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Column 63fairly small Europe on the left-hand side, a slightly larger United States of America on the right-hand side and in the middle a huge wodge entitled "South-East of England". The Prime Minister's Mappa Mundi is perhaps even more distorted than that, because many people in the south-east and in the inner-city area of London also seem to be ignored by the Government.
The Government's disregard of regional issues is particularly obvious in England and is particularly resented in my area, the north-east of England. Where I live in the north-east, there is a highly developed regional sense of identity, reinforced by strong tradition, particularly cultural and musical traditions. As we are so close to Scotland, perhaps our identity is neither particularly English nor particularly Scottish, but has something of each. That identity is not allowed any political expression by the Government. I was pleased when, during the previous Session, my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) presented the Northern Regional Assembly Bill to the House. I was also pleased that it was followed later by the presentation, again by an Opposition Member, of the North West Regional Assembly Bill. That shows strongly that Labour is the party of decentralisation wherever it is felt to be needed throughout the United Kingdom.
In the northern region, a development body has been set up, but independently, without the full extent of Government support or blessing that would be necessary for that organisation to do an effective job. At present, it has to run on a shoestring budget. Labour Members from the northern region will try to remedy that in the coming Session of Parliament.
The need to cope with regional awareness is so low on the Government's list of priorities that it is difficult to find out how much the different Government Departments spend in the different regions. As a member of the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service, I have been trying to get the Government to produce spending statistics for their Departments by region, but so far without success.
The attitude of other European Governments shows that the Government are out of step in their view of the regions. At one time, France, with its Napoleonic structures, was thought to be the most centralised of Western democracies. These days, significant powers are given to the French regions. Germany's federal structure also works well and seems to be acceptable to all the states in the federation.
European feelings in favour of a strong regional structure were reflected in the European Parliament last week, when a report on the situation in the regions was adopted, which referred to the necessity for regional organisations to be elected and to have financial autonomy and sufficient resources to exercise their power. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox) talked about the European Parliament and the need for greater recognition of its role. However, I am not sure that he would have supported that report, because his Conservative colleagues in the European Parliament did not, as they thought that it went in the opposite direction from that followed by the Conservative Government.
I believe strongly that we are seeing an arrogant misuse of power and that the Government--who, after all, were
Column 64elected with only 42 per cent. of the popular vote--should not ignore the regional variations within that overall vote. In Scotland, Wales and the north of England they obtained less than one third of the votes cast.
Let me give a more recent example of a by-election, not the one that received so much publicity, but a by-election in the north-east--at Cramlington in Northumberland. There was an interesting vote. Labour was returned with 603 votes. The Democrats and the Social Democratic party got 361 and 239 respectively, the Greens got 89 and the Conservatives got 88. So much for the environmental reputation of the Government.
As a result of the general election, the Government have a mandate, but they do not have a mandate for riding roughshod over, or ignoring, regional or local democratic structures in the United Kingdom. I hope that the Government will learn some humility in the face of the majority who do not support them, and whose opposition grows daily more hostile.
Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead) : Like my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes) said, I always enjoy these debates because they give us an opportunity to look forward into the coming year and at the effects that the Government's proposals may have on us.
The Government's programme is a continuation of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's policy of moving our nation from the bottom of the league to being a great nation with an international reputation and commanding the respect of all other nations. That is an amazing feat. I am convinced that we shall continue that process in the new Session under her leadership.
I welcome the fact that early on the Gracious Speech mentions the most important issue--defence. I welcome the Government's plans for national security and the preservation of peace with the assistance and co-operation of our NATO allies and United States friends. The fourth paragraph of the Gracious Speech states that the Government "strongly support the United States' proposals for 50 per cent. reductions in American and Soviet strategic nuclear weapons." We welcome that. We all look forward to disarmament, but we must be careful about two things--timing and verification. I welcome the Americans' initiative in starting the negotiations, and I am sure that we shall back them up.
Mr. Gorbachev's visit to this country illustrates two things. The first is the position of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in Europe and the world and her importance. Secondly, it shows the stature of our nation. My right hon. Friend said today that she would bring to Mr. Gorbachev's attention certain differences that are absolutely paramount. They are on the human rights issue, which must be discussed. We must say to Mr. Gorbachev that until he carries out reforms--for example, on Afghanistan-- it is difficult to understand his philosophy.
We must also say that while he is embarking on an increase in arms production, we find it difficult to understand his philosophy. It would not be amiss to remind him of his own troubles in the Baltic states and other parts of the non-Russian republic, which are beginning to show him the internal desire for freedom in his own empire. Such suggestions can and will change his mind. I am sure that slowly he will be able to overcome the
Column 65system of government in the Soviet Union and begin to concentrate on agriculture rather than armaments and bring his country back to what it was before the great war--the granary of Europe. I am sure that those are things that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be discussing with him.
The Queen's Speech refers to the Falklands. I would be happy to see negotiations with Argentina, as such negotiations would have advantages. However, I am determined to abide by our declaration that no change in the sovereignty of those islands will take place without the consent of the people who live there. That does not prevent us from negotiating with Argentina. Those are two separate issues and should be treated as such. Until the Government of Argentina recognise that, it is impossible to have any trade negotiations. The Queen's Speech also refers to the Official Secrets Act. Recent events have made it necessary for us to change section 2 of that Act by statute, making it impossible for those who serve in the security service to reveal anything they discover during their service. Their lips must be sealed. Parliamentary supervision would be too wide. Certain issues are so sensitive and difficult that they must be kept within the bounds of the security service and not divulged to Parliament or anybody else. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has access to those things, but access should be limited. Section 2 should be altered, and recent events prove that we are justified in seeking an alteration.
The Queen's Speech also refers to the social services and the NHS. One cannot have good social services and a good Health Service for our aging population without sufficient funds. The demand for treatment is increasing and the provision of medical equipment is expensive. Therefore, it is essential for the nation to be prosperous and to make sufficient funds available to provide health care. Also, funds should be made available for the poorer elements of our society. Resources should be targeted at those people, and there should not be blanket provision for people who do not need it. There should be selective but effective help for those who genuinely need extra asistance in order to make their lives tolerable. That applies particularly to the elderly. I know that there are private pension schemes, savings, and so on, which help some people and raise them out of the poverty trap. However, others are not so far-sighted or fortunate and have not been able to accumulate such resources with which to supplement their incomes. I hope that the Government will ensure that the resources made available are targeted on those who really need them.
I am satisfied that the Government are sympathetic to people. They have understood over the years that we have been in power that we need efficiency in the NHS, efficiency in the administration of money, and, above all, that sufficient money must be provided by the taxpayer. That can be provided only if society is prosperous, which it is now. I am sure that Britain's prosperity will improve even more during the next Session and that we will continue to be regarded as once again one of the great nations of the world.
Column 66beforehand, which is what one associates with the Government. During her speech, the Prime Minister was asked about the stories that appeared in the Sunday press regarding the Queen's non-visit to the Soviet Union. I listened to what the Prime Minister told us. She said that no decision had been reached and that the matter had not yet been raised. How is it that every Sunday paper carried the same story? It was the same sort of briefing as the Chancellor gave on pensions only two or three weeks ago. I suspect that Mr. Bernard Ingham gave a briefing on Friday or Saturday. If the matter has not yet been dealt with at the usual level between the Prime Minister and the Queen, it is extremely discourteous to Her Majesty that she should read about the Government's decision in the Sunday press. Clearly there was a Government briefing, and this is yet another example of the way in which the Government conduct their business. The domestic content of the Queen's Speech is once again a predictable chronicle of extreme Right-wing Tory measures. Reference is made to amending the law on social security. We shall find out all the details in the next few days. I am concerned at any further change in social security legislation because all the changes that have occurred since the Government took office have worsened the position for millions of people in Britain. The last change saw millions lose all or part of their housing benefit. Undoubtedly, that has caused tremendous hardship to many, including many of my constituents. Even the inadequate transitional arrangements were introduced as a panic measure. It was not intended that they should be introduced. Because of the outcry from Labour Members and the general public and the fact that we pointed out day in, day out, the hardships being caused to our constituents, the Government decided to introduce the transitional arrangements, but I do not suppose they will last long.
We are told that there will be a measure to change the law on local government housing finance. There have been enough leaks in the past few days for us to know that was coming. Such a change will mean exorbitant rent increases. Ministers wish to see any element of rates stopped for rent purposes and they also wish to end central subsidies for council housing finance. The poorest council tenants who do not have the income necessary to pay such rent increases may be protected in some way. However, any help or subsidy will come from other council tenants. Therefore, the near-poor will be subsidising the poorest in the community.
We are certainly concerned about the way in which millions of council tenants will be penalised and discriminated against. The Government are out to fatten up the council estates to make them ready for privatisation. Under the Housing Act 1988, private landlords and property companies, as long as they are approved--for what that is worth--will be able to bid for council-owned properties and local authorities will have no way of stopping such bids succeeding if the vote, which is very warped, is carried by council tenants.
Ministers will, I believe, find that such pressures will not produce a majority of council tenants, even under the system used for voting, in favour of their properties being sold to the private sector. Council tenants know full well what would be in store for them if they became private tenants. That will be all the more so under the provisions
Column 67of the Housing Act because regulated tenancies will come to an end, there will be market rents, and security of tenure will be largely undermined.
I shall now deal with the plight of the homeless and those who are forced to stay for months or years in bed-and-breakfast accommodation and the many more inadequately housed. Many families live in a rented room because they cannot afford a mortgage or cannot get council accommodation. Other people, some with small children, live with their parents or in-laws who help them. Those things do not seem to worry the Government. This Christmas even more of our people will be forced to live in such conditions and will face great hardship and misery. Nothing in the Queen's Speech offers any help to such people.
We require far more accommodation at a reasonable rent, and the Housing Act that we debated in the last Session will not provide that. As we said when that measure was going through, people who can afford market rents will obtain a mortgage. In some cases market rents are higher than mortgage repayments would normally be. Local authorities cannot build. For example, in my borough no council accommodation has been built for nearly 10 years, and that is entirely as a result of central Government policy. Clearly, the people that I have mentioned will continue to be in a plight over housing. Tory Members will spend their Christmas in comfortable accommodation, and I do not deny that I will do the same. Are they concerned that their Government, who have been in office for nearly 10 years, are taking no steps to give assistance to people who are being penalised because they cannot afford a mortgage or a market rent?
Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South) : As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am interested in his detailed knowledge of local authority affairs. Could he address his mind to the problem of the enormous rent arrears on council properties in the great cities of the north of England? In Manchester, rent arrears were about £12 million last year and the amount outstanding in Liverpool is about the same. Would it not help if those arrears were collected? Are we to ignore the fact that that money is apparently to be written off by Labour local authorities?
Mr. Winnick : We can always rely on Conservative Members to exaggerate rent arrears. If rents are increased, as we predict, as a result of what is outlined in the Gracious Speech, for obvious reasons there will be more rent arrears. People cannot afford the rent levels being forced on them by the Government.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : Calderdale had a hung council that was run for many years by the Tories and Liberals. In the six months from April rent arrears have gone up by 44 per cent. A child could guess why. It is because housing benefit has been so savagely cut by the Government.
The Gracious Speech talks about protecting the environment. Residents in my borough of Walsall will want to know what steps are to be taken to stop the dumping and processing of toxic and poisonous waste.
Column 68One firm in my borough is carrying out a public relations exercise by way of advertisements and leaflets to try to give the impression that what it is doing is for the public good. I congratulate the residents and councillors who have been protesting about the way that the firm is acting. The residents are in no way persuaded and do not want to live, any more than hon. Members would want to live, in places where poisonous and toxic waste is being dumped. They see no reason why the borough and the west midlands in general should be used for that purpose.
I should like to deal with two other matters : one domestic and the other international. Some hon. Members know that I take an interest in the security services. I was on the Select Committee on Home Affairs when it carried out an inquiry into special branch, and I wrote a minority report on the subject. I note that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) is nodding. The Committee had a Conservative majority. When it agreed to an inquiry into special branch, the hon. Gentleman said on the radio that that would be a danger to national security. He used words to that effect. Now he seems to deny it. He certainly gave the impression on the radio that in some way we were undermining national security. We had our inquiry and produced majority and minority reports. The United Kingdom still seems safe and secure. We have not been invaded, and I doubt whether foreign agents know anything more about our secrets that they did before.
In other circumstances I would welcome the proposal in the Gracious Speech that the security services should be put on a statutory basis. However, the Government are clearly concerned far more about establishing contracts for those in the services in order to ensure absolute life-long confidentiality than about accountability. Those of us who are genuinely concerned about civil liberties want organisations in the security services, and first and foremost MI5, to have some parliamentary accountability.
There have been allegations, as we know, from Wright. As I have said before in the House, for all I know Wright may have been lying. His aim was to sell as many copies of his book as possible, and in that the Government have considerably helped him. If he is a millionaire it is because of the actions of the Prime Minister and her Cabinet colleagues. I do not know whether he lied, but he made serious allegations that some people, including himself, in the security services deliberately did their best to undermine an elected Government. There should be a judicial inquiry.
Apart from Wright's allegations, there have been allegations by someone else for whom I have a great deal of respect. I have no respect for Wright- -why should I have?--either for what he did at the time or for what he has done since. He has made his revelations not out of concern for civil liberties, but only to make money. Someone against whom no one could make such an accusation is also a former employee of MI5, Cathy Massiter. She is an honourable person for whom I have much respect. She has given details, which have not been refuted in any way by the Government, about people carrying on activities that the Government may not like but which, I understand, are perfectly lawful. I am talking about campaigning for nuclear disarmament and being actively involved in the National Council for Civil Liberties. The NCCL had its telephones tapped and was spied upon.
Column 69I have already told the House about Mrs. Haigh in the west midlands. She lives in Sutton Coldfield, which is not in my constituency. She was visited by special branch but it was denied that the visit had taken place. She persisted and, following her second complaint, her Member of Parliament, the Secretary of State for Employment, wrote to the chief constable of the west midlands and it was conceded that the police had misled Mrs. Haigh and that she had been lied to. She is active in local nuclear disarmament activities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) was subjected to MI5 investigations before she became a Member of the House. She was investigated because she was the legal officer for the National Council for Civil Liberties. Is that a reason for being spied upon? Is it surprising that Labour Members think that MI5 should have some parliamentary accountability?
I must say that I am somewhat amused when those from the Liberal or Democratic Benches, whatever they may be called, talk of a Committee of senior Privy Councillors. I am not asking to be on such a Committee if there were to be one--perhaps my arm would not be twisted too much--but why should it be confined to senior Privy Councillors? What about the rest of us? Are we not as loyal? Is it suggested that our loyalty to our country, to parliamentary democracy and to the rule of law is any less than that of senior Privy Councillors? We need to get that one straight.
The essential point is that there should be some parliamentary control of MI5. I may be wrong and I may be being unfair and unjust to MI5, but I believe that among some of the MI5 people--not all, by any means--there is a political bias in the direction of the Conservative party, which undermines the security services. Like everyone else, I recognise the need for security services, as I have made plain on many occasions.
My last subject is of a totally different character. It concerns the reference in the Queen's Speech to finding
"peaceful solutions to regional conflicts."
There are many regional conflicts. One of the worst, which has been going on for 40 years, is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. On many occasions I have hesitated to speak about this subject, because sometimes, when I listen to those arguing the Israeli case and those arguing the Palestinian case, it seems that they are taking up fixed positions, and those who argue the one side can see no justice in the other. There needs to be a just solution, however.
We know what has been happening in the occupied territories and on the West Bank in the past 12 months. We know of the injuries that have been caused and the deaths that have occurred. First and foremost, there is a need for both Israel and the Palestinians to accept mutual recognition. There is no solution, and there can never be a solution, based on Israel going out of existence, whatever the rights and wrongs of Israel coming into existence in 1948. We know why that happened : the 2,000 years of anti-Semitism, which culminated in the holocaust ; and it goes without saying that I am totally committed to the state of Israel remaining in existence. However, I am not committed to an Israeli state within its present borders, and certainly not one that includes the occupied territories.
Equally, Israel can never have peace and security until the Palestinians have a state of their own. For 40 years, the Palestinians have had no state, which is why I welcome the modest but useful step of the decision taken last week in
Column 70Algiers by the Palestine Liberation Organisation. I wish that it has been more clear and explicit and had spelt out in so many words that it recognised the state of Israel. It did not go so far, but, by accepting United Nations resolution 242, it implied that it recognised the existence of Israel.
When we had the PLO representative in Britain, speaking recently at a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the parliamentary Labour party, he made it clear that the Palestinians have now reached the stage at which they will recognise Israel. The responsibility now rests on the Israelis, and I am extremely disappointed by the negative attitude taken by the Israeli Government last week. It would be a tragedy if the response of the Israelis in the next few months or years, if it is to carry on for that long, is simply to say, "We shall not negotiate. We have what we have and the occupied territories are simply part of the state of Israel." I fear that if that happens, it can only further undermine Israel's credibility. It may be that not only this country and the European Community but the United States will have to exercise some pressure, perhaps strong pressure, on the Israeli authorities and the incoming Israeli Government to recognise what needs to be done.
I started off by saying that the Queen's Speech contained extremely Right- wing Tory measures. The responsibility of Labour Members is to fight those measures tooth and nail at every opportunity. We shall do so in the House of Commons and we shall put our case to the country. One hopes that, by the time of the next election, enough harm will have been done by the domestic measures outlined in the Queen's Speech, by those in the Housing Act and by the poll tax, to make people recognise how essential it is that the Government are removed from office.
Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds) : It is rare that anyone says thank you in this place, but I should like to start by thanking my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and her ministerial colleagues for creating the conditions in which the area that I represent is flourishing as never before. The hon. Lady, whose father was well known to us in the House, as no doubt she will become herself--perhaps I do her an injustice--spoke of the neglect of the regions.
Sir Eldon Griffiths : I apologise to the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin), and to her father. She was saying that her region had been neglected. I can only say, from my experience as a Minister, that the north -east, the north-west, Scotland and south Wales have had more public money poured into them by Governments of both complexions than has my region of East Anglia, where only minimal public funds have been spent ; but despite that, East Anglia today is more prosperous than it has ever been.
There are some obvious reasons for this prosperity : the expansion of our east coast ports benefiting from the trade with the European Community ; the Cambridge
Column 71phenomenon, in which academia, following the lead of Stamford university in California, is beginning to spill over into the high-tech and biotech industries that are creating the new jobs that we need. Then, too, we look forward to some, although not all, of the benefits of the expansion of Stansted airport and the better access that we now have to the City of London.
These are the macro-factors that are helping East Anglia to grow. But it is the virtuous circle of policies that my right hon. Friends have brought about, through supply side economics, and in particular the lower taxation that has led to higher economic growth and therefore to a greater abundance of public expenditure available for priority targets, that have enabled East Anglia to go ahead as never before.
Turning to the Queen's Speech, I wish to make four points of which I have had some experience as a Minister. The first concerns the promised legislation to deal with local authority capital and housing finance. I am sure that it must now be right to allow our local councils to use a somewhat larger proportion of their receipts from the sale of council houses, to promote low-cost housing schemes, preferably in conjunction with housing associations, or in partnership with private builders. In my area there is a pressing need for more low-cost starter homes. One way to tackle it is to ease some of the present restrictions on local authorities' use of their receipts from council house sales.
I hope, too that, in the course of this legislation going through the House, my right hon. and hon. Friends as Ministers will look carefully at the balances that some of our local authorities have accumulated, sometimes from those sales of council houses, but also as a result of the increase in the value of land, particularly in East Anglia. My own borough authority is stuffed with cash, yet it still is proposing rate increases. The Government should consider carefully the possibility of insisting that local authorities with large balances should not increase their rates.
I also warn my hon. Friend the Minister to watch out for empire building among treasurers' departments in respect of the collection of the community charge. I was a Minister when we reformed local government in 1973 and the water industry in 1974, and I recall the proliferation of new empires that resulted from those necessary reforms. My hon. Friend will find that, in many parts of the country, treasurers' departments are looking for larger offices, more computers and larger staffs and leading their councillors to believe that all that is essential to collect the community charge. I hope that he will create a league table so that we can compare the costs and staff of the most efficient and prudent authorities and the manner in which they collect that charge with those of the less provident authorities.
Secondly, I turn to the environment. For my sins, I was an Environment Minister for four years. I welcome the reference to the environment in the Queen's Speech, as I welcomed my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's speech at the Mansion house, but I hope that the House
Column 72will not conclude that we are starting something new here. This country polluted its environment earlier and to a greater degree than almost any other country, but, for that reason, we made a start on tackling our environmental pollution much earlier than anyone else. I believe I am correct in saying that the alkali inspectorate was established in this country in 1904. In 1970 we set up the world's first department of the environment. In 1972 we led the world conference on the environment that set up the United Nations environmental secretariat. I might even have signed the relevant declaration in Stockholm.
Britain does not lag behind, but, for the most part, it has been in the lead in environmental policies. It is a matter of pride that we have cleaned the air over our great cities more than anyone else and that there are now fish in the Thames. It is recognised worldwide that we introduced the first effective legislation on toxic waste and that we have made important progress in providing compensation, and in some cases insulation, against excessive noise. The United Kingdom has a proud record in that respect.
Of course we need to go further. I therefore make three observations to my hon. Friend the Minister which stem from my limited experience.
First, the job of doing what is required to tackle pollution, instead of just talking about it, is very much a matter of practical operations and not simply of great speeches or of passing complex laws. Protecting the environment is a matter of the environmental health inspector poking about in the incinerators, of the river pollution officer doing his stuff on the river bank, and of the work of all those unsung heroes of environmental management whom we are fortunate to have in this country. So let us put more emphasis on the practicalities and on the public and private sectors working together than on making grandiose speeches.
Secondly, the Government should not allow themselves to be pushed into absolute standards. It is easy to state that the number of permitted grains that can be admitted to the air shall be X, or that the level of nitrate pollution shall be Y. Far better to follow the time-honoured approach of the best practicable means. The absolute standards that we have seen in the United States, particularly in Los Angeles, can sometimes be counter- productive. An absolute standard is created by the legislature. Many businesses cannot immediately meet that standard without stopping production and laying off their employees, causing unemployment.
The result is not progress, but an adversarial relationship between the Government and the industries that are to be controlled. But an adversarial relationship, and the litigation that goes with it, achieves very little progress in the environment. What matters is the collaboration of industry and the Government, which is best achieved by the British approach of the best practicable means. I hope that the Government will not allow themselves to be pushed by Europe or by the Greens in this country away from our experience of the best practicable means.
Thirdly, we can tackle pollution only if we have the resources. It used to be said that growth was the antithesis of a good environment. My experience is that it is only when a Government create those conditions for economic growth where the revenue is available that the environmental job can be properly done. That is why I welcome the fact that, as we now have those improved revenues, the Government can contemplate the movement
Column 73of more resources to the improvement of our beaches and our air and to toxic waste disposal. However, none of those things can be done unless the resources are first generated and our people are prepared to pay the price for cleaning up the environment.
My next point follows from that made by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) about security. I welcome the prospect of a stronger and perhaps more comprehensive Prevention of Terrorism Bill. I echo my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in making an appeal to the Opposition. The House should not be divided on this issue. Over the years I have regretted the fact that, on three-line Whips, the Labour party has so often voted against the renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. I am aware of, and respect, the anxieties of Opposition Members, but I hope that the House will take a united position on terrorism. When the House is divided on this matter, the message that goes out is wholly injurious to those in the security forces and the police who seek to protect us against those evil men. I welcome the prospect of legislation that will require candidates in Northern Ireland to declare that they are opposed to terrorism before they stand for election. However, I find it strange that we shall do that in one part of the United Kingdom, but not throughout the country. It goes without saying that candidates standing for election to this House hardly need to make such a declaration--I have never had any doubt about that--but I find it passing strange that we shall insist on a declaration of anti-terrorism for those who stand for election to the House in one part of the United Kingdom, yet not insist on the same requirement for all candidates. I do not like this discrimination that will be applied against our future colleagues who may come from Northern Ireland.
My further comments lead me in the opposite direction from that of the hon. Member for Walsall, North. I understand why the Cabinet has concluded that it wants to put the Security Service on a statutory footing. I see the many advantages of that, but I am not sure that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary will also see the pitfalls along the road upon which they have embarked. First--I can say this from my experience of police operations in Britain and Northern Ireland--it is exceedingly difficult to conduct a police operation, especially one that on occasion has to be covert, if there are exchanges in the House about it. I would be the last person ever to want the House to be gagged--in any event, it could not be--and I know that for the most part hon. Members will conduct themselves with restraint when they know that an operation could be under way and that unwise remarks in this place could compromise the lives of those involved. None the less, remarks can be made in the House on the basis of newspaper stories, speculation or while making party points in the heat of the moment, which we all do. But we shall be embarking on a dangerous track if, even in this House, comment is bandied about on security operations that are under way.
My second anxiety is a parliamentary one and is based on definitions--
Mr. Winnick : I shall be brief. I recognise some of the problems that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned about security operations, but it is not likely that the House would be told beforehand of such operations. We are aware of the fight against terrorism and we recognise it. I ask the hon. Gentleman to deal, perhaps only briefly, with some of the challenges that have been made, such as the Cathy Massiter statements. As I said earlier, people have been harassed--their telephones have been tapped, for example. This has happened because of political views, not because of military-security operations in Northern Ireland. One example is the experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman).
My second anxiety is a parliamentary one that is based on definitions. A statute must be precise. I am sure that the parliamentary draftsmen, among others, will recognise that. But how are we to define such concepts as the defence of the realm? Against whom is it to be protected? What is national security? Who is to be the judge? How do we measure subversion? How do we apply these concepts to individual cases? When the Bill is considered in Committee, ways must be found of determining the meaning of the defence of the realm, national security and subversion, for example. It will be interesting to examine such a Bill in Committee, but I hope that I am not a member of the Committee.
I have thought much about these matters and I am as keen as anyone on accountability to the House. Indeed, I have been accountable to the House. I recognise, too, that there are many in the police and security services who want a statutory basis for their activities. I can see no way, however, in which a Committee, whether it is comprised of lofty Privy Councillors-- heaven only knows why they should be different from anyone else--or other hon. Members, could effectively undertake the task of surveillance of the Security Service. Nor do I see how one or more of Her Majesty's judges could take on that role. In the end, I am driven to the conclusion--this applies to whichever party is in power--that we have to trust the Home Secretary. At the end of the day, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister are accountable to the House. I do not see a way of interposing between the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and the House another group that is designed to second-guess what the Security Service is about.
During the summer I spent a deal of time assisting--I make no bones about it--someone with whom I had the good fortune to be at Yale university. George Bush has done better than me, but I was glad to give his campaign such support as I could in one of the key areas of the United States. It is a fact that the Anglo-American special relationship has never been so strong as it is now. I say "never" even though I think back to Winston Churchill's day, when we were the only ally of the United States. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the United States was our only ally on the Atlantic front. Today, however, the Japanese, the Germans and many others are allies of the United States, yet it is the British who stand higher than them all. The reasons are in part the restoration of our economic strength, the strengthening of our defences and the resolution that we have shown in the
Column 75pursuit of our own interests and those of the alliance ; but there is another factor that is relevant to the special relationship. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has established a most extraordinary personal-political constituency across the United States.
This is a British matter, not a partisan one. It is good that our Prime Minister, whether one talks to someone in Atlanta, San Francisco, Florida or Iowa, is regarded as a person of immense importance to the world. I cannot quantify to what extent that leads some American importers to prefer, perhaps, to take a Jaguar instead of a Mercedes. I cannot say whether it leads to the marginal decision of an American tourist to visit London rather than Rome. I wager, however, that this personal factor is worth many billions of dollars to Britain. We should be glad of that, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on achieving this extra-special relationship on our behalf.
The special relationship that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has developed with President Reagan has been an important one--I believe that she will be able to extend it into the presidency of Mr. Bush. The more she can do so the better. I say that for two reasons. First, the United States is gradually switching its attention from the European front towards the Pacific, and to a lesser extent to South America. More of America's economic growth is on the Pacific coast and more of the pressures and tensions are to the south of it. But for us it is of great importance that the Americans should remain committed on the European front, and it is the present Prime Minister more than anyone else who can achieve that for us.
The Americans certainly need to deal with their deficit. I doubt whether they can do so by cutting defence expenditure. Nor will they be able to do it by cutting welfare expenditure, because their country, like ours, is greying and more will need to be spent on the elderly and the sick. Their best hope is to reduce their deficit by reducing the proportion of their governmental revenue that is used to pay interest on their existing debt, just as we have in Britain. We have a good record, because for the first time in my life the public sector borrowing requirement has been replaced by PSDR, or public sector debt payment. America needs to do the same, to reduce each year the size of its public debt and therefore the proportion of its revenue that is used to pay interest on the debt. So Britain has something to offer, and I believe that out experience can and will be offered tactfully by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in her relations with Mr. Bush.
I wish my right hon. Friend well, as I wish the Government well, in the new programme before us.
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North) : I am very pleased to have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker and somewhat surprised that I have done so this early. I want to contain my comments to paragraphs three to six of the Gracious Speech. My points will have a direct relationship to the comments made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), who referred to the particular relationship between the Prime Minister and the United States and the influence that the United States has on our policies and we have on theirs.
Column 76I want to refer particularly to the comments in the Gracious Speech about the
"maintenance of national security and the preservation of peace with freedom and justice."
Justice seems to demand assurances of honesty, candour and some consistency. The sixth paragraph states that the Government intend to
"continue to play a full part in the work for peaceful solutions".
It seems that we have reason for hope, especially if we remember the comments made by Mikhail Gorbachev when he landed in Brize Norton on his way to the United States. Many people thought that his comments were very encouraging. Mr. Gorbachev said that the Soviets had a secret weapon, in that they could deprive us of an enemy. That is an important statement.
The NATO Alliance was founded almost 40 years ago to counter a threat which was thought at the time to be a threat to democracy ; some people still believe that today. Although the Warsaw pact did not exist 40 years ago, it was thought that the Eastern bloc countries posed a threat to Western democracy. Western democracy had to be preserved, so the Alliance was founded.
Within the context of the relationship referred to by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, let us consider some attitudes within the Alliance. The international seminar for opinion leaders was held at the NATO defence college between 26 October and 28 October of this year. I cannot get more recent than that. In the inaugural address, Dr. Fred Ikle , an eminent military analyst who has received two of the Pentagon's most prestigious awards, stated categorically that Mikhail Gorbachev was charming and capable, but that he might change, and that he was not "eternal"--Dr. Ikle 's word, not mine. He also said that, if Mr. Gorbachev did not become Stalin No. 2, he might be followed by Stalin No. 2. In other words, Dr. Ikle clearly believes that the Russians are unreliable and may cheat on their word. I want to balance the statement from Dr. Fred Ikle with one from Dr. Robert McGeehan, one of the seminar leaders at the college. Quoting him from memory, I believe he said : "We didn't expect the Soviet Union to accept the zero option ; we should have removed it from the table a long time before." He said that the Russians caught us by surprise. That is a clear admission of the cynical tabling of a proposal simply for public relations advantage. Bearing that in mind, it is all the more credit to Mikhail Gorbachev for realising the opportunity and seizing it while he had the chance. Furthermore, in case anyone thinks I am being partisan, it is all the more credit to Ronald Reagan for standing by the commitment. However, where does that discovery leave us when we consider the so-called modernisation of the weapons which will be removed by the INF treaty, which has caused so much trouble?
Mr. Cook : The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds would accept that modernisation suggests an extension, but is that true? We must consider that modernisation involves transforming weapons from land-launched to air and sea-launched. That is not really modernisation. It moves weapons into a different class. Instead of mutually agreed disarmament, the Russians have beaten us to it. They are dismantling more weapons more quickly-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds is trying to intervene from a sedentary position. In my tender