HL Deb 09 November 1982 vol 436 cc101-14

Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Wednesday last by the Lord Lucas of Chilworth—namely, That a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:

"Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament".

2.54 p.m.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, it is an honour, but a frightening one, to find myself opening in support of the foreign affairs and defence section of the humble Address, and, for your Lordships, I fear a poor substitute for similar Motions which have been initiated by my noble friend Lord Carrington in the past.

Inevitably I shall leave to my noble friend Lord Belstead the near impossible task of answering over 30 contributions from many distinguished Members of this House. We both undertake to draw the attention of our right honourable friends to these contributions, which I look forward to hearing. Perhaps my introduction will be slightly defence-orientated, for which no doubt my noble friend will later compensate, but the main issues of foreign affairs and defence are so inextricably bound up that I hope to cover at least some of the main points. That is all I can do in the customary time. If my choice, in the view of some Members of this House, excludes subjects which they know to be of utmost importance, I hope they will accept that one can only cover a few points in the time available.

I plan to concentrate on four main areas, each of which could occupy the House for a day or more. They are, first, the EEC; secondly, NATO and the preservation of peace in Europe; thirdly, defence and security further afield, with a small reference to the Falklands; and, finally, disarmament. For a wider discourse the House has only to refer to the speech of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary last Thursday in the other place.

I turn first among my chosen subjects to the EEC. This is one of many subjects where the Government are bombarded with contradictory advice. "Leave it", now says the party opposite. "Stop upsetting our European partners by taking a parochial view on budgets and refunds", say others. Perhaps my right honourable friends have it right in being determined to stay in the EEC and to help make it work in the interests of all European countries, while at the same time continuing to make considerable progress to ensure that its policies and its practices do not harm major British interests, and, indeed, are developed in a way which will help them.

Nobody who has lived in, or read the history of, the first half of this century can doubt the overall political importance of maintaining and developing the European Community. The voice of commerce and industry has been, and still is, virtually unanimous in favour of Britain continuing to play its full part within the EEC. They cannot all be wrong. The agricultural and food price problems are complicated, but they are far from one-sided matters. Those who point to the possible extra costs of food within the CAP system must remember the bill to the taxpayer of the deficiency payments schemes with which this country found it necessary to support its agriculture before joining the EEC. The EEC Select Committees of this House know, and have shown in their valuable reports, that this is a complicated subject, and that, however slow, progress is being made in relation to the more difficult areas, including the CAP and even in relation to fisheries policies, notwithstanding the disappointing news this morning. I believe that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and her colleagues, in negotiating over recent years refunds totalling over £2,000 million from our budget contributions, have achieved real progress. Before this Government took office, no refunds were paid.

My Lords, let me return to industry, which is my own background subject. How can anyone seriously contemplate leaving the EEC, which last year took over 41 per cent. of our visible exports? Our visible exports to the EEC in 1981 were worth over £21 billion—three times as much as our exports to the USA and Canada together. Our exports of manufactured goods to the European Community grew by 470 per cent. between 1972 and 1980. Of course, there is the growth of imports into this country, but this problem, based on the uncompetitiveness of much of our industry in the late 'sixties and early 'seventies, is not directly an EEC problem, as the spread of those imports clearly reveals.

As we make progress in restoring our competitiveness and move from stopping to reversing the loss of share of our own market and world markets, so the EEC market will prove of greater and greater value. In any event, our overall problems do not alter the facts of the degree of dependence that we now have on this market, as my figures have made clear. There is no possible practical basis, in the real international world in which Britain must live today, for a change in the policy held by all parties in this country until recently—namely, to stay in and help develop the EEC. The campaign to leave it is, I have to say, based on a facile campaign to gain public support by suggesting that all those in favour of cheaper food should support it. My Lords, where should we have been two weeks ago without the power of the EEC to reach a settlement on steel with the United States?

Let me move on to my second subject: peace and security through NATO. Like the popular appeal of cheap food, some criticise our policy based on NATO and deterrence by suggesting that they favour peace while the Government's policy is based on planning for a war. It is based on no such thing. Deterrence based on a variety of abilities to respond effectively to aggression has in the Government's view kept the peace in Europe for nearly 40 years and can continue to do so. The policy of flexible response, while it can always be re-examined in relation to each option for response contained within it, remains our soundest defence and our best basis for practical disarmament talks, to which I shall return later. The unreal phrases are those of "intention to fight a nuclear war", or "to start a nuclear war", or the phrase "nuclear exchange", and there is the illusion that the strengthening of conventional defence, important as that is, makes either this country's or NATO's nuclear weapons unnecessary. The reasoning that these phrases and that illusion are unreal and that deterrence and flexible response are real is based upon the fact that, until perhaps a new generation arises, Russia and the Warsaw Pact countries are the potential aggressors who continue to prove their aggressive policies in Afghanistan, Poland and, with their allies, in other parts of the world.

History since the Second World War is regrettably strewn with evidence of Russian aggressive expansion. NATO is the alliance of the free democracies who have no territorial ambitions. This country in the past—and recently in the Falklands—and the United States have been prepared selflessly and at great sacrifice to come to the help of peoples and countries faced with aggression. At times this has involved a judgment on the substance and standing of a particular Government and critics are free to criticise this country or the United States, in my opinion usually wrongly, for making a false judgment, but this is so totally different to Soviet intervention demonstrably against the will of the people of a particular country. There are now 3 million refugees from Afghanistan. So I believe, with regret, that it is still quite unarguable that the world is still split today between the dictatorships who are potential aggressors and free democratic defenders.

In the Government's opinion aggressors attack when they think they can get away with aggression at an acceptable cost, and it has been said in this House that the Russian pain threshold has been proved to be high. In those circumstances an adequate ability to respond in the conventional and nucleur fields is vital. If we have it and if the potential aggressor is not encouraged to believe that we would never use any particular part of it, then, contradictory though it may sound to some, we shall in fact never have to use any part of it. It is in this respect that the democracies are vulnerable. Our freedom encourages many views to be given great prominence. Dictatorships do not understand our ways. Hitler did not believe we would defend our freedom. The pursuit of moral arguments and, I have to say, the views of a very small minority of retired senior officers, and others, must not be allowed to cause an aggressor to miscalculate.

My noble friend Lord Thorneycroft has in this House on a previous occasion declined to follow the endless speculation as to exactly in what circumstances, if an aggressor were to doubt our will, we would be prepared to use a particular part of our deterrent armoury. He has pointed to the fact that the whole basis of deterrence must be based on maintaining uncertainty on what particularly we would do, but upon the certainty that we would make sure that aggression was frustrated. Critics who use phrases such as "start a nuclear war", base their criticism of our policy on the premise that the Russians have the means to retaliate and have said they will. I can only deal with the naivety of the second of these two points by saying, "They would, wouldn't they"! That they have the means, indeed that they have greater means than the defensive armaments of NATO is, of course, fact. Why, incidentally, do they have over 200 SS-20s targeted on Europe?

If we do not have the ability to respond at every level we are very vulnerable to nuclear blackmail, and thus an aggressor might believe he could gain his ends at no cost. A number of critics have, however, argued that NATO's nuclear weapons are useless as a deterrent, claiming that the Russians would never believe that NATO would ever dare use them because the danger of retaliation would be too great. But let us consider a hypothetical case. Let us assume that the aggressor, God forbid, does miscalculate and commit an act of aggression, believing that we would not be prepared to use nuclear weapons if our conventional defences were overwhelmed; and let us assume that NATO did launch a nuclear weapon in a defined area and accompanied by clear warnings to cease aggression. Would the aggressor retaliate? Would he escalate? He could not possibly gain his prize that way, and he is the one that wants it, and certainly not at a cost acceptable to him.

Some of those who analyse these matters do, I believe, start their analysis from the background of blow and counter-blow between two armies at war locked, for instance, in an old-fashioned tank battle. Enoch Powell, in his Brunei discourse, says that Russia does not want to occupy Western Europe—an opinion he is more than entitled to express—and that this is partly because to do so would almost certainly involve Russia in a long and exacting war. I have to say that Brigadier Powell is out of date. In today's world a major conflict, even in conventional terms, in central Europe could not be of long duration. Critics will not start their analysis from the realistic position of today where the awesome power of modern weapons, which cannot be disinvented, makes the objectives of the aggressor impossible to attain at a cost acceptable to him. In this respect these awesome weapons are a plus. He cannot possibly achieve his aim at a cost acceptable to him, provided, and essentially provided, that he never doubts our will. For then we will never have to use any weapon. As President Reagan has said, NATO will not use a single weapon except in the event of armed aggression. In regard to the aggressor's perception of our will to defend ourselves, the alliance of free nations, with all the changes of emphasis and leadership that occur in democracies, and which we see every week of the year—with all those changes our will to defend ourselves is likely to be far more credible if the abilities to respond at any level are not all held by one nation or based in one country. That is why Trident and the provision of bases for cruise and Pershing missiles is supported by the alliance as a whole.

Some of your Lordships may have seen Mr. Richard Perle, the American Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy, on a "Panorama" programme recently. He made it quite clear that the United States of America and the alliance was not only solidly behind our independent deterrent but would be very disturbed if we gave it up.

Those who say there are enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world many times over cannot at the same time logically claim that the British independent deterrent is not of significance on its own. For it is of major significance, due to the power of these awesome weapons, in reality and psychologically in the perception of the Russian mind. Those who claim that we should not spend an average of 3 per cent. of the defence budget and a peak of 6 per cent. on Trident because of its effect on conventional weapons, should not also pass resolutions which, if implemented, would reduce defence spending by 30 per cent.

And so to my third area, the Falklands and other parts of the world. My right honourable friend will be producing a White Paper before the end of the year, and I cannot anticipate its contents. The Government have been increasingly worried about possible threats from the Soviet Union and her allies in many other parts of the world, and that is why we have welcomed the United States' idea of the Rapid Deployment Force. All that I must say yet again at this stage is that the dangers that exist in other parts of the world are not growing as a consequence of a lesser threat in Central Europe. Indeed, the balance of arms in Central Europe, nuclear and conventional, continues to swing against the free democracies of NATO.

Whatever the analysis of the Falklands may show, as my right honourable friend has already said on many occasions, we must keep our eye on the main threat, albeit with increased confidence that the men and equipment which we have in our forces are able to respond to the most difficult situation in very far flung fields. We can also be more confident that the sacrifices which they have made in the Falklands have made a real contribution to the deterrence of smaller would-be aggressors in other parts of the world. In passing, I must ask the House to take particular note of the personal contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, before, during and after the Falklands conflict.

On a slightly more lighthearted note, I cannot resist saying in passing that reading and listening to the media since the end of the Falklands campaign, and while the Government are still largely in baulk until their White Paper is published, I cannot help feeling that so deeply is it engrained in the civilised British character to criticise ourselves, and so often has it been the case in the past that we lose the initial stages of conflicts forced upon us, that we still have not really absorbed the fact that on this occasion we defeated aggression quickly. Perhaps we have not absorbed that this is the first peace-time occasion in which our defence budget had been maintained at a very sizeable level and that this ensured that we had at the outset of hostilities superb quality armed forces well equipped even for the unexpected.

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary dealt last week with the events in the United Nations General Assembly in relation to the Falklands and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has spoken publicly on this subject. I personally was rendered nearly speechless—not quite. It is hard to understand how so many countries could have so little understanding of the feelings of the victims of aggression or such scant regard to the principle of self-determination as to support the Argentine/UN resolution. I think this can only mean, as many of us became so aware during the Falklands conflict, that in many countries, including the United States of America, people have still not understood who lives in the Falkland Islands or their history. We can only hope that we can gradually get into their heads that there are not, and virtually have never been, any Argentinians in the Falklands. A necessary pre-requisite to progress in this area is a proper and final renunciation of the use of force by the Argentine—a subject not mentioned in the resolution.

I pass to my fourth subject, that of disarmament, which I think is an appropriate one on which to conclude my contribution to this debate. I believe it is becoming more and more accepted in the country that unilateral disarmament is not likely to affect the Warsaw Pact one iota (except to make aggression more likely). Their response to the years of declining NATO defence expenditure in the early and mid-70s has been to build up their forces and their superiority. The balance is still at present swinging that way.

Indeed, the fact that serious negotiations have started on the START talks and on the intermediate range nuclear weapons, and that progress in other fields at Madrid and Geneva is perhaps becoming more possible, has only become more likely because the potential aggressor, already spending some 14 per cent. of his GDP on defence, has realised that he is not going to get away with tipping the balance further against us. He has not given up what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, referred to as the psychological war. While his SS-20 missiles pass well over the 300 mark, he will try to achieve his aim from a position of great strength by encouraging the peace-loving citizens of this country to throw away their arms.

I am sure that the Russian people are peace-loving too. I am sure that Dr. Oleg Popov wants peace and I commend to your Lordships his letter in The Times of yesterday on the experience of his Russian peace group and his comments on E. P. Thompson's letter of 28th October. His conclusion is worth quoting. He wrote: Until such time as the Soviet system is reformed to allow independent groups to function freely and to build up trust between the peoples of both east and west, nuclear disarmament by only one side would, in our view, be a recipe for disaster. It has always been the position of the Moscow Group"— that is, the Moscow peace group— that both sides must take simultaneous steps to halt and then reverse the arms race: this clearly points to multilateral disarmament—not destabilising unilateral disarmament—as the only hope for the future. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary on Thursday last used a telling phrase in this respect when he said at col. 120: We cannot base our policy on comfortable guesses about Soviet intentions". Indeed their actions have belied their cosy words, but they are now negotiating in these important areas.

I referred earlier to the naivety of believing some of their propaganda and I want here to include in that the notion that we should get alarmed because they threaten to cease talking. They are talking. They may even walk out, but they will come back provided that we are negotiating from a position not of parity but of adequate responsive strength. We will support, as we have supported, all realistic initiatives towards peace, and there have been many proposed by the West since the end of World War II. This of course includes the Baruch plan which offered to renounce all nuclear weapons. And today let me make it plain that this country supports the United States and is more than satisfied that the United States is determined to make a success of the START and the INF negotiations.

Many voices, and some in this House in previous debates, have pressed that Britain should become involved directly in the START and intermediate range talks. They say that if the negotiations between the USA and the USSR are successful, our weapons will become a significant percentage of NATO's total. As a percentage of the strategic weaponry of either of the great powers at present we have about 3 per cent. The right honourable Member for Leeds, East, Mr. Denis Healey, stated in the other place that our Trident missiles would have the same destructive power as the whole of the Soviet SS-20 force. This is simply not true, even if it were relevant to compare a relatively small strategic force with an intermediate range system. The Russian SS-20 force which exists today has much greater destructive power than our Trident force will have available in the mid-1990s. Both sides in the main negotiation to reduce the huge stocks of strategic weapons are well aware of the British and the French position. The negotiations are, and should be, directly between the USSR and the USA at this time. We are entirely satisfied with consultation and believe that progress will be made in the self interest of all parties, both because of security and because of economics. The inspection and verification problems are in some weapon areas becoming less burdensome although they are still freshening in others.

We also support to the full the mutual and balanced force reduction talks. The terribly powerful conventional armaments of today are every bit as important in disarmament terms if we are to reduce tension. My Lords, the threat of aggression still lies upon the free peoples of the world. Disarmament can therefore proceed only in a balanced and verifiable way. In the world as it is, with calm nerves, patience and determination, progress will, albeit slowly, be made without risk to the freedom which we are practising today and which we cherish.

3.20 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House was kind enough to make a generous reference to me when she opened the debate on Thursday. I am very grateful to her and, like her, hope that we can co-operate to secure the best interests of the House—without of course prejudicing our duties as an Opposition. I should also like to follow the noble Baroness in paying a tribute to my noble friend Lord Peart for his long and loyal service here and in another place, and for being such a kindly and friendly colleague.

We are all grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, for his wide-ranging opening speech both on foreign affairs and on defence. I hope to refer to some of the things he said in the course of my remarks, but what we are awaiting is the White Paper to which he referred, and hope that it will be a clear statement of the way in which the Falklands experience, in all its facets, has affected our defence policy. I assume that that will be the content of the White Paper?

It is not enough to say that we are not sending "Endurance" to the breakers' yard; nor is it enough to say that the Falklands war, for all its heroism and epic quality, was not by its very nature central to our defence problem and that the crucial theatre is nearer home. The value of conventional forces was dramatically illustrated and the quality of our armament was severely tested. What we appreciate beyond doubt is the quality and courage of the men who sailed and flew to the Falklands. What happened there must affect our future policy.

The noble Viscount has just referred to Trident. We on this side of the House have considerable doubts about this weapon, with its enormous cost and its enormous destructive capacity. I am not expert enough to judge the precise differences as between the SS-20 and Trident. These are matters which we shall have to debate in detail again.

In recent days we have read three important leaders on defence in The Times newspaper, and these have made interesting suggestions. If I may, I should like to quote one from the last leader which said: The nuclear threshold would not be seriously lowered if Britain gave all her forces—sea, land and air—capabilities more suited to operations outside the NATO area. They have a reasonable general purpose capability at present, as evidenced at the Falklands, but it will not last much longer unless this current review heeds the lessons of that campaign". It is the lessons of that campaign that the House and the country want to know about.

Yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that £622 million would be added to the defence bill as a result of the Falklands action. When he replies I would be grateful if the Minister would tell us how this large sum has been calculated and, broadly, how it will be allocated. The Chancellor referred to the "future security of the Falklands". How much extra money per annum do the Government propose to allocate for the purpose of the security of the Falklands? These are matters which must be taken into account in any long-term consideration of our defence strategy.

As is customary, the gracious Speech begins by referring to the major problems facing the world at this time. They are, of course, numerous and complex, and it is impossible to deal with them all adequately in one debate. When defence is added, the debate inevitably becomes even more cumbersome. We can all agree that "the security of the nation and the preservation of peace" are matters of the highest priority. How to achieve these in an uncertain world is the problem facing this and other Governments.

Security implies adequate defence in partnership with our allies. It also implies determined and concerted efforts to bring armaments under control, and the fourth paragraph of the gracious Speech refers to this. Indeed, it points to two of the greatest needs; namely, the organisation of effective aid to the poorest countries, and disarmament. But I must say to the Government that general expressions of goodwill and pious hopes, however well meant, are not good enough. Our response to the Brandt Report and the Government's tepid reaction to the Cancun Conference—although I exempt the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, from this criticism—do not match up to the assertions of sympathy in the gracious Speech.

We note, for example, that the IMF is to give a loan of £600 million to South Africa because their gold is not selling so well. It is difficult to reconcile that with the refusal of the United States to give aid through the United Nations to underdeveloped countries to process their raw materials. It is as well to point out at this stage that our aid programme has been cut by 11 per cent. in real terms this year, and our contribution to the International Development Association has also been cut. The IDA, as everyone in this House should realise, is very important indeed to the poorer countries of the world. Perhaps the noble Lord the Minister will comment in his reply on the Government's attitude. Did Her Majesty's Government support the IMF loan to South Africa and, if so, what were the reasons for doing so?

The noble Viscount referred at some length to disarmament. There is an increasing desire to know what progress, if any, is being made in the various conferences to which he referred, and we are grateful to him for the information he gave us. Again, I must say that the United Nations conference was not a great success, and I certainly did not think that the Government themselves used the occasion to the best effect. We do not have to agree with all that goes on in the United Nations, but for all its weaknesses, it still remains the best hope of mankind for a permanent peace. Let us not forget that we were very glad to have the substantial diplomatic help given to us by Resolution 502 of the United Nations during the Falklands crisis. It marshalled world opinion, and rightly so, in the United Kingdom's favour for both military action and the imposition of sanctions. That more than anything else undermined the power of the Argentinian junta. We must, therefore, sustain and strengthen the United Nations and its agencies at all times.

Perhaps when he replies the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will tell us what is happening in the various talks that are going on. The START talks at Geneva, which we strongly support, are crucial because they are a real test as to whether the great powers genuinely want a reversal of the nuclear arms race. There has been some limited success. SALT 1 was important, and although SALT 2 was not ratified by the United States Senate, the limits and sub-limits it set on strategic missiles systems appear to have been observed by the United States and the USSR. Perhaps the Minister will also say a word about the Vienna talks on MBFR. These have been going on for a very long time; I think that they started in 1973. I understand that verification is the stumbling block in these talks, but I believe that they should go on. They provide a bridge—albeit a slender one—between East and West and it is absolutely vital to keep it open. I hope that the Minister will agree on this.

Lord George-Brown

My Lords, has my noble friend—

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, today the Madrid Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe opens.

Lord George-Brown

My Lords, has my noble friend the time to let me ask him a question? It seemed to me that he threw away the reference to verification. He said that he understood that verification was a stumbling block. Will he tell the House whether or not he accepts that the ability to verify that the Russians are doing what they say they are doing is not a stumbling block, but an absolute essential?

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, what I made clear was that it is a stumbling block in the way of the success of the talks. I certainly agree that verification, in this as in other disarmament discussions, is essential.

I should like to put a final question to the noble Lord under the heading of disarmament. Do the Government not believe that British and French forces must be included in the negotiations with the USSR if the negotiations are ultimately to be successful? It seems difficult to find a good reason for their exclusion from the agenda.

This leads me to our friends and allies, and especially to the United States. It is regrettable and sad that our relationship with the United States should be at such a low ebb at the present time. Obviously there are times when we must disagree with our friends and allies, and there is nothing wrong in that, but it is essential that there should be mutual trust and understanding between us.

In recent months that relationship has been under strain for reasons which are well known to everyone in the House. The disagreement on steel has thankfully been resolved, at least until 1985, but the Siberian pipeline argument continues. It seems that there is more emotion than logic in this debate about the pipeline, and perhaps the Minister will clarify the latest position for us. President Spadolini of Italy said in Washington a few days ago that a solution was imminent, but this has been denied in Washington. We and our partners in the Community have taken the view that trade with the East is beneficial on balance, while the United States believe that technology and hard currency—but not grain, be it noted—are strategically sensitive. Perhaps the Minister will comment on this as well.

Another recent point of disagreement with the United States is over the resolution on the Falklands, to which the noble Viscount referred. It is a pity that the United States did not at least abstain, as France did. Britain valued the support of the United Nations, our partners in Europe, and the United States, who gave crucial assistance when we needed it. The United Nations' resolution asks us to resume negotiations with the Argentine Government a few short months after the Argentine invasion. That is difficult to accept. If the nature and attitude of the Argentine Government had changed, if it was now a liberal, democratic and trustworthy Government, then our reactions might be modified. But it remains, unhappily, a military dictatorship seemingly quite unrepentant about the tragedy, the suffering and the grief which its predecessor caused, and we are now asked to talk to it. It is too soon, as yet. Sunday's Observer newspaper referred to that régime as being, "steeped in corruption, mismanagement, and death". One hopes that they will very shortly move to better things and hold free elections in the Argentine.

The time will come to talk of solutions to the problem, but we, and the Government, certainly must think of possible solutions to the problem now, and must use the good offices of the United Nations in due course. We must work for the gradual resumption of normal relations with the Argentine. That will be a sensible path to follow, especially, as I say, if they move towards more democratic procedures. Meaningful talks will only be possible if mutual confidence is restored. We must never overlook the rights of the Falklanders themselves and the traumatic experience that they have been through. I am grateful, as are my noble friends, to the noble Viscount for the kind references he made to our noble friend Lord Shackleton and to his work in producing at short notice a most important report. Can we be told which of my noble friend's recommendations are being carried out? There appeared to be some disparity between the views expressed by Ministers in the Foreign Office and what their colleague Mr. Cranley Onslow said when he visited the Falklands recently.

If we are therefore disappointed by the United States' action in the United Nations, we also understand their anxiety to re-establish good relations with South American countries. Our aim should be to have good relations with those countries ourselves. We also understand the deep concern which exists in the United States about the highly unstable condition of a number of central American countries. Of course we have an interest in the possible Venezuelan threat to Guyana and a similar threat by Guatemala—suffering under another hideous tyranny—to Belize. I assume that we shall continue to maintain forces there.

The gracious Speech also refers to the Middle East and to Namibia. A great deal has happened since, on 21st June, we last debated in this House the tragic developments in the Lebanon. No faction emerges with credit from that appalling catastrophe: the suffering and devastation shocked the world, and the need, after seven years of near anarchy, is for peaceful reconstruction. Can the Minister tell us what practical help we are giving them?

We wish the new Government of President Gemayel well and hope that they will be even-handed in their treatment of Christians and Moslems. Their future depends on even-handedness and fair treatment of all religious groups. I think we all support the presence of the International Corps in the Lebanon, and also the need for it to stay until stability has returned. The Foreign Secretary has now reported that the United Kingdom has been requested to supply troops, as I understand it, to reinforce the forces already there. The House will wish to know what is going to be our response to that request.

Again, the exodus of the PLO from Lebanon, deeply but not mortally wounded, is not the end of the story. Peace will not come to the Middle East until the Palestinian problem is resolved. Israel must move to help them find a home, and they must recognise Israel. There have been some constructive moves. The United States' initiative of 2nd September deserves our support, and the communiqué following the conference had some encouraging aspects.

The process of reconciliation is not easy, and we welcome the Foreign Secretary's visits to the Middle East. I noted with interest what Mr. Pym said in Cairo—namely, that the PLO should join in the peace negotiations. Perhaps the Minister will elaborate on this, because it seems to go further than the Venice declaration. The urgent need is to bring all the parties to the negotiating table as soon as possible. In this, President Mubarak, who is, I believe, a wise leader, can play a greater part than he has done so far. This week, the Foreign Secretary goes to Jordan. This visit coincides with a report that the United States Government is now proposing that the PLO should accept King Hussein as their spokesman in a future conference. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what is the reaction of Her Majesty's Government to that possibility. King Hussein is placed in a crucial position geographically and historically, and is a most courageous man.

As to Namibia, I recall the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, saying in this debate two years ago, when he was Foreign Secretary, that negotiations appeared to be approaching their culmination. He was to be disappointed, as we all were. During the last 12 months we have been led to believe several times that a breakthrough was imminent. Negotiations have been going on for five years, and I think the Western Contact Group has worked hard and deserves our thanks. Just as a settlement appears to be materialising, the South Africans either raise some objection at the last moment, or they cross over into Angola with their forces.

Let me give some examples to prove that. In September 1978, the then Prime Minister, John Vorster, announced his rejection of the United Nations' election plan. In February 1979, ceasefire letters were ready to be signed by South Africa and SWAPO, but South Africa failed to respond. In January 1981 the South African delegation at the Geneva conference on Namibia said that it would be "premature" to sign a ceasefire. These are some examples of intransigence, and, of course, since the change of administration, the United States have, unfortunately, taken a rather less positive stance.

The presence of the Cubans in Angola is, and has been, a primary obstacle, and the South Africans have made the most of it. The French Government have now made a most helpful and constructive suggestion—namely, that French troops would move into Angola as a replacement for the Cubans if the latter were asked by Luanda to withdraw. France is one of the five Contact States, and others might be prepared to follow. I doubt that the South Africans or Unita would want to attack such interposed forces. This would certainly help to clarify South Africa's position on this matter once and for all. I should once again be very grateful to the Minister if he would comment on the latest position and the Government's attitude to the French proposal.

The gracious Speech mentions other problems but time does not allow me to deal with them. They are the problems of Poland, Afghanistan and Cambodia, where people are suffering untold misery and where freedom and independence are mercilessly ground under foot. We must not forget them. We and our allies have our problems, but they are as nothing compared with those which oppress those and similar countries.

For over 30 years the Western Alliance has been the basis of our foreign policy. It has been the guarantee of our freedom and the foundation of our international activities. I mentioned our disagreements with America; we also have disagreements with our partners in the EEC. I will not take further time now to deal with them, but they are the budget problem, the common fisheries policy, the problem of recurring surpluses and other matters which must all cause concern. But with patience and time they can be resolved. Like all human relationships, the Western Alliance must be nourished if it is not to wither. That is the task of Prime Ministers and Foreign Secretaries. The time is due for our Government and other European Governments to end sterile bickering and to think seriously about the nature of their relationship with each other and with the United States. That should be the Government's objective in the months that lie ahead.