HC Deb 08 May 1992 vol 207 cc307-46

Question again proposed.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Column 1 of yesterday's Official Report contains an answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) about the building society legislation. I refer to the matter only briefly, because we shall have the opportunity to debate a resolution on Thursday and later to consider the matter in connection with the Finance Bill, but I want to ask your advice.

This will be the fourth time that the matter has come before the House and, on three occasions, retroactive legislation has been involved. The Government should be very careful about interfering with matters of judicial review. Given that the issues at stake have not changed since October, it ought to be possible for the matter to be heard properly. May I ask you to remind Ministers who want to give information about such matters to try to do it rather more openly rather than sneaking it on the first Thursday of a new Parliament?

Madam Speaker

That is barely a matter for the Chair. I have referred to the answer that was given, which says quite clearly that the matter will be subject to a Ways and Means resolution which will be among those appearing on the Order Paper on 8 May, although I think that the point will have been taken.

11.35 am
Mr. David Howell

I am grateful for the opportunity to add a brief peroration to my earlier remarks, which were truncated by the arrival of the Executive in the House.

My theme was that, despite the end of the cold war, we are living in an extremely perilous era; that centrifugal and splintering forces threaten the stability and security of Europe; and that this ancient nation and democracy are not immune to those forces. It is important, therefore, that we have the principles of our foreign policy—nowadays merged with our domestic policy—absolutely clear and, in particular, that we use the opportunity of the Prime Minister's triumph at the time of the Maastricht treaty accords, and of the House being invited to approve a Bill related to the Maastricht treaty, which lies directly ahead, to establish clearly where we want Europe to go. We want it to take a strong lead from London, which we are now in a particularly good position to give, to meet new threats and to adjust to the 21st century. We do not want to recreate some gigantic, over-centralised, overblown structure more appropriate to the 19th century.

The vision that must guide my right hon. Friends is both an old one and a new one: it is the nation, and the nationhood of today, as a unifying force equipped for a 21st century role—as a focus for pride and patriotism and as a bulwark against the disintegrating and centrifugal forces that are everywhere in a dangerously fragmented world. That is what should guide us as we look at the Maastricht treaty.

Mr. Spearing

I am grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in the previous Parliament and endorse what he said about the advisability of the completion of the report on which that Committee was engaged. Would it not be helpful for the report to be completed before we complete our consideration of the relevant Bill?

On that matter, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned subsidiarity and the repatriation of powers. Is it not a fact that the principle of subsidiarity, whatever it be, applies only, as is stated in article 3b of the draft treaty, in areas that do not fall within the executive competence of the Community? Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that, particularly in respect of the single market, that exclusive competence is very wide?

Mr. Howell

The hon. Gentleman is very experienced in these matters and will know that that gives rise to the question of what that competence should be in the future and how these matters should be better defined in a firmer constitutional way than they have in the past, when the arrangements have led to a sensation of the creeping accumulation of powers by the Commission and the Community. Such matters require a great deal of work, and the Maastricht treaty provides not a staging post on the way to European unification and integration but a starting point for all that work, which will establish the kind of flexible and loosely confederal Europe that we need for the 21st century. That will be a force in the world for open and freer trade, as well as an opportunity for the new states of EFTA and the countries of eastern Europe to become part of it.

The statesmen of the new era are those who will really understand and convey to others the weave of the tapestry of the new kind of nationhood—not the old nationalist drum-beating but the concept of the nation as the effective organisational building block in the Europe of the future and in the new world order about which President Bush so frequently speaks.

Conservative Members must never forget our free market principles, our dedication to the individual and our welcome for the collapse of the collectivist and socialist commitment throughout the world as the answer to society's problems. That era has been and gone. But we must also never forget that these principles of ours must be applied in a world which, while seeking freedom everywhere—in Russia and all the former communist countries and in many former totalitarian areas—is also coming close to chaos. We shall require a new commitment to unity on this island. This nation has a golden opportunity to take a most vigorous lead, and we should do so.

11.38 am
Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak so early in the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I congratulate you on your new office. As I listened to the speech of the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), my mind boggled at the idea that the Conservative party might one day forget its free market principles. The day that that happens, we may as well all pack up and go home for ever.

I shall devote my remarks to the European presidency, on which the Foreign Secretary briefly touched and to which the Prime Minister referred on Wednesday. The right hon. Gentleman listed what he described as four "objectives": completion of the single market, continued reform of the common agricultural policy, negotiation of the Community's future finances and the first steps towards the Community's enlargement."—[Official Report, 6 May 1992; Vol. 207, c. 72.] The Prime Minister is in a unique position. He will be the last President of the Community before the single market comes into force on 1 January and the last President of the Community before the Maastricht treaty proposals come into effect. The right hon. Member for Guildford made some interesting remarks about the Maastricht treaty and referred to the variety of debate and discussions throughout the Community about the proposals. Because we have had debates on the issue prior to the Maastricht summit, that does not mean that it is not in order for our Community partners to have their debates afterwards. As the Foreign Secretary said, the debates on Maastricht that occurred in this place last November and December will continue, as it is a continual debate on a continually moving situation. We should welcome the fact that our Community partners will debate the issue at length. We all hope that they will reach the same conclusion that the House reached—that the Maastricht treaty proposals should be brought into force in the new year.

The Prime Minister's predecessor signed the Single European Act in 1986 after a guillotine motion. However, she eventually became hostile to it and became difficult within the Community. It has been left to the Prime Minister to pick up the tab and bring the single market into its final focus before the end of the year.

Reference has been made to a free market, but there must be a clear definition of the single market. The single market involves employment, rights—especially women's rights—and the environment. Under the Prime Minister's presidency, we should like to see a clearer definition of the market. As I have said before, it is not sufficient to have a single market. Such a market must be linked to what the Opposition would describe as social cohesion and that involves the social charter and the social chapter.

There is no point in trying to develop a single market without that social dimension. However we may view the events in Los Angeles, urban deprivation in a country based on the principles of the free market, it is clear what can happen. Our Community partners are aware of that and they understand the significance of a social dimension that goes hand-in-hand with the single market. We will not give up on that argument or walk away from the social chapter or the social charter. We will continue to press the Government on the issue and try to hold them accountable and to persuade them. In the years to come, I believe that the Government will come into line with the social chapter and the social charter like our Community partners.

We must also consider unemployment within the Community. It is clear that the exchange rate mechanism contributes to controlling inflation. However, one of its consequences is high unemployment. There is high unemployment throughout the Community. It is evident in Ireland, Germany and France and we have it here. One of the great challenges of the Government's presidency is to tackle the effects of unemployment in relation to the exchange rate mechanism.

We welcome the reforms that the Prime Minister, as President, will seek to bring about in the common agricultural policy. The right hon. Member for Guildford referred to the budget proposals of the next five years. In that respect, the CAP will still account for 54 per cent. of Community spending. We do not object to reform of the CAP in the interests of consumers, taxpayers, farmers and the countryside. However, the financial benefits of the reform should be devoted to a stronger regional policy and to more structural funds within the Community. We do not believe that the Government have had over the years a coherent and satisfactory strategy on regional investment and regional policy. We do not want a Community with the industrial strength of France and Germany at its hub. We, like people in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, who are on the geographical periphery, should have the benefit of a strong regional policy and strategy.

The Prime Minister said that the membership of the Community would be widened. We welcomed that before the general election and my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has also welcomed it. However, we believe that the vista on human rights should also be widened. There should be more human rights initiatives. We want a little vision as well as pragmatism from the Prime Minister when he assumes the presidency. President Bush did not believe in vision and we have seen some of the consequences of that in Los Angeles.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones)

I intervene now only because I will clearly have difficulty in answering all the points when I reply and the hon. Gentleman has raised an important matter. I am sure that he will agree that, with regard to human rights, we should try to avoid duplication as we consider the role of the various institutions in the face of the new world order. The Council of Europe has a distinguished role in human rights and one might almost argue that it covers the human rights dimension of the European endeavour. We must be very careful not to have two worthy institutions to which we belong competing for competence.

Mr. Bell

I agree that they should be compatible and that they should not compete. If Labour had been in office, we would have been anxious to establish a European environmental initiative to go hand-in-hand with our vision on human rights and widening of membership.

The Prime Minister was correct to point out on Wednesday that he is the first head of Government in the Group of Seven to undertake to attend the Rio summit on the environment. He was also right to say that he would back our commitment to the target of returning carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000 provided that others do the same. He was also right to say that he hopes to sign global conventions on biological diversity and climatic change. However, the launching of a European environmental initiative under the Prime Minister's presidency would boost the Community's fifth action programme for the environment. As 1992 happens to be the European year of health and safety, he should use the European environmental initiative to pay special attention to health and safety and environmental issues in the workplace.

I do not want to prolong the debate, as at least two hon. Members wish to make maiden speeches. However, as the Prime Minister approaches the time to assume the presidency, he should be aware that his record and that of the Government hardly inspire confidence as we move towards 1 January. The Government have presided over record levels of unemployment and business failures. They have presided over record levels of homelessness, interest rates, home repossessions, crime levels and trade deficits.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton said earlier that when he listened to the debate on the Queen's Speech on Wednesday he thought of lost opportunities. When I listened to the Prime Minister on Wednesday I thought of Alexandre Ledreu Rollin, who was a lawyer and politician. He was one of the chief instigators of the February revolution of 1848—one of those socialist springtimes that we seldom see these days. As he forced his way through the mob, he cried to the crowd, "Let me pass. I have to follow them. I am their leader."

Faced with the fact that the British Government are already threatening to veto any proposal to reduce our budget rebate, faced with the fact that we have opted out of the social charter of the Maastricht treaty, faced with the fact that we are not in the narrow bands of the exchange rate mechanism, faced with the fact that we have little prospect of having the European central bank in London, faced with the fact that we have opted out of European monetary union, faced with the fact that the new Secretary of State for Employment has already been seen in the corridors of Brussels resisting a 48-hour week directive, on 1 July the Prime Minister will find himself seeking to scramble through groups of Community leaders, saying, "I am the Prime Minister, I am the President of the Community, let me pass, I am your leader." That may not be an epitaph for a president who is yet to begin his term, but, regrettably, it is the likeliest outcome.

11.50 am
Sir Rhodes Boyson (Brent, North)

I wish to comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell). In the council elections yesterday, there was little sign of the so-called enthusiastic return to the Labour party and the social charter, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman should not appear in the streets trying to enthuse people either as their leader or as their supporter.

There were three points in the Foreign Secretary's speech on which I should like to comment. First, my constituency has a large Greek-Cypriot population, so there is considerable concern regarding the Cypriot situation and I therefore listened carefully to what was said about that this morning. The second point concerns Kashmir and the third concerns Hong Kong. My memories of Kashmir and Hong Kong go far back, as I served in the services in India at the time of independence and also during the reoccupation of Hong Kong, so we can have a bit of history not just of the 19th century but of this century.

On Kashmir, unless we return to the agreement that was signed at one stage, that problem will go. Pressure must be brought to bear on that point. On Hong Kong, one hopes that as many liberties as possible will be transferred to the people before the country is linked once again with China.

I commend the Gracious Speech as one following a remarkable election victory, largely due to the popularity of the Prime Minister and the unpopularity of the Labour party. I do not want to rub that in, but I really must, as I made a note of it.

We have been elected on approval. I underline "on approval", rather like stamps, to get the economy right, to maintain the constitution and also to put right our relations with Europe. Those are the three issues on which the next two or three years of successful Conservative government will be decided.

I welcome the 0.5 per cent. reduction in interest rates this week, but our real rate of interest is still about two and a half times that of the United States of America or Japan. I do not believe that there will be a real economic revival until we get the real interest rate much lower than it is at present.

I agree also that one of the reasons why we won the general election was taxation. The public at large did not agree with the policy of the Labour party. Although we have lost the empire to which I referred, we have kept a language. The very fact that English and not Esperanto is the language of the world means that we have to compete with the rest of the world in respect of wages and taxes or we shall lose our scientists, engineers and business men. It is very important that we keep taxes down. I welcome the 20 per cent. level, and I trust that it will apply for all people on the standard rate within the next five years of this Government. However, I should also like the top rate to be reduced to 30 per cent., again to encourage business men and entrepreneurs to come to this country.

We can have low taxes only if we keep Government expenditure under control. In this century, the more Parliament meets and the more Ministers there are, the more Bills costing money in the long run are passed. I was delighted that the Gracious Speech said that the Government will reduce the share of national income taken by the public sector. Up to 1987 we achieved that—we brought it below 40 per cent.—but in the past four years it has crept up again, as it always does, to about 43 per cent. We must get it back to below 40 per cent., as in Switzerland and Japan. The 40 per cent. level is very important. The various taxes that are taken from people in this country currently represent £10,000 per person at work. Nobody can say that we are a low tax country. The more that people make decisions about their own money, the better society is—rather than such decisions being made by Government committees, however elevated.

There is growing concern about European restrictions on free trade and manufacture. I say that not as a Euro-cynic but as a Euro-sceptic. I voted to remain in Europe, but I have always been far more dubious than the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, as he knows. If there are restrictions, Europe will be much less competitive with the rest of the world and the growing economies of the far east will surpass our ability to produce at a certain price.

It is apposite that I follow the hon. Member for Middlesbrough. I have great respect for the way in which he successfully fought a certain issue years ago. However, I disagree with him entirely on this matter. I am not happy about the Government's attitude to the 48-hour European directive. I want no restrictions on hours worked. Such decisions should be made entirely in this country. It is no use getting the social charter right in general and then losing every individual case that comes up. I see a degree of wobble in this matter. I do not like wobbling, and there was wobble on this last weekend. I trust that we can get a bit more spine before the decisions are made.

It is vital that we get an agreement on GATT. Financial services are something that this country does well, but we shall not be able to sell them to the world if we are handicapped by the European agricultural policy and subsidies for inefficient French and German farmers.

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I looked around and saw a man of great distinction sitting in a Chair in which I have never seen him sitting before, and I am sure that the whole House will approve that elevation; I did not even see him walk in—he just arrived there to the great amazement of us all.

The election was clearly won by the Prime Minister's firm stand on constitutional issues. In the last resort, constitution issues matter even more than economical issues. Those constitutional issues are proportional representation, devolution or the break-up of the United Kingdom, and federal Europe.

Proportional representation is always backed by parties when they cannot win elections. When the Liberal party formed the Government of the country, it did nothing about it. Since the second world war the Labour party has twice had large majorities, but did nothing about proportional representation. I am reminded of the analogy of the boy who takes his bat away when somebody hits his wickets, as if to say, "If I can't bat, no one is going to play." Proportional representation would make the outcome of every election a hung Parliament. Italy, with its 50 Governments since the war and its 18 parties, Poland with its 29 parties—[Interruption.] The evidence is there, even though the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) may not like it. The hon. Gentleman can always write to me with his evidence, and I will study it and reply. I always respect his views and do not always disagree with him. Last November Belgium took 100 days to form a Government. It also has a debt of 130 per cent. of its gross national product. Otto Von Habsburg, a Member of the European Parliament, has said that if Germany had had the first-past-the-post system after 1918 there would have been no Hitler. Recently in Baden-Wurttemberg, extremists achieved 11 per cent. of the vote and 15 seats. In Schleswig-Holstein, with a 6.5 per cent. vote they gained five seats.

We should remember that at a general election we vote to elect a Government. We do not vote for a set of pressure groups battling to control the country and changing from time to time. We want a firm Government. I believe that that is what the public want. It would be suicidal to move to any form of proportional representation.

The second point is the unity of the United Kingdom. I do not want six separate English assemblies. I had enough with the Greater London council. I do not want separate assemblies for Wales and Scotland. Once we start setting up such assemblies the people serving on them will inevitably have a vested interest in breaking up the United Kingdom.

The number of Members of Parliament who represent the various parts of the United Kingdom should be checked. The increase in the number of Members proportionally representing Wales and Scotland led to the destruction of the grammar schools in England beginning in 1964. At that time the Labour party was elected to government because of its extra seats in Scotland and Wales. The English electorate wanted the grammar schools to remain. People still want some form of selection. I leave that gently to be thought about by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's firm stand on the constitution won us two more seats in Scotland, and also did us quite nicely in Scotland yesterday. I am sorry to rub it in—it just seems to come out from time to time like a cork out of a bottle, and I feel ashamed every time because there must be much sorrow on the other side today. I am not offering drinks to all, but I recognise that there must be much sorrow.

My last point is opposition to a federal Europe. I was delighted and the country and certainly my constituents were delighted—they came out into the streets—when the Prime Minister said in the last week of the election campaign: I do not support a united states of Europe … I am not a federalist. I was happier when we had the European Economic Community than when it became the European Community and put its hands into all other spheres. I certainly do not want a common currency or a central bank. Nor do I want to be ruled by the code Napoleon, against which our ancestors fought in the Napoleonic wars. I do not want to be allowed to do only what the state allows. That is the opposite of the position in Britain today, where liberties exist unless the state takes them away.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

The right hon. Gentleman is going back to the Edwardian age.

Sir Rhodes Boyson

There was nothing wrong with the Edwardian age, but I must not get into a conversation about that. My apologies, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I was incited. I must not be interrupted, especially as I am near my conclusion. My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) was interrupted. I agreed with his speech. When we withdrew, we did it because we agreed with one another's speeches. My elder daughter lives in my right hon. Friend's constituency and voted for him, so I listen to what he says carefully and report back so that she can be sure he is on the lines that he ought to be.

Mr. David Howell

And my right hon. Friend's granddaughter.

Sir Rhodes Boyson

Indeed, I have two granddaughters living in my right hon. Friend's constituency.

To return to my theme—I am being diverted and I must resist this, Mr. Deputy Speaker—the last thing that I want is to become part of a bureaucratic, restrictive nightmare Europe, as against an economic one which, by division of powers, creates greater prosperity.

Finally, I have to say that I look forward to four more Queen's Speeches in this Parliament before the next election. I was glad to hear the speech of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I served as his deputy for one year in the Northern Ireland Office and worked well with him there. His speech was a good resumé. The only matter that I am concerned about is that we should watch the development of our relationship with Europe so that it is of advantage and not disadvantage to Britain.

12.4 pm

Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)

I echo the congratulations that you have already been given, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment. We are pleased that you are in the Chair.

I suppose that if I study the speech of the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) in Hansard tomorrow, on the usual odds I will find something in it with which I agree. But at the moment of speaking I cannot think of anything. The speech of the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), which preceded that of the right hon. Member for Brent, North and was lauded by him, was backward, negative, old-fashioned and narrowly conservative in a way that I found disappointing. It was much worse than usual.

I wish to speak on three matters and I shall be brief because I realise the pressures of time. The United Nations, to which the Foreign Secretary and other hon. Members referred, is the first matter. The position at the United Nations has changed since the end of the cold war in that the famous Soviet veto has been withdrawn. Fortunately, so far there is no sign, although one can never be sure, that the Chinese will follow where the Soviet Union previously blocked. The Chinese did not block during the progress of the Gulf war. They did not block the measures taken to protect the Kurds in northern Iraq. One must be hopeful. The United Nations now has the capacity to take action. Therefore, in future it should be much more interventionist in its role of maintaining and sustaining peace and spreading health, education, economic development and so on throughout the world.

I have said before in the House that the two basic propositions upon which international diplomacy has been based since the war are out of date. The first is that there should be no interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. That was firmly and clearly breached in the case of the protection of the Kurds in northern Iraq. I am sure that it will be breached more and more in the future. At a certain stage, the international community cannot allow certain things to happen. It will therefore act if it is in a position to do so.

The second proposition is that each state has territorial integrity and that no boundaries should ever be changed. I have always thought that that was rather a ridiculous proposition. Sensibly, many boundaries should be changed. It is perfectly true that if equivalent human rights are provided, it perhaps does not matter too much what the country in which one lives is called. Nevertheless, there are plenty of examples of people wanting to live in one country rather than another. What people want is of some importance.

The right hon. Member for Brent, North may say that he does not want the Scots, the Welsh or anyone to have any sort of representative assembly. But I remind him that, despite the marginal increase in support in Scotland for the Tories, the great majority of people want some sort of representative assembly. The majority do not want independence, do not want to split up the United Kingdom and do not believe that the establishment of an assembly would be the first step on some slippery slope. In democracy there ought to be some opportunity to create such assemblies.

I wish to make one more point on the Kurds. I noticed the Minister react slightly on that point. The Minister will know that an internal election is being held by the Kurds in northern Iraq. It has been able to take place only because the German Landt of North Rhine-Westphalia has sent the Kurds the necessary ballot papers, which they did not have, and indelible ink, which is necessary because the Kurds have no registers whatever. What have we done? Not very much, I am afraid. We have been asked to send observers, even unofficially, yet we have refused to do so.

Saddam Hussein is still harrying the Kurds by both long-range shelling and occasional incursions of aircraft. They are still subject to considerable pressures. There is interference in human rights. Considering the amount of money we spent and the lives that were lost—not many, but each life in itself is valuable—I am not impressed with human rights in Kuwait. I am certainly not impressed with the way that administratively it has treated its internal Palestinian population. I am not impressed by the way that some of the domestics who seek work there have been treated. It is something that the Kuwaitis should put right, and the international community should tell them to do so.

In an intervention, the Minister referred to the Council of Europe and said that we do not want competition for competence. That is right. Although the Council of Europe dabbles in many matters, basically it is concerned with culture, education and human rights. It is the European Community which competes with the Council of Europe, not the other way around. The European Community has enough to do without dabbling in culture and education. Of course, an overlap on human rights is inevitable. Both are interested in that matter, and there is no way around that. The Minister is nodding sagely. Perhaps he would consider giving a little more money to the Council of Europe. He looks horrified by the possibility.

Mr. Garel-Jones

I am not looking horrified. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows Britain is one of the "grands payeurs" in the Council of Europe. Our contribution each year is decided on a vote among its members, and the hon. Gentleman knows that we always meet whatever contribution is set. Britain is one of the four largest contributors.

Sir Russell Johnston

I am not talking just about Britain. It is important to consider the overall level of contribution that member states make to the sort of work that they expect the Council of Europe to do. That contribution is less than it should be.

I want to say a word about UNESCO, which has not been referred to by previous speakers. I have a rather bitter recollection of the Government's announcement about UNESCO on 22 November 1984, which also happened to be the day that the Liberal party had its first full Supply day in the House since the war. At that time there was famine in Ethiopia and we chose overseas aid as the subject. I had the honour of opening that debate. It was the first time that a Liberal had spoken for half an hour in introducing a debate. In the middle of the debate, the then Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, decided to announce the United Kingdom's withdrawal from UNESCO. That meant that all the coverage in the newspapers the next day was about UNESCO, with not a word about the Ethiopian problem.

We should rejoin UNESCO as quickly as possible; there is no justification for staying outside it. The argument that somehow our coming out of it led to a reform of the organisation is spurious. I agree that there were a number of problems, most of them to do with the previous director-general, who was a strange person in some respects. He was certainly very dictatorial. Those countries that remained in the organisation have been responsible for the changes.

Arms control has already been mentioned as a major United Nations preoccupation, so I do not need to repeat what has been said. I agree that we should work actively, through the United Nations, to control the sale of arms.

As I said, I reject the approach of the right hon. Members for Guildford and for Brent, North towards the European Community. Our approach has always been a federal one. Federalism does not mean centralisation; it means decentralisation. Our approach is fundamentally different from the Government's approach which, as the Foreign Secretary said, has tended to be based on an intergovernmental model. We are arguing for a supranational model with structured devolution in a federation. Maastricht was a missed opportunity, and we contributed to the missing of it.

There should be a common foreign and security policy. I am puzzled by this rather opaque reference in the Queen's Speech: They will aim to develop the Western European Union as a means of strengthening the European pillar of the alliance and the defence component of the European Union. I am all in favour of a defence component of the European union. There is great sense and merit in using the WEU as a bridge because members of the WEU are also members of the European Community—although not the other way around because of Ireland and because of countries such as Austria coming in. Neutrality is an out-of-date word because there are no sides to be neutral in between. I should like the WEU to act as a bridge, and if that is what the phrase in the Queen's Speech means, I am pleased.

I do not need to repeat what was said by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) about the social charter and the need to have a social component in the single market. I agree with what he said.

The right hon. Member for Guildford is an amiable gentleman, but sadly many amiable gentleman utter strange remarks. Among the many things in his speech with which I disagreed was his comment that the idea of a single currency was fatuous. Far from being fatuous, it is thought by many to be a necessary precondition to an actively operating single market. It would also be convenient both for business and the individual citizen.

I had expected some words on the European budget because that will be a problem for the European Community. For some time, we have needed a general review of the way that individual countries pay, perhaps related to gross national product. There will be a row about the special British provision. I hope that the Government will consult the House considerably in advance.

Another criticism of the right hon. Member for Guildford was that the European Community was unaccountable. Very often, the reason why we do not know about European measures in advance is that Ministers do not put them before the House and ask it to express its opinion until after the event. Therefore, it is our fault, not the fault of the structure of the European Community.

How big will the European Community be? Is there an optimum size or will it just go on growing, like Topsy? I think that a line should be drawn somewhere, but I am not sure where. Once we start going to places like the Aleutian islands, as the Minister said, it becomes a little out of hand and difficult.

Mr. Garel-Jones

I intervene in the hon. Gentleman's speech again lest I am unable to deal with all the points that he is making when I reply to the debate. I cannot let him get away with the assertion that the Government do not inform the House on those issues. I dare say that our mechanisms for informing the House about and discussing them with hon. Members European directives are susceptible to improvement. But, as the hon. Gentleman knows, every draft directive that issues from Brussels must be made available to the House within 24 hours, must be accompanied by an explanatory memorandum within 10 days and must then be examined by the Scrutiny Committee. That arrangement may be susceptible to improvement, but the hon. Gentleman is being a little hard in saying that the House is not kept informed on those matters.

Sir Russell Johnston

The Minister should count himself lucky that I am being only a little hard. My complaint is not that documents are not necessarily available. I am speaking of the means of open discussion, in advance of Ministers attending the Council. That situation is not satisfactory.

The Foreign Secretary spoke of what he called destructive nationalism appearing in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. What has been happening there has been horrifying and, in many cases, barbaric. I do not agree with the view on Yugoslavia expressed by the right hon. Member for Guildford, I heard him state on "The World at One" recently. He blames the Germans. It is not fair to blame them for what that right hon. Gentleman would call the over-rapid recognition of Slovenia and Croatia. That was inevitable.

I also believe that what is now happening in Bosnia and Hercegovina would have happened anyway. There was no way to stop it, apart from intervening militarily, and one can understand why no country was prepared to put troops in such a role. We might have considered some means of keeping the Yugoslav air force on the ground. We had the capacity to do that without creating much danger for ourselves. We did it in Iraq extremely effectively. For example, I would not be against telling the Serbians, "You will not use your aircraft casually to launch rockets and kill civilians here and there." I have already put that proposition to the Foreign Secretary.

The Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) should remember, in terms of destructive nationalism, that Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union on a vaster scale, imposed central imperial power on recognised national groups. We are seeing the revolt against that.

Time in this debate is precious and I cannot deal with many points that I would otherwise have raised. The know-how funds are doing well, although it is clear that we could spend far more, and more flexibility by the Treasury would be welcome. I appreciate the approach of the Government in using the money carefully. I also appreciate that it is not easy to have control over the money in large areas. To ensure that the money is used wisely is a good precaution, but we may need to make a bigger international effort, perhaps in the terms expressed by the right hon. Member for Gorton in relation to a Marshall plan approach. I hope that at the G7 discussions in Munich the British Government will take a positive approach to such a proposal, should one come forward.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in terms of the know-how funds, the Government should look carefully at the possibility of increasing assistance to eastern Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union to provide help in respect of civilian nuclear installations, which constitute a menace to them and to us? There is scope for Britain to offer technical help in dealing with such problems.

Sir Russell Johnston

I am not competent to say whether that could appropriately come under the know-how funds. Perhaps it comes under the arrangements which already exist within the Atomic Energy Authority, which already has 50 or 60 people in the Soviet Union. I agree with my hon. Friend that we must try to give help.

My central criticism of the Government's approach is that they are too laid back. I fear that there are still too many on the Government Benches who believe that, somehow, everything the British do is better than what can be done by everyone else. I do not take that view. We should talk more positively about co-operation, not only in the immediate area of the European Community but in terms of contributing more on the international scene through the United Nations.

12.26 pm
Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker. To see, as the new Chairman of Ways and Means, someone from one's own intake abandoning the boisterousness of the Back Benches and becoming a pillar of the parliamentary establishment brings joy to those you have left in the swamps behind you.

I also pay tribute to the Foreign Secretary. We in this country are lucky to have Rolls-Royce diplomacy, and I cannot think of a better driver for that Rolls-Royce. To change the metaphor, Britain has the ability to box above its weight in international affairs, and I suspect that that was an important factor in the recent general election.

The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston)—I have spoken following him in many debates—survived the election with only 26 per cent. of the vote in his constituency. We are used to being lectured by those on the Bench which he occupies on the danger of running the nation with what they describe as a small percentage of the total vote. I shall search his speech in Hansard carefully tomorrow to see if a note of humility entered his contribution, bearing in mind his share of the vote.

I wish at the outset to discuss defence. Deciding which subjects to choose, bearing in mind the time available for the debate, is like being offered a box of chocolates. One picks one or two, but not long afterwards realises that it was a shame not to have chosen some of the others.

I was among those who were persuaded to support the "Options for Change" proposals. I did so with some reluctance, having a military background. It seemed right that Britain should be responding to the changing scene in eastern Europe, with east Germany now part of NATO and with Russia applying to be a member of NATO as well. I see one of my Whips with his pencil poised. I enter a note of caution; the rest of my remarks today will be rather bland.

We have cut defence expenditure by 6 per cent. In the election campaign, our opponents were suggesting cuts of 27 and even 50 per cent. Having cut defence by 6 per cent., I would find it hard to support in this Parliament any further cuts, still less be persuaded or be asked to persuade any of my hon. Friends, that such a further cut was practical in today's terms.

Changing from a continental to a maritime strategy, as we are doing, is expensive, occasioning greater mobility involving more helicopters, better communications and so on. We cannot have defence on the cheap and it has never been our policy to attempt to do that.

In considering the situation in Europe, one is looking at a vast scene. I note that, in a parliamentary handbook, I am described as a Euro-idealist, whatever that may mean. It was curious in the last election to find myself outflanked by the Liberal Democrats and my Labour opponent, whose approach was so remote from public opinion that they did themselves great harm. Even so, there is an element of idealism in what we are attempting to do in Europe.

As I have told the House before, my grandfather, who was in the Navy, was a beachmaster at Gallipoli and my father was shot in the face at Dunkirk. Both wars came about because Europe was divided, and I take great delight in the fact that my generation is in the process of building up a Europe that will be strong enough to resist such pressures and, I hope, to extend peace to other parts of the world.

Some people are engaged in an argument about a wider and deeper Europe, and I heard what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had to say. My personal preference is for greater attention to depth. I have spoken to politicians and diplomats in eastern European countries. They have a thirst for membership of the European Community. They are in danger of seeing it as the answer to all their economic and political problems, which is nonsense. Many of those countries are not ready for the European Community and will not be for a long time to come, but I understand their support for the European Community—it is only natural.

We should not be ashamed of what we are trying to do. Twelve ancient, proud countries are trying to come together to achieve greater coherence to our foreign policy. That is jolly hard to achieve. We are trying to have a genuine common market and to do something about subsidies and the crazy common agricultural policy. We should not be ashamed of taking time to sort out our own problems before we widen the European Community, although I agree that we cannot wait until everything is perfect before we attempt to do so.

I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber said about our approach to the middle east. I believe that Britain has a greater responsibility for the Palestinian issue than any other country in the world. Our predecessors made a ghastly blunder. They promised a small strip of land to two different peoples: the Arabs, who had helped Britain get rid of the Turks from Jerusalem and to destroy the Ottoman empire; and the Jews, who were at that time seeking a homeland, as they were dispersed throughout Europe. I am unhappy that we have only observer status at the current rounds of talks. Although I welcome those talks, they are going down an odd track.

A few months ago, I was invited to sign a petition by a prominent composer in Iceland. Part of it said: It is the policy of the United States that the Conference —referring to Madrid— will not be based on international law or on UN resolutions but on the current balance of power between participants. The Palestinian people is now pressured to relinquish its inalienable and universally recognised rights, as fixed in the UN Charter and repeatedly endorsed by the General Assembly of the UN". I decided not to sign his petition, but he had a point when he suggested self-determination. Although it is not a theoretical concept for this country—God knows, we fought a war 8,000 miles away in the south Atlantic so that 1,800 people could exercise their rights of self-determination and in recent months we felt that the Kuwaitis were justified in resisting Iraqi aggression—what about self-determination for the Palestinian people?

I hope that the Foreign Office does not feel that we can simply leave it to the United States. I welcome the achievements of Bush and Baker, but 33 per cent. of Israeli goods flow into Europe and we are entitled to tell the Israelis that, if they want special treatment within the European Community, they should behave according to the Geneva convention in terms of a country occupying territory.

Unbelievably Yitzhak Shamir said in Madrid that the problem was not about territory. What would we have said if Galtieri, at the time of the Falklands conflict when the Argentine troops were in Stanley, had said that he was prepared to have a conference and discuss the long-term political future of the south Atlantic but that, naturally, territory did not form part of the dispute? I say bluntly that, in the middle east, we are talking about the military occupation of land. In my father's generation, in 1939 in Europe, the military occupation of land was unacceptable. It is equally unacceptable in the 1990s, and must be brought to an end.

In the past 18 years, I have taken up much of the time of the House speaking about Cyprus. I started my adult life being shot at by EOKA. I was lucky enough to guard Sir Hugh Foot, the last colonial governor of Cyprus, and I have been fascinated by that beautiful but tragic island ever since.

Once again, the world looks to the United Kingdom to give a lead. Even the United States says to us, "You know the place; you were the colonial power and you have sovereign bases, so you give us the lead." We are right to support the Secretary-General, but I hope—the Foreign Secretary gave us some encouragement—that we shall play a major role in obtaining a successful conclusion to the talks.

At a time when barriers are coming down across Europe—I was in Berlin when the wall went up, and I was delighted to see it come down—it is disgraceful that, in Cyprus, there is still a green line—in fact, it is rusty red —running across that beautiful country. It divides one group of people from another and it requires a United Nations force, including British troops, to keep the two sides apart. Cyprus is a member of the Commonwealth and wants to be part of the European Community. We have clear obligations that I want to see carried through to the limit.

I find myself in optimistic mood. My hon. Friends will know that I did not always agree with what the Government tried to do in the 1980s. I thought that there were occasions when we were arrogant and did not listen to the people of this country. I am happy with the way that we have resolved various problems, and I am more than delighted that the British public have supported us in what we have done.

I look forward to five years of widening prosperity. I like the image, once used by Churchill, of the rearguard being brought in. We know from our constituencies that we have rearguards that need to be brought in. In our inner cities, among some of the poorest people of the country, there is a sense of isolation. The Conservative message is not merely to promote competition; it contains an important element of compassion.

The other day I came across a Gaelic blessing, "May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, may the sun shine on your face." Following what, for me, came as an unexpected election victory, the road is rising to meet the Government of the day. The local elections suggest that the wind of public opinion is still at our back. We have suffered a cruel recession; there is a high level of unemployment in my London borough. But I believe that we are lifting out of that recession. I also believe that a bit of sunshine on their faces will be warmly welcomed by the people of this country.

12.37 pm
Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment. You are new to your post and I am new to the House. As a new Member, I was given advice by some of my colleagues. Some people said, "You should try to be non-controversial, but then you risk being boring." Other people said, "You should try to be controversial, but then you risk being interrupted." I hope that I shall strike a balance—perhaps I shall be both boring and interrupted.

I succeed a Member, Neil Thorne, who served the House for 13 years and had a reputation among his constituents of dealing diligently with their problems. He is bitterly disappointed at his defeat, and I arrive as someone who never expected to be elected in such circumstances. Throughout its history, the constituency of Ilford, South has normally followed the national trend. There have been only two occasions since 1945 when the constituency has had a Member of Parliament different from the Government. In 1950–51 and 1964–66, it had a Conservative Member of Parliament under a Labour Government.

I am the first Labour Member of Parliament for Ilford, South to serve under a Conservative Government. My constituency is an Essex constituency. I was born in Essex and I am a man of Essex. We are not all Thatcherites or Tories in Essex—there are many Labour Essex men and women. In my constituency there was a swing to the Labour party of 5.9 per cent., three times the national average and twice the London average. That happened because we fought on the policies that the Labour party fought on nationally—on transport, health and education, and unemployment. We fought consistently and firmly, and we won.

I therefore do not believe that some of the explanations for Labour's defeat are necessarily valid. Sweeping generalisations do not take account of different results in defferent constituencies.

I want to say a word about another predecessor of mine. In 1974, when I was still a student, I worked through the summer trying to get postal votes on the Becontree estate in Goodmayes, one of the wards in my constituency, on behalf of the Labour Member of Parliament, Arnold Shaw, who had been the Member from 1966 to 1970. He was re-elected in February 1974, and I helped him to get an increased majority in the October 1974 election.

Arnold Shaw worked hard on a number of issues. He was a firm opponent of racism and was firmly in favour of stopping all cruelty to animals. If I can follow in his footsteps, in those two areas I will be a worthy successor to him.

Mine is a London constituency in Essex. Ilford expanded 100 years ago because of the coming of the railways. Now 40 per cent. of its people commute into central London, travelling from Seven Kings and Ilford to Liverpool Street or on the Central line from Newbury Park and Gants Hill to the centre of London. Alternatively, they have to try to drive down the Romford Road or go along the appalling A13 through the chicane around Canning Town.

It is appallingly difficult for anyone living in east London to travel into central London to work. East London is the neglected part of this city. It is the area with the highest unemployment, and it has suffered from a lack of investment. It also suffers greatly from the fact that we have no strategic Greater London authority to provide planning and environmental measures to help our community. Ilford would greatly benefit from such a body.

We would also benefit from the end of the recession and the ending of unemployment which has resulted in one in nine of my constituents being out of work. We lost half our manufacturing industry in the late 1980s. A vivid example of that occurred last week, when the Plessey factory in Ilford started being knocked down. It has been disused and empty for some time—since even before the defence cuts under "Options for Change". Plessey was symbolic to Ilford, but the jobs disappeared a long time ago, and now the factory is just rubble. We need to ensure that the same fate does not overtake other defence industry workers and defence establishments, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said earlier.

My constituency is a mixed one. East London and Ilford have often received immigrants and refugees from other parts of the world and we have Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and many others from various parts of the world. We also have a large Irish Catholic community and people from the Caribbean and Africa. We all live in harmony.

Although there are difficult international questions—the one over Kashmir being a case in point, events in the middle east being another—there is harmony in our community. It is a bit ironic to note that if the grandparents of some people in Ilford tried to seek asylum in this country today, they would suffer fingerprinting, restrictions, fines on air carriers and, potentially, the inability to seek asylum if the Bill introduced before the election is reintroduced.

We need a sense of history and perspective. The ancestors of many hon. Members sought refuge in this country from oppression, exploitation and discrimination. However, the Government and the European Community by some of its proposals seek to erect barriers against people in other countries who are in danger and in fear. I do not accept that, and more should be said about it.

I mentioned the middle east. In that context, I disagree with the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend), because one can draw some hope from the talks process initiated by the United States. That process will be greatly assisted and accelerated if the Labour party wins the election in Israel in June and if there can be greater involvement by European Community countries, including Britain. It is a shame that there are not similar processes in other areas of the world, because Kashmir, for example, would benefit from dialogue and negotiations between the parties in that dispute.

I was struck by the Prime Minister's words on Wednesday. He said: Increasingly, countries that join the European Community will also join the Western European Union, as the European pillar of a common defence effort; but, if the need ever again arose, it would be through NATO that the members of the WEU would defend themselves. Any European country joining the WEU will still look to NATO —including the American presence in Europe—for its defence."—[Official Report, 6 May 1992; Vol. 207, c. 73.] That is fine, but then I read the Maastricht treaty. Article J.4 states: The common foreign and security policy shall include all questions related to the security of the Union, including the eventual framing of a common defence policy, which might in time lead to a common defence. That is a far stronger statement than the one by the Prime Minister, and it is not qualified.

The wording in the Queen's Speech is different again, and does not seem to accord with what the Prime Minister said or with the Maastricht treaty. It states that the Government will aim to develop the Western European Union as a means of strengthening the European pillar of the alliance and the defence component of the European Union. That mentions a "defence component" and not common defence, which is a much stronger term than simply "component".

It is time for the Government to come clean. Do they favour a continuation of the Atlantic Alliance, or do they favour a Western European Union military alliance? They cannot have both, because as anyone who has had discussions with the French socialist Government or with people in other European countries knows, ultimately one must make a choice.

So far, the Government have refused clearly to spell out their aims. What will be their stand on integrated European forces? What view will they take on British and French nuclear weapons, and where will ultimate authority for them lie? Nowhere in the Queen's Speech or in the debate have we had an answer to those questions, and we deserve answers.

Although there is a reference in the Gracious Speech to the Government working for a comprehensive and verifiable ban on chemical weapons, to prevent the proliferation of biological weapons and other weapons of mass destruction", it is regrettable that there is no reference to a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. How can the Government expect other countries to strengthen the non-proliferation treaty and to preserve it after 1995 if they are not prepared to act in good faith, in accordance with article 6, to secure further measures of nuclear disarmament?

There is a great window of opportunity. Both Russia and France, for different reasons, have placed a moratorium on nuclear testing. Why is Britain not joining them, and persuading China and the United States to follow suit? There would then be the possibility of a global ban on nuclear testing. There is a great opportunity; it will be tragic if it is lost and the French moratorium comes to an end.

I hope to make further contributions to debates in this place. I shall not confine myself to foreign affairs matters. I understood that it would be appropriate to do so today, however, and I appreciate the opportunity that the House has given me.

12.51 pm
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

It is an honour to be able to follow the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes), who confidently and competently exposed his considerable knowledge of international affairs. He and I both represent barometer seats. He told us that his goes back to 1945 and that until the general election his constituency was always represented by a supporter of whatever Government were in office. Gravesham's record goes back to 1922, and has bucked the trend on only two occasions. I wish the hon. Gentleman well over the next four or five years. Barometer seats are such that I shall be back in the House after the next general election and he will not.

It is a good morning for debating the Gracious Speech. We are secure in the knoweldge that we shall have a Conservative Government with a majority for at least the next five years. This morning we are safe in the knoweldge that throughout the country 1,000 Conservative councillors have been safely returned to serve their councils over the years ahead. However, there is no room for triumphalism on the Government Benches. The Conservative party won the general election because of the manifest unsuitability of the Labour party for government, but early canvasses and opinion polls made it clear that the electorate was dissatisfied with two years of recession and with the way the Government handled those matters, and took the view that responsibility for the recession rested in no small measure with us.

I fear that we turned the tourniquet too tightly when dealing with an inflationary surge. I well remember our departed right hon. Friend, Norman Tebbit, warning the then Chancellor of the Exchequer of the dangers of turning the tourniquet too tightly and creating a recession. His comments were extremely relevant, especially with hindsight.

The people knew, however, that there was no contest when it came to who had the economic competence and fitness to lead the country out of the recession. That is why we have a Conservative Government. The country also weighed up possible leadership in the international arena in the years ahead, the choice being between the right hon. Members for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) and for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and my right hon. Friends the Members for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) and for Witney (Mr. Hurd). What a choice that was, and there was no doubt what the result would be in a general election. The team that is to lead Britain in a changed world needs to be excellent, thorough and understanding.

We have a changed world indeed. The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, for example, are gone and in their place is turmoil and Balkanisation. There is a warning for this country in the dangers of Balkanisation when we think of the integrity of the United Kingdom. The United States is troubled and wallowing in lack of direction. The symptoms of that were shown recently in Los Angeles.

Germany seems to have taken very much the wrong track by giving top priority to its territorial ambitions for unification. It has not faced up to the cost of unification, and the way in which it is going about unification is making the rest of Europe and the world pay for the costs of its territorial ambitions. Germany has created a distortion in the strength of the deutschmark which, combined with the relaxation and weakening of the work ethic in Germany, is creating a problem. The Germans must be careful, and they must watch out for the rise of mindless thugs. We are hearing a discordant baying from such people which is reminiscent of the 1930s. The onus is on our friends in the Christian Democratic Union and in the Christian Social Union to stand firm and courageous, and not to give way to the intolerant racist beast which has lain dormant for 40 years in the breast of the German nation.

Across the channel, France is yet another example of the failures of socialism. This should be a great opportunity for the moderate right in France. The way forward for the moderate right in France is not to make references to "smelly foreigners", but to remember the wise statement quoted by Sir Winston Churchill: United we stand—divided we fall. It is incumbent on moderate conservative parties in France to get together and to win power in France—and to join us in creating a new Europe of co-operating nation states.

For far too long, France alone has given the leadership in the European Community. Our timidity in not joining the European Community in the first place—and, perhaps, in delaying taking part properly in the exchange rate mechanism—created a situation in which those organisations were moulded in accordance with French vested interests. We need to break that mould and create a new Europe which takes into account the requirements of our country and those of the other smaller nations within the European Community.

In this troubled world, we see Japan losing its self-confidence and going into recession. The work ethic there is also coming into some doubt. We contrast that with the United Kingdom which has a firm majority Government, an economy coming out of recession and a leadership who are the right team with the right policies. We have the right opportunities to bring things about.

The challenge of this Parliament is to get Europe right for the future. The Maastricht agreement, an achievement of the Prime Minister, was one of the great pointers for the public in the general election. The Maastricht agreement and the negotiations showed that we have in the Prime Minister a man of steel. That man of steel will preside over the future of our European Community for six months later this year.

We have a series of challenges in our European Community. We must tame the mushrooming expansion of the convergence funds and we must reform the common agricultural policy. We must carry out a revision of the exchange rate mechanism and we must set the Community on the road to becoming a Community of co-operating nation states and not on the road to becoming a centralised federal bureaucracy. I was delighted to see those objectives headlined and highlighted in the Gracious Speech.

Clearly, we are now on the road to recovery from the recession in this country. With that will come the reduction in the public spending deficit, but the prospects for a reduction could be ruined if we do not face up to the challenge of the convergence funds.

It is a matter of common agreement that the common agricultural policy involves a very large and, to a great extent, wasted expenditure of resources. It was the CAP which created the very large deficit that Britain had to face. If the convergence funds continue on their current course, as proposed, it will make the net United Kingdom contribution to the European Community of £2.1 billion look very small indeed. We all know that the proposals being touted about by Jacques Delors are to increase the regional funds by an extra £7 billion, equivalent to a total of £20 billion by 1997. That vast amount will unstitch the financial solidity of the countries of Europe and put intolerable strains on our own budget.

The reform of the CAP is essential. The failure to reform the CAP is a major cause of the continuing failure of the Uruguay round of GATT. The continuing failure to achieve a successful conclusion to that round could retard or even destroy recovery from worldwide recession. The objectives are best summed up by Arthur Dunkel, who commented recently: By throwing away the weapons of protectionism—import controls, restrictive deals, laws against the free flow of goods and services—a new trade deal will cut European unemployment and help Eastern Europe revive. Above all, it will start to arrest the decline of the poverty-stricken countries of Africa and Latin America. I should like to dwell on the subject of Latin America and Africa. Particularly in Latin America, we have witnessed a remarkable success with the return to democracy. With the one exception of the Cuban dictatorship, all of Latin America has returned to democracy.

Mr. Corbyn

What about Peru?

Mr. Arnold

The recent hiatus in Peru must be dealt with.

Mr. Corbyn

Come on—it was a military coup.

Mr. Arnold

What occurred in Peru represents a response to Marxist terrorism in the form of the Shining Path. Those pressures should be recognised but the consequences should not be acceptable. I am sure that my right hon. Friends have expressed Great Britain's feelings to President Fujimori about that blot on the return of democracy in Latin America—another being Cuba, whose regime the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) supports.

The return of multi-party democracy is not confined to Latin America. It is extending in Africa, as we saw with the handover of power following the elections in Zambia. Combined with the return of democracy to those countries is the introduction of liberal economies, privatisation and the opening up of markets. Like democracy in Peru, those are very fragile flowers and we must work against pressures such as those exerted by the continuing failure to reform GATT. All those improvements would be ruined if the developed world—the European Community, the United States, and Japan—lurched into renewed protectionism.

The other objective is the revision of the exchange rate mechanism. I believe that our membership of the ERM has had a major influence on the recession in the United Kingdom. Although it has had the benevolent effect of creating stable exchange rates of benefit to international trade for Britain and in assisting central banks to control international fund movements by international corporate treasurers and currency speculators, I do not believe that the fixed exchange rate should be an overriding economic objective to the detriment of other economic objectives such as growth and employment. That matter will have to be examined in the months ahead—in particular, we should consider whether there is good sense in tying the ERM currencies to the anchor of the deutschmark. It may well be that, because of events in Germany, that link is already out of date.

Germany made clear policy decisions about the priority of the reunification of Germany and in the process has destroyed the strength and stability of the deutschmark. To retain that strength and stability, Germany has introduced interest rates that are too high in order to maintain the over-valuation of the deutschmark. That is forcing others to alter currency values through excessive interest rates to the detriment of our economies and employment. The redefinition of currency relationships must be a primary objective of the United Kingdom presidency of the Community.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary pleaded that we Europeans should not be for ever tearing up the institutions of Europe to look at the roots. He said that we should leave European Community institutions alone. In particular, we should bear in mind the centralised Community role in foreign affairs. The more we head down the path to a single European voice in the world community, the more likely it is that the Community, as an institution, will take the permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council that we have rightly enjoyed, as have the French, since the United Nations was established. That is a particular aspect of our voice in the world that we must not overlook.

Almost alone among the leading countries in the west, we have a stable Government with a perspective of years. We have an outstanding Foreign Secretary and we have a Prime Minister who has shown his mettle. We must now exercise our leading role in the European Community and in the Security Council to find a new, stable way in a greatly changed world.

1.6 pm

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

I join other hon. Members who have today extended their warm congratulations to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment. Many hon. Members, irrespective of which party they represent, have worked closely with you and the many organisations in this place, and we know how helpful and courteous you have always been. It is a great pleasure to see you join the distinguished new appointments of Madam Speaker and the other Deputy Speakers. I am honoured to make this speech while you are in the Chair.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) on his maiden speech. We have known each other for a long time and we are close friends. In his short speech, he covered many of the issues that are of great concern to London Members, irrespective of the parties that they represent. He also brings to the House a wide knowledge of international affairs. Although he said that that would not be the sole subject on which he will concentrate, I am sure that he will always be listened to with great interest when he speaks on international affairs. It will be only a short time before my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South is held in great respect in the House for his knowledge and for the courtesy that he will show to colleagues in debates and in his general membership of the House. It is a great pleasure to welcome him here.

I want to concentrate solely on Cyprus, for several reasons. Sadly, Cyprus will shortly have been divided for 18 years following the invasion be Turkey in 1974. As other hon. Members have said today, we are one of the guarantor powers for the island of Cyprus. Cyprus is a member of the British Commonwealth.

I welcomed the comments made by the Foreign Secretary and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). Many hon. Members in this place have had a long interest in Cyprus. Like myself, they have always argued for one overriding commitment and principle—a united Cyprus where the rights of the communities on the island, be they Greek or Turkish, are respected and protected. No one has had greater involvement in that criterion for Cyprus than the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend).

Over those long 18 years, many of us have followed the involvement of the United Nations, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. We have had great hopes that there would be an honourable settlement, but, no matter how high our hopes have been, there has been no progress to an honourable settlement.

Sadly, many of the things that we have opposed for many years still exist. The island is divided. Thousands of Turkish troops are still on the island. Stolen property and land are still in the hands of the people who took it, even though they have no lawful right to it. Attempts to attain the free movement of people throughout the island have met with no progress. There have been attempts to open Famagusta as a city. Sadly, again we have got nowhere. Despite our efforts, there has been virtually no meaningful progress.

Although both communities have obviously suffered, the Turkish Cypriots have suffered far more than the Greek Cypriots. There has been very little development in northern Cyprus. Without doubt, the rights of Turkish Cypriots have been eroded. They are given few opportunities to travel. One has seen the lowering of their standard of living. That is one of the things that I deeply regret.

Despite the fact that Mr. Denktash describes himself as the President of northern Cyprus, there is widespread opposition to him within the Turkish Cypriot community. He most certainly does not speak with the full authority of Turkish Cypriots. In October, an article in the Turkish Cypriot newspaper, Ortam—it is still fairly recent—states: Mr. Denktash, who for 30 years has accused his opponents of treason and gagged them through bullying and with political terror, should realise that he has reached the end of the road. Denktash, who is a custom-made person for the cold war period, is unable to keep in step with the new understanding prevailing in the world now. Sadly, that sums up Mr. Denktash. Whereas, to their credit, many Turkish Cypriots wish to see a settlement, we cannot say the same about Mr. Denktash.

What is of specific concern to us and, I hope, to the Government is that there is a debate on Cyprus at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg today. The Minister should note that the number of the relevant document is 6589. It is being presented to the Council of Europe by a member of the Spanish delegation. That member was asked by the Council of Europe to go to Cyprus to find out the number of settlers coming from mainland Turkey to the northern part of Cyprus.

According to that member's report, which is published today—the figures have been given by people in Mr. Denktash's Administration—in 1974, 115,600 people living in northern Cyprus were regarded as Turkish Cypriots. In 1990, the figure given was 171,500 people. In view of that substantial increase, we are entitled to ask who the thousands of extra people living in northern Cyprus are.

I put it to the Minister that those sheer numbers alone have sadly damaged the chance of finding an acceptable solution. We face the problem of what will happen to the people who are now living in northern Cyprus even though they have no basic rights to residency in that part of the island. They were brought there by Mr. Denktash to strengthen his position with the full support of Ankara. It would be interesting to hear exactly what is the Government's view on that point.

For many years, the Americans sadly showed little interest in Cyprus. In February this year, I and other Members of Parliament went to Washington specifically to discuss the situation in Cyprus. To the credit of the Americans, they now obviously wish to see a settlement. We met senior politicians and members of the Administration. They made it clear that they wished to see a settlement in Cyprus. They also said, "If only the British Government would back us up in the kind of settlement that we want, progress could indeed begin." They were highly critical of the lack of meaningful support from the British Government for the efforts of the American Administration in their discussions with not only Mr. Denktash but most especially the Government in Ankara. I will be interested to hear exactly what the Minister says in reply to that comment.

Over the years, I have often asked in the House what the Government's policy was, always to be told, "We support the United Nations." I put it to the Minister that, while I and, I am sure, all Members of the House welcome that, it is no longer sufficient for the Government simply to say that they support the efforts of the United Nations.

The question was asked this morning why a senior Minister from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had not visited the island of Cyprus. Will such a visit be considered in the next few months? It would clearly show both sides in Cyprus and the Governments of Turkey and Greece that Great Britain is as committed as the Americans to a meaningful settlement of the tragedy of Cyprus.

Are we at long last to pressurise—again I use the word "pressurise"—both Mr. Denktash and Ankara for meaningful reductions in the number of Turkish troops stationed on the island? To the credit of Sir Geoffrey Howe, a former Member of the House, he always said to the many hon. Members who met him over the years that it would be common sense for both Turkey and Mr. Denktash sizeably to reduce the number of Turkish troops. Sadly, that has never taken place. Will we put pressure on both Mr. Denktash and Turkey to do so? Are we to see Famagusta opened up as a city? Again, that would give hope in Cyprus.

I come to my final point; I am aware of the time. One of the great problems that we in the House who work for a settlement in Cyprus have always experienced is that, when we seek to hold meetings of Turkish and Greek Cypriots, people who are opposed to Mr. Denktash face enormous problems in being allowed to leave northern Cyprus to come here. If Mr. Denktash really wants a settlement, surely it is common sense to allow Turkish Cypriots to meet Greek Cypriots so that they can discuss their vision for a united Cyprus. As I said, I am in no doubt that many Turkish Cypriots want a settlement. Until Mr. Denktash allows those people to leave Cyprus, it would be better for them to meet in Cyprus, which is their home. Mr. Denktash will never give them permission to go to the south of the island. That is crucial.

The British Government have had a long involvement with Cyprus, for historic reasons. We are entitled to seek much greater involvement of the Government in the long-running tragedy of Cyprus, because I and many hon. Members wish to see an honourable settlement that benefits both Greek and Turkish Cypriots. That is where their home is. We should help them to develop what, in a short space of time, could become one of the most prosperous islands in the world. They have enormous potential which, sadly, has not been developed over the past 18 years. Let us hope that, in the coming years, there will be the movement and the development that will bring great pleasure not only to Cyprus but to many hon. Members.

1.20 pm
Mr. David Evans (Welwyn Hatfield)

I want to add my congratulations on your appointment, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish you well. I wish also to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on his stunning victory on 9 April. Further, I congratulate all the people of Welwyn Hatfield who so wisely voted Conservative yesterday and ousted the Labour district council from power for the first time since 1979. That gives me great pleasure.

Europe was prominent in the Queen's Speech, as was the Asylum Bill. The British people rejected the Labour party, and they do not want to be governed by civil servants in Brussels, champagne socialists in Strasbourg or bankers in Bonn. The vast majority of men and women want to be ruled by this country, not by faceless bureaucrats across the channel. The political union with which they feel comfortable is the nation state, not a super nanny state or part of a federal Europe.

Many people regard nationalism as a dirty word; I do not. It is what binds people together. It provides people with a collective sense of destiny through a common past and a vision of a common future. A nation's personality is forged through its history and that evokes powerful bonds of solidarity.

The world is made up of more than 100 nation states, and two of the most effective models of economic development over the past 30, 40 or 50 years have been Japan and the USA. They have powerful national personalities. By contrast, large multinational states appear to be in perpetual difficulties—for example, the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, India and Nigeria.

In Asia, it is the small states that are forging ahead economically, such as Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea. They quite rightly feel no need to pool their currencies or to form a federal union—a point that appears to be lost on Jacques Delors, on the Opposition and, I am sorry to say, on some of my colleagues.

Delors said in 1988: We will not be able to take all the decisions that need to be taken between now and 1995 without moves towards a European Government of one kind or another. In 10 years time 80 per cent. of economic and perhaps even fiscal and social legislation will originate in the Community. I can only say, "God help us." We will not tolerate socialism through the back door. It is certainly not what the founding fathers of the Community had in mind, never mind what Conservative Members have in mind.

Although the treaty of Rome speaks of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, it is clear from the bulk of the document that, while that aim is political and social, the chief means were to be economic. Economic integration can create prosperity, but it should not be used as an excuse for an act of grand larceny against British sovereignty. The plans to extend the jurisdiction of the already bloated Brussels Commission, the Parliament of Strasbourg and the Luxembourg court are ridiculous. The result will be excessive bureaucracy and bad laws. We can all prosper without the social charter telling us what time we should go to bed.

The common agricultural policy shows us the dangers of allowing the corporatist notions of the Commission to override free market policy. The common agricultural policy accounts for two thirds of the entire Community budget and costs the average European family of four £1,000 a year. We in Britain, as the electorate have displayed on four successive occasions, are acutely aware of the need for less government, less taxation and greater competition, so it is nonsense to sanction the establishment of a highly centralised political union with a powerful federal government in Brussels dictating economic and social priorities to enfeebled member states.

We have seen since Maastricht what can happen in Germany, France, Belgium and Italy. We are the nation with a secure Government. We need no longer listen to what Kohl and Mitterrand are saying. They are dead meat. They are dead in the water: let us not forget that. Europe, east and west, is too diverse, too large and sophisticated, to lend itself to central control. We in Britain have our own traditions and ways of doing things. Europe's prosperity has been built on the nation state. Our success has been due to diversity rather than to administrative and political unity.

We require a union of free states, co-operating as closely as possible, to maintain peace and to ensure economic prosperity. That arrangement should not impinge on issues that are best decided in this House. The EC should learn to keep its nose out of matters that concern United Kingdom national borders. Within two years, perhaps sooner, people will be able to travel freely from one Community country to another. Travellers from all member states will no longer pass through customs.

The Commission further believes that there should be no systematic control of travellers between Community countries, even for the purpose of distinguishing between EC citizens and other nationals. The Commission believes that it should not be necessary for United Kingdom authorities to have any control over a passenger arriving in London from, say, New York, having changed planes in Paris.

Such freedom of movement will work only if the Community can maintain credible external frontiers. This is clearly a matter that the Commission has not thought through. If foreign nationals can enter the country freely and without control, and are legally entitled to stay here for, say, only a short time, how shall we ensure that they leave? The police and immigration authorities will no longer be able to rely on spotting potential trouble at the border.

To combat the problem, the Commission suggests the greater sharing of information between member states, increased co-operation and large fines on companies employing illegal immigrants. Those are the sort of useless, head-in-the-sand solutions put forward by the Labour party. People who enter Britain under false pretences are, on the whole, never heard of again. They become absorbed in the work force and start a new life, often at the taxpayer's expense. The Commission's attitude is at best complacent and at worst negligent.

Statistics show that the population of Europe in the 19th century was one third of the world's population. By 2025, it will be only 6 per cent. The population of the five main southern Mediterranean countries—Morrocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and Turkey—which used to stand at a ratio of 1:3 against western Europe, will soon stand at 2:3. Growing numbers of people in those countries, frustrated by their lives at home, will simply try to move to western Europe.

Germany wants immigration and refugee matters to pass to the Commission. That is hardly surprising, because Germany is the major destination of people seeking asylum. It received 200,000 applicants last year alone, and the right to asylum is formally guaranteed in its constitution. Unable to win all-party agreement for changes in asylum rights, Kohl hopes that the EC may break the deadlock by taking immigration policy out of German hands and giving it instead to the Community institutions.

If there is a final right of appeal in immigration cases in the European Court, the Home Office will no longer have the final say over deportations. In contrast, the United Kingdom has instituted a hard but fair immigration system. There is no reason why we should relinquish our sovereignty on the issue because of difficulties encountered in Bonn. Far from capitulating, we should strengthen our internal safeguards against bogus asylum seekers. I stress the word "bogus", because genuine asylum seekers will always be welcome in the United Kingdom, as is our tradition. But cheats will not.

The number of people applying for asylum in the United Kingdom has risen dramatically, from 5,000 in 1988 to nearly 50,000 last year. The problem is made worse by the disturbing reduction in the percentage of applicants who are recognised as refugees under the conditions laid down in the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees. From 1979–83, on average, 60 per cent. of applicants complied with the benchmark. Last year, the figure went down to 25 per cent.

We need to worry not about legitimate asylum seekers but about those who come here on a visit, to become students, or to visit parents or friends, and who have no intention of leaving. Those are the men and women we seek to stop. They are freeloaders, eager to maintain the good life that they have experienced on their vacation. They seek to circumvent immigration rules and procedures passed and approved by the House, thus putting a huge strain on the resources of the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service.

As a result, only 4,000 decisions were made in 1990 compared with more than 7,000 in the previous year. That discrepancy arises because of the problems of handling increasing numbers of bogus applications. The overall backlog now runs at 60,000 cases, which hurts genuine applicants whose proper assimilation into this country is then delayed because we cannot decide whether those 60,000 people should be here.

It is worth remembering that, despite the Opposition's scandalous smears, the Government have made it perfectly clear that, as a signatory to the United Nations convention, they will not return refugees to countries where they fear persecution. However, since 1975, the number of applicants for asylum in Europe has doubled every three years. More than 500,000 applied in 1991, and who knows what the figures will be in 1992–94? Millions of east Europeans—7 million from Russia alone—seek visas to come to the west.

Mr. Tony Banks

Not to come here.

Mr. Evans

The hon. Gentleman says not to come here, but 800,000 of them want to come here. Who can blame them? They want to taste the good life. Let us not forget that 75 per cent. of asylum seekers already live here. They have come here for their holidays and want to stay and sign on—no problem. There is increasing evidence of multiple applications being made for benefits—129 were recently made by one person. False identities are being assumed for the purpose of making fraudulent social security claims, which are estimated at 100 million. That number may be 500 million or even 1,000 million, who knows?

Mr. Tony Banks

It could be two trillion.

Mr. Evans

It could be—no one knows.

Mr. Banks

Least of all the hon. Member for Welwyn, Hatfield (Mr. Evans).

Mr. Evans

I shall conclude now, as I think that other Members wish to speak.

Faced with such problems, the Government are right to commit more resources and speed up the scrutiny procedures for asylum seekers. I was delighted to learn from the Gracious Speech that the Asylum Bill is to be revived. In addition, I recommend that the Government should consider extra measures for inclusion in the final legislation.

Thousands of people come to Britain under false pretences, never to return to their country of origin. Those families draw social security benefits to which they have made no contribution. Would it not be a good idea if asylum seekers and their families received no state benefit until they had paid five years of taxes? Applicants should be placed in secure accommodation, not allowed to leapfrog people who have been waiting for houses for years. Many constituents who see that happening become upset.

Applicants should be placed in accommodation while their claims are being considered, not in permanent residences. It may be worth commissioning disused army camps for the purpose. I hope that the Government will consider introducing a moratorium, and not allowing anyone into the country for two years so that we can deal with the 60,000 backlog.

We must not become the dumping ground for the world's freeloaders and bogus asylum seekers. We are a compassionate nation, but we should not allow our immigration policy to become a joke throughout the world. At present, people are told, "Get to the United Kingdom where you will be paid £100 a week for doing nothing." We taxpayers are not prepared to foot that bill now or in the future. Charity begins at home.

1.37 pm
Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall)

I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment.

I was amused to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) and thought that he was going to ask me whether I could produce my passport.

I have been in this country since 1959. I pay tribute to my predecessor. We used to be great friends, but when we finally parted company we were no longer friends. Ealing, Southall has been a Labour constituency since the end of the war in 1945. I am proud and privileged to represent a constituency in the west of London, part of which has been known as the queen of suburbs. It has a unique character; it is international, with constituents from all over the world. It is multicultural, multilingual and multi-faith.

During the past almost 30 years, my constituency has, independently, made much progress and, in the past 13 years, it has received no support from the Tory Government. For many years, my constituency has contributed to the development of the economy.

My constituents will not tolerate racism of any kind. In 1979 my constituency hit the international headlines. The then Home Secretary will recall that there was some social unrest there, and that many people were arrested, charged and sentenced. Now, people of all races live together there in peace and harmony and there is no place for racists in lie constituency. My constituents are united in their determination not to let the National Front or any other racists enter the constituency. We have the strength to resist racism; my constituency is proud of being multicultural.

Many jobs have been lost in the constituency in the past five or six years due to the policies of the Government, who encouraged industry to move out of the area and to relocate in cheaper areas. Thousands of people have been affected and many of them have lost their jobs and their homes because they could no longer pay the mortgages. Many have become homeless, and businesses have collapsed because of Tory policies.

The Tories have been telling the country that the recession will end, and my constituents have been waiting for that end. But it does not seem to be ending and many people are worried that they will lose their jobs, that they will be unable to educate their children properly or afford good medical care for them. For instance, the Government have encouraged schools to opt out. I am pleased that some of the schools in my constituency have not opted out, although some have. I am not in favour of education only for those who can afford it, or of selective education. Education should be the responsibility of the state and of democratically elected local authorities.

For some years I have been trying to unite the community, and I have been successful, in that the indigenous and the ethnic minority communities have been living in peace. 1 have noticed over a period of 20 years that the Tories have failed to encourage ethnic minority communities to stand on their own feet, to develop their own businesses and to enjoy a good standard of living.

I have also noticed during the past year that the Government have tried to change the criteria for section II funding. As a result, people have suffered; colleges have closed and good courses have been lost. My constituents feel deeply distressed by that.

I do not intend to discuss problems of an international nature today, but I will point out that I was born in India before it was divided. I lived through the period of riots in India which were caused by the British Government's colonial policy. Millions of people were murdered and there were race riots. The division of India in 1947 was also the result of Britain's colonial policy. Initially, two states were created and we later saw the creation of another.

I do not favour fundamentalist politics: I stand for secularism and democracy. I would not like this country to interfere in the affairs of any sovereign, independent country, but I hope that Britain will do what it can to bring parties together to address issues such as those that exist in Kashmir. That matter must be sorted out by Pakistan and India and Britain should not interfere in any way, directly or indirectly.

Human rights issues arise in many parts of the world and they also arise in this country. I enjoy being a Member of Parliament and hope that I shall learn more and more and will be able to contribute to future debates. I intend to be fully involved in the politics of this country.

1.46 pm
Mrs. Ann Clywd (Cynon Valley)

I join hon. Members who have congratulated you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We look forward to your long tenure in the Chair and admire your natty style in ties. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) on an erudite and well-balanced maiden speech which was far more typical of the majority view of Britain's people than that of the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans), who has now left the Chamber and who sounded as though he was suffering from a bad bout of indigestion and too much reading of The Sun. We look forward to many speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Southall, who spoke about tolerance and the richness of the multicultural community that he represents.

I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) whose vast experience of foreign affairs will be of considerable benefit to the Opposition. We look forward to much participation by him in debates of this kind. He noted that the commitment to NATO was not accompanied by support for the kind of defence and security policy review that was sought by so many of our allies at the end of the cold war.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) made his usual passionate plea for settlement of the Cyprus question. Like all of us who have taken a particular interest in Cyprus and have visited that country several times, I join him in calling for the Government to play a more proactive role.

For 13 years, massive cuts in Britain's aid spending, a lack of real action to tackle the debt crisis, a refusal to address the deterioration in the terms of trade for the poorest countries, and laggardly support for key international institutions have contributed to the growth of poverty and the impoverishment of many nations. The programme outlined in the Gracious Speech does nothing to change those divisive and damaging policies. The programme fails to address the fundamental challenges confronting the world. It provides no indication of how Britain can improve its contribution to the creation of a more just, equitable and prosperous world.

An increasingly interdependent world needs Governments who care about all the world's citizens. We need a Government with vision who are willing to take action to eradicate poverty and conflict and to promote peace, and who will work for human rights and for development and environmental protection. The Labour party would have provided that vision if it had won the general election.

The gap between the rich and the poor nations has doubled in the past 30 years. The richest fifth of the world population now receive 150 times the income of the poorest fifth. How can any country that fails to make that a top priority in foreign policy claim concern for global security or for humanity? How can we stand idly by when every 2.4 seconds of every day throughout the year a child dies somewhere in the world because of poverty? The challenges of global warming, AIDS, refugees, terrorism, wars, civil strife and the drugs trade know no boundaries. They confront us all. As Susan George so aptly commented, there may be a first and third class on the Titanic, but we all have the same need to navigate away from disaster. The Conservative manifesto for the general election mentioned "taking responsibility for Britain". It failed, however, to articulate any concept of Britain's international obligations. As a result, the Conservative party's programme for government is weak. It is lacking in substance and vision and it is fundamentally dishonest.

I intend to concentrate on some specific areas, and I shall begin with aid. Successive Conservative Governments have refused even to set a timetable to meet the United Nations aid target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product. Only a couple of days ago, the United Kingdom was blocking a plan for EC member states to pledge 0.7 per cent. by the year 2000. The Gracious Speech tells us that the Government will maintain a substantial aid programme". The same hackneyed phrase was used in 1991, 1990, 1989, 1988 and 1987. It has been used every year from as far back as 1981 the same rhetoric, the same clichés, the same old story.

In 1979, the Conservative downgraded the Ministry of Overseas Development and replaced it with the Overseas Development Administration, an annex to the Foreign Office, and the marginalisation of development issues in Government decision-making continues. Instead of promoting world development at a time when it is essential to do so, the Prime Minister has demoted overseas development by refusing to have the Minister for Overseas Development in the House of Commons, let alone in the Cabinet. He cannot give two thirds of the world an extra 10 minutes a month for ODA questions. That is how much he cares.

In the past 13 years the aid budget has been cut by 17 per cent. in real terms. Last year, the Minister for Overseas Development told the House that she did not like it any more than anyone else, but she failed to do anything to prevent cuts taking place. There was no principled resignation. Instead, there was just hot-footing it down the corridor, only days after being rejected by the voters of Wallasey, to wrap herself in ermine while pontificating on the poverty of two thirds of humanity. I ask right hon. and hon. Members to imagine two pictures: first, the poverty, stench and squalor of a Delhi slum; secondly, a noble Lady, ermine clad, in a glittering, tiara-d and perfumed other place, presiding over a massive decline in Britain's aid budget.

Mr. David Howell

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Clwyd

From being the second largest donor of the seven major industrial countries in 1979, we are now the second smallest. As a percentage of GNP, our aid is now the lowest ever on record at just 0.27 per cent. —what a disgrace. [Interruption.] Conservative Members who are muttering should feel ashamed that our overseas aid is at its lowest level ever. If the Government had maintained aid at 0.51 per cent. of GNP, as it was under the last Labour Government, people in Africa and Asia would be better off by more than £10 billion today.

Mr. Hurd

It is the hon. Lady who should be ashamed at making such a personal attack. I have never heard her say such a thing before. I can only assume that she is jealous of the reputation that, as she well knows, my right hon. Friend Lady Chalker has built up, especially in Africa where my right hon. Friend is well known, respected and loved.

Mrs. Clwyd

Unfortunately, the electors of Wallasey did not love Lady Chalker enough to elect her to the House. It is a disgrace that a Minister who is, or should be, accountable for one of the large-spending Department budgets—as large as the budget of the Department of Trade and Industry—is not here in the House of Commons to answer for that budget and for her policies. The Foreign Secretary's feeble defence of that position is just not good enough. Sadly, not only the quantity but the quality of aid has been cut in the past 13 years. Commercial considerations have taken priority over poverty reduction.

In 1989, only 2 per cent. of Britain's bilateral aid to Africa was used to meet local costs. We should be able to improve that ratio and boost development through increased trade. For many countries, an increase in carefully targeted assistance would greatly benefit millions of people.

In the Horn of Africa, there are now more than 23 million people facing severe food shortages. In southern Africa, the effects of the worst drought for 50 years and of famine are undermining recent progress towards peace and democracy in Zambia, in Angola, in Mozambique and in other countries. Increasing Britain's contribution to food aid and transportation assistance, ensuring that the EC implements its proposals for 680,000 tonnes of food aid rapidly and efficiently and ensuring that the UN is given every encouragement and sufficient funds to promote food security and peace, and to protect refugees are just some of the measures urgently needed.

An immediate reversal of the Government's decision to boycott the second special programme for Africa of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, one of the few programmes effectively addressing the long-term causes of famine by working with poor farmers, especially women, and addressing environmental problems is also urgently required. Why will the Government not reconsider their decision not to fund that programme? Surely it is one of the best ways to prevent famine in future.

With regard to debt and trade, according to the United Nations Development Programme between 1983 and 1989 the poorest countries in the world paid to us, the rich, $242 billion more than we gave them in aid. Who would have believed that a country such as the Philippines, which in 1990 received $1.3 billion in aid, paid back more than twice that amount in debt service? In 1990, Britain took more in debt repayments from third-world countries than it gave in aid.

The Government have made a lot of noise about their proposals for debt reduction—the Trinidad terms. However, it is worth bearing it in mind that even if the initiative had been implemented fully—it has not been—in line with the original proposal, it would have resulted in only 1 per cent. of total third-world debt being written off. Even that very limited proposal has not been implemented fully. What about the other 99 per cent? Perhaps the Minister will tell the House which countries have benefited from the Trinidad terms and the corresponding amounts of debt that have been written off. The Government have refused to take any steps to encourage the cancellation of debt owed by poor countries to the commercial banks. They have blocked proposals for reducing debt owed to the European Community. They have refused to take action to reduce debt owed by the poorest countries to other multilateral agencies.

For many poor countries, trade is as important as the problem of debt, and certainly more important than aid. One might have expected that a Government who claim to be concerned about security in the world, and a country that has many historic and continuing links with the poorer countries of the Commonwealth, would be more vigorous in examining the effects on the poorer countries of the Single European Act and the current GATT negotiations. Can the Minister tell us what progress has been made in that direction?

I refer now to development and its impact on the environment. In June, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, representatives of more than 150 nations and countless non-governmental organisations from around the world will gather in Brazil. The Government's programme makes no mention of the specific additional measures, including additional funds, that the Government will make available to tack le the problems of development and the environment.

Many British people are tired of hearing Government rhetoric about taking a lead on environmental issues. Perhaps the Minister will tell us today exactly what proposals the Government will make to encourage the OECD donor countries to meet the UN aid target, or cancel a greater proportion of debt owed by the poorest countries.

Do the Government have any proposals for enhancing technical assistance for poorer countries? How will they ensure that UNCED agrees a programme that meets the long-term needs of the poorest countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America? What proposals will Britain put forward to ensure that the needs of the poorest—especially women—are high on the UNCED agenda?

Why the deafening silence from the Government after my old colleague Mr. Carlo Ripa di Meana threatens to shun the Rio conference? Is not Ripa di Meana saying what most of the participants from the third world are saying—that unless the rich north is prepared to discuss and fund increasing aid flows from the north to the south, to transfer technologies, to put its own environmental house in order and to dismantle trade barriers, why should the poor south curtail its population, development and growth for the sake of the north's environmental demands? Those are the pivotal questions on which the success of the earth summit rests.

Instead of the easily impressed Baroness Chalker hotfooting it round the world with kings, queens, princes and princesses, why does not she roll up her ermine-trimmed sleeves, go to Washington and thrash out these issues with President Bush?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. I ask the hon. Lady to recognise that, while it is perfectly appropriate for Members of this House to be made the subject of strong political debate, it is not appropriate for those outside the House, especially Members of another place, to be the subject of such treatment.

Mrs. Clwyd

Lest you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, should feel that I have been somewhat flippant in my remarks about the noble Baroness, I should explain that it is because she is in the other place rather than here at the Dispatch Box as an elected representative, taking part—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that I can help the hon. Lady. That point is perfectly acceptable. It is the personalisation of the matter that is not acceptable.

Mrs. Clwyd

Although I do not quite understand that ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I bow to your feelings in the matter. Nevertheless, the lack of a Minister in this House responsible for these matters downgrades the importance of overseas development and is an insult to democratic accountability.

I now refer to the former Soviet Union, and to Russia in particular. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) noted, the Government said little about the former Soviet Union. According to the Financial Times yesterday, Russia is to adopt a convertible currency by the end of July, underpinned by a stabilisation fund. Will the Minister confirm that the stabilisation fund, if it were ever used, would have to be repaid by Russia? Has that consideration diluted the conditionality that International Monetary Fund negotiators agreed with Ministers in the Russian Government?

To what extent is the stabilisation fund dependent on the Russian authorities controlling wage and price inflation? Did the discussion on setting up the stabilisation fund include undertakings on the question of food supply arrangements within Russia? To what extent do the Government believe that undertakings given by the Russian Government on wage inflation can be upheld? How does a stabilisation fund for the rouble and for Russia interact with the use of roubles in other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States? Could not irresponsible economic mismangement in other states undermine an agreement with the Russian financial authorities?

Is there any truth in the rumour that the rate of convertibility has been pitched so low to avoid any attempted currency speculation? The IMF agreement raises many questions involving balance of payments support or the stabilisation funds. I am surprised that so little information on those important issues has been given to the wider public.

As the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) said, elections will be taking place in Iraqi Kurdistan against a background of continuing and escalating intimidation from Saddam Hussein. Reference is made in the Gracious Speech to the Government's insistence on Iraqi compliance with UN resolutions. The Foreign Secretary referred to that again today. What are the Government doing to ensure that the Iraqis comply with the resolutions?

The economic blockade of Kurdistan continues. Public officials are not being paid, and much of the area is mined. The Kurds do not have the resources to allow de-mining to take place. The Kurdish representatives whom I met yesterday want to know about the discussions allegedly taking place between the United Nations and Iraq about the potential use of oil revenues. They want absolute assurances that the revenues will not be released unless the UN has total control over their use. They argue that UN resolutions provide for the use of oil money for humanitarian purposes. Therefore, if the money is released, they believe that it should be made available in part to the new Kurdish administration which will be set up following the election. That has implications for the United Nations and its observance of national sovereignty, but perhaps the proposition should be considered.

I wish now to consider international co-operation. A few days ago, Mr. Gorbachev reiterated the need for concerted international action under the aegis of the United Nations to deal with a variety of problems confronting the world. Despite all their talk of supporting the UN, the Government's record has been dismal. It shows a lack of commitment to internationalism.

Since 1979, the Government have cut funding in real terms for key UN agencies including the much-respected United Nations children's fund by 44 per cent., the UN development programme by 57 per cent. and the UN development fund for women by 65 per cent. They withdrew from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and are still keeping the United Kingdom out of it, despite substantial reforms.

In Europe, the prospect of greater integration and co-operation over the next few years can transform the lives of millions of citizens and ensure that an enlarged European Community becomes a more effective institution in promoting peace, democracy, environment and development world wide. Significant steps could be taken under the British presidency of the Community later this year, but there is little in the Government's programme to suggest that they will take such initiatives.

I disagreed with the Minister's response to my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell). Human rights must be discussed by all international institutions. The issue cannot be put on and off like a party frock that one takes out of the wardrobe on high days and holidays. It should be an integral part of all our dealings.

The Foreign Secretary tried to persuade us that there is no great difference between the political parties on foreign affairs. In fact, there is a world of difference. The Opposition recognise the importance of human rights and justice and paying more than lip service to them. We recognise the UN's opportunities to resolve conflicts, deal with disasters, promote prosperity and co-ordinate international action to protect the global environment. We believe it to be both morally right and in our common interest to help not only the poor in our own country but the poorer nations of the world. That is a fundamental difference between the Conservative party and the Labour party.

2.10 pm
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones)

I join right hon. and hon. Members who have congratulated you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on presiding over a debate for the first time.

I am sure that the House would want me to begin by referring to the two maiden speeches from the Opposition Benches. The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) will not object, nor will any of his hon. Friends, when I say that we miss our former colleague, who was a stalwart member of the Defence Select Committee and of the IPU. The hon. Gentleman himself told the House that he will have to tread a careful path between being controversial and boring. He did that with success and modesty. He also showed the House that there is more to Essex man than the rather patronising caricature that we are sometimes given. We look forward to hearing from the hon. Gentleman in future foreign affairs debates.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) on his excellent maiden speech. I suspect that his arrival in the House will be part of a growing pattern of members of ethnic minorities coming here, and that will be welcomed by both sides of the House. We are pleased to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva) on this side. We remember his predecessor with affection. I am sure that the whole House will not mind my saying that I hope that, unlike his predecessor, the hon. Member for Southall is not an amateur cartoonist.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) led the debate for the Opposition and reminded the House of the remarkable changes that the world has seen over the past five years. There was an underlying poignancy to his analysis, because I think that he senses that he himself is shortly to be a part of those great changes. He is a great cinema lover. As he "panned across the landscape", "flashed back" and used "close up", if I may use the terms that he used in the chapter titles of his charming book, "My Life in the Silver Screen", I remind him and the House that the last chapter of that book is entitled "Fade Out". In that final chapter he wrote: All the big stars, the last survivors of the days of stardom as it once was, were ageing, with no newcomers to take their places. I suspect that that is as much a reflection of the Labour party today as it was of the cinema when the right hon. Gentleman wrote that book. As those great changes sweep him aside, we wish him well as he rides off into the sunset —a Mancunian Gary Cooper—leaving our debates behind.

Mr. Kaufman

Far from riding off into anywhere, I have just been re-elected by my constituents with the largest majority ever given to anybody in the history of my constituency. I intend to regard that as a strong base for my activities in the House.

Mr. Garel-Jones

I hope that, when it comes to electing the shadow Cabinet, the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues in the Labour party give him the same warm endorsement as he has been given by his constituents.

The right hon. Gentleman and other right hon. and hon. Members raised several questions, and I shall do my best to answer all of them. Obviously, in the short time available to me, I will not be able to cover every point, but I shall seek to cover the principal ones. The right hon. Member for Gorton and other hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), spoke about the former Soviet Union and what we need to do there both as a country and in the various international groups to which we belong.

A sum of $50 billion of assistance has already been committed to the former Soviet Union, including $24 billion from the Group of Seven. The United Kingdom can claim to have led the way in championing Russia's entry into the International Monetary Fund and the World bank. Indeed, Moscow asked the United Kingdom to co-ordinate its application. Those are substantial commitments. Britain's commitment is a serious one. However, I recognise that, as the right hon. Member for Gorton, my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford and the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) implied, we shall have to watch the position carefully.

The right hon. Member for Gorton also referred to nuclear weaponry in the former Soviet Union and to the nuclear weapons policy of the United Kingdom. My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford is also increasingly anxious about nuclear weaponry in the former Soviet Union and keeps a close watch on it. The Gracious Speech commits Britain to maintaining its minimum nuclear deterrent. Even the Labour party manifesto conceded that Britain needs a minimum deterrent while other countries keep theirs. The old threat has all but disappeared, but risks and uncertainties have taken the place of the manifest threat that we formerly faced.

There are still more than 27,000 nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union. The House will agree that the best response is to help the former Soviet republics to get rid of their massive surplus before we consider what to do with our minimum deterrent. That is why we have provided Russia with special containers and vehicles for the secure transport of nuclear weapons at an overall cost of £30 million. With our partners in the European Community and the United States, we have set up a centre for former nuclear scientists to be retrained and perhaps redeployed.

The right hon. Member for Gorton and my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) mentioned Cyprus and Kashmir. The right hon. Member for Gorton upbraided us a little about working in the marginals. I suggest that working in the marginals might in part account for the fact that we are sitting on this side of the House and he is on the other. He was not averse to working in the marginals. Indeed, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) seems to have identified al least four different Labour party positions on Kashmir. I have a number of Kashmiris in my constituency. I take a close interest in the matter. I can assure the hon. Member for Southall that Her Majesty's Government have no intention of interfering. But we stand ready to help if asked to do so by the Governments of India and Pakistan.

As one would expect from the Chairman in the previous Parliament of the Select Committee on Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford referred to the European Economic Community and the treaty signed at Maastricht which the Government will invite the House to approve through legislation shortly. My right hon. Friend put his finger on the essence of the Maastricht treaty. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary did not achieve a "victory" at Maastricht—one hesitates to talk in confrontational terms. For the past 20 or 30 years, debate in the Community has proceeded on the assumption on which the Liberal party proceeds, that we are moving towards a finalitê politique involving a single structure built around a single treaty.

The principal achievement of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary was to prevent the debate from being brought to a conclusion and to open up alternatives for intergovernmental co-operation in foreign policy, security policy and interior justice policy. The hon. Member for Ilford, South made an excellent maiden speech, but I do not agree that we must choose between NATO and the Western European Union. That is not the choice. The choice is to build up a European dimension through the WEU that complements and strengthens NATO.

Picking up the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford and the anxieties expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans), I must say that this is not a great battle but an intellectual discussion. What we achieved at Maastricht was the start of turning the tide and the chance to persuade some of our partners to consider the proposition that co-operation in foreign policy through intergovernmental consensus is not qualitatively worse than a decision taken by the Twelve through qualified majority voting on other matters where the Community has competence. That is the banner under which we need to march in the coming three or four years as we move towards 1996.

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) made an interesting speech about the Community and I know that he takes a close interest in it. He said—I think that it is official Opposition policy—that he supports the ratification of the Maastricht treaty. Of course, he expressed the doubts and the anxieties of the Labour party, of which the House is well aware, about the total package, in particular the social dimension and regional policy. No doubt, during our debates on the Bill, he and his hon. Friends will make those points.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber on being returned to this House with the smallest percentage vote of any Member. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North enjoyed teasing the hon. Gentleman on that pleasing irony, as the hon. Gentleman's views on proportional representation are well known to the House. He made an interesting speech and we agree with him about the emerging importance of the United Nations in the affairs that we seek to confront.

There is a matter that is causing my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary some concern, and the House may want to consider it. It is the way in which the large number of institutions to which we belong—the United Nations, NATO, WEU, G7 and so on—need to adjust to the new world that the right hon. Member for Gorton described. The role of those institutions is one to which the Government and hon. Members interested in foreign affairs should pay attention.

I am sorry that, briefly, I was not in the House when the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) spoke. I am aware of his concern about Cyprus. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) frequently come to see me about that problem. I can say in all honesty that their concern, the pressure that they exert upon us and the contacts that they have inside Cyprus are of definite assistance in our discussions with the Turkish and Greek Governments and the various parties in Cyprus. We are grateful for the interest that the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend take in this matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) made a wide-ranging and interesting speech, to which the House listened with care. He spoke about the events in Peru, but was heckled by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). We are concerned about what has happened in Peru and we have suspended the balance of payments assistance that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister promised President Fujimori when he came to this country. While deploring events in Peru, we must recognise the background against which they have taken place. We must do other than beating our breasts. I recall the story of the Duc de Engheim being shot. When told about it, Talleyrand said, in effect, "That is certainly a serious crime but, worse than that, it may have been a mistake."

Those of us who regard ourselves as friends of Peru should tell that country, through the European Community and the Organisation of American States, "It is a mistake. How can we help you to rectify the mistake as soon as possible?" That is what we shall be seeking to do through the Community in its dialogue with Latin American countries at the Rio group meetings.

I am reluctant to respond to the speech of the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), not least because it was out of kilter with all the other contributions to the debate—[Interruption.] I see a number of her hon. Friends assenting to that proposition. It was a pity that she made that type of speech. Hansard should note that fact because we hope that, especially in foreign affairs, that type of attitude will not be taken. I say this in the knowledge that our debates will include banter, and at the outset of my remarks I teased the right hon. Member for Gorton.

I hope that, on reflection, the hon. Member for Cynon Valley will agree that her remarks were unfortunate. As you pointed out, Mr. Deputy Speaker, she is entitled to upbraid the Government, if she considers that to be necessary, for example because the Minister responsible for the area she shadows does not sit in this House. That was a legitimate attack for her to make. As I say, I hope that, on reflection, she will think that the personal way in which she made it was, to say the least, unfortunate.

Further, the hon. Lady took for her remarks more than half the time available for the winding up and reply—time that we were supposed to divide between us. The result is that I shall not be able to answer point by point some of the points that she made.

The Foreign Secretary said that Britain stood in a unique position, being a member of the Security Council of the United Nations, of G7, of the European Community, of NATO, of the WEU, of the Commonwealth and of the Council of Europe. While we must not exaggerate our influence, much of which is now deployed, with others, in the Community, we must not underestimate it. We have a unique position and opportunity. My right hon. Friend said—this is why I upbraided the hon. Member for Cynon Valley—that our debates on foreign affairs need not be a battlefield. Indeed, with the exception of the hon. Lady's speech, today's debate has reflected the atmosphere that

My right hon. Friend said that we relied greatly on the knowledge and experience of hon. Members. We do, and I have spoken of the hon. Member for Tooting, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and others who take an interest in Cyprus. Their interest and questioning is of help to the Government. The House is a hard taskmaster for Ministers, and rightly so. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary takes part in debates, makes statements and appears before Select Committees, and it is right that he should do so. It helps the Government.

I hope that the Government, supported by the knowledge and experience of the House, will not only eschew turning our debates into battlegrounds but will be able to make the desired contribution to bring peace and prosperity to those parts of the world where problems are still dealt with on battlegrounds like those that my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath referred to when he said that his grandfather suffered in Gallipoli and his father in Dunkirk.

It being half past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Monday 11 May.