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"The RCN meeting with Kenneth Clarke to discuss the problems in the clinical grading dispute is going ahead on 5 December. As we have warned, industrial action will not take us forward. Patients are already being affected. The RCN is not surprised by the outcome. We believed that the ACAS route was worth the effort. We now know that the courage to call off industrial action is not strong in the other unions despite everyone recognising that it is a dead end." I shall meet the RCN on 5 December at its request when I hope that we can make reasonable progress.
As the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) made clear, COHSE and NUPE wish to discuss the basis on which the exercise has been conducted, particularly for untrained auxiliary nurses, and he wishes us to take that to arbitration. Some, but not many auxiliary nurses are taking part in industrial action of a kind which the unions are trying to foment. They wish to discuss a complete reinterpretation of the grading for the auxiliaries who have all received a pay increase of between 7.6 per cent. and 9.4 per cent.--a little under £500. The meaning that the unions are now attempting to put on grade A would, in effect, abolish it because they argue that to work under supervision means that a trained nurse must be present and watching an auxiliary when making a bed, taking a patient to the lavatory or any other such duty. They want to move all those nurses on to a grade which will give them up to £1,500 a year more, which would be a 33 per cent. pay increase. The unions are prepared to foment industrial action by misleading their members into believing that that is properly their due.
It is not usual to have exchanges across the Floor during industrial disputes, but occasionally they take place. Exchanges are not always helpful, and the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party are not trying to be helpful. They are taking every opportunity to encourage industrial action, which is not widespread in our hospitals. That is plainly his approach today.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman descended from the sublime to the ridiculous by raising the embarrassing matter of the handling of correspondence. I have
Column 360apologised to the hon. Gentleman and Hector MacKenzie. Indeed, I was grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out to me in a radio interview that these letters had been received. It was a clerical oversight because Mr. MacKenzie's letters had been diverted into the part of my Department which deals with routine correspondence from the public, and I must admit that the Department had not been dealing with it with excessive speed. The moment I discovered the letters I replied to them. [Interruption.] They merely told the general secretary what he already knew from our public exchanges, which was that I was not prepared to have discussions with trade unions while they were attempting to organise industrial action against patients in hospitals throughout the country. That remains our position.
Sir Barney Hayhoe (Brentford and Isleworth) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that there is no justification for members of COHSE and NUPE taking industrial action now which is damaging to patients? Does he agree that it is a searing indictment of the Labour party that it seems to be more intent on encouraging such action in the interests of its own sordid politics than on being concerned with patient care? Does he agree that in the interests of patient care the Labour party should urge its friends in those unions to get back to work and to settle the outstanding differences in discussions with the Department?
Mr. Clarke : I agree with my right hon. Friend. Opposition spokesmen have made no attempt to condemn industrial action against patients. They have taken the reverse view. A spokesman for the Opposition has deliberately visited hospitals where he has discovered, from the newspapers, that action is taking place, with the obvious intention of encouraging more people to join it. That is an irresponsible approach to the well-being of patients.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East) : Does the Secretary of State accept that many nurses have no desire to take industrial action but have a real sense of grievance about the results of the grading procedure? Should not their sense of responsibility be rewarded by sympathetic consideration? If not, there is a serious risk of provoking a long-lasting crisis in the National Health Service.
Mr. Clarke : I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman, and I accept that many nurses and midwives have been disappointed. There was bound to be disappointment when some nurses and midwives discovered that they were on lower grades as compared with colleagues with more skill and responsibility who are receiving spectacular increases. Unfortunately, some unions have made no attempt to explain to their members the basis upon which the grading was carried out. They have encouraged nurses to appeal who plainly have been graded correctly, with the result that the appeals system must deal with thousands of cases.
I am prepared to discuss with the Royal College of Nursing, and any other organisation that calls off industrial action, ways in which the appeals procedure can be operated so that legitimate grievances are dealt with fairly and in a civilised fashion. I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for making it plain that his party supports that view.
Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that at a time when, because of their economic success, the Government have been able to devote billions of pounds to expanding the Health Service, with £2.2 billion promised for next year and nearly £1 billion devoted this year to an historic pay rise for the nurses, a minority of nurses, the leaders of COHSE and NUPE and the Opposition parties are making so much political trouble that you, Mr. Speaker, have been persuaded to allow a private notice question-- [Interruption.] --in the middle of a debate on foreign affairs and defence--
Mr. Whitney : It was not a question to you, Mr. Speaker. I was pointing out that, despite all those resources being made available, the political noise that is being made calls into question the fundamental structure of the National Health Service which Aneurin Bevan forced through the Labour party in 1946. In his review of the NHS, will my right hon. and learned Friend take account of those matters and consider the remedy, proposed by Mr. Herbert Morrison, of locally controlled hospitals as an alternative to the present system.
Mr. Clarke : My hon. Friend has raised a very wide issue. The exercise this summer showed some of the weaknesses of centralised pay bargaining, especially involving six different nursing unions and especially when we are trying to negotiate the extremely complicated division of a huge sum of money. We have had to take into account the skills and responsibilities involved in almost 500,000 nursing and midwifery posts, and we must rely on local management and representatives to carry that out. I believe that the exercise has been carried out well. It required considerable commitment for local management to carry it out so quickly and to get the money into the hands of the nurses, with the pay rises coming by November and the back pay by December.
Almost all the gradings have been done correctly, but inevitably some mistakes have been made. That is why we have an agreed appeals procedure, which should now be used. No system involving such a huge service and such huge sums of money could work entirely smoothly, but there are some mischievous people about trying to make political capital out of the fact. COHSE was organising industrial action during the summer while we were still in the early stages of the process, and it has lost no opportunity to do so ever since. In that, it has had the encouragement of the Labour party. Two unions are not helping matters by giving misleading information to their members and by trying--not very successfully--to organise disruptive action in hospitals.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : Can the Secretary of State point to any predecessor who has succeeded in forcing many midwives to resign en bloc from the NHS or to make clear their indignation at being placed, after many years of training, on the same grade as people who have lower qualifications? Have any of his predecessors then exacerbated the problem by making rude comments? Is that a positive contribution to industrial relations?
Mr. Clarke : I have made no rude comments about midwives, and I shall make none. I am told that 26 midwives have announced their intention of resigning from a hospital in north London. Those midwives have received a pay increase of 25 per cent., or about £2, 000 a year, but they believe that they should receive more. I am sorry about that. I accept that a genuine sense of grievance is felt by the Royal College of Midwives and by many individual midwives. I regret that, because they are dedicated people and it is a non-striking trade union.
I believe that the sense of grievance is based on a
misunderstanding and is separate from the COHSE and NUPE dispute which the Labour party supports. The Royal College of Midwives has a long-standing claim that midwives should have a separate grading structure. That is not agreed by the other trade unions or by management, and it has not been accepted by the review body or the Government.
Mr. Clarke : There are no midwives graded C. This year the midwives put to the independent review body a claim for a separate higher grading structure, which was not accepted. But midwives and their union persist in saying that that structure should be applied. Unfortunately, it is not the one that the review body recommended or that was agreed earlier this year, so if they wish to persist with the claim they will have to return to it in the future.
Midwives as a whole have done much better than the generality of nursing staff, and nine out of 10 staff midwives are on the higher of the two grades available to them. They received a pay increase of one quarter, which is worth about £2,000 a year, and a much better career structure has been established for them.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Speaker : Order. As the House knows, this is one of the rare occasions on which the House can debate foreign affairs, and there is great pressure on time. I shall allow questions on this private notice question to continue until 11.25, and I ask for brief questions.
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury) : Is it not time that we started to tell the truth on this matter? Is not the truth, as reported by Oxfordshire regional health authority, that the majority of clinical nurses in the Oxford region will receive substantial salary increases averaging 20 per cent., that they will receive their new salaries and back pay by Christmas, that the new grading system rewards clinical skills, has been carried out fairly and will assist the recruitment and retention of nurses and that the Government have honoured their commitment fully to fund the pay increase?
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that Oxford district health authority had no hesitation in describing the pay awards as "angels' delight", that nurses praised the grading review process and that the Oxfordshire chief nursing officer described it as a major step forward? Is it not time that the press and the media in general started to talk about the truth rather than the synthetic broth that has been promulgated by the Opposition?
Column 363nurses and midwives regret the attempts of those two unions and the Labour party to organise action that can only damage the reputation of the profession at a time when its reputation deserves to stand high. The Government have recognised that reputation in the pay award.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : Does the Secretary of State accept that the basis for the dispute lies in the devious statement that he made in April when he cash-limited the nurses' pay rise by introducing this spurious grading exercise? Since then he has tried to set one group of nurses against another. Does he understand that grade A nurses are experienced and do a vital and responsible job and that the rate of pay recommended for grade A is disgraceful? The Secretary of State should stand by the statement that he made in April, that all nurses were to get a substantial rise in their basic pay, rather than threatening COHSE and NUPE members with legal action and, on top of that, refusing even to discuss the case with them.
Mr. Clarke : The pay increases are almost unique in my experience of pay settlements, in that they are not cash limited. Our original estimate that it would be a 15.3 per cent. increase had to be revised when we had finished to 17.9 per cent. I had to announce further funding in October to keep to our commitment that we would fund the increase in full. It cost more when the grading exercise was carried out and we did not cash limit it at all. The root of the dispute is Left-wing politics.
Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) : Given that a necessarily complicated regrading exercise affecting hundreds of thousands of nurses and midwives must lead inevitably to at least a few mistakes being made, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it was for that reason that the unions agreed to the appeals procedure? Further, given the fact that the settlement is rightly the most generous pay settlement ever to be given in the history of the NHS, is not the attitude of the leadership of COHSE and NUPE in apparently trying to suggest to every nurse that he or she must be regraded upwards one of the most irresponsible and hypocritical acts of lack of leadership?
Mr. Clarke : I agree with my hon. Friend. As he said, the logic of the union's case, as put by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), would ensure that nobody was on the lower of the alternative grades at the various stages. That is contrary to the spirit of the regrading structure that we first negotiated, taking two and a half years over it, with the self-same unions.
Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield) : I spent last Friday evening listening to 200 nurses from the Wakefield district who are not militants or Left-wingers. They are members of the RCN as well as of COHSE and NUPE and they raised with me anomaly after anomaly in individual cases in respect of the settlement.
What should I say to five nurses at Stanley Royd hospital who were offered the highest grade by the management in Wakefield heath authority and were then told, "Sorry, we have made a mistake. You have got the lowest grade"? What should I tell the nurses who came to the meeting, who were informed that it would be at least five years before their appeals could be heard, many of whom told me that they would be retired by then? What
Column 364answer should I give those people? Does the Secretary of State accept that he has made a complete shambles of the issue?
Mr. Clarke : The hon. Gentleman is in no better position than me to settle the grade of any nursing or midwifery post. That must be settled by the management. If it is disputed by the individual, there is an appeal process that can properly resolve the problem. I should like to believe that the hon. Gentleman spent his time at the meeting explaining that and trying to ensure that those people discussed with their own health authority the handling of the appeals procedure, and that those who had appealed on the basis of false information from their trade union should withdraw the appeal and help us to get on with it. However, I suspect that that was not the tone of the hon. Gentleman's contribution to the meeting.
Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the regrading structure has been the result of two years' negotiations with the unions and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) said, it provides for an appeals procedure? It would be wholly wrong if my right hon. and learned Friend were to enter into negotiations with the trade unions. Does not that raise a much more serious problem of precedent elsewhere in the public service, in that, if he were to concede, it would give succour and support to other unions in the public service to take industrial action after agreements had been reached and negotiated and to carry on doing so until they induced Ministers to come back to the negotiating table to renegotiate? That would be a dangerous and improper judgment to make. It would be an error of judgment that the Government as a whole would regret if my right hon. and learned Friend were to give way.
Mr. Clarke : I agree with my hon. Friend ; it is extraordinary. It is important to remember that we have all entered into a no-strike agreement and everybody is a party to it. The Government set up an independent review body, which made recommendations contrary to the Government's own evidence, which the Government accepted and implemented for the nurses. In this case, I am glad to say that the independent review body confirmed the regrading and new career structure for nurses and put generous figures upon it for implementation. It would be wrong, above all in the NHS, where patients' well-being is at risk, if industrial action could be taken and, in the face of that, we started to alter the whole structure and abolished the lowest grade because the unions decided that all auxiliary nurses should get pay increases of up to one third.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : Is the Secretary of State aware that last Saturday morning I met only RCN nurses who came to see me at my offices, delegated by the RCN at Walton hospital? If the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks that those nurses are Left-wing loonies, he should have been there. After listening to them, I was delighted that I was a Labour and not a Tory Member of Parliament because I am not sure that I would have got out in one piece if I had been a Tory. The nurses were very angry. They told me of 800 appeals--
I heard that 800 of the nursing staff in Walton and Fazakerley in my constituency have appealed. They are very angry and will not be helped. They think that they have been conned by the Government. Some of the nurses said that they had stuck by their union all this time, but that sooner or later they would have to think differently unless the union took action.
Mr. Clarke : I do not mind nurses putting in appeals. It is predictable that there will be disappointed nurses when they find that they are on a lower grade than some of their colleagues and that they are getting less than the 17.9 per cent., which is the average settlement, because other people are getting 33 per cent. and 40 per cent. awards. Careful handling by all parties was required, and that was carried out by the management and some trade union leaders, but not other trade union leaders. The obvious thing to do now is to follow through the appeals procedure, not to take industrial action. We cannot start altering the basis of the grading structure because COHSE and NUPE keep threatening industrial action to force us to do so.
Mr. Dobson : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise to the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) for slightly protracting the interlude in his speech, but you will recall, Mr. Speaker, that the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) criticised you for accepting the private notice question tabled by the Opposition. It is a convention that, when the Opposition ask for a private notice question and it is refused, we do not refer to it publicly. Will you confirm, Mr. Speaker, that it is equally a convention for hon. Members on Government Benches not to object when you grant the asking of such a question?
Mr. Whitney rose --
Question again proposed,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows : Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.-- [Sir Giles Shaw.]
Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East) : I thank the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) for the tone of his remarks. Although he has been in Opposition for 24 years--and it does not seem to have affected his amiability--I do not see why he should believe that a mere nine years in Opposition should have done anything to the character of my sunny friend, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman).
I propose to spread a little ointment on the bruises that the Foreign Secretary may be suffering as a result of my right hon. Friend's brilliant speech. The Foreign Secretary deserves the support of all right-minded people in the difficult task that he has as a member of a Cabinet with the particular Prime Minister under whom he suffers. We shall do our best to help him and accept with tolerable equanimity any misquotation of history or partisan remarks that he may find it necessary to make from time to time to remain not exactly in his leader's affections, but as a tolerated member of her Cabinet.
Many have said that the five months since we debated foreign affairs confirm that we now stand at a watershed in the post-war world, and I hope, conceivably, at a watershed in the history of the human race. In 1945 Russia and the United States emerged as super-powers confronting one another over the middle of a divided Germany in a divided Europe ; but in 1988 both super-powers feel increasingly unable to sustain the role that they assumed to themselves in 1945, and particularly if they are compelled to compete in an arms race that they know neither can win.
In the Soviet Union Mr. Gorbachev is, in my opinion--I do not think many would now deny it--trying to change the entire basis on which the Soviet regime has rested at least since 1924--some would say since 1917. Although his domestic perestroika--the reconstruction of the Soviet economy--has failed so far to produce results and is clearly running into heavy weather, the greater openness--the glasnost--that has accompanied perestroika has released a pent-up demand for national freedom not only in eastern Europe but in all the non-Russian republics of the Soviet Union : in the Baltic states, in White Russia, in the Ukraine, in Georgia and, most conspicuously, in the republics of central Asia.
We now find ourselves at a point that appeared to be coming way back in 1956 when the Hungarians rose against Soviet domination, a point at which the possibility of reuniting Europe, which has been divided for nearly half a century, is sufficiently real for the two halves of Europe to exert an increasingly magnetic attraction on one another. One of the challenges to Western diplomacy in
Column 367the coming years will be to try to create a framework in which this explosive demand for national freedom in eastern Europe can lead to increasing unity between the two halves of Europe. I believe--I do not propose to develop this point now--that to achieve the reunification of Europe may require some important and difficult concessions and revisions of policy on the Western side as well as on the Eastern. In the United States there has been another presidential election. Mr. Bush has just been elected President of what is still the richest and most powerful country in the world, in an election in which one third of those who might have voted did not bother to register and another third did not bother to vote. He finds himself President with the votes of fewer than one in five of the population and facing a Congress dominated by the other party, which is still bruised by the way in which he fought the campaign.
There is no doubt that the new American Administration will face great difficulties in confronting the formidable problems that await them and which were almost completely ignored in the election campaign. Mr. Bush cannot claim to have a mandate for anything, because he put nothing before the American electorate and only one in five of them bothered to vote for him when the time came. I have some sympathy with those who say--it is increasingly popular to say it, even in Britain, let alone the United States--that America's domestic deficit is not a major problem. As a percentage of America's national output it is a good deal lower than most deficits in the Western world. But the foreign trade deficit is very serious indeed. America is already the biggest single sovereign debtor in the world. Unless something is done about the foreign trade deficit, within two or three years America will owe more than $1,000 billion to the rest of the world--more than all the other sovereign debtors put together. As a result, money from the surplus countries which should be going to help the developing world is flowing into the richest country in the world to finance its trade deficit ; so is money from some of the poorest countries, which incurred debts to the United States during the binge of lending to the Latin American countries earlier this decade.
No one is yet taking seriously enough the difficulty of continuing to finance an American external deficit on that scale, and there is the growing reluctance at least of Japan, if not of Germany, to go on buying American bonds, which we are told by the Americans' chief economic adviser are liable to lose 20 per cent. of their value in the next year or two. I am surprised that the Foreign Secretary had nothing to say about the shift in the balance of economic and military power that has taken place in the world in the past decade. Japan is already the strongest economy in the world, although not the largest. It is the third strongest military power, although it is spending only a fraction more than 1 per cent. of its GNP on defence. Nevertheless, it spends a great deal more than Britain, France or West Germany.
The Japanese Government have already made it clear that they want to dethrone the dollar as the world's only reserve currency. Both their central banker and his deputy, Mr. Gyohten, who spoke in London last week, have said that they want the yen to become a key currency.
All this will have an important impact on the removal of barriers inside the European Community, because it is clear that the Japanese Government and institutions will
Column 368not continue to buy American Government bonds which are certain to lose their value. Increasingly, they will buy hard assets in the United States and elsewhere, and they calculate that if the yen reaches 110 to the dollar, as, according to Mr. Marty Feldstein, is likely, Japan could make a profit exporting from factories in the United States to Japan in any branch of manufacturing industry. It is already making a profit exporting motor cars from the Honda factory in the United States to Japan, and Nissan is hoping to make a profit by exporting cars from Britain to the Community.
I do not believe that the British or European Governments have yet come to terms with the possibility that we shall have a flood of highly reliable, high quality, low-priced Japanese goods produced in Japanese factories in countries inside the European Community and the United States.
All this has an important impact on the problems of defence and disarmament which have featured largely in our discussions today. If the United States fails to deal with its external trade deficit, there is likely to be a collapse of the dollar and a big increase in American interest rates. If those things are accompanied, as is more than possible, by a collapse in the price of oil, revolution and default in the debtor countries in Latin America could follow, with consequences that could distract America's attention from the outside world for at least a generation.
One thing is already certain. If the United States is to make progress mending its foreign deficit, it will have to reduce domestic spending, because it is already working at full capacity. Any cut in domestic spending and a consequent cut in domestic deficit is bound to include a cut of at least $300 billion in American defence programmes over the next few years. As Mr. Bush--unlike Mr. Dukakis--has committed himself to continue all American nuclear programmes, that is bound to mean substantial cuts in America's conventional forces, which are bound to affect the strength of NATO in Western Europe. This is at a time when, because of demographic trends, manpower available for the German army will be 40 per cent. short, and when Britain is cutting its defence spending, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton pointed out.
I am sure that the Secretary of State for Defence will agree that for demographic reasons, we, too, are facing real problems in manning our armed services. In other words, NATO is entering a period of unilateral disarmament, led by the United States, with the co-operation of Britain, West Germany and the Low Countries at least. I challenge the Secretary of State to deny--I will not say the exact truth but the probability--that we are moving into that situation. It is absolute lunacy not to get on fast with multilateral negotiations, so that the unilateral cuts on which the Government and Western Governments are already embarking become multilateral. I must confess that I found the Foreign Secretary's remarks on that matter somewhat lacking in candour. It is 18 months since Mr. Gorbachev first made his proposal for conventional arms control between the Atlantic and the Urals, to start--contrary to what the Foreign Secretary said--with an inspected verification of the size of forces on both sides of the area, and to be followed by the removal of disparities that are found to exist. I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will tell us why NATO has not got on with
Column 369that process. Why are we putting up arguments that are known to be untrue as a reason for not getting conventional arms cuts going? I suggest that the main obstacles are coming from the French and British Governments. The French Government do not want negotiations between NATO and the Warsaw pact. They want negotiations to take place only in the conventional stability talks framework, including neutral countries. At the moment, they are proposing a three-year delay before serious negotiations take place. I hope that the Defence Secretary will tell us what position the British Government are taking on that matter.
I hope that he will tell us also why the British Government are joining the French in holding up progress by refusing to go to the human rights conference in Moscow, yet, at the same time, are saying that progress on human rights matters must be a precondition to progress on conventional disarmament. Having known and loved the Forein Secretary for many years, and knowing that he is a skilled lawyer, I have tried hard to read between the lines churned out for him by the Foreign Office word processor. Incidentally, I congratulate the Box on getting some new softwear. The adjectives were a good deal fresher today than they were in earlier speeches. It seemed that the Foreign Secretary was trying to get the Prime Minister off the human rights hook on which she has impaled herself. I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence has recovered from his jet lag and from the extraordinary meeting that he attended yesterday at which, apparently, his own Department was unable to put forward any recommendation to the relevant Cabinet Committee on whether the Prime Minister should be allowed to suck up to President Reagan by buying an American instead of a British tank. I hope that he will be able to tell us whether there are just some conditions in respect of human rights to be met, in which case they should be met fairly fast. We should be able to have the conference and get the process started.
I had hoped to be able to make a speech without referring to the Prime Minister. I apologise, especially to my old friend the right hon. Member for Pavilion, but I shall make a few gentle animadversions on the Prime Minister's role in these affairs. She is increasingly seen throughout the world as the major obstacle to all progress--from progress in the Common Market to progress in East-West relations--by standing out alone with impossible demands on human rights. I do not blame the Foreign Secretary for leaving the Chamber. He kindly let me know that he is to make a television broadcast, and we wish him well.
The Prime Minister is a major obstacle to progress in East-West relations. She is a major obstacle to progress in the Western European Union. She said that Spain should not be allowed to join, a week before she went off on an official visit to Spain, thereby showing that unerring sense of tact and timing for which she has become famous, if not loved, throughout the world. She finds herself practically alone now in the Western European Union in pressing for the modernisation of tactical nuclear forces in Germany-- something that is absolutely opposed by the German
Column 370and Belgian Governments, and which the French Government have said they want to delay for at least three years until they see how the conventional arms talks go.
For many years, I have been trying hard to understand the Prime Minister. I am sorry that the Secretary of State for Health has left the Chamber. I have discovered that there is a medical term for the condition from which she suffers. In the psychiatric profession it is known as cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a psychiatric condition in which the patient finds it absolutely impossible to accept a reality which conflicts with her prejudices or offends her vanity. One of the most famous politicians to suffer from it was Robespierre during the French revolution. That is an analogy that hon. Members with an historical bent might find it worth exploring. We have seen cognitive dissonance in domestic policy--for example, the poll tax, and the creation of private monopolies to make water and electricity more expensive. We saw it this morning in the National Health Service. I often compare the Prime Minister with Florence Nightingale. She stalks through the wards of our hospitals as a lady with a lamp--unfortunately, it is a blow lamp. [Laughter.] I am glad that the Secretary of State for Defence can see the joke. It means that he has recovered from his torpor.
The Prime Minister has already made it clear that she wants to replace the Treasury with an immigrant acolyte from the United States who is regarded by many people as Dr. Who. He certainly resembles Mr. Jon Pertwee, who once acted in that capacity. It now appears that she wants to abolish the Foreign Office and, no doubt, replace the Foreign Secretary with Colonel Oliver North--if Colonel North is able to escape imprisonment in the next few months. She has already shown that she wants to abolish the BBC, the House of Lords, the Church of England and the monarchy. No institution will be left to protect our democracy, except for the Special Air Service and MI5. If I were a member of either of those bodies, I would be waiting to see when her beady eye would fall on me.
Against that background, it is astonishing that the Prime Minister's official mafia at No. 10, led by her Pudovkin, Mr. Bernard Ingham, should have persuaded the sycophants in the Right-wing British press that the right hon. Lady is now the key to world peace and the bridge between Washington and Moscow. However, President Reagan invited Chancellor Kohl to visit Washington before the Prime Minister managed to edge her way in for a cursory working breakfast in Washington--something which I am sure the Foreign Secretary would like to forget. As for being the bridge between Mr. Gorbachev and Washington, we were told that Mr. Gorbachev was coming here to find out from the Prime Minister what the new American Administration thought. Unfortunately, Mr. Gorbachev will already have met the new American Administration in the United States when he comes here. Indeed, Mr. Gorbachev has already spent many days each with the Prime Minister of Italy, the Chancellor of West Germany and, this week, the President of France. He is fitting in the British Prime Minister right at the end of that long queue, and she has to take second place to President Castro. In many ways, that is appropriate because some of us have always regarded the right hon. Lady as the Castro of the Western world--an embarrassment to all her friends. All she lacks is the beard. If we could once see her as the bearded lady--
It is a bit thick for the Prime Minister to pose as a bridge builder when we are told by Mr. Bernard Ingham that her aim is to persuade Kohl to screw Genscher. I do not know whether that is a parliamentary expression, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I can assure you that I took it from reports in The Times and The Daily Telegraph. The Prime Minister has an uncanny knack of making friends and influencing people.
The obstacle that the Prime Minister presents to progress in any of those areas is serious. Although the Foreign Secretary will enjoy our support--if that is the right verb--in standing up to her and trying to weasel his way around the obstacles that she has created for him, we shall do our best to help.
I should like to finish with a few words to my own party, because in my sunset years-- [Interruption.] --I should like to be bipartisan. The British Labour party has a heavy responsibility to offer a positive alternative. We shall not do that if we indulge in a Punch-and-Judy show between abstract unilataralism and abstract multilateralism. The plain fact is that we shall have to have both. The present Government have embarked on unilateral disarmament inside NATO. The United States is embarking on it, too. The really important thing is that we should develop policies calculated to help the movement towards a new basis for international security, which depends on co-operation between the two blocs and in which- -I share the Foreign Secretary's hope--the United Nations may be able to perform the role that we all hoped it would perform when it was set up after the war.
If we work hard--I hope that we shall have support from some Conservative Members and perhaps even from some of those on the Government Front Bench-- we may be able to shift our Castro in a more sensible direction, or possibly even to marginalise her. I am sure that we would have the support of many institutions, including one not a mile away across St. James's park, if we succeeded in that endeavour.
Sir Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham) : I was surprised when the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) used the word, "ointment", because I do not think we would ever see him as an emollient. If my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary was bruised by the words of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)--although I think that he is virtually unbruisable--his bruises would not have been much affected by the remarks of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East. The right hon. Gentleman was interesting when he talked about foreign policy, but, like his right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton, most of his speech was not devoted to foreign policy. However, they were both interesting tours d'horizon as, of course, was the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. I do not want to follow them down their interesting byways, and, although I should like to touch on the issue of human rights, I shall refer mainly to the middle east and the Palestine problem.
The most depressing thing about the Israelis' reaction to the Intifada is that they do not seem to understand that things will never be the same again. The brave Palestinians
Column 372have permanently changed the middle east and the Palestinian situation. It is depressing that the Israelis do not seem to realise that, although some do.
It has been made perfectly clear that the myth that the occupation of the west bank and the Gaza Strip was in some way benign, has been exploded for ever. It never was benign because there was a great deal of violence and about half the land was appropriated by the Israelis, which is not exactly a benign thing to do. That was always a myth, but it is now seen to be a myth and there is no going back. The status quo cannot be maintained for long.
The second thing that the Intifada has done is to demonstrate the self- control of the Palestinians, because it has been a virtually non-violent operation. There have been one or two terrible instances, like the killing of the Jewish Israeli family at Jericho just before the election, and one or two other dreadful instances. Mostly, however, it has been a question of throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. The violence has come from Mr. Rabin, the settlers and the Israeli army, which has decided that the right way to deal with stone-throwing children is to break their bones or to shoot at them. That is what Mr. Rabin has advocated. Clearly, the violence has come mainly from that side.
The Israelis, however, are not the only guilty party--the Americans are also guilty. After all, they are now shelling out about $4.5 billion a year to be used by the Israelis to shore up the Israeli occupation and their present behaviour. As far as I can see, apart from one or two weak statements by Mr. Shultz, they have done absolutely nothing to stop the brutal repression or to make the Israelis see the error of their ways. The Americans could not even get as far as helping Mr. Peres in the run-up to the election. They were neutral as between him and Mr. Shamir, which was not very helpful.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Member for Gorton talked about human rights. The West is absolutely right to press the question of human rights in the Soviet Union. However, the Palestinians also have human rights. I very much hope that Mr. Gorbachev and Europe will point out that fact to the Americans, because it is absolutely wrong to continue to talk about human rights while supporting what is happening in Palestine. I thoroughly support, and always have supported, the human rights of Soviet Jews--for example, their right to emigrate--but it is grotesque to make an enormous fuss about that while condoning, if not supporting, what is going on on the west bank and the Gaza Strip. My right hon. and learned Friend and the right hon. Member for Leeds, East talked about the Palestine National Council and its recent declaration, and I welcome what they said. I also welcome what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said about it in Washington. It was one of Mr. Bernard Ingham's happier pieces of reporting, and I do not think that anybody will hold that briefing against him. No doubt, the PNC could have gone further, but it has taken an enormous step forward. It is extraordinary--rather, it is not extraordinary, and one might have expected this--that the Israelis and the Americans were so unforthcoming in their reactions to it.
The Government's task is to push the Americans and the Israelis in the direction of peace, and I endorse what the right hon. Member for Gorton said. If the Israeli Labour party goes, en masse, into a coalition that will not
Column 373be devoted to the prospect of peace, there will be a serious lookout for Israel and the whole area. I hope that Mr. Peres will maintain his efforts. It is necessary for this country to try to bring pressure to bear on America, because we all know that American policy is, as it always has been, hamstrung by the great strength of the Israeli lobby there. It raises a great amount of money to elect Senators and Congressmen. Unless there is counter-pressure to that lobby, there is no way that American policy will change. Therefore, it is the task of Europe, and particularly of our Government--my right hon. and learned Friend spoke about our relationship with the American Government--to bring that counter- pressure to bear. We can and should do one thing more. My right hon. and learned Friend did not speak about this, but surely it is high time that we had proper talks with the Palestine Liberation Organisation. We have waited far too long, but now we have a good reason to talk--the PNC statement. The Government have been understandably reluctant, because any comparison that might be made with Ireland and the IRA, but the situations are different. The IRA does not represent anybody. There is a clear majority in Northern Ireland against what it is seeking to do and probably, if there were a plebiscite throughout the whole of Ireland, there still would not be a majority in favour of what it seeks to do. Palestine is different. No serious person could deny that the PLO represents the overwhelming majority of Palestinian people, and it is clear that they and the PLO want a Palestinian state. Therefore, I hope that the Government will start talking to the PLO.
Another objection has been that, allegedly, the PLO believes in violence ; but if we went on that criterion, the Government would have to stop talking to Mr. Rabin, Mr. Shamir and various other people like that. That criterion does not apply, and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will tell us that there will be a change of attitude. It is in the interests both of this country and of the Palestinians that we should talk to the PLO so that we can set out our policy and it can explain its policy to us.
The uprising has now been going on for more than a year. Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands maimed or wounded. There is a supreme opportunity for peace, as the right hon. Member for Gorton said. I hope that the British Government will do everything in their power to bring home the need for peace to both the Israeli and American Governments.
Several Hon. Members rose--