to have the Tsar back.
§ Mr. Benn
I shall not give way because I do not want to take up too much time, although I shall be surprised if I take as long as the hon. Member for Tatton.
If Gorbachev announced that his son was to succeed him, as the system that we have in Britain, would that be a democratic gain? If the supreme Soviet divided itself into two, half by patronage and half by heredity, as in Britain, would that be a great gain? Do Conservative Members really believe the arguments put forward in the hon. Gentleman's speech? Does the hon. Gentleman honestly believe that the people in Warsaw, East Germany and Hungary have demanded their human rights only because we had a cruise missile on hire purchase from Washington? Does he believe that those living in Hungary would not want the vote except for the knowledge that the British Prime Minister, with the permission of the United States president, is allowed to press a button to sink them all into oblivion? What nonsense the Conservative party has been propagating!
I put forward an amendment. I was told that I could do so, but that it would not be called. That is the fate of most people in the House with something useful to say. I am, however, allowed to refer to the amendment although it will not be tested in the Lobbies—we shall have to wait until the next general election for that. The amendment welcomes the development of democracy in eastern Europe and states something which any serious person is bound to say—that throughout the whole of human history there has been a consistent repression of human rights by every known system of government.
When William the Conqueror arrived here in 1066 and went to Westminster Abbey on Christmas day, he announced how he would govern the country. Nobody ever spoke of democracy in the name of monarchy. Feudalism in Britain included slavery. In 19th century Britain there was no democracy in the sense in which we mean it. In 1832, only 2 per cent. of men—all rich—had the vote. When I was born in 1925 the whole of India was governed from this country. Nobody in this House, least of all the Tories, talked about the democratic rights of Indians. The British arrested Gandhi and Nehru. It was interesting that at a recent dinner organised by the Indian High Commission, the Prince of Wales and the deputy Prime Minister turned up to celebrate the life and work of Pandit Nehru, who was a Socialist and was regularly arrested. When Gandhi began negotiating in Dehli, Churchill used his immortal phrase about the "half-naked fakir loping up the steps of the vice-regal lodge to parley on equal terms with the representatives of the King Emperor." So much for the British attitude to democracy in the empire.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
We still have to sort out democracy here. There are 1,000 unelected people in the House of Lords.
§ Mr. Benn
I referred to the House of Lords. If we privatised the House of Lords and sold seats in that Chamber, many people would pay half a crown for the right to go there. That might be the way to deal with the second Chamber. I would not rule out the Tories selling off anything—they would sell off the Royal Family if they thought that they could make a quick buck out of it.
Democracy is the struggle for political rights. Power can be abused under any system of government. To 1318 purport to say, in a serious motion in this Chamber, that the only repression of human rights that there has ever been has been in the name of Stalinism is wholly false. The hon. Member for Tatton gave me one good thing—his warm approval of Trotsky and Trotsky's critique of Stalinism, which will affect the interest of the national executive committee of the Labour party, from whom the hon. Gentleman may hear in due course. Trotsky was one of the first critics of Stalinism. The Conservative party, which from day one has never understood Socialism, is beginning to realise that there has always been an interesting debate about Socialism within the Labour party.
Under this Government many democratic rights have been taken away. For example, in Britain trade unions now have fewer rights to organise than they do in eastern Europe. The destruction of the Greater London council and the Inner London education authority was one of the greatest attacks of the rights of people in the capital city. Ours is the only country in the western world which does not allow its citizens to elect their local authority.
We have 30,000 American troops in Britain. They were brought in under various Governments. I say that because, as must be obvious, I am not making a party political speech. There are 30,000 American troops here, which is three times as many as we had in India when we occupied that country. We are also controlled by Brussels. Some Conservative Members are beginning to realise that Jacques Delors was not elected. That is an interesting thought, but the IMF was not elected either—nor did we elect President Bush or Vice-President Quayle who command those forces. Only one heartbeat lies between Quayle and his command of the American troops in Britain, which causes me some concern.
I do not believe that the Russians will shift from the dictatorship of the proletariat to the Dow Jones industrial average as their guidance, or from the Gosplan to the Bundesbank because democratic arguments are going on everywhere. I listen—as everyone does, because we cannot do anything about it—to the BBC "Financial World Tonight" with Dominic Harrod saying what has happened to the pound sterling, to three points of decimals, against a basket of European currencies. I have never seen a basket of European currencies, but I shall take one on holiday next time I go. Yet on the basis of the fluctuations of the pound sterling, we are told that we must close a hospital or try to repress the ambulance drivers' pay claim. It is nonsense to say that we live in a democracy, particularly when we have just voted £21 billion for weapons—£371 per man, woman and child—when no one in Britain now believes that there is a military threat.
I shall say a word or two about the roots of Socialism. One strange idea emanating from Conservative central office is that Socialism was invented in Russia in 1917. The roots of Socialism go back a little further than that. Those who were brought up on the book of Genesis, as I was, will remember that when Cain killed Abel and the Lord had a quiet word with him about it, Cain asked whether he was "his brother's keeper." The answer to the question whether a person is his brother's or sister's keeper lies at the root of modern British Socialism. It can be presented in various other ways—for instance, "an injury to one is an injury to all," "united we stand, divided we fall" and "you do not cross a picket line"—and that directive came not from 1319 Brezhnev, but from the book of Genesis. Anyone who thinks that solidarity does not have an ancient religious root had better study history a bit more.
The Church has sometimes got around the question of equality by saying, "Don't worry—if the rich are kind and the poor are patient, it will be all right when we are dead and the angels bring us a cup of tea in the morning." The difference between Socialism and such episcopal fudges is that the Socialists would like the cup of tea before they die. That was how Socialism became a political force.
What about economic democracy? The Conservative party has often criticised nationalisation and I have criticised it strongly myself. I never believed that the Alf Robens version of nationalisation was democratic. But what are people in the City of London doing all the time? They are the bureaucrats of international capitalism, moving money about and closing factories to make more money. If a factory is closed for a week by a strike, that is disruption. If it is closed for ever by multinationals, that is market forces at work.
The Glasgow media group did a brilliant piece of work on the language of the media. They pointed out that in the media employers "offer and plead" whereas workers "demand and threaten". Let us turn it the other way round and consider the ambulance dispute in that light. The ambulance workers are "offering" to provide an emergency service and "pleading" with the Government not to cut their wages. The Government are "demanding" that they do what they are told and "threatening" to deny them income if they do not. There is a lot more to the argument than we are normally told.
Take economic power. What democracy is there in market forces? The Prime Minister is supposed not to like Jacques Delors because he is not elected, and that is true, but who elects the bankers? I am sorry to say that I was a member of the Cabinet that gave way to the bankers in 1976. We should have told them where to get off. The oil was bubbling ashore, and in my opinion we would have won the 1979 election if we had not imposed an unfair incomes policy on our people to satisfy the IMF. But we learn from our experience. Of course economic democracy, workers' control and industrial democracy are the future, just as political democracy was the great revolution of the 19th century. Whoever believed, before the middle of the 19th century, that the poor had a right to the vote? The country had been run by the rich—the landowners and wealthy gentry in this place. The old political demands of the chartists are now to be replaced by economic chartism.
Socialism is international in character—
§ Mr. Benn
Perhaps I may finish my point before giving way to the great-grandson of Tom Mann, who is about to intervene to remind us of the terrible family transformation that has occurred since his great-grandfather gave inspiration to the trade union movement. Socialism is international, but that is not surprising, because capitalism is international, too. Business men in Britain have no loyalty to the future of this country. If they could make more money by moving their cash abroad, they would have no hesitation in doing so, even though the profits 1320 were created here. Similarly, although the solidarity of labour may be a bit imperfect, there is much more in common between miners worldwide than between miners and their Governments, whether Russian, British or Polish. I give way to the hon. Member for Pembroke.
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman can answer two questions. He has told us that the last Labour Government should have told the IMF to get lost. Why does he say, at page 589 of the second volume of his diaries:I told the meeting that my paper emphasised that the survival of the Government depended on the maintenance of a relationship of confidence both with the TUC and the IMF"?What confidence could the IMF have had if the right hon. Gentleman's policy had been followed? Secondly, why in 11 years of Labour Government did the right hon. Gentleman never resign?
§ Mr. Benn
I am flattered that the hon. Gentleman should read the diaries. I hope that he will read them all, and not just the passages drawn to his attention by Tory central office. I recall that passage very well; it was an abstract of about 2 million words. I said that we should have told the IMF that, with the oil coming ashore, our economy was fundamentally strong and that if it threatened us, we would take the necessary remedial action. I shall not pursue that, because that would be an abuse, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I could continue the discussion in the Library of the House or, better still, in the bookshop, where he will no doubt be buying further copies to give to his constituents.
Socialism is indestructible because it is based on the belief that people have inherent rights. Whether they are rich or poor, black or white, disabled or healthy, they have the right to useful work and a living income. They have a right to a good home and to a life-long education. I am all for raising the school leaving age to 95. That is an inch or two ahead of the policy review, so I hope that no one will tell my leader that that is my view. Health care should be available free at the point of need. After all, how many people could afford to meet the cost of ill health without the Health Service? People also have the right to dignity when they are old.
They used to say to me on the BBC, "Where is this Socialism, Mr. Benn?" One need only go to a hospital where people are treated according to their needs; there one finds Socialism. One need only go to a school, where children have access to the full range of knowledge without paying fees; there one finds Socialism. The ambulance drivers look after people; that is Socialism and no amount of private Member's motions will kill it. It is amusing to hear the hon. Member for Tatton try, but I somehow do not think that he will succeed.
In the 20th century, technology has completely transformed the world, with enormous new powers. We have nuclear weapons and nuclear energy and our communications and transport systems have improved enormously. We live in a very small world, any part of which could be destroyed by the use of power by any other part. There are new threats to the environment. The environmental argument is not just about banning diesel smoke in central London. It is about whether the planet is to be used by us as stewards or parcelled up and sold off for profit. The whole environmental argument is about that.
1321 We need new institutions in the world. I am a strong believer in making two changes in the United Nations. First, we should abolish the veto in the Security Council for matters concerning planetary protection, such as nuclear and chemical weapons, nuclear power and the environment. I should be content to be governed by a Security Council which safeguarded the planet. Secondly, we should elect the United Nations General Assembly, with perhaps one representative per 5 million people. That would represent a popular United Nations General Assembly.
Certain things should also be decided at continental level. I do not believe that the Commission in Brussels should decide whether we may or may not return to full employment. It should, however, consider environmental and energy questions. Then there are national functions. Local government, too, should be given a full discretion to do whatever is necessary. I have introduced a Bill, the Local Authorities (General Powers) Bill, which would abolish the district auditor. Why should local authorities which have the support of their communities not be allowed to perform their functions? If they are corrupt, take them to the police station; if they are unpopular, take them to the polling station; but there should not be one between the polling station and the police station able to prevent local authorities from providing the services that they need to provide.
As must be obvious, we are not having a debate about the policies of the two major parties. We are talking about Socialism, and that is not necessarily the same thing. Nevertheless, I believe that the incoming Labour Government will face formidable problems which have been concealed from us in the past few years. The oil revenues are running out. Investment in manufacturing industry on which we depend has been stagnant since 1979. We have a balance of payments deficit so massive that some direct action will have to be taken. If one uses interest rates, one destroys industry and makes people homeless. Some people say that we could try credit control, but that would mean that the poor could not afford to buy what the rich could buy. We shall have to take direct action, and that will mean import planning. To use the Prime Minister's corner shop parallel, "You can't buy what you can't afford." We cannot afford the mass of imports. We do not have the means to pay for them. And we shall have to have exchange controls because we cannot allow wealth created in Britain to be exported to Korea or South Africa to make a bigger profit for the owners at the expense of the national interest. We shall also have to have very big defence cuts because we cannot afford £21 billion—£371 per man, woman and child in Britain—to pay to fight off a threat that does not exist.
All progress comes from below. I cannot think of a single gain in human history that was first promoted in the Chamber of the House of Commons. We all got here up a ladder labelled "status quo" and the status quo is quite attractive when one has arrived by virtue of it. Some of my colleagues who became Ministers thought that Socialism had arrived when they arrived, and it was an understandable error. When the Permanent Secretary said, "Yes Minister, No Minister" they thought that Socialism had arrived. Herbert Morrison once said that Socialism is what a Labour Government does, which was rather candid. Let us take some examples to show that change comes from below. The war widows cause was fought for and the Government changed their policy. On Sunday 1322 shopping, a combination of the churches, the trade unions and the women's movement defeated the Government's campaign. The same is true for the environment—the Prime Minister was never a Green until it looked as though the Greens were going to win.
The demand for social change goes through certain stages. First, it is ignored. Then it is mad—the loony Left. Then it is dangerous—Militant. Then there is a pause. And then it is impossible to find anyone who was not in favour of it in the first place. That is how all social change occurs. This Parliament is a mirror of the state of play in 1987. It is completely out of date.
I believe that in the 1990s we will see the renewal of Socialism in this country. What is happening in eastern Europe with the democratisation of Socialism is as important as the parliamentary changes which had some impact on Victorian capitalism.
We live in a period of history when for the first time there is enough for everyone in the world. There is enough to eat and enough to give people clean water and proper clinics. There is enough to give them at least elementary education. There is enough, but the distribution of wealth cannot be achieved if it is based on market forces and a jungle philosophy. It can be achieved only by planning, consent, Socialism, democracy and internationalism, all of which Conservative Members loath and hate to the essence of their beings.
§ Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)
I have seen the glories of Socialism. Just over a year ago I was being driven in my rather plebian Toyota on a small, dusty road just outside Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, when, all of a sudden my car was forced off the road by a large black Mercedes driven at very high speed. When my taxi driver had recovered sufficiently and had dusted himself off, he told me that in North Korea the centre lane of all major roads was reserved not just for members of the North Korean Communist party, but for the close family of the North Korean leader, Kim I1 Sung, whose name translates roughly as Kim the leader or Kim the sun.
The leader of another neo-Stalinist type regime, the leader of Derbyshire county council, David Bookbinder, is apparently a great admirer of North Korea. I am pleased to see that there has been a very good turnout of Derbyshire Socialists in the Chamber today.
§ Mr. Oppenheim
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.
The leader of Derbyshire council council sent a delegation to North Korea at the taxpayers' expense. He has also been very closely involved with the North Korean friendship society, which promotes the interests of North Korea and Kim I1 Sung's regime.
§ Mr. Oppenheim
I will gladly give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I hope that he has remembered what point he wants to make.
§ Mr. Barnes
If previously I forgot what point I wanted to make, at least I had the grace to resume my seat. As the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) has nothing to say, I hope that he will do the same.
1323 However, I want to make a point about North Korea. People went to North Korea thanks to Derbyshire county council to attend a youth and student festival. It was a great experience and they did not come back with any illusions. I discussed what happened with those people at a meeting and I was told that the experience widened their education and understanding and that they met people from many other countries, many of whom were critical of centralised regimes.
§ Mr. Oppenheim
Some of the people whom the visitors to North Korea would have met would have been a delegation from Sinn Fein. I wonder how that meeting would have enlarged or broadened their minds. The festival in North Korea was not a broad liberal festival in the sense that it included all shades of opinion. It was set up to promote the interests of a vicious and repressive Stalinist regime.
Although the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East and the leader of Derbyshire county council do not appear to be dissillusioned with North Korea, I had the good fortune to meet recently in a pub in my constituency a former Communist who was once the head of the North Korean friendship society to which I have referred. He told me that he was in a state of total despair about Socialism and Communism. He had visited North Korea on several occasions, and realised what a complete mess Communism was making of things. He confided in me that he would probably vote Conservative at the next general election.
§ Mr. Oppenheim
I have given way to the hon. Gentleman already. I am sure that he will have an opportunity to make his point later. With respect, I will make progress because other hon. Members want to speak.
What has gone wrong with Socialism? I believe that there is much in the well-known saying, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." Most Conservative Members accept that most genuine Socialists are well meaning and well intentioned although somewhat misguided individuals. That is why Socialism always leads to disaster. That is why the well-intentioned hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) tied himself in knots earlier trying to claim that Socialism has never been tried.
Socialism has been tried in a variety of forms in both democratic and totalitarian countries, and it has failed. It is the ultimate in hiding one's head in the sand not to accept that there have been many experiments with Socialism. It is nonsense to consider the rubble of regimes in the east or the complete failure of Socialism to deliver in western democracies and then claim that Socialism has not been tried.
The well-known American writer, Mencken, wrote:For every complex problem, there is a solution which is neat, plausible and wrong.Socialism is such a solution. It is neat, superficially attractive, plausible and it appeals to idealists, but it is completely and utterly wrong and misguided.
The problem with which Marx could not come to terms was that of surplus labour value. He could not accept the fact that someone might make a profit from someone else's labour. He forgot that the capitalist might make a profit 1324 from someone else's labour, but he also provides capital to make that labour more productive, so everyone benefits as a result.
Marx claimed that he was a scientific Socialist. In fact, he was a hopeless 19th century romantic, struggling to find a simple solution to the imperfectibility of mankind. That is why the result of Socialism in the many countries in which it has been tried is that effort is not put into wealth creation as it is in capitalist countries to the benefit of everyone. Efforts in Socialist countries are expended in climbing the party ladder. Keen, intelligent young people in Communist regimes often expend huge amounts of energy trying to grease their way up the party machine in an unproductive way while the same people in capitalist countries are creating wealth—for themselves of course, but much of it goes to the economy at large to benefit everyone.
In Socialist countries there is not less privilege but more. Similarly, there is more inequality and less wealth than in the west. That is the great irony. That supposedly egalitarian system creates more privilege and inequality and less wealth than capitalist systems. The crowning irony of Socialism is that if we really want to go somewhere where the dollar is king, we should go to a Socialist or Communist country. If we have a few dollares in our pockets in Poland, the Soviet Union or China, we are kings and can buy almost anything. That is the crowning irony and crowning failure of Socialism.
In the early 20th century, the Soviet Union was the growing economy in Europe. However, it now produces less food per head of the population than it did in 1915 when Russia was embroiled in the great war. Eastern Europe has sunk into a degraded state of poverty and pollution. China is an environmental disaster in which forests are devasted and rare and endangered animals are killed cruelly and needlessly.
I have seen pandas—the Chinese national animal—in China, kept in tiny concrete cages while Socialist youths threw cigarette butts at them. We hear much from Opposition Members about the fate of blacks in South Africa. That may be a worthy cause, but we rarely hear from Opposition Members about the vicious oppression of minorities in Communist countries such as China. Some Opposition Members need their eyes opening. If they spent less time going on about South Africa—no matter how worthy a cause it might be—and saw what happened to the Tibetans or perhaps went to Xin Jiang and saw what happened to the indigenous Turkish people there, their eyes might be opened and their views might be a little more balanced.
Hon. Members may have gathered that this is a tough time for aficionados of the old school of Socialism. Those who like old-style Stalinist Socialism are finding the scope of their travels greatly reduced. We have heard a little about North Korea. I refer also to Albania, Romania, and China, but there are not many more. Not many regimes now cling to the old certainties. Regimes in the West attempted to impose Socialism through social democratic means, but New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Spain and France have almost wholly rejected that philosophy and are turning to policies not so different from the policies which Opposition Members criticised as Thatcherism.
If hon. Members conclude from my comments and from those of my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) that Socialism is dead, they are wrong. 1325 Socialism is alive and well, and in some of the oddest places. I shall enlarge on that seemingly unprofitable theme.
There is a large Ministry called Gosplan in the Soviet Union, nobody knows how many bureaucrats Gosplan has, but the number is probably well in excess of 100,000. Gosplan was set up by Leon Trotsky, who said that markets cannot deliver what the people need in a sophisticated modern economy. Gosplan was designed to control an economy centrally, to ensure that it delivered what people wanted. The great irony is that, as Gosplan is slowly being dismantled in the Soviet Union, we are hearing American capitalists echo Leon Trotsky's words. They are now telling us that markets cannot be allowed to determine the fate of strategic industries in which they have a financial interest. They are telling the United States Government that they need state support and protection from the Japanese, who have committed the ultimate sin of out-competing them in the marketplace. If the Americans listen to the siren voices of industrial special pleading, and move to more state control, they will ultimately realise that they are making the same mistakes as have been made in Socialist countries over the past few decades.
Disguised Socialism is not limited to the United States. The European Community spends vast sums on subsidising industry. Day by day, the Community sets up trade barriers against Japanese goods on the spurious ground that the Japanese have unfairly competed. That is a form of Socialism. Bureaucrats in the EEC are saying, "We must protect our industrial interests. We must control the economy. We must not allow consumers and markets to decide whether we will buy Japanese goods." That is why at this very moment there is a European Commission proposal that the Community, rather than the consumer and the marketplace, should control the price and flow of Japanese microchips into Europe. That is nothing more nor less than Socialism in disguise. I sincerely hope that my comments will be taken on hoard and that such pernicious policies will be rejected by the Government in the Council of Europe.
Having listened to the highly amusing speech of my fellow Derbyshire Member, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), I can well understand the view that was expressed by two of his former colleagues. One of them, Hugh Gaitskell, referred to the right hon. Gentleman as a clever fool. The former Prime Minister, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, opined that he had immatured with age. I shall enlarge on why those comments are particularly apposite.
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield, a doughty defender of Derbyshire county council and all its Socialist pretensions, claimed that people in Poland and Estonia do not want privatisation and free markets. What nonsense. It is exactly what they want. That is why people in Poland and Hungary are just beginning to embark on a massive round of privatisation. They realise that state ownership, central control and nationalisation do not work. That is exactly why they are taking measures to free their markets and to introduce market mechanisms. The right hon. Gentleman smiles, but he should go to those countries and listen to what the people say. They will tell him that Socialism has failed them. The right hon. Gentleman looks rather well-fed and well-dressed. He has benefited from capitalism all his life. Those people have not benefited 1326 from capitalism. They have suffered from Socialism. It is a shame that the right hon. Gentleman begrudges their chance to benefit from a freer market.
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield bitterly criticised the policies of the former Labour Government in which he served. He said that they should not have run to the International Monetary Fund in 1976. He said that, on several other counts, he disagreed with their policies. If he disagreed with such major policies, why did he not have the guts to resign and stick up for Socialism as he saw it?
§ Mr. Oppenheim
I thank my hon. Friend for his support.
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield criticises the Government's handling of the ambulance men's dispute. I shall gladly give way to any Opposition Member who wishes to tell me when the Labour Government paid ambulance men better than this Government have and whether the Labour Government provided arbitration for any group of National Health Service workers. The deafening silence is the judge and jury.
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield bitterly criticised the Government's arms spending and spending on nuclear weapons. Again, when he was in power, he did not resign because the Labour Government spent a vast sum on nuclear weapons and wanted to update the old Polaris system in an expensive way to produce the Chevaline system. Once again, we see the right hon. Gentleman's double standards.
The right hon. Gentleman may sit securely on the Opposition Benches and criticise the Government for their arms spending. No one likes spending money on arms. We all know that, in an ideal world, we could spend that money on other things. However, in an insecure world, it is essential to spend money on arms. Thankfully, the world is more secure and there may be opportunities in the future to spend less money on weapons. If we had not spent that money on defence in earlier ages, we would probably not be in the happy position of looking forward to the growth of democracy, freedom and markets in the East. People in the GDR, Hungary, Poland and the Soviet Union are extremely glad that previous Governments, both Labour and Conservative, took difficult decisions to spend money on weapons to ensure that the West, democracy, liberalism and the free market were kept alive during the difficult days after the war so that people in the East can now benefit from the things from which we have benefited for so long.
Mr. Eric S. Heller (Liverpool, Walton)
Some speeches have not dealt seriously with the issue that has been raised by the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton). The issue is the future of Socialism. I have been attacked because, on many occasions, I have said that Socialism has never been tried in the Soviet Union or in Western Europe. Of course Socialist Governments have brought in welfare systems and changed matters slightly to the direction in which they should go, but they have not tried Socialism. Except perhaps for a short period in the early days, Socialism has never been introduced in the Soviet Union. I do not apologise for making that statement again.
I think of Communism as being the same, ultimately, as Socialism. That was clearly expressed by Keir Hardie in an 1327 excellent pamphlet many years ago. The idea of Socialism and Communism is by no means dead, for the simple reason that, as long as the capitalist system exists, as long as there is class power and privilege, as long as there are establishments that use oppressive measures against the people they control, as long as there is international struggle for markets, as long as there is war, and as long as people live in poverty, there will always be the demand and the fight for Socialism.
In the same way, there will always be the fight for Christianity. People may say that Socialism is dead, but many of my friends believe that Christianity is dead. Christianity has to renew itself from time to time. That is why many people go back to their roots and establish religious orders on the basis of common ownership of everything in that order. They believe in the old ideas of Christ and want to change society and make it a better place in which to live.
Socialism has to renew itself from time to time. I do not for a moment suggest that everything has been wonderful; my whole point is that it has not. We went wrong at certain stages. There are two basic concepts in the Socialist movement. The first is that Socialism is established from above with matters being determined from above; the second is that Socialism is created from below. It took me a long time to grasp the concepts of the Fabians and the Webbs. When I was a young boy I read a book called "Soviet Communism" written by the Webbs. They had been there, they returned and I thought that it must be pretty good in the Soviet Union because they said that it was wonderful. They were two Right-wing, moderate members of the Labour party. They were not revolutionaries and did not want to overthrow society, yet they argued for Soviet Communism. They began with a question mark, but then that was eliminated. I was much influenced by the book.
It took me a long time to work things out. The Webbs actually believed that ideas should be imposed from an elitist position on the working class, whether or not the working class liked it. I am reminded of the old story about the Socialist orator at Hyde park who said, "When we get Socialism you will all have motor cars." The little chap at the back said, "But I don't want a motor car." "You will have a motor car whether you like it or not", said the orator. In essence, that is what the Webbs were saying. The Bolsheviks, or at least the Stalinists, were very much attracted by that. It was the sort of society that they wanted.
It took me a long time to work it out—right through my period in the Communist party. I learned by bitter experience and I was expelled because finally I did not accept that view. I then began to study what was really happening in the Socialist movement, and it was a great thing at last to understand. Following the October Bolshevik revolution, Socialists throughout the world adhered to it. Other than the Paris commune, which was the first workers' revolution and was successful for a short time, the October revolution was the first time that the workers established a state of their own, where they would come into their own, and get the fruits of their labours, where oppression would be eliminated, where there would be freedom and democracy, and so on.
1328 However, although Socialist workers throughout the world adhered to the October revolution, there were voices, equally Socialist, which were beginning to say that the concept of the Bolshevik leaders would lead to the reverse of democratic Socialism. As I said in our debate two weeks ago, one of the greatest voices was that of a wonderful woman, who was ultimately murdered by Right-wing military forces with the blessing of some of the Right-wing Socialists of the time. I am referring to Rosa Luxembourg. It is worth quoting a little of what she said because it expresses what Socialism is all about:Freedom only for the supporters of the Government, only for the members of one party—however numerous they may be—is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of justice but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on that essential characteristic; and its effectiveness vanishes when freedom becomes a special privilege.That is the essence of what democratic Socialism is all about.
Why have I, from the day that I entered this House, been a critic not just of the Tory party but very often of my own party—some say, far too often? It is because I believe in the concept of democratic Socialism. If something is wrong, or if we simply think that something is wrong—and it may be we who are wrong—we must stand up, be counted and fight for what we believe in. If we do not do that, we are not worthy to be tribunes of the people who put us here. They put us here precisely to do that.
Over the years, my people in Walton have finally—although it was probably from the word go—come to like the idea of having a Member of Parliament who is prepared to do that. They believe in the concept of democratic Socialism, and they have proved it time and again with their votes. What was installed in the Soviet Union was not democratic Socialism, but bureaucratic authoritarian rule by people who, unfortunately, usurped the Socialist idea to a large extent.
I turned to the Concise Oxford Dictionary for a definition of Socialism. Its definition is wrong, so I understand why people misunderstand the true meaning of Socialism. That dictionary states that it is apolitical and economic theory of social organizationwhich advocates state ownership and control ofthe means of production, distribution and exchange.We never said that Socialism is a matter of state ownership. Public ownership is one thing but state ownership is another. There can be state ownership without Socialism. In Europe and in many other parts of the world where Socialists are not in power, there are many state-owned industries. Nationalisation in itself is a way of running industry that could, in certain circumstances, make the conditions of the workers worse. We have explained that so many times, but unfortunately Conservative Members never listen.
We agree that some industries may need to be nationalised as a form of public ownership. My own view is that nationalisation should be kept to a minimum, that there should be varying forms of public ownership instead, and that white collar and blue collar workers should control those industries through real forms of democratic management.
§ Mr. Heffer
I shall not go into detail now, because many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak. If the 1329 hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) will read his grandfather's works, he will find the answer. It is a pity that he has not done so.
Varying forms of public ownership are needed. Why should industry be taken out of the hands of individual private owners or groups of private owners, or away from the institutions? That must be done because we want to transform society. If we want to rid ourselves of class rule, of advantages for the minority at the expense of the majority, and of poverty, and if we want to ensure that everyone has a decent home, good educational opportunities and access to a free National Health Service, industry must be brought under a form of public ownership.
Why do public schools exist?
§ Mr. Heffer
Public schools exist only because there is class rule in this country. I am not against public schools. I want to see every educational institution offering a high standard of education.
§ Mr. Heffer
Let us try to keep the debate at a serious level. I am trying to argue a serious case for Socialism, and I refuse to respond to silly jokes and statements. The debate is far too important for that.
I refer to the words of James Connolly—who was shot by the British because of his participation in the 1916 uprising.
§ Mr. Heffer
The hon. Member for Pembroke knows nothing about the Socialist movement. Connolly was killed before Trotsky was even heard of. In James Connolly's booklet, "Socialism Made Easy", he wrote:The local and national Government, or rather, administrative bodies, of Socialism will approach every question with impartial minds, armed with the fullest expert knowledge born of experience: the governing bodies of capitalist society have to call in an expensive professional expert to instruct them on every technical question, and know that the impartiality of such an expert varies with, and depends upon, the size of his fee.Connolly went on to say:It will be seen that this conception of Socialism destroys at one blow all the fears of a bureaucratic State, ruling and ordering the lives of every individual from above".We do not want a state apparatus controlling the whole of society like a vast octopus.
The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) is not even listening. He equates state ownership and state control with Socialism; let me tell him that in Fascist Italy there was a great deal of state control, but there was no Socialism. There was capitalism, though. What was in operation was a method of supporting and maintaining the capitalist system. Similarly, there was no Socialism in Nazi Germany—
§ Mr. Heffer
They called themselves National Socialists, but they were not Socialists. They were protecting capitalism.
There was no Socialism in Franco's Spain. Instead, there was dictatorship, centralisation and administration from above. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is Socialism."] It is 1330 not Socialism, but an extreme form of capitalism, which uses oppression to maintain private ownership. That is what it was then, and what it is now. If Conservative Members do not understand that, they really do not know the ABC of politics. It is about time that they began to learn that dictatorship can be established under forms of capitalism, as it was unfortunately established on a socialised industrial basis in the Soviet Union.
§ Mr. Neil Hamilton
The hon. Gentleman is making a most interesting and thoughtful speech: I am glad that he has raised the level of the debate from that which I introduced.
I am interested in the question of the allocation of capital resources under the kind of economic system that he describes. When public ownership operates without state control, how can capital be allocated to one enterprise rather than another, and how can investment priorities be decided? I cannot for the life of me see how an economic system can operate at all under such a system, as there seems to be no one to make the decisions.
§ Mr. Heffer
At present no such societies exist, although Sweden has gone part of the way towards establishing one. We need not have a Gosplan—a five-year plan that is worked out in detail but is never put into practice, so that the plan itself becomes everything. The people must be involved in democratic decisions: democracy is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question.
§ Mr. Heffer
How do we work out democracy? Democracy, provided that it is genuine, will in time work itself out in its own way. We are here today only because of a fight for democracy that took place in this country. Had there been no such struggle—had the workers not created the Chartist movement and fought for the vote—I would certainly not be here today, and nor would the hon. Member for Tatton.
No doubt the monarch had objected very strongly; no doubt the reaction was, "We cannot have this business of democracy—everything must be left to me." That is the whole point: Socialism is the democratic process, and our criticism is that there has been no democratic process in the countries of eastern Europe.
I am sorry that I have been going on a bit, Madam Deputy Speaker. I had better bring my remarks to a conclusion—with some regret, because I had quite a lot to say. Let me make one more point, however. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield has said that the idea of Socialism was not created by the Russians, and of course it was not. It was created long before that. Moreover, it was not created by Marx. He picked up ideas from other people. He was a highly intelligent person arid wrote brilliant material in the British museum. Keir Hardie came later. He said:Socialism implies the inherent equality of human beings. It does not assume that all are alike, but only that all are equal. Holding this to be true of individuals, the Socialist applies it also to races.In some countries where Socialist Governments have been elected, advances have been made. Let us consider what happened in this country between 1945 and 1950. Conservative Members say that this country gained nothing from Socialist Governments, but a Socialist Government introduced the National Health Service. When I came out of the forces after the war, that was one 1331 of the first things I wanted, so we set up the NHS. [Interruption.] Of course there were White Papers beforehand. Conservative Members must be stupid. A Socialist Government established the NHS, but the Tory party voted against the Bill on Second Reading. Some of us know what went on.
A Socialist Government also introduced the welfare state. Working people, such as my mother, were always terrified that when they reached old age they would have to go into the workhouse. My mother said to me, "Don't let me go into the workhouse, lad. Whatever happens, try and save me from it." Many people could not save their parents from going into the workhouse; they were so poor that they could do nothing about it. However, a Labour Government introduced a welfare system that meant that people did not have to go into workhouses. They transformed the whole scene by building a massive number of houses. Large numbers of houses had been destroyed during the war, so there was a great housing need. A Labour Government met that need.
That was not Socialism, of course. The Labour Government left the class system and power and privilege in the hands of the capitalist class. If they had destroyed that, it would have been the first stage towards real Socialism. Despite their failure, they introduced many beneficial measures—Socialist oases in a capitalist surrounding.
The Government are reversing all the positive measures that Labour Governments introduced. People are again fearful. The old are very worried; unemployment creates fear. People are again finding that they are homeless. They sleep in cardboard boxes at night. Thousands of other people do not sleep in cardboard boxes at night; instead they are crowded into their parents' homes. They live in conditions that create problems and interminable rows. I know; I lived in rooms for nearly 12 years at the end of the second world war because we were unable to get a place of our own.
Labour Governments have made a great contribution to the welfare of people in Britain. My criticism of the leadership of my party is that we do not need to give up our Socialist aspirations and accept the mores of the Conservative Government in order to win power. We can win power on the basis of our Socialist concepts. That is the only point where I part company with those on the Opposition Front Bench, although it is a pretty important difference of opinion. I do not deny the fundamental difference of our approach to these matters.
I conclude with a further quote from Keir Hardie:To the Socialist, the community represents a huge family organisation in which the strong should employ their gifts in promoting the wealth of all, instead of using their strength for their own personal aggrandisement.Unfortunately, nowadays in Britain, the strong are using their power against the weak, particularly in the anti-trade union legislation. I want to see a Socialist society which, as I said before, I equate with my Christian upbringing and Christian concepts. I do not see any great difference between the two; to me they represent the same transformation of society and the building of something entirely new. That is why I welcome what is happening now in the Soviet Union. Perhaps now at last they can get back to creating what some of them really wanted in the first place, having exposed the nature of Stalinism.
1332 We in Britain, particularly as Socialists, have to learn that we must not follow that path ever and we must always stand up against such degeneration. But neither must we follow the path we are being offered today by the Conservative Government. That is no answer to the problems of Britain or the world. We have to go out there and fight for God's kingdom here, which I believe is a Socialist one.
§ 12.5 pm
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Kenneth Baker)
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has won the respect of the House, not only today but often before, because he represents the tradition of Christian Socialism, about which he has just spoken very movingly.
Before making my own contribution to the debate, I shall start by commenting upon the death of Dr. Sakharov. I am sure I speak for all the House in saying that Dr. Sakharov stood out against the tyranny, the cruelty and the repression of the old regime in Russia. He made a very brave personal stand against that for human rights, knowing full well what the penalties would be—arrest, exile, imprisonment and the victimisation of his family. He carried with him all the hopes of oppressed people in Soviet Russia and throughout eastern Europe. We should pay tribute to his bravery and his personal courage, because he showed the unbreakable spirit of man. He was a symbol of liberty; he was the conscience of his country. Ultimately he found his allies, and reform is his legacy. He is truly a hero of the Soviet Union.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) first on his luck in the ballot and secondly on having the inspiration to introduce the motion. It is very rare that we have a chance to debate foreign and domestic policy together, and almost unknown that we discuss the philosophy of politics. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) made that point, having been in the House for nearly 40 years now. Is it really as long as that?
§ Mr. Baker
That is a long time. He said he has never actually debated Socialism before. I too welcome the debate.
I have always believed that Socialist thought was distinguished by two very clear concepts—first, the conviction that Socialists had that they had possession of the truth, and, secondly, their belief that history was on their side. Listening to today's debate and reading the debate on 1 December, I have discovered another element of Socialism—that Socialism has never been tried anywhere in the world. It has not been tried in Russia since 1917 or in eastern Europe since 1945. No country has ever tried it. Everyone is trying to walk away and dissociate themselves at a rate of knots from what has happened in the past 70 or 80 years in the Socialist republic of Russia. It reminds me of the old music hall song about the drunk and the pig lying in the gutter. The refrain is:You can tell a man who boozes by the company he chooses;At which the pig got up and walked away.That seems to characterise the views of those who are trying to get up and walk away. Reference has already 1333 been made to Karl Marx and Marxism but in 1848, in the opening sentence of the "Communist Manifesto" Marx said:A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of Communism.His philosophy developed the belief that revolution would bring the end of capitalism, just as capitalism had brought the end of feudalism. In England at the turn of the century—as the hon. Member for Walton mentioned—that idea was given a new twist by Sidney and Beatrice Webb who invented the phrase, "the inevitability of gradualness." That was the essence of Fabian Socialism. It was believed that it was only a question of time before collectivism and the corporate state took over.
Also in the 1930s, the Webbs wrote a book to which the hon. Member for Walton referred. It was published in 1935 and called "Soviet Communism—A New Civilisation?". However, when that book came to its second edition in 1937, the question mark after the subtitle had been dropped. It was just an assertion—they had seen the future, it was working and it was marvellous. They had seen the promised land and thought that it was wonderful. At that time, the Labour party was not trying to dissociate itself from that—it had seen it and liked it.
After the creation of the welfare state in the 1940s, and after the Attlee Government took into possession vast numbers of industrial companies, Socialists confidently predicted that the ratchet effect was working and that it was inevitable that the corporate power of the state would increase, because more and more of economic and social life would come under the sway of the state.
The Conservative party has always known that truth is not to be found on the side of Socialism. We have never believed that either the success or the defeat of Socialism was inevitable. On the whole,. Tories do not believe in historical inevitability. We still remember vividly those instances—in this country and abroad—where Socialism has "triumphed".
I am aware that there are differences between the Socialism advocated on the Opposition Front Bench and that practised in eastern Europe. There are considerable differences between eastern Europe Socialists and many—although not all—in the Labour party. Undoubtedly Egon Krenz cuts a more decisive and convincing figure as the leader of East Germany's Communists than the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) does as leader of the British Labour party.
In eastern Europe, only a selected few can join the official party, whereas in Britain any old Trotskyist can join the Labour party. In eastern Europe, only a small minority of party hacks can elect the leadership, whereas in the Labour party all members can vote in elections, which are rendered meaningless by the trade union block vote. [Interruption.] We believe in the principle of one man, one vote, which we have recently exercised.
§ Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross Cromarty and Skye)
I apologise for missing the first few minutes of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. Far be it from me to defend Socialism or whatever brand or variety of it within the Labour party the right hon. Gentleman is talking about. However, I noticed that Big Ben has stopped. Does that mean that just as time has run out for Socialism, the clock has stopped on the conservatism of the Government?
§ Mr. Baker
That is an interesting fact. However, I thought that the hon. Gentleman would use his 1334 intervention to explain his political philosophy. Where will he stand in the great divide? When the great divide comes, he may not have a seat left in which to stand. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was on the Left in British politics, but now he is moving further and further—
§ Mr. Baker
Is it still centre Left? The hon. Gentleman is obviously looking for a home, and I do not know whether he will find one in his party.
I want to be fair to the Labour party. It is not fair to say that it is automatically the same as the Socialist parties of eastern Europe. The hon. Member for Walton made that clear.
§ Mr. Baker
It might be decent for the hon. Gentleman, but there are other members of his party who stand well to the Left of him, and they are better represented in the Chamber today than those who favour his brand of Socialism.
European Communism has never been mixed, unlike English Liberalism, and it has never given minimum respect for human freedom and human individuality. At the same time, there is no tradition of compromise or settlement of dispute by debate in eastern Europe. Instead, there is diktat. There is, however, a common denominator. All members of the Labour party, from whichever wing, share a basic assumption. Indeed, it is one that is common to all Socialists. They all believe that the state knows best.
§ Mr. Baker
When the state is run by the right hon. Gentleman, he believes that it is right.
All Socialists believe that it is not enough for the Government to set the rules of the game and to let other parties and society generally observe those rules. They all believe—the career of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield is testament to this—that the state and the Government should take a leading role in the game and in the economic life of a civil society.
§ Mr. Benn
I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman is being serious for a moment, but if he reads history he will find that the use of state power by the forces of capitalism in Britain has been ruthless. He will find, to take more recent examples, that all campaigns for trade union rights and local government rights and the fight for a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should be in the Common Market came from the Left. It was the Conservative party which took us into Europe without consulting anyone. That which the right hon. Gentleman suggests has never been my view. I have tried throughout my life to push decisions down the line. I have never sought to centralise decision-making. I hope that he will not want to leave an injustice on the record.
§ Mr. Baker
The right hon. Gentleman may have had that personal desire, but it was not reflected in his performance as a Minister and a member of the Labour Cabinet. He spoke most eloquently of planning as a member of a Cabinet that believed in planning. That Cabinet planned this country into bankruptcy, high inflation and huge cuts in public expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman cannot shake off his past. He cannot disregard it.
1335 The common thread that binds all Socialists is their belief that the state and the Government have a crucial role in determining policies and economics in society. Like it or not, that is the presupposition of all Socialist programmes, whether they be Communist or Fabian, British or Romanian. The core of Socialist thought—the right hon. Member for Chesterfield made this clear—is that market forces do not work.
§ Mr. Baker
I note that the right hon. Gentleman is nodding. Socialists believe that it is not possible to rely on the individual choice and that the state or the Government, whichever body one likes, has to introduce corrections to the inefficiencies and inequalities that emerge. They do not trust the market and they do not trust market forces. Instead, they believe in a command economy.
I do not think that there is anything inevitable about the defeat of Socialism. As I have said, Conservatives do not believe in historical inevitability. There has been nothing inevitable about the retreat of Socialism in the 1980s. In my view, there was nothing inevitable about the collapse of Stalinism in eastern Europe. Equally, there was nothing inevitable about the accession of Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union. In 1985, the ruling group in the Kremlin had a choice between the reform-minded Mikhail Gorbachev and the old-style hardliner, Grigoriy Romanov. It chose Mikhail Gorbachev because he represented a break with the policies that had failed, and had failed badly. Those policies had led to a bloody and humiliating stalemate in Afghanistan, to the deployment of cruise missiles in the West and to the stagnation and collapse of the Soviet economy.
Mr. Gorbachev came to power because Socialism had failed in the Soviet Union. It failed because we in the West showed that we had the will to match it and because we out-performed it economically. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton said, thanks largely to the courage of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, we deployed cruise missiles in 1981, 1982 and 1983 against a massive and unprecedented Soviet propaganda offensive, in which Labour Members and their CND allies were the shock troops. Once the Soviet Union knew that it could not break NATO or the will of its peoples, it knew that it could never win the battle of military spending and that its economy would break under the strain before the economies of the West. Mikhail Gorbachev walked through the door of realisation that opened at that moment.
Never let it be forgotten—this is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton made—that, if Labour had had its way in 1983, there would have been no cruise deployment, no intermediate nuclear forces deal, no recognition that the old regime had failed, no recognition that a reform movement was needed in Russia, and probably no Mr. Gorbachev.
The events of the past few weeks have marked the end of an age. Future generations will look back and regard 1989 as one of the most remarkable years since the war. It will stand alongside the other great years of European history—1815, 1848, the year of the revolutions, 1918 and 1336 1945. In each of those years, the physical shape of Europe was changed, just as it will be changed by the events of this year.
History does not divide itself neatly into centuries. Historically, the 19th century did not end in 1900 but died in the trenches of the first world war. The 21st century has not waited until the year 2000. We certainly live in most historic times.
In eastern Europe, we are seeing the collapse and end of 40 years of oppression, as the remnants of the Communist leadership try to cling to office. Like all revolutions, this one began with intellectuals—Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov and the woman poet Irina Ratushinskaya. They were brave people because they spoke against arbitrary arrest, labour camps and psychiatric hospitals, and they got their message out to the world and to the Soviet Union itself. There were also political heroes, such as Imre Nagy, Dubcek and Lech Walesa. I remember hearing, when I was a student at Oxford in 1956, that most tragic and moving radio broadcast by Imre Nagy, saying that the tanks were moving to Budapest and begging for help from anyone in the world.
Help did not come, so, in effect, Hungary lost 30 years, just as Czechoslovakia lost 20 years when the tanks moved into Prague. [Interruption.] The West was not prepared to move because at that time the Soviet military might seemed supreme. There were times in recent history when Socialism seemed to be triumphant and when the values that the West respected and lived by seemed in the descendent.
§ Mr. Baker
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment, but I want to finish this piece about the developments in recent years.
Mr. Gorbachev's unique contribution is that, instead of crushing dissent with the Red army, he has allowed the forces in Eastern Europe to break through and do their own thing. He has rejected the Brezhnev doctrine, which was to use military might to bring the satellites to heel. The Kremlin's chief spokesman, Mr. Gennady Gerasimov, said recently that eastern countries were free to conduct their own affairs, which he called the "Sinatra doctrine"—"You can do it your way." Incidentally, that is about the best joke to come out of the Soviet Union since Mr. Khrushchev published his grain forecasts.
Any Communist leader who wants to reform today faces an inexplicable and inescapable dilemma: how does one implement crucial economic reforms in the eastern bloc without opening a Pandora's box and without unleashing political reforms that will take away the Communist party? That is the Gorbachev dilemma. As developments unfold in Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Bulgaria, it is clear that nowhere in eastern Europe has anybody found th solution to that dilemma: how to bring about economic reform without escalating a further phase of political reform.
People have lost patience. Moscow stands by as the old guard crumbles. The West must watch closely and listen carefully, for in eastern Europe today the cloth of history is being cut.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I should like to take the right hon. Gentleman back to what happened in 1956. Perhaps he would like to inform the House where the well-scrubbed young Baker stood then. We know what he thought about 1337 the invasion of Hungary, but what did he think in 1956 about British aggression in the Suez canal area in conjuction with the Israelis?
§ Mr. Baker
We had vigorous debates in the Oxford university Conservative association. I was an official of that association, and we supported the Government of the day and their actions. That is all on record. The hon. Gentleman cannot divert the attention of the House from the point that I was making. There has been consistent repression in Europe for 40 years. The hon Gentleman would be one of the first to object to that and would be on the side of the freedom fighters.
The national motto of Czechoslovakia is "Pravda Zvitezi"—"Truth will prevail". Would that it would always prevail. It certainly did not prevail in 1968, when the Soviet tanks crushed the Prague spring uprising. Among those who were arrested and imprisoned was the playwright Vaclav Havel. Six months ago, it would have been preposterously fanciful to think that he could be considered as President of his country. Only about two months ago, the then Prime Minister, Ladislav Adamec, dismissed Havel as absolute zero. Now Havel is waiting for his country's call. Havel is a man of ideas who, to use his own phrase, understands that words are capable of shaping the entire structure of government.
Of course, the words of the dissidents found a ready audience in societies that were rotten to the core with inefficiency and corruption after 40 years of central planning. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield waxed eloquent about planning, saying how it was an essential part of a Socialist society. They have had 40 years of it in the eastern bloc; now they do not want any more.
§ Mr. Neil Hamilton
My right hon. Friend's point about planning is important. Does he recall that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) was part of the Government in 1964 who introduced a national plan? On the day that the national plan was published, Her Majesty's Stationery Office ran out of copies because it had not printed enough. The Labour Government could not even forecast how many copies of the plan they would need. It was not exactly a good augury. It underlines the fundamental failure of the planning process of that time.
§ Mr. Baker
My hon. Friend has a good memory. He is correct. Within about two years, the Labour Government abandoned the national plan. They created the Department of Economic Affairs to implement the plan. I think that it was invented during a taxi ride between this place and St. Ermin's hotel. It was not an effective plan.
No one can pretend that Socialism has been anything other than an unmitigated disaster for the countries of eastern Europe. In 1956, Khrushchev said, "We will bury you." He forecast that Soviet production by 1980 would be greater than American production. In fact, America's GDP in 1980 was three times that of the Soviet Union.
The Soviets failed in that part of the economy which is most dear to Socialists: the producing industries. Marx writes about production again and again, and Socialist thought has focused on production again and again. Why did Socialist policies fail? They failed because the Sociaists believed too much in the producer and put producer interests above consumer interests. That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim). They failed because they did not realise the dynamism of innovation which comes from the market 1338 place. Socialists wanted to eliminate the inefficiencies of private ownership, but they created new pinnacles of inefficiency.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton could well have told the story about the tractor factories in Russia. There are 3 million tractors in Russia of which the Russians are proud as a symbol of agricultural progress. However, of the 3 million tractors in Russia, at any one time 250,000 are being repaired, not because they have broken down but because, when planning the output of the tractor factory repair shops, a planner said that the shops should repair so many tractors each month. If the shops fall down on that target, the tractors have to be taken back off the land. As a result, at any one time in western Siberia, half of the tractors being repaired have not broken down. That is the consequence of Socialist planning.
Not only has Socialism failed economically, but it has dramatically failed environmentally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley said. When the planners decided to increase cotton output in—
§ Mr. Baker
No, I certainly shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman has just strolled in and, like the Ancient Mariner, he "stoppeth one of three". I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman; he can stroll out again and go and have a cup of coffee.
When the planners decided to increase cotton production in the southern republics, they diverted for irrigation purposes, two main rivers which supplied the Aral sea. As a result, the level of the Aral sea in southern Russia has fallen by a third since 1960, and if nothing is done it will not exist by the year 2010.
§ Mr. Baker
The hon. Gentleman should pay attention. He is interested in environmental matters and should see just how badly Socialism has treated the environment in this case. In the areas from which the sea has now receded, poisonous salt dust blows over the surrounding districts, many of the flora and fauna have been killed, there is a high rate of typhoid, cholera, hepatitis and throat cancer and there is one of the highest infant mortality rates anywhere in Asia.
Large multinational western companies are frequently attacked by Socialists like the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) because of their environmental policies. I can think of no clearer indication of the law of unintended consequences and no clearer indictment of central planning than the laying waste of the Aral sea by the Socialist planners of the Soviet Union.
§ Mr. Corbyn
The right hon. Gentleman should be aware that, two weeks ago, I had an interesting meeting with an environmental campaigning group from the Soviet Union who openly admitted that the industrial policies followed in the past by the Soviet Union and many countries in central and eastern Europe had done a great deal of environmental damage. The difference is that those people felt that they had the power to change the policies to stop the destruction of their own environment. The policies of free-market economies which the right hon. Gentleman propounds have led to the pollution of the North sea and the Irish sea, the destruction of the rain 1339 forests in Brazil and Malaysia and long-term serious environmental damage by multinational companies all over the southern countries of this planet.
§ Mr. Baker
I am glad to say that some people in Russia now recognise the environmental damage. When I was there a year ago, I was shown computer models of the lakes and seas in Russia. It is a disgrace, and as far as I know, nothing has been done about it. The difference between Britain and the Soviet Union is that we are getting on with solving the problem of environmental pollution.
The lesson to be drawn from the analogies that I have used is clear: the more Socialist medicine is forced down a country's throat, the weaker that country becomes. In eastern Europe, undiluted Socialism has been forced down many countries' throats. In Great Britain at the next election, the Labour party will peddle its own brand of Socialism, and that, too, would make our country weaker. At heart, the Labour party is still a Socialist party. For all the repackaging, and for all the duplicity of the policy review, the party is the same underneath. It does not matter what one calls it—market Socialism, designer Socialism, filofax Socialism or even cordless telephone Socialism—it is still Socialism.
The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) has written a book entitled "The Future of Socialism". Where is he today? I thought that he would at least have the decency to come and answer this debate. He has thought about the future of Socialism and is trying to plan Socialism out of the Labour party. We are not to have a reply from one of the Labour party ideologues today; instead we have heard the Back-Bench ideologues. I believe that the book written by the hon. Member for Dagenham, "The Future of Socialism" is about to be remaindered, along with Socialism itself.
When Labour Members talk about fair taxes, they mean crushing taxes. When they talk of a charter of employees' rights, they mean giving more power to the trade union bosses. When they talk of public interest companies—their latest phrase—they mean renationalised private industry. Let there be no mistake about it: the Labour party still believes that a Labour Government should have a leading role to play in the economy. That belief runs through the whole of the policy review. The analysis of the policy review is simple: market forces and individual choice have failed and all that Thatcherism has done in the past 10 years has failed, and the answer is to bring back all the planning mechanisms—regional investment banks, directed investment, controls on business. How old and quaint all that now sounds.
The Labour party's policies are in sharp contradistinction to everything that the leaders of the eastern European countries now want. When I met Lech Walesa a fortnight ago, he said, "We want British, German and French companies to tell us how to run our industries." He actually used the word "capitalists", because he realises that Socialism has failed. Those countries want the advantages of a market economy and all the advantages that capitalism can bring, such as property rights that are properly protected, shareholders, freedom to invest, dividends and freedom to make money and keep it. They have realised that state subsidy is not the way to prosperity. They also want an end to the system that has 1340 been described in the following terms: "We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us." That is what eastern European leaders want.
It is ironic, is it not, that, at a time when eastern European leaders want shareholders, the Labour Front Bench team threatens dividends? They do not believe in shareholders. They want to abolish dividends and would like to reduce the role of the shareholder to no role at all.
§ Mr. Skinner
As chairman of the Labour party, I was elected, unlike the right hon. Gentleman, who got the job on the nod from the Prime Minister, and I am unpaid, unlike the right hon. Gentleman, who is on a big fat Cabinet salary. In that capacity, let me ask him this. Is he now going to tell us that those in eastern Europe want the poll tax, the cardboard boxes, the drugs and all the rest associated with the capitalist society that he is so happy to defend? Are they requesting them, too?
§ Mr. Baker
If the hon. Gentleman is making the absurd proposition that there are no down-and-outs in Russia, and that Russia does not have a drug problem, he has no understanding of what is happening in the world. I am glad that I gave way to him. I suppose that, as chairman of the Labour party, he is my shadow, and he speaks with the authentic voice of the Left wing, which is very much larger than the Labour party would like to think.
Is it not ironic that, while Poland is to open its first private school this year, the Labour party wants to strangle private schools? Is it not extradordinary that, while Hungary and Poland are talking about privatising state industries, all we hear from the Labour party are threats of nationalisation? I hope the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) will tell us his list of industries to be nationalised. Will it be British Water, British Gas or British Telecom? Let him publish his list because everyone else has published one. He should add his twopenn'orth as well, because we want to know.
How can the Opposition want to shackle the market now, when eastern Europe wants to free the markets? When will the Labour party realise that Socialism does not work and that no example of a successful Socialist country exists? What creed posseses the Labour party to make it decide that we in Britain should now start imitating eastern Europe when eastern Europe wants to imitate us? Where has the Labour party been sleeping for the past 10 years?
The world is on the move again, and it is moving our way. In the dark years, this Government kept the torch of liberty burning bright. Now millions upon millions of fellow Europeans are emerging from that twilight. They are coming to embrace us and to live in a common European home governed by values and principles which this Government have held dear for decades. My colleagues and I are proud to belong to a party, a Government and a country which have been so steadfast in the defence of freedom.
§ Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)
During my political career—in 1986—I attended the congress of the Communist party of the Soviet Union in Moscow and the congress of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany in the German Democratic Republic. I then had the pleasure—if that is the right word—of listening to Mr. Gorbachev speak to his congress for six hours and listening to Mr. Honecker speak for four hours to his congress. Having heard the 57-minute speech with which the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) opened the debate, I must tell him that his speech was certainly east European in its length, but it lacked the spontaneity and the standing ovations which mark such speeches in eastern bloc countries. Having listened to marathon speeches, I reflected on the fact that the House of Commons teaches us how to make speeches of gargantuan length but not how to listen to or absorb them.
The hon. Member for Tatton, whose good fortune has led to this historic debate, asked a question which is worthy of a reply. He asked why I had been called upon to speak from the Opposition Front Bench in this debate. That question deserves some consideration. The hon. Member for Tatton is conceited if he believes that I am complementing him in this debate because I am the hon Member for Hamilton. Perhaps I am a more appropriate choice as the Opposition Front Bench spokesman because Kier Hardie, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) referred several times in his contribution, worked in my constituency. Indeed, Kier Hardie lost his job in the coal mining industry in my constituency and was forced to open a tobacconist and confectioner's shop to make ends meet before he went on to greater things. Perhaps I am an appropriate choice because part of my constituency formed the Mid-Lanark seat. In that historic by-election in 1888 Kier Hardie stood as the first Labour candidate, and started a process which led to the foundation of the Scottish and then the British Labour parties. Perhaps I am an appropriate choice as Opposition Front Bench spokesman because Alexander MacDonald, a Member of Parliament in the middle of last century and president of the miners' union, was born and brought up and finally died in my constituency.
Perhaps a better explanation, however, lies with the election of my first predecessor in the constituency of Hamilton. The first hon. Member of Parliament for Hamilton, Mr. Duncan Graham, was elected in 1918, in what was called the coupon election. The coalition swept the country, but Mr. Duncan Graham won the Hamilton seat because the Conservative Whips issued two coupons to two candidates who split their vote equally and thus allowed Mr. Duncan Graham, the Labour candidate, to be elected. Labour won Hamilton in 1918 because of a foul-up in the Whips Office, and that tradition goes on to this day.
The debate has inevitably been sparked off by events in eastern Europe. I associate myself with the sentiments expressed by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and by the hon. Member for Tatton about Dr. Andrei Sakharov. I met Dr. Sakharov in July this year when he spoke at the Royal Institute of International Affairs. His death today is an event of considerable significance. He blazed a trail in the Soviet Union, and his bravery is without comparison. He not only survived persecution, imprisonment and banishment, but went on to serve as a 1342 distinguished member of what is increasingly becoming a free and open Parliament in the Soviet Union. Credit is due to Mr. Gorbachev for his recognition of that courage and the return of Andrei Sakharov from exile in Gorky.
When I was in Leningrad in September, in the official shop I purchased a poster published by the Communist party of the Soviet Union illustrating the work of the Congress of People's Deputies and the Supreme Soviet. Among all the usual photographs of the hierarchy, there was a photograph of Dr. Sakharov, with other members of the Opposition in that Parliament, arguing with the President of the Supreme Soviet, Mikhail Gorbachev. If the Conservative party published such posters featuring its former leaders, one would regard it as more open.
We should note the dignified, peaceful and orderly way in which the people of eastern Europe have taken back their lives. We must admire the lack of vengeance, violence and retribution against those who gaoled, tortured, persecuted and oppressed their people for so many years and who, it is now revealed in graphic detail, robbed them at the same time. What all the missiles, tanks, troops and ships that we deployed against those countries for 40 years failed to do, the people did for themselves simply by saying, "Enough." They politely but emphatically told the Stasi in East Germany and the secret police or party militia which existed in so many other countries the local equivalent of, "Get stuffed". The architects of repression, oppression, internal security and control immediately bowed before the earthquake of popular support, gales of liberated laughter and the derision of people from whom, after four decades, the yoke had finally been lifted.
I regret to say that the opening speech in this debate, though witty in part, was in stark contrast with the brave and inspiring example that we have seen in eastern Europe in the last year of this decade. It is sad that the traumatic and reviving events among the brave people of eastern Europe are being used as a ramp in a trivial and superficial attack on the British Labour party and on democratic Socialism. In no way does it diminish those who have fought for their freedom and are continuing to do so even on this very day. The hon. Member for Tatton was in the witness box in the High Court in 1986. In his defence he said that he and other hon. Members on the trip about which accusations had been made, for which he received handsome damages from the BBC, were winding down during the parliamentary recess and that there was a little larking about. His contribution today fell into that category, rather than representing a sensible contribution to a major subject before the House, the nation and the world.
It is appropriate that the chairman of the Conservative party should have been singled out by the Government to give their view in this debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said, the right hon. Gentleman has even less credibility than Mr. Egon Krenz, about whom he spoke earlier. At least Mr. Krenz, for the brief period he was in power, was elected by the party that he represented, and removed pretty quickly—
§ Mr. Robertson
Yes, Mr. Krenz was elected by the party, undemocratic though that may be. The Conservative party does not go through any form of election. Its chairman, picked by Mrs. Honecker at No 10 Downing street, was the architect of the abolition of the 1343 Greater London council. He disagreed with the people, thought that the people were not capable of making a decision about local government, and swept away the GLC. Who could be more appropriate than the unelected abolitionist to represent the voice of free enterprise?
§ Mr. Kenneth Baker
No one has regretted the demise of the Greater London council—with the exception of its former chairman, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who actually has the regalia of his former office tucked away in a trunk awaiting the opportunity to don it once again. As the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) has been waxing eloquent about the Greater London council, can he say whether it is Labour party policy to restore it?
§ Mr. Robertson
There is a commitment to restore proper government to London. Proper elections are the hallmark of the Labour party, whereas the unelected chairman of the Conservative party sits here as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the hallmark of the Conservative view being to abolish elections when the election result is likely to be inconvenient to the party.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend. Our policy documents are copious and perhaps not read all the way through by everyone. At a meeting of the London group of Labour Members, of which I am the chair, our hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould)—the Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment—made it clear that when a Labour Government are elected, city-wide government in London will also be restored.
§ Mr. Robertson
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's clarification. We shall also restore government to Scotland in a Scottish assembly. The Government prattle on about freedom and champion the cause of self-determination in the Baltic republics, but cannot even fulfil the Standing Orders of the House and establish a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. A little hollowness can be detected in all their protestations about freedom.
There is one favour that the right hon. Gentleman can do for the people of Czechoslovakia. I shall be visiting Prague next week, and I understand that the Czechoslovak Communist party is, in its reorganisation, looking for a new name. It might be worth suggesting "Conservative and Unionist party" as being admirably suitable. It will not have escaped the notice of Conservative Members and people in the country that almost universally those who are losing their positions in the great revolution of the people throughout eastern Europe—all those who have propped up the dreary, drab regimes over the years—are called conservatives, and they are not conservatives for nothing. The regimes that they have propped up have all the usual characteristics.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) looked in the "Concise Oxford Dictionary" for a definition of Socialism, which was a worthy objective. I looked for a definition of Conservatism in a book written by the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) called "Right Thinking"—something of a contradiction in terms. It was published some time ago.
§ Mr. Robertson
It was remaindered a long time ago. I bought my copy in a second-hand book shop. Its antiquity is amply evidenced by the fact that it has two equally lyrical prefaces—one by Margaret Thatcher and the other by Sir Ian Gilmour, who at that time were apparently even speaking to each other. I read through the book for inspiration and found a definition of Conservatism taken from an address given by Abraham Lincoln in 1860:What is Conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried against the new and untried?There is the epitaph for all the collapsing Conservatives in eastern Europe and those who are about to go out of fashion in the West.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) can decide whether or not he wants to give way.
§ Mr. Michael Brown
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertston) misquoted Abraham Lincoln. He used the words, "Is it not" whereas the quote states, "It is not".
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) must not try to intervene in the debate.
§ Mr. Robertson
As one witnesses the inspiring scenes shown on our television sets in the past few weeks, one has detected an instinctive sympathy at No. 10 Downing street with the beleaguered leaderships and establishments of eastern Europe, rather than with the noisy, ordinary, impudent, protesting rabble in the streets demanding the resignation of those leaders.
One may consider, for example, the fate of Erich Honecker, currently under popular house arrest as there appears to be no existing law permitting him to be charged. He is accused of amassing huge personal wealth and of owning a number of dachas—private houses in the country. I understand that Mr. Willi Stoph, the former Prime Minister, has also been accused of keeping 100 different brands of whisky in his cellar. In our part of the world, that would be regarded as trade advertising. In any event, it is not difficult to make a comparison with the British Prime Minister and her own private wealth, with her dacha in Dulwich and at Chequers, as well as a very fashionable flat in the most expensive part of Westminster. At this very moment it is being fortified and having railings put around it—which must make the members of the East German politburo green with envy.
The peoples of eastern Europe are turning their backs on Communism but not on Socialism. Certainly they are rejecting the one-party, bureaucratic, centralised state, with its tyranny, oppression, economic failure and crushing censorship. But the people are not turning their back on social welfare and on justice. The people are demanding something new. They want more freedom, more choice and greater democracy, but they are not demanding Thatcherism. They foresee not the blueprint of 1345 the unregulated market system, with all its inequalities and injustices, but rather the example of what they know to be democratic Socialism. They do not want to exchange one form of tyranny for another. That is why Alexander Dubcek, whom the Chancellor of the Duchy mentioned, spoke in 1968 ofSocialism with a human face.That is what is required now. It means dismantling the dead weight of the state apparatus, introducing multi-party democracy and decentralising power in those countries; it does not mean embracing cut-throat laissez-faire, with no provision for the wellbeing of the community and no support for the weak and needy.
In the streets of Leipzig and in Wenceslas square the crowds shouted, "Gorby, Gorby, Gorby." No one shouted, "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie." Even Lech Walesa does not think like the Prime Minister, although she admires him, and he admires her in some ways. In September I visited the Soviet Republic of Georgia and met the former deputy Speaker of the Georgian Parliament, a man of great distinction who reached the age of 80 last month and has clearly been a power in the land for many of those 80 years. He said to me, "Mr. Robertson, I have to tell you that Mrs. Thatcher is very popular in this area." I told him that I was not a bit surprised to learn that Mrs. Thatcher had struck a chord in the land which gave birth to Joseph Stalin and to Beria.
Lech Walesa, however, sees another side of the Prime Minister's image. He described her, in the presence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), as "Mrs. Hyde", and explained, "We cannot transfer your system to Poland, because we do not like human and legal aspects of it." Walesa, a democratic Socialist himself, prefers the positive ideals of western Socialism. Only a few weeks ago he was in this country as a guest of the TUC, speaking out for the values of free trade unionism—values that our Prime Minister certainly does not share, and indeed has undermined considerably by banning trade union membership at GCHQ.
What those brave and visionary people in eastern Europe are demanding is far more akin to western democratic Socialism than to any concept of free-market Thatcherism. Not surprisingly, they have little time for the fruits of Thatcherism that are enjoyed in this country—unemployment, social strife and water shares. True, they want to privatise, but on a wholly different basis from ours. Their aim is to unlock a locked and rusty system of total state ownership, rather than simply selling off the family silver. Let members of the Adam Smith institute go to Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia or Bulgaria and try to peddle the idea of selling the nuclear power stations and the water in the taps.
§ Mr. Robertson
Of course they have, but I bet that they did not try to sell such crazy ideas. If they did, they would have got short shrift.
§ Mr. John Maples (Lewisham, West)
The hon. Gentleman has taken us on an interesting tour of east European cities that he has visited recently and people whom he has met. I have been wondering whether he will ever return to the subject of Socialism in the United Kingdom.
Conservative Members are faced with a genuine dilemma, with which the hon. Gentleman may be able to 1346 help us. We do not know whether to take Labour's policy review seriously. Are we to believe what the review says, or are we to suspect that nothing has changed underneath? If I asked the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) whether, in the light of the review, the Leader of the Opposition is still a Socialist, what does the hon. Gentleman think that his right hon. Friend would say?
§ Mr. Robertson
I advise the hon. Gentleman to go on listening to my speech, which will give him the answer to his question. I also recommend that he read the policy review, from which he will discover why we are consistently ahead in the opinion polls, and why our victory at the next election is guaranteed.
The real divide in eastern Europe is still between the reformers and conservatives— between those with vision, like Mikhail Gorbachev, and reactionaries like President Ceaucescu. Thatcherism, with its Little England rhetoric and its worn-out cold war attitudes, sometimes has more in common with the rigidities of Ceaucescu than with the trail-blazing radicalism of Gorbachev. The socialist parties are the parties of modernisation and reform. We alone want to encourage dialogue and new systems to cope with the sweeping changes that are transforming Europe. That is why democratic socialism is in the vanguard of the new Europe.
The motion refers to the withering away of Socialism in the Western world. I remind the House that there are Socialist parties in Government, either on their own or in coalition, in the following European countries: Spain, France, Sweden, Austria, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium, Holland, Greece, Iceland and Finland. Since the people of those democratic countries of western Europe have all chosen Socialist parties to govern them, the preposterous idea that Socialism is withering away underlines the negative and empty basis of the motion.
Thatcherism has been consistently lacking in its ability to encourage British exports. We need only to consider the largest trade deficit in British history to see that all too clearly. Nowhere, however, has Thatcherism failed so conspicuously as in its failure to export itself. Thatcherism has been well and truly rejected, even by our closest European Community partners who regularly and universally isolate and marginalise our Prime Minister at their gatherings. Britain has become the outpost, the last bastion of an outdated and backward-looking creed. The European social charter is defined by the British Prime Minister, and only by her, as "Marxist." For the Prime Minister, anything that attempts to replace the economic free-for-all with social rights and responsibilities is to be labelled in that sloganistic way.
§ Mr. Kenneth Baker
A moment ago, the hon. Gentleman referred to France as a Socialist country. I believe that it was at the top of his list. France has a very successful economy. Does he accept that in France income tax is very low, that it has a very high proportion of nuclear power and that it has an independent nuclear deterrent? Does he regard those as characteristics of Socialism?
§ Mr. Robertson
Socialism has different manifestations, but its common characteristic is that it believes in a proper place for the market and in a social infrastructure which provides help those who need it. Socialist Governments throughout the world do not accept the narrow ideology that the Conservative party seems to believe is worth 1347 exporting to other countries. Socialist Governments believe in people being free to make their own choice within the Socialist system. Although there are points of difference between each of the Governments that I have mentioned, they are all Socialist in their title, in their ethos and philosophy, and in the message that they put forward. The idea that Socialism is withering away is completely and utterly silly.
§ Mr. Benn
My hon. Friend may wish to point out that Dr. Sakharov, warmly praised by the chairman of the Conservative party, was totally opposed to nuclear weapons. To quote Dr. Sakharov as an example of the model that we should follow is thus to confirm the Labour party's view that nuclear weapons should neither be possessed nor used.
§ Mr. Robertson
The mighty Dr. Sakharov was a Socialist and held a number of views that I am sure the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), if he took more time, would find profoundly embarrassing.
Even with the European Community there are those who disagree with the Prime Minister—the great new ideologue who stomps the world stage labelling people Marxist even if, like Chancellor Kohl, Prime Minister De Mita of Italy or Prime Minister Silva of Portugal, they are as Right wing as she is.
§ Mr. Robertson
No. I have given way more than adequately and I should like other hon. Members to be able to contribute to the debate.
The ideas being put forward in Europe are the ideas of tomorrow and are relevant to the future. We are Socialists because we know that things could be much better. On its own, the market delivers fear and uncertainty. I return to a quotation from the book compiled by the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle from Mr. Ian MacLeod, a former Conservative Minister, who said in 1969:On the general point that everything has its price, I am a keen believer in market forces, but I do not go as far as this. Indeed I think that basically over the years, this is a Whig rather than a Tory doctrine. Everything has its price. Yes, but that would mean no regional policy. It would mean a disastrous future for the regions. It is an excellent policy for the strong, but we are also concerned with the weak.Those words should haunt Conservative Members and they should consider how far away from that ideal they have drifted.
We live in a society where preventable—I stress that word—poverty and injustice are allowed to go unchecked. We live in a society which is able to shorten hideously long hospital waiting lists, house its increasing numbers of homeless, educate and train its wasted and forgotten young people, but does not do so because it naively and foolishly believes that the all-powerful market will deliver the goods. The market, however, has not delivered and the number of homeless young people living in cardboard boxes on the streets of London has reached a record and shameful level, our old people live on a pension which is the lowest among all our European partners and too many of our sick go untreated due to lack of resources.
1348 In his opening remarks, the hon. Member for Tatton described as organised disruption the largest petition that has ever been presented to Parliament containing 4.5 million signatures in support of the nation's ambulance crews.
§ Mr. Neil Hamilton
I certainly did not describe the petition as organised disruption. I have no objection whatever to the presentation of that petition to the House, or to the explanation by the hon. Gentleman who presented the petition pointing out the number of people who had signed it. I resented the number of Opposition Members who, under the guise of points of order, tried to have a debate about how many cardboard boxes should be placed on the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. Robertson
When the hon. Gentleman reads his own words, he will realise that the protests about the boxes occurred because only one third of the 4.5 million signatures were able to be presented because of a ruling from the Chair. The hon. Gentleman described the protests against that ruling as organised disruption, and I think that what he said will be interpreted in that way.
Far too many children in Britain still go uneducated due to lack of staff and books. With top-up loans, our higher education system will soon become the province only of the wealthy.
Modern Toryism—Thatcherism—is based on a narrow and false assumption that human nature is unalterably selfish, acquisitive and competitive, and that we are all driven only by the desire to maximise our wealth and income and that the next man can go hang—the "me-now" society that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition described. We believe, as do the newly liberated peoples of eastern Europe that human beings are civilised, that they have a sense of individuality but also of community and of the greater good. They want to banish uncertainty, dishonesty and injustice and create a better world in place of fear, as Bevan said. They believe in essential human equality, justice and self-respect. They do not want a society based on antagonism; they want more sharing, and more co-operation, which is what democratic Socialism will bring. It stands for democracy, decentralisation and real power for ordinary people to control their lives, whether they live here or in the newly liberated countries. Of course it means redistribution of wealth so that all the people can fulfil themselves.
Socialism, despite what many of its opponents caricature it to be, is truly about the individual. It is about individual personal choice, personal growth and universal betterment and it is an idea that is currently sweeping Europe, both East and West. Thatcherism—a concept unique to this country—is unexportable with its values of antagonism and selfish acquisitiveness and has become a thing of the past. The language of conflict and narrow prejudice both at home and abroad is not appropriate for the brave new world which we see developing in this last year of the 1980s where co-operation and understanding will be central tenets.
Even though 10 years of Thatcherism will leave scars, in the fulness of time it will be seen merely as a blip in British history.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. Time is getting short and I have the impression that many fiery speeches are waiting to be delivered.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
I was honoured that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) referred to the modest little tome that I wrote when I had the honour to serve on the Greater London council with the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone). who I am delighted to see in his place today. As a real author is sitting on the Government Front Bench, I feel as Queen Victoria must have felt when Disraeli said "We authors, Ma'am". All my book tried to do was to reveal the nature of Conservative politics through what people had said. I am delighted to have heard good speeches from two notable Left-wing Labour Members—the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller).
Richard Crossman wrote in his diary in 1959 thatThe definition of the Left is of a group of people who will never be happy unless they convince themselves that they are about to be betrayed by their leaders.When he wrote that, he was intending to be facetious. However, those words ring true today. They are not about to be betrayed by their leaders but are being betrayed by their leaders.
I was also interested in what the hon. Member for Walton said about nationalisation. Apparently, the Labour party no longer believes in it. We have not read that degree of historical revisionism since George Orwell's "1984". In 1957 Richard Crossman wrote:The two most important emotions of the Labour party are a doctrinaire faith in nationalisation, without knowing what it means, and a doctrinaire faith in pacifism without facing its consequences.Those wise words could be listened to with good effect by the hon. Member for Walton.
In the Labour party and Socialism generally we are seeing the belief that, if one sticks up for one's principles and fights elections on what one believes, one will not become the governing party. That is a dose of realism but it is sad for hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Walton. That was not always so. In his younger days the leader of the Labour party wrote in the "Broad Left Alliance Journal" of October 1982:I must emphasise … that there is nothing in the Labour Party constitution that could, or should, prevent people from holding opinions which favour Leninist-Trotskyism … Certainly Marxism has and will continue to have an important function in the Labour Party.He believed that then, but does he believe it now?
We know that the Labour party fought an election on a truly Socialist manifesto in 1983. In March 1983, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) wrote in the New Socialist:The Labour Party can go into the next election united behind the most radical manifesto on which we have ever campaigned.The result of that campaign was the greatest defeat that the Labour party had suffered in 50 years. The Leader of the Opposition has become a "desiccated calculating machine". Those are not my words but those of Aneurin Bevan who said in 1954 that that is what every successful leader of the Labour party had to become.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Walton is right. If one fights an election without believing in what one is 1350 saying, one will come a cropper and have to change policies overnight. That is what we have seen with previous Labour Governments and it will happen again.
There are some wonderful quotations on this subject, but I shall give only one or two. Lord Wilson said:I myself have always deprecated … in crisis after crisis, appeals to the Dunkirk spirit as an answer to our problem."—[Official Report, 26 July 1961; Vol. 645, c. 451.]On 12 December 1964, he said:I believe that the spirit of Dunkirk will once again carry us through to success.It would be a disaster if, just as eastern Europe is emerging from Socialism, we were to become an inward-looking community too much wedded to bureaucratic mechanisms, whether they be central banks or a common currency. It would be a disaster if we were to turn our backs on what is happening in eastern Europe. This is the opportunity to help it become a member of an outward-looking Europe, a Europe of concentric circles, a Europe of borders but not barriers. There should be a Europe of free trade, in which goods and services, labour and people can circulate freely.
So much of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said in recent years has been vindicated by recent events. Events in eastern Europe provide her with an historic opportunity to lead opinion in Europe. The Government and Conservative Members generally—I fear that we shall not receive any support from the Opposition—must lead that opinion. I referred earlier to the necessity of creating intellectual consensus so that it is possible successfully to implement domestic policies. It is necessary also for us to create that consensus in Europe, and I believe that we can do it. The plans that we have advanced for competing currencies and freely floating currencies in a Europe that is moving towards free trade are part of a value system that can take Europe from the dark ages of Socialism to a much brighter future.
There has been what I would describe as a chocolate economy in eastern Europe. An article headed "Bitterness on Chocolate Express" states:The 'Chocolate Express', the Berlin-Warsaw-Moscow train favoured by Soviet-bloc smugglers, was the scene of fierce argument and fisticuffs yesterday as East Germany tried to shield itself from the Solidarity virus.That was before East Germany started to reform itself. The article continues:The Chocolate Express—so called because returning Polish workers bring out large satchels of East German chocolate and sell it en bloc, so to speak, to black-market leaders on the Polish side of the frontier—is being delayed for two to four hours every night.That was the economy of Socialist eastern Europe before we started to see the changes that are now taking place.
The changes are resulting in the former leadership having to change its entire life style. Another article states:Mr. Edward Gierek, who lives in a sprawling villa in Katowice, complains that he can make ends meet thanks only to a small hard currency pension he receives for when he worked as a coal miner in France and Belgium.One's heart bleeds for him. The article continues:At 7 am at the hopelessly understocked food shop on First Polish Army Avenue in Warsaw, the usual queue includes three former Ministers, (sent by their wives to buy fresh bread), an ex-Council of State member and a number of senior Solidarity activists who inherited their apartments from Communist parents.Eastern Europe is emerging from the chocolate economy, but countries such as Poland and 1351 Czechoslovakia are struggling with enormous inherited problems, with which only we in the European Community can help.
The new Czechoslovak Finance Minister, Vaclav Klaus, who until a few weeks ago was a barely tolerated dissident, was recently asked whether he would like to institute a heavy dose of monetarism. He replied, "I would like to". This is the new Czechoslovak Minister for Finance. But he said that he doubted that he had the resources to do so. Fears are being expressed in Poland about whether it has the institutions and mechanisms, whatever the will for change may be, to enable it to move forward. All that proves that the collapse of Socialism which we are now witnessing must be our stimulus and opportunity.
I have talked about the history of Socialism in this country and events in eastern Europe, but the collapse of Socialism—the collapse of the international consensus that has sustained it over the years—is our opportunity to begin to move the debate from our point of view. Conservatism is nothing if it is not about caring for those who hitherto have not had many of the privileges that some of us have enjoyed. A hundred years ago, it would have been inconceivable for an ordinary working man to have owned his home, but now 68 per cent. of our population do so. We must take the debate forward, at a time when erstwhile Socialists seem to be adopting the tenets of Thatcherism.
We cannot afford to stand still or to consolidate; we must move forward, and I believe that the way to do so is to open opportunities that previously did not exist. The Conservative party has been most successful when it has provided a gangway, such as into home ownership, which is now enjoyed by 68 per cent. of our population. We can talk now about people enjoying the opportunities of private health care, which they never did before, and of private education. We should be putting forward such ideas. The collapse of Socialism gives us the opportunity to do so, and we must take it.
§ Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)
I shall not follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) along the gangplank of Conservatism, because it my come to a worrying end.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), who made a most eloquent speech, that we are witnessing a historic series of events in eastern Europe. We are witnessing a successful 1848 a successful democratic revolution has toppled Communist regimes in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and I believe that it will lead to democratic Governments in East Germany and Bulgaria. Clearly, we have witnessed historic events.
I enjoyed the amusing speech of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton), although perhaps it was somewhat long. Occasionally, I felt that he was not living up to the level of events, particularly when he suggested that everything that was happening in eastern Europe was a consequence of the example of the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). That astonishing claim was made by the right hon. Lady herself in her rather extraordinary speech to her party conference, when she claimed to have lit the torch of freedom in eastern Europe 1352 —this was just after we had all the laser beams and Nuremberg rally stuff that now goes on in the modern Conservative party.
Watching on television, I noted the keen support of the chairman of the Tory party. No doubt he was still then in his St. Crispin's day mood. The right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) was somewhat less enthusiastic. His hands went through the clapping motion, but the body language told us something different. It is always useful to watch the right hon. and learned Gentleman's body language. I noticed it recently on television, when the Prime Minister was speaking. His body language and the distance that he keeps between himself and the Prime Minister on the Government Front Bench are always revealing. It told us that in this case the right hon. and learned Gentleman felt that she had made a boast too many.
I am glad to say that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster did not claim this time that everything that was happening in eastern Europe was happening because of the Prime Minister. He knows, as all of us do if we are honest, that the real architect of what has happened in eastern Europe is Mr. Gorbachev. Mr. Gorbachev has made it clear to all the leaders of the Communist regimes in eastern Europe that the Soviet Union is no longer prepared to support Communist regimes with Russian troops.
In effect, Mr. Gorbachev has told the Communist leaders that they are on their own. The withdrawal of this threat has encouraged the peoples of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and East Germany to insist on a democratic revolution in their countries. They want free elections, a pluralistic system and legal democratic rights—the kind of things that one wants in a civilised democratic society. They want an end, too, to the arthritic command economies which have kept back their living standards. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton said, that does not mean that they want a totally free market. They may not want a command economy, but they want to keep the welfare system that exists in their countries. They do not want the unemployment that we have in ours.
We are wise to conclude that their revolution is very much their own. Many views are held and there will be many political parties. If they have a model of society that they seek to emulate, it is certainly not Thatcherite Britain. It is probably the welfare democracy of West Germany, which has been greatly criticised by the Conservative Government in recent years, especially by the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson), who claimed that it was arthritic and had many features that stopped the market working properly. I am glad that it has. That is why the people of West Germany are able to enjoy a decent standard of living and get something out of the growth of their economy. We are seeing a democratic revolution in eastern Europe. It is not what the hon. Member for Tatton said it was: it is not so much the death of Socialism as the birth of democracy in eastern Europe.
It is true that our western European democracies are imperfect. Certainly the system in this country is imperfect: I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that tiers of local government have been abolished under the rule of this Conservative Government. Other countries in western Europe do not understand how one can get rid of a tier of government and get rid of the government of London. We have seen rights diminished in many features of life in this country.
1353 In western Europe we have one crucial advantage—or have had—over the peoples of eastern Europe: we can replace our Governments at general elections by putting a cross on the ballot paper and putting it in the ballot box. The ballot box shows that there is a clear trend against the Right in European political opinion. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton said, in France the Right has been decisively rejected and the French Socialists are in power. In Spain, the Right has been defeated in three successive general elections and the Socialists are in power. In Sweden and Austria, Socialists and Social Democrats are in power. Even in West Germany, a centre-Right Government are in power who are different in character from the British Government. We should hear what the Prime Minister has to say about Mr. Genscher or Mr. Kohl. The West German Government are different in character from Britain's Conservative Government.
The European elections showed that, far from a tide of Thatcherism sweeping across Europe, as one might have thought after listening to the hon. Member for Tatton, the Right is being decisively rejected in other European countries. That is why the biggest single group in the European Paliament is the Socialist group, not a group from the Right.
Part of the Prime Minister's problem at successive European summits has been her ideological isolation. The other countries of the European Community want a social Europe and a social charter to secure the social rights of the people of Europe. That is precisely what the Prime Minister rejects. No wonder that she feels so alone when her views are so decisively rejected by the rest of Europe.
Despite three Conservative election victories in Britain, the polls show that the values of Thatcherism are still not supported by the British people. The polls show that people believe in fairness and social justice, want to see a strong National Health Service, a state education system, and selective Government intervention. They do not believe in letting the free market go totally unregulated and untrammelled. The Government's increasing unpopularity, the big Labour lead in the public opinion polls and the changing political agenda all suggest that, far from seeing the end of Socialism, we are beginning to see the end of Thatcherism in this country.
The fact that Socialists have changed their policies and agendas in West Germany, France, Spain, Scandinavia and this country is nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, the ability to renew itself is Socialism's abiding strength. A new political agenda is emerging in west Europe, and also in east Europe, based on more active government, good public services, a proper benefit system for those who are less well off, proper environmental protection and enhanced citizens' rights.
That is what is being asked for in eastern Europe, and that is what we need in western Europe. Europeans are also asking for greater political co-ordination and co-operation across national frontiers, which is why Europe is now much more popular than it has ever been and the Conservatives are so isolated on this issue, not just in western Europe, but in this country.
The agenda which is emerging is rejected by Thatcherites and most Conservative Members, but it is gaining support, not only in this country but across Europe. It is not Socialism which is on the defensive, but Right-wing Conservatism. The coming decade will be not 1354 Thatcherite but Socialist—one in which Socialist ideas will dominate the policital agenda and political debate, and Socialists will be in power across Europe.
§ Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)
We owe a debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) for introducing this debate, which records the end of an era. Throughout the 20th century, Socialism has flowed through the politics, history and economics of the world. The Socialists have obtained power but now the Socialist states have withered. What has Socialism left in its wake? Millions of dead, economies in ruin, and failure and disillusionment in much of the Third world. Opposition Members have celebrated the departures of various Socialist Governments in eastern Europe, but we in the House must judge Socialism by its achievements. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Let us look as some of the brand names. In the Soviet Union, we had Marxism, then Leninism and then Stalinism, and all of them were identified as sub-branches of Socialism. Socialism led to widespread oppression and to the slaughter of millions of Kulaks, peasants, intellectuals and religious leaders in the Soviet Union. It also led to the cynical deal that the Soviet Union put together with those other Socialists—the National Socialists in Germany.
The economy of Russia was growing fast before the Russian revolution, but since then there has been stagnation and decline. A recent study in The Economist tried to find reasons for the decline of the economy of the Soviet Union, where production is running 2.5 per cent. lower than last year. Coal production, for instance, is 5.5 per cent. down. The Economist study says:The steel ministry has been refusing to supply steel to the railway industry, because the railway ministry failed to supply enough trains to the steel ministry. The coal ministry is complaining about the same thing. The steel and railway ministries in turn say it is all the fault of the coal ministry, because it did not send them enough coal, thanks to this summer's strikes. And so on—and, for once in Soviet official history, they are all probably telling something like the truth.Why has all this happened? The industries of the Soviet Union have been managed by political hacks who refer to their political party for their marching orders. They are not run by managers, and that it why they are in such a mess.
I shall give the House an example of Socialist state planning. Shortly before the era of glasnost began, reports came in of some confusion at the railway marshalling yard in Kiev. There were trains in the marshalling yard loaded with organic fertiliser—a delicate way of saying animal dung—and trains loaded with coffee. Thanks to Socialist management's incompetence the trains went to the wrong destinations. Glasnost or no glasnost, the collective farms which thought that they were getting the fertiliser complained that what they had received did not work. Because glasnost had not yet arrived, consumers of coffee knew that they should not complain and simply swallowed it.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
Are not railways rather a bad example? Compare the Socialist railways in France, which are delivering the goods with a substantial Government subsidy and contributing much to regional development in France, with what has happened to British Rail over the past decade.
§ Mr. Arnold
What happened to British Rail over the past decade was that it failed as a nationalised industry, as it failed in the decades before. It is incapable of keeping the freight off the roads and on the railways. It is incapable of providing a flexible service, which private road hauliers have been able to do.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) told us that what has happened in the Soviet Union, and in western Europe for that matter, is not Socialism. He told us that the French Socialism of which the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) spoke is not Socialism.
Where do we go to find examples of different kinds of Socialism and what they deliver? Do we go to China, where Socialism has delivered poverty, rebellion and finally Tiananmen square? Do we go to their Socialist surrogates and Pol Pot, the self-avowed Socialist, and his killing fields in Cambodia? Perhaps we should go to the Soviet Union's surrogates in Vietnam, where that brand of Socialism brought economic failure and caused the population to flee to capitalist Hong Kong. We are concerned about people fleeing from Vietnamese Socialism to capitalist Hong Kong where they create a problem for us.
§ Mr. Heffer
The hon. Gentleman knows damn well that I do not agree with what happened in Tiananmen square. I include all the countries to which the hon. Gentleman has referred in the same breath as I referred to the Soviet Union. The hon. Gentleman should apologise for trying to suggest otherwise.
§ Mr. Arnold
I will not apologise. I acknowledge that the hon. Member for Walton referred to the practice of Socialism in western Europe and the Soviet Union. However, for the sake of argument, he does not recognise that in China, Cambodia or Vietnam.
What about the brands of Socialism in the new world? For 30 years Cuba has been a Socialist country. But what has become of Cuba now that it no longer has the Soviet Union's subsidy which the Soviet Union can no longer afford? Cuba is a bankrupt backwater presided over by an aged prima donna. It cannot provide a decent standard of living for its people. But it seems that it does achieve exports. It exported revolution to the rest of Latin America. Was that successful? Not a bit of it. It saw the death of Che Guevara, but what has that achieved? Che Guevara has served only as a sartorial example for the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn).
If we reject Cuba as an example of Socialism, what about Nicaragua? Socialism in that country has led to economic failure and to political prisoners. Nicaragua needs help from the capitalist world outside and that is forcing it to the ballot box. At last there might be democratic elections in that Socialist state.
What effect has Socialism had on Africa? Let us consider what happened in the Portuguese terrorities that turned to Marxism. I travelled to Mozambique to find out what was happening there, and I found nothing in the market places except lettuce. However, there was a new breed of British Socialist there. They had gone to Marxist Mozambique to take part in the great Socialist future of that country. They were quaintly called co-operands. Even in the Ministries which they were assisting, those co-operands discovered that they were hungry. Their Meticais, the Mozambican currency in which they were paid, bought them no food. Before they knew it, they were dabbling in the foreign exchange black market. In the end, 1356 they were humiliated and had to make regular weekly expeditions to the supermarkets across the border in South Africa. What price Socialism there?
What about Angola, where Socialism is propped up by the bayonets of Cuban troops? What about the Marxist Government in Ethiopia? Earlier this week we debated the consequences of the policies of that Marxist Government. What price starvation there? Everywhere we look for examples of Socialism in action we find failure or worse.
What about Socialism in this country? The Opposition saw the light about Socialism along time ago. The right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), the Leader of the Opposition, in a debate on industry 15 years ago, said that the British peopleknow that at the end of the day the system which has failed will not bring us to a new prosperity. A new system must be tried".He may have been right.
§ Mr. Arnold
Was he? How did he come to that conclusion? The answer is in the very same speech. He said:The simple assertion, therefore, is that we have tried the private enterprise system for a long time. It does not meet the needs of a modern civilisation".He went on to state:Therefore, that system"—that is, the private enterprise system—must be moved aside, and it is best replaced by a Socialist system".—[Official Report, 4 November 1974; Vol. 880, c. 770–75.]Everywhere we look we see examples of what happens with Socialist systems. The great Leader of the Opposition would have blundered with the best of the Kremlin by trying to impose Socialism on this country. He knows that his case is so untenable that he does not try to defend it today. It is significant that there is no Opposition Front Bench amendment, and not even a member of the shadow Cabinet present. It has been up to the tired old warhorses of the Left, like first world war generals, to move an amendment and carry on as though there is no experience of what Socialism means in practice.
At least we cannot accuse the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) of double standards. In his maiden speech on 7 February 1951, he said:We on this side are a Socialist party—we have been for some time. We have never made any secret of the fact. In 1945, when our election programme was published, we made no secret of it".—[Official Report, 7 February 1951; Vol. 483, c.1782.]It seems that the right hon. Gentleman is consistent. Today, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield expanded on that statement when he said that some people think that Socialism is whatever a Labour Government are doing at the time. As an extension, it seems that Socialism is whatever is proposed by Labour Front Bench Members at the time. If the Labour party is to win the next election it must somehow convince the country that what it is peddling is Socialism and of value. But what is the likelihood that the Leader of the Opposition will be able to put that message across? What are his capabilities? I quote no less a person than the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) who, at one of the marvellous Socialist conferences of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, referred to her Leader asa no-talent, weak man.She scorned his parliamentary debating skill, and said:Mrs. Thatcher gobbles him up for breakfast.1357 That is her judgment. For once, I do not disagree with the hon. Lady. The people of this country do not disagree, either. This week, The Guardian told us that, with television cameras in this place weighing up the two Front Benches, the Prime Minister has scored heavily in the presentation of policies.
The debate is about the future of Socialism, but we have not heard what Socialism is about and what future the Labour party sees for it. The future is not one of "isms", it is one of freedom of the individual and the market place. That will be safeguarded by this House, which is a democratic House, not a Socialist House.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I will try to practise a bit of Socialism by sharing the remaining time more equitably among hon. Members who still want to speak. I associate myself with the tribute that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster paid to Andrei Sakharov. Andrei Sakharov was a great man who struggled for freedom in the Soviet Union. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that Sakharov died a Socialist, not a capitalist.
Certain events in eastern Europe are most exciting in political terms. They are probably the most important political events that have taken place in Europe for the past half century. Such events are worthy of regular debates in this House so that hon. Members' views can be expressed and heard.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) on being lucky in the ballot, but we could have been better served by another motion. Quite frankly, the wording of his motion is about as useful a contribution to the great events in eastern Europe as the Beano would be to a discussion about Aristotelian logic.
Comparing the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who comes hurriedly to his place, with the speech of the hon. Member for Tatton is rather like comparing Demosthenes with Alf Garnett—[HON. MEMBERS: "Which is which?] I hasten to add that Demosthenes has come from Chesterfield, while Garnett has, presumably, returned to Tatton.
It is ridiculous to suggest in a motion that all the important events in eastern Europe have come about as a result of Thatcherism or because of the retention of nuclear weapons in Britain. It is ludicrous and pathetic, and I am surprised that the hon. Member for Tatton was prepared to suggest it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) said, we know where the tribute belongs—it is with glasnost and with President Gorbachev. The people in Prague, Budapest and East Berlin are not reacting to Britain's nuclear deterrent. They are not envious of our poll tax, our homelessness, our lousy transport system or our hospital waiting queues. They are not inspired by the petty nationalism of the bigot from Grantham.
It is noticeable that the Prime Minister has realised that. The iron lady phase has now been replaced by the soft cuddly toy phase, as can be seen when she comes to the Dispatch Box at Prime Minister's Question Time. She has lost two important things during the past 12 months—first, her friend Ronald Reagan, who was probably the only western European leader who admired her intellect; secondly and more importantly, she has lost her enemies in 1358 the Soviet Union and eastern Europe. There is a great deal that will no doubt bind empathetically the Prime Minister to the Conservatives and the Stalinists in the Soviet Union in actually regretting what is happening in that country and throughout eastern Europe. There is a great deal of similarity between the authoritarians of the East and the authoritarians of the West—in this case, the Prime Minister.
The peoples of eastern Europe are directly reacting to Lord Acton's old dictum that all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That is what they are rejecting. They do not want Thatcherism and they certainly do not want capitalism. They are aspiring to accountable Socialism. When Vaclav Havel, to whom the Chancellor of the Duchy referred, becomes President of Czechoslovakia, it will be a victory for Socialism, not for Thatcherism and capitalism. I should like to see the day when the people of this country storm No. 10 Downing street, tear down the railings and put in Dennis Potter or Howard Brenton as Prime Minister in her place.
Although we all admit that events in the East are politically exciting, they are also dangerous. Because events are moving so quickly, we do not really know what will happen. I went to a Christmas party at the GDR embassy the other night. We played various party games, such as spin the Honecker and guess the latest leader. It was all good fun. People were in a good mood because progress was being made. However, they also recognise the dangers. The resurgence of nationalism in Europe is a danger to us all.
There is excitement and a great deal of potential, but there is also a great deal of danger because of the instability. It is incumbent upon all in the West not to table triumphalist motions about the destruction of Socialism. We should extend the hand of friendship to those struggling to achieve a more accountable democracy in their countries.
There have been various interpretations, misinterpretations, caricatures and gross caricatures of what Socialism is all about. It comes in many different varieties. Many people claim to be Socialist without being so. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) spoke of Socialism having its roots in Christianity, and I agree.
To me, Socialism is about equality of opportunity and equality before laws that are accepted as being fair and just. Socialism is about freedom from poverty and homelessness, and about the right to a good education and to a job, as well as to a first-class Health Service. Socialism is about participation at the workplace and in the democratic process by people at all levels. Socialism is also about people having a say in the present and in their futures. Socialism is about uniting a country in its social values, so that it is caring towards the old and the sick. That is why my right hon. and hon. Friends and I espouse Socialism and why we shall continue to campaign for it right up to the next general election.
§ 2 pm
§ Mr. David Amess (Basildon)
I agree that this has been a significant debate and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) on giving the House an opportunity to discuss such an important matter and to 1359 identify at first hand what are the policies of the Labour party. Over the past two and a half years, I for one have grown impatient at waiting to hear the details of what the Labour party is all about. Today, we have been given a flavour of what it is all about.
I regret that no member of the alliance parties saw fit to be present in the Chamber today. So far as I am concerned, the alliance parties are Socialist, and I hope that they are proud to be so. They always vote with the Labour party, and they propped up Labour between 1974 and 1979. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) on having the guts to speak passionately and sincerely about their Socialist beliefs. I do not criticise them for doing so. In fact, in 1979 the right hon. Member for Chesterfield criticised his own party for the highly personal campaign that it waged against my right hon. Friend the leader of the Conservative party. Unfortunately, over the past 10 years, instead of there being a sensible debate about Socialism versus capitalism, such as that which we have had today, the debate has all been about the personality of a particular individual. I deprecate that, and I hope that in future we can confine our debates to the beliefs of Britain's different political parties, rather than concern ourselves with any particular individual within them.
The Conservative party sets out its various policies in its manifesto. It decides what it believes is right for the country and then follows through those policies regardless of any short-term popularity. I am aghast at the actions of Opposition Members over the past two and a half years, which I call designer Socialism. Communism and Socialism have been rejected throughout the world. I shall describe briefly the policies on which Labour has changed its mind.
At first, Labour opposed home ownership word for word, line for line—but it changed its policy when it realised that that was a vote loser. However, when mortgage interest rates increased, Labour again spoke out against home ownership. Labour was also against share ownership, but then the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) suddenly decided that he favoured it—until the stock market crash, when Labour again changed its policy. On defence, I always understood that Labour stood for unilateral disarmament and that the Leader of the Opposition supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. However, when Labour realised that the electorate did not like that policy, it was changed.
Labour was at its most hypocritical in respect of the Common Market. It fought against Britain's membership of the Common Market. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had the guts and courage to fight for British interests within the EEC, the Opposition attacked her. That dishonesty will be clearly revealed at the next general election.
I conclude by commenting on the future of Socialism in local government. I represent a constituency with a Labour council which retains control by only one vote. That is an excellent example of the future of Socialism. For some reason, Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen now seem to be rushing to Basildon. They must see it as a good example of Socialism. Of course, the policy is always the same—raise rates and raise taxes—and the best example is 1360 in Basildon, where the rate increase of 57.2 per cent. was the biggest in the country last year. Hon. Members can imagine my disgust when the council's Labour leader had the gall to send a letter to every ratepayer in Basildon. The letter began:I'm writing to warn you and your household that the Government's poll tax system could mean bills of more than £500 for each adult member of your family next April.I realise this figure will surprise and worry many people, because it certainly shocked me.It went on:It's because I know many of you are struggling to make ends meet that I'm writing to you now. Everyone needs to have as much warning as possible about the likely level of this tax.It is not surprising people in Basildon will pay a high community charge, as they are unfortunate enough to have a local authority which spends money irresponsibly. So far, we are in debt to the tune of £125 million. A new civic centre has just been built in Basildon, and the shadow Leader of the House came to open it. Unfortunately, he had not been very well briefed: he should have been told that the new centre had cost £18 million—much of it borrowed from the Banque Paribas, because we had no money of our own to finance it. He should also have been told that the centre cannot house 350 members of the authority's existing staff. Above all, he should have been told that ours was the first local authority in the country to build a civic centre without a council chamber. That shows what the Labour party thinks democracy is worth. I am a great supporter of the arts, but is also strikes me as nonsensical to build a new theatre—at a cost of £11 million —with a foyer bigger than the auditorium. Sadly, that is losing us a great deal of money.
I have always upheld the position of independence adopted by local government officers. For whatever reason, a chief officer recently left the authority. Imagine my horror when his replacement proudly sent me a copy of the authority's magazine, "Waves", containing a piece about himself. Having been in local government for a number of years, he hasseen enormous changes, especially the relationships with the public and central government. As the Council has moved to closer working with and involvement of the local communities that make up Basildon District, central government has increasingly tried to make local government toe a conformist line of what it thinks is best.The Governments I have known, of either political complexion, have never really trusted the ability of local Councils and their employees to do the job. This is despite the fact that in my personal experience Basildon has out-performed Westminster and Whitehall every time.If local government officers wish to make such statements, they should stand for election as local councillors. I deprecate that kind of political involvement.
A local councillor has presented the Opposition housing spokesman with a petition concerning the transfer of housing in Basildon. It was our Government who gave people the opportunity to choose their future landlords: the man who presented that petition to the House stopped the then Labour Government taking over housing in 1977. That is an example of the crass hypocrisy with which we have to deal.
If the future of Socialism is to be articulated by the actions of the Labour party in Basildon, long may the policies inspired by our Prime Minister prevail.
§ 2.9 pm
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
Socialism has many elements. People such as A. J. Ayer have pointed out that Socialism has two elements. One is emotive and the other is descriptive. To the Government, Socialism is a boo word. To the Labour party, it is a hurrah word. People also try to use the word for good or ill-natured purposes. The Government have referred to bad regimes, had systems and bad results. They have tried to build up the notion that Socialism is a boo word. To counter that attack, one could talk about capitalist nations where there has been exploitation—for example, in Chile and Brazil. However, that does not get us very far. We should analyse the great potential of Socialism.
I believe, with my righ hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), that Socialism and democracy are interlinked. Their values are universal and timeless. Socialism had to formulate its ideas about capitalism and clarify them. Capitalism clarified its ideas in response to feudalism. At that time it was a revolutionary notion. We are responding to the failure of capitalism. When we discuss the future of Socialism, therefore, we have to refer to capitalism.
The Conservative party's capitalist ideas are based on certain assumptions about human nature. The Conservatives build up theories which they believe have firm foundations, but which easily collapse. They believe in individual self-interest. To them, there is no such thing as society beyond the family and individuals must do what they want. Some of them want wealth, while others want power. Some want to exploit people, while others just want to laze around. According to Conservative philosophy, that leads to a self-regulating system in both the economic and the political market place. It leads to the return of the workhouse mentality of the 19th century which said that if people are unable to provide for themselves and their families that is bad, they are both lazy and inadequate and they must be prodded to reform their ways. As a result we hear a lot of the Conservative nonsense about social provision.
The Government have developed the principle of free competition between capitalist countries. They want capitalist Governments to keep control. However, Marx demonstrated that capitalism develops into monopolistic capitalism—that large units become successful and powerful, with influence throughout the world. Exploitation is frequently associated with monopolistic capitalism. The development of capitalism in Britain has been associated with a form of parliamentary democracy, and certainly with parliamentary activity. It was developed to take power from feudalism and to share the spoils among its own class because people could not trust each other. Initially, democracy in Britain consisted of a vote among the property-owning classes who had a stake in the nation—a vote among men who would share things out among themselves. Democracy grew out of the struggle of working people and their organisations. The Chartists' struggle in the 19th century produced three massive petitions, similar to the petition that we saw today but which was not allowed to be presented in full. Those petitions sought to extend the franchise to the people.
Petitioning rights are of great historical interest as, theoretically, they allow working people to express their views without duress. Today, not for the television 1362 cameras but so that right hon. and hon. Members could see what was taking place, the petition should have been presented to us in full.
Because the Chartists limited their protests to adult male suffrage, the Suffragettes continued the struggle to extend democracy. What does capitalism do when faced with democracy? It either seeks to kid, con and contain democracy, as the wets did when they controlled the Conservative party, or, as now, it engages in confrontation. It seeks to undermine such institutions as the National Health Service, which is based on the entirely different principle of a mass democracy deciding what it needs for its own benefit and welfare. If democracy becomes uncomfortable for capitalism, capitalists ditch it. That is what happened in Chile. A famous editorial in The Times said that democracy in Chile had to go because the economic base of capitalist competition had to remain so that tomorrow democracy could be rebuilt.
When it comes to the crunch, capitalists do not favour a democratic system. In Britain, the democratic system is fiddled and fixed. The poll tax is a deliberate device to limit the franchise. Already, in England alone, 90,000 people are missing from last year's electoral register, due to registration factors, according to the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. Those registration factors must involve poll tax provisions.
People are terrified and worried about having to pay the poll tax, and in desperation many are refusing to register. The Government are seeking to squash them. At the same time, a Bill has been introduced to extend the franchise to 3 million expatriates on a voluntary basis. A voluntary franchise is an obnoxious notion as the franchise should be there for everyone. The people who have been squeezed off the electoral register are replaced by people who live overseas, who are not part of our society, who are not concerned about the services that should be provided, and are not worried about defending the Health Service. I prefer to talk about what people are supposed to get out of the system rather than what they contribute. In any case, that measure is inconsistent with the Government's arguments about accountability in support of the poll tax.
That is only part of what the Government are doing to attack freedom, civil liberties and the rights of the individual. Socialism is a doctrine concerned with the individual's self-fulfilment and benefit and development within a social context. If we believe in society and the need for mutual assistance and help, we should look to Socialist solutions. The values of Socialism are cooperation, mutual assistance, participation and social equality. A pre-Socialist—Rousseau—said that no person should be so weak as to have to sell himself and no one should be powerful enough to be able to purchase him. That is the equality that is needed if a democratic system is to operate properly. Socialists see in human beings the potential for co-operation and collective activity and recognise that those values must be put into practice if we are to tackle the vast problems to be seen throughout the world.
The case for Socialism and the extension of democracy has been expressed by my right hon. and hon. Friends when referring to the problem of homelessness, for example. A recent UNICEF report deals with starvation and death among the children of the world, with one child dying every two minutes. That is one of the many problems which need to be tackled, but it will not be 1363 tackled unless we act collectively. We must co-operate and act as moral beings. Individualism, self-help and the feathering of nests is abhorrent to Socialist values.
§ Mr. Barnes
I shall not give way because time is short.
The massive changes that are taking place in eastern Europe present opportunities and possibilities for advancing democracy and, therefore, advancing Socialism.
§ Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)
There are two Conservative Members in their places who participated with me in a recent weekend study trip to Berlin. I am sure that they will agree with Donald Burton, the political adviser who briefed us in Berlin on the political developments there, that the people of East Berlin do not want the Stalinism of Honecker but neither do they want the capitalism of the West. They seek a third way—a democratic way. Mr. Burton told us also that what had happened in East Berlin had little to do with Governments and the military and everything to do with people power.
§ Mr. Barnes
That is right.
Eastern Europe faces massive problems, including nationalism and the power of the Church. The Church can exercise hierachical influences and controls, and even clashes of a racist nature. There is, however, the possibility of a new democracy, which means that the people will have a say. In effect, they are saying, "We do not want to be exploited any longer and we shall act together."
We in the West are pleased that we have something to offer. Hungarians and others come to London to watch Parliament operating and to take the lessons that they have learnt back to Hungary. They want to know how we function. That being so, we must take the high ground. We must learn from the developments that are taking place in eastern Europe. We must not think that we have all the answers. We must build upon our tradition of democracy, involvement and participation, including petitions.
Fully-fledged Socialism is not problem-free when it is sought to advance it. There will be a long haul before we can establish Socialism in the United Kingdom or on a pan-European basis. There are problems to overcome here and throughout the western democracies. The values of Conservative Members, the mass media, history and tradition, and the powers that they have exercised have caused their values to be reflected in the views of the people instead of the people reflecting Socialist views. There is a great deal of work to be done and we must start doing it. The Labour and trade union movement must increase its campaigning activities.
There are lessons to be learnt from Keir Hardie, who was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). Keir Hardie and his supporters used to work like mad. They published a journal entitled "Labour Leader" and carried bundle after bundle of copies of it to distribute. They walked miles and miles to meetings. They used to engage in massive activity with the trade union movement until things started to break in their direction. I see that happening among Democratic Socialists in small areas within Europe. The Workers party in Ireland is now emerging as a powerful force. It has its roots within the community and is growing 1364 in strength with every election. In Malta—a smaller area, but of significance recently—the Labour party had to fight the hierarchy of the Church for 16 years. The Maltese nation is Catholic and it was claimed that people would be excommunicated if they associated with the Labour party. The Maltese Labour party introduced a welfare state and transformed the heritage that Britain had left. Campaigning and mobilisation is easier as it is a small nation with different traditions and fine weather. We need to learn from some of those examples in the way we struggle and advance to Socialism.
§ Mr. Skinner
The Tories who started the debate today have a lot to learn. They came here to launch a massive attack on Socialism but after half an hour the balance of power had swung to the Opposition. Now they are in such a mess that the Whips have been running round the House trying to find more Tory Members to support them. They do not have 100 people in the House to stop the debate—that shows how frail and fragile they have become—and they do not have the guts to vote on the motion.
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) regularly regales the House with how much of a democrat he is. He knows, because he has spoken to his Whip, that there was an agreement between the two sides as to how the debate should go. Yet he is deliberately talking out the debate. Does that not show that he is no democrat, despite his mouthings to the contrary?
§ Mr. Barnes
A recent report in The Guardian showed that Mr. David Hart, an adviser to the Prime Minister, had been supporting a publication called "British Briefing" which maligns certain Labour Members as Communist stooges. Conservative Members have described Communism in such broad terms that people who write for Marxism Today and the Morning Star could be said to be the same people. Yet those organisations have considerable conflicts.
"British Briefing" described me asan emerging, vigorous, Stalinist underminer of Parliamentary democracy".No doubt that description appeals to the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), but how can that be consistent with the analysis that I have just given about the need for democracy to be seen to be part of Socialism, and the things that I have done about democracy in the House? I was surprised on coming here to find that I had turned into a bourgeois democrat defending the system in the House. The defence of that system was one of the rights needed by working people. My Re-enfranchisement of the People Bill would extend the franchise and overcome the problem of the poll tax, and my Petitioners' Rights Bill is clearly needed in the light of what has taken place today.
§ Mr. Robertson
Perhaps Mr. David Hart, whether he works from Downing street or wherever, should know that the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton)—whose debate this is—visited Czechoslovakia in 1988 as a guest of the Government there. Perhaps "British Briefing" will identify the hon. Member for Tatton, along with my hon. Friends the Members for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) and for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) as being a great danger to the state.
§ Mr. Barnes
The reason why information is given about me in "British Briefing" is that I opened a Morning Star bazaar in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). Some fine comrades work for that organisation, who before the May day organisations, which are massive in Chesterfield, were at the core of the work of the Chesterfield trades council.
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. A number of times in the House, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) has advocated breaking the law by not paying the community charge. Is it in order for an hon. Member who persistently advocates breaking the law to continue to advocate democracy when he does not believe in it?
§ It being hall-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.