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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : I appeal for brevity, as Mr. Speaker did at the beginning of the debate. The debate has already been truncated by time spent on the private notice question and many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to contribute to the debate.
Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber) : It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour), whose elegant, informed and wise remarks have enhanced so many similar debates.
Column 374The Foreign Secretary is a calming man. However, one should not allow the cuddly emollience for which he is so famed to mask the fact that there is a different interpretation of the Government's approach and contribution to foreign affairs from that which he provided. One does not need to go over the top to make it. Within the European Community, the Prime Minister continues to establish her reputation as a "Mrs. Nyet" of European co-operation. Her portrayal in the Bruges speech of a highly centralised Europe betrayed what she really thinks about the Community. In her heart, she sees it as being a free trade area, a European Free Trade Association writ large. Her vision is of a Europe of business men. Ours is of a Europe for all its citizens. We need economic success, so we support the single market, but if we are to have a successful single market, we also need common social, regional and environmental policies. That also means developing much more effective democratic institutions.
The Prime Minister's opposition to such changes could cost us dear, for the risk still remains, though it is not as strong as it was not so long ago, that, held up time and again by one or two reluctant members, the majority within the Community will go its own way. An example of this is the central European bank. It is a natural development, which will almost certainly happen in time. Members of the Community have committed themselves to the free flow of capital everywhere by 1990 and this is expected to be of major benefit to this country. However, in the absence of a common bank and a common currency, this would inevitably produce huge swings in interest rates as Governments tried to avoid harmful fluctuations in the value of their currencies. Furthermore, the sheer cost and bother of changing money, along with the added risk involved in dealing with fluctuating currencies, is a real barrier to the policy of economic convergence to which all Governments are committed.
The Prime Minister's vocal opposition to these sensible steps is sad, and it is a mistake for which Britain could pay, for if a common central bank were established with Britain participating, London would be a natural location. If Britain were less enthusiastic, Frankfurt would become the major contender. As we are all beginning to don habits of green, and talk about the environment, it is sad to see that within the European Community, the pushing for improved environmental standards is not coming from this country.
I am entitled to criticise the Prime Minister and the Government about their European attitudes, behaviour and intentions. We have been consistently arguing for many years for a more coherent Community moving in a federal direction. The Labour party spokesman, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), has no such track record. If he and his party had had their way, the Single European Act would not have been passed, and the forward development of the Community, which is essential to our prosperity and influence, would have been halted. The Labour party is in no position to proffer advice in the Community until it gets its own act together. The Foreign Secretary was right to stress the major changes in East-West relations. The presence of a fresh mind at the head of the Soviet Union has opened up enormous possibilities which two or three years ago would have been unthinkable. We have had the first treaty to
Column 375reduce the level of nuclear weapons. In some of the world's worst trouble spots, from Afghanistan to Namibia and Angola, we have seen negotiated settlements.
Within the Soviet bloc, there has been a great improvement in human rights. I am not exaggerating that. Mr. Gorbachev has been moving further and faster than anyone imagined that any Soviet leader could or would. It will and has produced enormous stresses from Estonia to Azerbaijan. As the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said, while he was still talking about foreign affairs, this is undoubtedly an historic opportunity and brings with it considerable responsibilities. That is why the Government approach of pressing for the modernisation of the NATO short-range nuclear weapons is a mistake. It undermines the INF treaty and is also premature. The right approach is to follow the advice of my Free Democratic party colleague, the German Liberal Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who is, after all, the most experienced Foreign Minister in the Western bloc, by attempting to negotiate a multilateral agreement to make modernisation unnecessary. That does not in any way give up the possibility of going ahead with it at a later stage if this proves necessary. It is a variant of the NATO two-stage proposal which did not work at that time but which I and the Secretary of State for Defence supported. The opportunity for the same kind of approach to work this time is much greater.
We must be more positive in our approach to the Eastern bloc and must appreciate the tremendous stress that changes are bringing about. It would be terrible if a generation younger than us looked back at the present Soviet leadership in the same way that we look back at Dubcek and the Prague spring saying that if only Western leaders had been prepared to deal with Gorbachev more effectively he might have survived. Mr. Gorbachev is not in all that strong a position. I accept that the West must not jeopardise its own security, but nor must we miss genuine opportunities to improve relations and the possibility for disarmament.
Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West) : The hon. Gentleman has just put his finger on the problem. Mr. Gorbachev is under enormous pressures. He is taking on the party, the army and the KGB and is asking them to change against their own self-interest. What guarantees do the West have that he will succeed? We should welcome what he is trying to do and should help him, but that is not an argument for lowering our guard. On the contrary, we must safeguard our defences.
Sir Russell Johnston : I am not arguing that we should lower our guard. I am saying that it appears that the modernisation of short-range nuclear weapons in Europe is not immediately necessary. We do not need to take that decision now. If we do take the decision and proceed, it will not create the proper climate for the reductions that I know the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) wishes to see as much as I do. As the Foreign Secretary said, I accept that there is no evidence that the Soviet Union is in any way reducing its production of weapons of destruction. I accept that we must be prudent, but as far as possible we must seek to give the opportunity to the other side to respond.
As many hon. Member have said in the debate, the issue about the visit of the Queen to the Soviet Union was very
Column 376clumsily handled. It is difficult to find out what is true and what is not, but if what has been reported is true a remarkable mistake has been made.
The Gracious Speech talks about support for the United Nations. Can the Secretary of State for Defence tell us when the Government will reverse what I said from the beginning was a wrong decision and go back into UNESCO? It would have been of great encouragement if, when discussing regional problems in the world, the Foreign Secretary had spoken about improving the peace-keeping capacity of the United Nations. Against the background of East-West detente and less stress, there is an opportunity to strengthen the United Nations. Such an opportunity does not normally exist and we should take advantage of it.
It would also have been of great encouragement if when congratulating president-elect Bush--congratulations with which I associate myself--the Foreign Secretary had taken a more definite position on the middle east and on the new opportunity afforded by the PLO's simultaneous recognition of Israel and is assertion of statehood. The Americans are the only people who can get the Israelis to the conference table and we should press them very hard to do so. In that context, I agree entirely with the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham, who spoke with all the authority of a former Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
It is strange that the Government, who have taken such an uncompromising attitude towards human rights abuses in the East, have not put more emphasis on standing up for human rights in other places. South Africa is an obvious example. Rightly or wrongly, many people have the impression that the Prime Minister is more opposed to sanctions than she is to apartheid. More recently, the Iraqi regime were shown by overwhelming evidence to have violated the Geneva protocol by using chemical weapons against the Kurds. Perhaps to say that what the Foreign Secretary said was rhetoric would be a slight exaggeration, but I am afraid that the Government have not gone beyond the level of making rather feeble protests.
At a meeting in the House earlier this month, a first-hand account was given of the effects of these gas attacks by doctors who visited the town of Halabja shortly after it was attacked by Iraqi Government forces. They told of a town strewn with 2,500 corpses, most of them civilians. They were the victims of the indiscriminate use of chemical weapons. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), who is not in the Chamber, recently dealt with this matter and described the Iraqi actions. He spoke of,
"The deeply disturbing and indefensible use of these weapons by a Government against its own population."
That appears to be the official Government position. Yet within two weeks of the hon. Gentleman using that expression the Government had signed an agreement with Iraq substantially to increase its export trade credits. That is indefensible. Today's papers carry pathetic pictures of Kurdish refugee camps, and I should like to know what the Government propose to do about them.
The Government never cease to tell us that under their stewardship the economy is stronger than ever before. Now is not the time to go into the details of whether that is so, but one of the things that is not stronger than ever before is our overseas aid contribution, which is worse than it has ever been before. The Government have
Column 377publicly accepted the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent. but have not done very much about it. They have allowed our contribution to fall rather than to increase. It was 0.52 per cent. in 1979 and is now 0.29 per cent.
Over the past few months, the Government have boasted that they plan to increase aid by 5 per cent. in real terms. The Minister with responsibility for overseas development developed that argument. One can do anything with statistics if one really tries. That increase works out at less than 1.5 per cent. a year, or less than half the present rate of growth in the economy. That means that the Government are planning to fall even further behind the United Nations aid target than they have already. It is a question of priorities, and I am afraid that, for the Government, overseas development is less of a priority than it was eight years ago when they came to office. In Britain, overseas aid is less of a priority than in any other European Community country. Denmark and the Netherlands easily reached the 0.7 per cent. target and Belgium, France, West Germany and Italy all contribute a greater percentage than we do. The Government talk of a target. I thought that a target was something that one worked towards rather than worked away from. I hope that the recently announced change in Government policy about aid to Kampuchea will be implemented and successful. That country is perhaps one of the most needy, and to hold back any contribution was a moral mistake.
At the start of the debate the Foreign Secretary gave us a picture of the Government's stewardship of our international relations which was misleading and in some respects rather complacent. Because of the lack of time, I cannot cover all the ground, but I have referred to one or two important points.
I conclude by hoping that when the Secretary of State for Defence replies he will seek to answer some of the questions that have been asked, not only by me but by other hon. Members. In recent times in foreign affairs debates --and they are not very frequent--Ministers have tended to give more priority to making their own speeches than to answering hon. Members' questions. I believe that the House deserves better than that.
Sir Dennis Walters (Westbury) : The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) made an interesting and well-informed speech which ranged widely over many topics. I agree with what he said about the middle east and, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour), with whom I wholly agreed, I intend to concentrate my remarks on that area.
In the many years that I have been addressing the problems of the middle east, the situation there, which was bleak and gloomy, has become progressively more so. If I set out to analyse in great detail why that is so, my speech would not remain the brief one that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would like me to make and which I intend it to be.
In a nutshell, it can fairly be said that the overwhelming responsibility for lack of progress falls on Israeli intransigence and on American acquiescence in such intransigence. There are many in Israel who want peace,
Column 378but sadly they have not been able to assert themselves, as we saw again in the recent election. Because of internal Zionist pressure, the might of the United States has remained firmly aligned on the side of Israel, regardless of American and Western interests and irrespective of international law, justice and morality. Israel has vehemently and with deplorable consistency rejected the concept of exchanging territory for peace when dealing with Palestinian territory and, as a result, initiative after initiative has foundered.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham rightly said, this debate is taking place only a few days after a new window has been opened. There is no doubt that the developments in Algiers, which have seen the Palestine Liberation Organisation accept resolutions 242 and 338 and renounce violence, have provided a new and welcome ray of hope. Whether that hope will be translated into progress depends on the response which is given to the PLO initiative. Mr. Shamir's response has been predictably and offensively dismissive and that of the United States disappointingly lukewarm, but these are early days in the life of the new Administration and, therefore, there is still much to hope and work for there.
On the other hand, the response of the European Community has been commendably positive, as has been that of most countries throughout the world. I was delighted that the Prime Minister raised the issue with President-elect Bush during her visit to Washington because, whatever Opposition Members may say, the Prime Minister, of all European leaders, carries the greatest influence and authority in Washington. We hope that the demarches that she made on the subject received a sympathetic hearing and that she will persevere in her efforts in that direction. To achieve a peace settlement in the middle east would be a sensational diplomatic triumph for President Bush and for the Prime Minister and the steps necessary to bring about such success would command the wholeheaerted support of our European partners, most of whom have usually been ahead of us in their attitude to middle east policies.
Acceptance of resolution 242 and rejection of the use of force are precisely the policies that successive British and other Western Governments have been continually urging the PLO to adopt. It needed courage for the PLO to do so, particularly at the moment, so soon after a Shamir electoral victory and with the continuing horrors on the West Bank. It required much skill and determination by Mr. Arafat to obtain agreement in Algiers and a warm response from Her Majesty's Government was both timely and right.
The Palestinian declaration offers a perfect opportunity for upgrading our relations with the PLO, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) pointed out--an upgrading that many of us believe to be long overdue--and for commencing a dialogue at ministerial level. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence or my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary will soon be able to say something specific about that. If the legitimate rights of the Palestinians, which we and virtually everyone else have endorsed, mean anything they mean self- determination, and that in turn means a state. The two-state solution is the one that ordinary men and women everywhere, not least in Britain, regard as being sensible and fair. It now has the official backing of the
Column 379PLO. It deserves the support of all countries which wish to see peace and stability restored to one of the most volatile and dangerous areas in the world.
The uprising of the west bank and Gaza, after 21 years of illegal occupation, repression and suppression of human rights and liberties, has now continued for nearly a year. The response of the Israeli forces has been incredibly brutal. It has resulted in over 300 Palestinian men, women and children being shot dead. The Israeli Minister of Defence has instructed his soldiers to aim to wound demonstrators rather than arrest them. Earlier, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham said, the intention was to break their bones. Rightly, a good deal of world attention has been focused on the daily shooting, maiming, gassing and detention without charge or trial of Palestinians of both sexes and all ages who are seeking a minimum of respect and justice. That was especially so before the television cameras were excluded. These activities have been rightly condemned on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and by other Ministers responsible for foreign affairs.
Our historic responsibility for the plight of the Palestinians is greater than that of any other country except, perhaps, the United States. We should acknowledge this with a show of understanding and generosity instead of the qualifications and equivocations in which we too frequently indulge. In that context, the abstention on the recent United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning the Israeli violation of human rights in the occupied territories was hard to understand, let alone to explain. I hope that such equivocation and weakness is now behind us and that Her Majesty's Government will be in the vanguard of the countries that are ready to sieze the opportunity that is now on offer, and after 21 years to ensure that there is a start to real progress towards peace in the middle east.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : I intended to make a fairly lengthy speech, but in view of the statements that have been made from the Chair I have decided to throw my notes away and speak off-the-cuff. We have had some great vintage speeches during the debate, certainly from my right hon. Friends the Members for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench. The same can be said of the Foreign Secretary's speech. There have been interesting contributions. I approve entirely of the word of advice that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East gave to our people in the Labour party. He said that we must understand that we need both unilateral and multilateral disarmament. I could not agree more. On that basis, there is no need for us to get rid of our unilateral view on nuclear weapons. My right hon. Friend has reinforced the argument that some of us have been advancing for many years. We have always believed that we should start with ourselves and then work for multilateral nuclear disarmament throughout the world. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has underlined that argument. I hope that it will be repeated by my Front-Bench colleagues and that it will be underlined that that is the position of the Labour party. I agree entirely with the remarks of the hon. Member
Column 380for Westbury (Sir D. Walters) and with those of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour). I was always a great supporter of the state of Israel. I have argued for it on many occasions. Those of us who spent our years in the forces during the last war took the view, when we heard of what had happened to Jewish people under Hitler, that the Jews had a right to a country of their own. We felt strongly about that and supported the state of Israel. It is interesting to note that the first country to recognise and give support to the state of Israel was the Soviet Union. We all felt that it was right that the Jewish people should have their own state, but the actions on the Gaza strip and the west bank are unacceptable. I have believed for a long time that the Palestinian people have a right to their own state. I welcome the declaration in Algiers and the fact that 50 nations have already recognised the proposed new state. It is not just a matter of talking to the Palestine Liberation Organisation, although I would agree with that wholeheartedly. I wish that the Labour party would invite the PLO to send a delegate to the Labour party conference. It has not done so yet, but I have argued for it for some time. Arising out of such talks would be an acceptance of the concept of a state for the Palestinian people. There will be no peace in the middle east unless that is recognised, especially by Britain. We have a special responsibility because we were the last people to dominate the Palestine area. We upped and left it, and, although many years have passed, we still have a responsibility to work for peace. I was the leader of the first Labour party delegation to visit Israel, Palestine and the west bank after the six days war. The Israelis said that the area would be in their hands for only a short time and they would use it as a bargaining factor for peace. Twenty-one years later matters are worse, with area after area having been taken over by the Israelis, new settlements established and new reactionary concepts developed.
There are people in Israel who are sick of what is happening and who want peace. Some of the early pioneers and their children want peace. The current state is not what they thought would happen and they are concerned about it. We must encourage the state of Israel to reconsider its future and we must help it in every possible way. I have already raised with the Secretary of State the treatment of the Kurds, who are one of the oldest of peoples. When I was a lad I read about the Medes and the Persians. The Medes go back to 2,000 BC and are the oldest established people. The Kurds do not have a state of their own, although for a brief period after the first world war there was some acceptance of a state of Kurdistan, but that was overthrown at the Lausanne conference. The Kurds have a right to their own state. There are 20 million Kurds spread throughout five different countries. What has happened since the end of the Iraq-Iran war--an end that we all wanted--has been absolutely horrific. Thousands of people, including the elderly and children, have been killed by chemical weapons. We also have responsibility there but we tend to ignore it. At first our Government almost tried to pretend that nothing had happened. The Americans learnt through their intelligence service that chemical weapons had been used, but then the Americans are not that bothered about obtaining oil from that area. Our commercial and oil
Column 381interests determined that we did not say anything. We must speak out because history also shows that we have a responsibility to those people.
I know that I am straying far and wide, but I want to mention human rights. Some younger Members of the House, who came in at the previous election, always snigger and sneer when I speak on human rights as though I am a dedicated supporter of the internal regime of the Soviet Union. Obviously, they have never heard the speeches that I have made, the questions I have put or the delegations I have accompanied to the Polish, Czechoslovakian and Soviet embassies--you name it, I have been there. In fact, the two areas of the world where I have never been welcomed--certainly not by their embassies--are the Soviet Union and the United States. I have also argued about the role of the United States in countries such as Chile, Nicaragua and elsewhere.
We must not have double standards. If hon. Members are genuine democrats, they must fight for human rights in every part of the world. I did not take too kindly to the Prime Minister going to Poland--not that it seems to have made much difference. There is an interesting article in The Independent today by Anne Applebaum in Warsaw. She refers to Mr. Rakowski's themes since he was appointed Prime Minister. He is quoted as saying :
" Mr. Walesa demands recognition of Solidarity before talks between government and opposition take place This isn't possible.' "
The Prime Minister may not have helped events when she visited Poland.
To be honest, I found it a bit sickening that the right hon. Lady went over there and talked about the recognition of Solidarity, while, at the same time, introducing legislation here and acting against GCHQ. We have the worst anti-trade union legislation in western Europe.
Mr. Heffer : Yes, there is no question about that. We must not have double standards. For that reason I would love Conservative Members to get up--not many of them have done so--and fight for human rights in Chile and pledge their support for the people of Nicaragua who are trying to create a new society. Of course, people will make mistakes, but we should always be in favour of those who support the democratic process and real human rights.
I had a lot more to say, but I hope that I have at least made my position clear on the fundamental issues. The Secretary of State was slightly pessimistic, but I agree with him that, because of what Mr. Gorbachev is trying to do, we have an opportunity to develop relations with the Soviet Union. Here at last is a leader who recognises that if the Soviets continue to build up arms and maintain high levels of armaments, they cannot do the things that ordinary people want. We must help Mr. Gorbachev, despite the criticism and demands that we rightly make about human rights. We must help the Soviet Union because it is in everyone's interest to have a peaceful world.
Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South) : The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) will not expect me to agree with everything that he said, but he confirmed the wisdom of throwing away one's notes by making a speech
Column 382which was easy to listen to. I regret that he did not elaborate on his point about the compatability of unilateral and multilateral disarmament. If he had done so, perhaps I would not have understood it any better than what he did say.
I shall follow other hon. Members and talk about the most important question of foreign policy--East-West relations. We should understand clearly why glasnost and perestroika have been adopted. There is general agreement that one reason is the failure of Socialism economically. About 30 years ago Khruschev forecast that the Soviet Union would overhaul the United States by the 1980s economically, but the reality has been the opposite. The gap between the two super-powers has grown ever wider, which is why Mr. Gorbachev is introducing market mechanisms and why he needs Western help. Let us be clear about what Mr. Gorbachev's objective is. Liberalisation will be limited. He is not striving for Western-style democracy. He is a Leninist, and he says so. His objective is not to abandon Communism, but to make it more efficient.
The second reason rests in Soviet relations with the rest of the world. Mr. Gorbachev has seen that a policy of Soviet expansion is inconsistent with expanding the Soviet domestic economy. He sees that a continued policy of expansion would take too much of the Soviet Union's limited resources, and the same is true of the Soviet Union's other adventures abroad, such as those in Afghanistan, Angola and south-east Asia. He sees that the Soviet Union could not match the United States if it came to an all-out arms race and that a policy of expansion would continue to alienate the West. In particular--and this is the most important point--he sees that his policy of expansion at the expense of the West has been a failure. It has failed because of the firmness, unity and strength of the free world. Years of propaganda, subversion, disinformation, menaces and cajolery have failed to split the Western world.
What do we expect to be the course of glasnost and perestroika? The Foreign Secretary said that economically the Soviet Union is groping for solutions, and the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said that perestroika is in heavy weather. The heavy weather that the Soviet Union is going through now is likely to be nothing compared with the heavy weather that it will face at home and abroad in coming years.
I cannot think of any example of a Communist state democratising successfully. One can think of examples of Right-wing dictatorships achieving democracy. Spain and Portugal are only two of the most striking. Argentina, with some assistance from Britain in the form of the Falklands war, achieved democracy, and it may be that Pakistan is about to achieve it. There is a simple explanation why it is so much more difficult for a Communist country to achieve democracy, and it is that in a Communist country the state owns the means of production, distribution and exchange. Everything--prices, wages, investment, output, credit and foreign exchange- -is controlled by the state. To dismantle a Communist dictatorship, one would have to dismantle the economic side, whereas in Spain, Portugal and other Right-wing dictatorships, that was unnecessary.
There will be great opposition from the bureaucrats in the Soviet Union whose positions are threatened. There will be great confusion among business managers, who have no training in market techniques. There will be price rises, shortages and other problems.
Column 383On the political side, the differences between nationalities, such as those in Azerbaijan and Armenia, will become more numerous. The troubles in the Baltic states will spread to other parts of the Soviet Union. The rivalry between eastern European countries, such as Hungary and Rumania, will develop in other areas. The resentment of Soviet domination that is characteristic of the countries of eastern Europe will become more evident, and we may have repetitions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.
If that is a reasonably accurate, although pessimistic, forecast, what should Western policy be? We are right to welcome glasnost and perestroika and to hope that Mr. Gorbachev remains in power, but can we do anything to help? On the economic front, we should pursue our own interests. We shall not help by giving a great deal of aid to the Soviet Union. The banks which lend a great deal of money to the Soviet Union may lose much of it. But there is one way in which we could help Mr. Gorbachev and sustain the policies of glasnost and perestroika ; that is, by continuing to be firm, united and strong. We should continue the policies that have helped to bring Mr. Gorbachev to his present way of thinking. If the problems that I foresee for the Soviet Union lead to a reaction from Mr. Gorbachev's political opponents, who still exist, the generals or the KGB, and if there is a call for a return to the hard line at home and abroad, it would be a great error if at that time it appeared to the Soviet Union that the West was disunited and weak. That would provide a justification for such a reaction and might tempt the generals and the KGB to return to foreign adventure.
We should place in that context the present policy of the Labour party, which is that we should give away 100 per cent. of our nuclear deterrent in return for 3 per cent. of the Soviet Union's deterrent. That form of unilateral disarmament, which is the policy of the Labour party for the moment, would not be helpful. Who knows what its policy will be in a few months' time?
Glasnost and perestroika have not yet penetrated the Soviet armed forces. I shall give a few examples of what the Soviet Union could do to confirm that it is not simply talking about moving to a defensive military strategy in Europe, but is doing something about it. For example, it would be helpful if the Soviet army were to withdraw its offensive bridging capability from the Elbe to the Volga and the mobile fuel pipelines, which are designed to help Soviet tanks in a surprise invasion of Western Europe. They should withdraw them a long way back from where they are now. It would be helpful if the Soviets ceased to train their spetsnaz forces in the assassination of leading figures in the west, both political and military, in the hours leading up to a surprise attack by the Soviet Union. It would be helpful if the Soviets ceased to train their military forces in the offensive use of chemical weapons. Those are some of the things that we have yet to see. I do not see any sign, in practice, of the Soviet Union moving in such a direction. I am not making a pessimistic speech. I hope that I am being realistic and constructive. I am optimistic that we could be at the beginning of a lasting new era of good relations between East and West. We have already made great progress. Ten years ago, the topic of discussion was how long Western Europe could survive. I remember Henry Kissinger, who was the American Secretary of State at the time, giving us about 10 years. He said that in one of his unguarded moments, but I think that he meant it.
Column 384Now the question is not that at all, but how long tyranny can survive in the Soviet Union. That is a massive step forward. We should continue the policies that have brought us success. 12.56 pm
Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South) : The Gracious Speech gave the emphasis that one would expect to the high priority that the Government put on national security and to the importance of the strength and effectiveness of our armed forces. However, there is one aspect to which Her Majesty's Government and the Secretary of State have given insufficient priority--the recruitment role and place of ethnic minorities in the armed forces.
That matter should not be seen purely as of esoteric interest to sympathetic and concerned royal colonels-in-chief or to Members of Parliament who have within their constituencies large numbers of constituents who are drawn from ethnic minorities. The matter goes to the heart of the vision that we have for our country and for our armed forces. It is vital for the maintenance of the security of the state and our country that the armed forces should be seen to be representative of a cross-section of our community in every way as well as pillars and examples of good practice in the promotion of equal opportunity. Therefore, it is not a matter of esoteric interest and certainly not of party political interest, but it goes straight to the heart of the effectiveness and honour of the armed forces. The subject has been thrown into sharp relief over the past week through the response to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Sir B. Hayhoe) about the figures made available by the Ministry of Defence for recruitment into the armed forces from among the ethnic minorities. The figures show that there is real cause for concern about the level of recruitment. Ethnic minorities make up 1.6 per cent. of applicants to the armed forces, while in the age group most affected, between the ages of 19 and 24, they make up 5.7 per cent. of applicants. That must be a matter of concern.
So, too, must be the relative percentages of those who are accepted for service in the armed forces. The general acceptance rate is 28.4 per cent. ; the rate for ethnic minorities is 19.1 per cent. The Ministry of Defence must hold an inquiry into what lies behind those figures, and the inquiry should lead to action. I hope that the Secretary of State will tell us what he proposes to do to improve those statistics and to make a concerted and focused recruitment drive which recognises the importance of placing advertisements in the ethnic minority press and of targeting the areas with the greatest numbers of ethnic minorities. Work must be done in schools, borough fairs and so on, and a positive effort should be made to hold up a career in the armed forces as something desirable, not only as service to the country but for acquiring the skills that will equip people in areas of high unemployment the better to go forward in later life.
The MOD should also examine the fact that fewer ethnic minority applicants are successful than general applicants. The Select Committee on Defence published a report earlier this year making clear, as the MOD's response agreed, the injunction and requirement for an impartial selection process-- impartial in the letter and the spirit. I should like some reassurance about that impartiality.
Column 385We must go further. The publication of these figures gives the Secretary of State and the Ministry of Defence the chance to think again about their response to the Select Committee's first report, which stressed the importance of monitoring what was happening, in cap badge terms, in regiments around the country. I refer to the selection and the successful completion of entry into these regiments by the ethnic minority communities. If the armed forces are to be representative, as it is widely accepted that they should be, and if the public are to perceive them as not discriminating by reference to racial origins, the prestigious regiments, particularly the Guards regiments, should set an example by being seen to be fully integrated.
The Scots, Welsh and Irish Guards may advance the argument of the traditional territorial ethos governing the recruitment of their members. But the Coldstream and Grenadier Guards have a traditional image as national regiments that recruit from the cities and inner cities, and in them, particularly, there is no excuse for the present dearth of black faces.
One is not suggesting for one moment that there should be a reduction in standards, because there does not have to be a reduction in standards. One is not suggesting for one moment that there should be special favours for ethnic minority applicants, but one is saying that it is vital that the Ministry of Defence and the Secretary of State should be in a position to judge the success or otherwise of the recruitment of ethnic minority youngsters into the forces as the result of the concern that has been expressed by the Secretary of State and by hon. Members. Without the figures, one cannot do that. There is no need for me to rehearse the arguments that were put to the Secretary of State in the dialogue that he had with the Committee on the occasion of his giving evidence to it, save to say that elsewhere in the service of the Crown--one recognises the differences that he himself highlighted--in the Civil Service the role of ethnic monitoring is recognised as taking a positive part in promoting equal opportunities. In the light of the figures and what they reveal and the benefit that has come from the response that has been given to the right hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth, the time has come to extend it to monitoring by cap badge, as the Defence Committee originally recommended. If the Secretary of State is not prepared to do that across the board, he should at least introduce a pilot scheme whereby it could be done.
The Secretary of State should recognise also the lessons that we can legitimately learn from the United States. We know the real differences that exist in force traditions between the United States and the United Kingdom. But the Secretary of State must surely recognise what an honour guard means and what it does for the spirit of a nation. In the honour guard that greeted the Prime Minister in that historic photo session only a few days ago there was seen to be a representative cross-section of the population of the United States. That guard said something not only about what President Reagan felt about our Prime Minister but about the ethos of the United States and where it is 25 years on from the assassination of President Kennedy. There is no denying that ; it is a fact. We should make sure that, for example, when President Bush comes to our country, we are in a position to have
Column 386similar photographs flashed across the Atlantic to say something about our country and where we are at this time.
Monitoring does not seem to put an intolerable strain on the resources and the ingenuity of the Ministry of Defence. The argument that it is not practicable to monitor does not carry much weight. If we have a mind to do it, and if we have a will to do it--and we should be of such a mind and will--it can be done.
While I am on the subject of the Prime Minister, may I say that we know her favourite poet. The Secretary of State should reflect on that point when he considers how to respond to the debate. The Prime Minister's favourite poet is a much misunderstood man--a man who was a real friend of the ordinary foot soldier. He is even more misunderstood now that he has become known as the Prime Minister's favourite poet, and he posthumously basks in her admiration. Rudyard Kipling had something to say in relation to the merits of service men, whatever their origin. He recognised that whether from "east or west", wherever people come from, regardless of border or breed or birth,
"When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth,"
they stand together as men in the service of a cause. We should recognise that in terms of our own armed forces. In this country, black and white come not from the ends of the earth, but from Harlesden, Handsworth, Brixton and Bradford, and they stand not face to face, but side by side. It is the responsibility of the House to ensure that they are able to do that.
Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West) : Given the pressure of time, I shall forgo my comments on foreign policy except to refer to the contribution made by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston), who stressed the British Government's need--which I endorse-- to take a major lead in Europe on green issues. Concern for the environment and ecology is mounting throughout Europe and we have to be seen to be delivering solutions. Moreover, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) stressed at Chatham house last week, if we do not, we shall find ourselves, as other democratic Governments, increasingly vulnerable to the peace movement--as we were in the 1960s and 1970s--and to the Soviet use of the growing green movement. That has happened in Germany with the green movement, and such movements will be orchestrated elsewhere. I am not saying that the Soviet Union does not believe in environmental improvement, but it is a practitioner of realpolitik and will take advantage of any situation. It will try to obtain technology transfer from the West if it can and to persuade us to reduce our defence spending and our efforts to modernise our short-range missiles. It has turned on the pressure by saying that if we spend less on weapons, we could do more to protect the environment. We must seize the historic opportunity offered by the improved climate in the Soviet Union since Mr. Gorbachev has been in charge. We must help him to achieve the necessary reforms and we must act positively, but prudently.
I shall now turn to a defence matter that is close to my constituency interests--the decision that the Government must make in the process of modernising their weaponry and maintaining a serious capability, particularly on the
Column 387central front--the decision about which tank we should choose. I must put my comments in the context of the state of the threat, because procurement depends on the nature and immediacy of the threat. We have entered an improved international climate, so there is no pressing argument for the military to have a particular weapon on a particular date. I lived with generals and the military hierarchy for a while in the Ministry of Defence, so I know that one becomes frustrated when they argue for month after month about what they would like, and gold- plating it, and then, having come to a conclusion, expecting their choice to be delivered when they want it. It is not relevant to the argument to say that the Abrams tank could come into service two or three years before a British equivalent. I want to refer to the helicopter fiasco and the length of time taken to make a decision. I must point out that we still do not have an effective helicopter strategy. It is difficult for the layman to judge the precise capability of different tanks and to decide whether the American tank might be heavier on fuel or have a higher infra-red profile. Obviously, the differences between the two are fine, otherwise the Ministry of Defence would have come to a definitive view. One argument that has been put forward by the Americans is that it would be too risky to wait for something that is on the drawing board when the American tank can be purchased off the shelf in working order and at a good price--and that view is shared by some people in the Ministry of Defence.
We may be looking at the issues in a false context. People cite the AWACS and the waste of procurement resources that that entailed, when we had eventually to buy the American version. The British did not deliver on time, nor at the agreed price, but that must be seen in the context of the feebleness of the project management and the fact that the Ministry kept changing its requirements. One should not compare the AWACS project with the tank project. Vickers had long identified the weaknesses of the Challenger, before it bought the company that is to make it. I urge the Government to give Vickers a little credit for buying the royal ordnance factories and, within a year, building the most modern tank factory in Europe at Leeds, to match the one in Newcastle, with over £10 million invested. Surely if that is the Government's philosophy--to move the state sector into private hands--we should give the company some encouragement. The company knew that the tank had an ineffective fire control mechanism because it had a better one in the mark III tank and the designs for the Vickers mark VII can be, and are being, translated into the new Challenger. It is not a matter of this being a paper tank on the drawing board. It is already a good tank and we are losing sight of that fact among the welter of criticisms. It has a vulnerable aspect, but that can be, and is being, remedied. We face more than a military choice. The issue that we face is how the British Government responds to industry, and particularly to the technological industries of the future. There is a military dimension. If we lose this order we will find ourselves incapable, as an industrial and military country, of producing a heavy tank. We have to look at American motives. It is not just that they want export orders. I believe that they wanted to take over Westland to use the Black Hawk to gain a monopoly position for the supply of helicopters in the free world. They wish to have a monopoly manufacturing capability for tanks in the free world.
Column 388Therefore, despite the accusations and many valid criticisms made by the Public Accounts Committee, we have to try to compare, more than we do, like with like. Our procurement system may be inept at times but so is that of the Americans and of every other country. What we forget when we criticise our manufacturing industry is the huge costs going into the production and development of American weaponry and the fact that the American Government are directly helping those American manufacturers to become the monopoly supplier in that sector, whether it be helicopters and the colossal orders for Black Hawk, which can be sold only to the American Department of Defence, or the Abrams tank. We have to bear in mind that their objective is to ensure that the British capability ceases to exist. The Americans, particularly through the Darpa Organisation, and through the Department of Defence programmes, such as the strategic computer programme, consciously use defence spending to boost their main industrial base, particularly the new technological industries. We have a duty to do the same. Therefore, rather than lose the capability of making a tank, particularly, when it is a high technology part of the tank, the Government should support our tank, even though it may take a little longer to produce to precise specifications than the American one. Even that may be in doubt. I understand that modifications may be needed to the American tank, and I have no evidence that AWACS will be produced on time and to the conditions laid down. Why should the tank be any different? We cannot go on assuming that the Americans will transfer their technology. We should not put ourselves into the position where we are not capable of developing these technologies ourselves. This decision is not or should not be a mere bottom of the line accounting decision. It is not clear that there is a lead-up on costs. There are major military, political and industrial considerations. Above all, they are political. We are still looking for better guarantees from a Conservative Government that they genuinely care about the north and regional development. We are concerned not just about the loss of jobs in Leeds if we lose the order, but about our perception of the intentions and seriousness of our Government.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : I shall be as brief as possible, as many hon. Members wish to speak. We should look at the methods of constructing foreign affairs debates, because it is not satisfactory to have five hours general ramble on any issue that any hon. Member cares to raise. That is unsatisfactory from all points of view, and it does not concentrate our minds on a particular region. I shall raise two issues. The first is the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war. We have all witnessed, albeit through television and media reports, the needless deaths of 500,000 people. Every industrial country has had complicity in that either by the direct supply of weapons or by supply through third parties, or by the extension of trade and aid credits to either country. Those things have contributed to the war machines in Iran and Iraq and we are now dealing with the horror of the aftermath of that war.
Hon. Members have spoken about the plight of the Kurdish people and I shall deal with that later. I know that
Column 389the Government are in the process of reopening diplomatic relations with Iran. If those relations are reopened, some concern should be expressed about human rights in Iran. Ever since Khomeini came to power thousands of people have been put to death because they opposed the Islamic republic, or were trade unionists or people who opposed the war. That bloodthirsty regime has much blood on its hands. Since the ceasefire and the opening of peace negotiations with Iraq new areas for killing have opened in Iran and figures ranging from a low estimate of 800 to a high estimate of 3,000 have been given as the numbers of people executed by the Khomeini regime since the end of the war. One hopes that if a British ambassador is restored to Teheran his first call of duty will be to express concern about the plight of prisoners in Iran, the people who are on death row there and the murders that are still going on. As with the regime in Iraq, the Iranian regime is not a clean one.
Some of my hon. Friends spoke about Iraq. The Government there are fascists and through the Ba'ath Socialist party they control all levels of activity and are brutal to political dissidents. One war that did not stop when the welcome ceasefire between Iran and Iraq took place was the war against the Kurdish people. That war is different in each country and in Iraq the treatment is vile and loathsome.
In the Easter Adjournment debate I raised the matter of the deaths at Halabja, and it has been raised again since then. Since Halabja many thousands of Kurdish people have been killed by chemical weapons in Iraq. On behalf of the Kurdish Front and other political parties Masoud Barzani has sent a letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and to all world leaders. It is a moving letter and I shall quote briefly from it :
"It seems that nothing will deter the Iraqi government from using Chemical weapons against the Kurdish People in the future also, unless the world community especially the Security Council takes some serious measures in this respect."
Serious measures are indeed called for. Thousands of people have fled from Iraq into Turkey, but that is not because they welcome or recognise the contribution that the Turkish Government have made to Kurdish people in the past. They are fleeing out of a sense of absolute desperation because of what is happening to them in Iraq. I know that small amounts of aid have been offered to Turkey to look after those refugees, but we now learn that many refugees have fled from Turkey to Iran in order to avoid the winter cold and the persecution that many people have suffered.
The Kurdish people are in crisis and that crisis is probably worse than it has ever been. It is vital that western Europe, the United States and the Soviet Union wake up to that and demand that the United Nations be allowed to send in aid at least to maintain the life and limb of those Kurdish people. Above all, there must be some long-term solution to the Kurdish problem. I have had meetings with ambassadors and I have had meetings at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about the plight of the Kurdish people.
I accept that the officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) are appalled by the use of
Column 390chemical weapons against the Kurdish people. I believe them when they say they are appalled and understand how they feel about it, but words alone will not solve the problem. The Iraqi Government will not take seriously one word that is said by any industrial power unless something serious is done. Because of the heavily censored press of Iraq, mere condemnation will have no effect whatever. The only thing that they will understand is the refusal of credit of up to £200 million for further trade with Iraq. We should not encourage business men who made money out of the war to make money out of the peace. The Fascist regime in Iraq needs to be isolated until it stops murdering the Kurdish people in their thousands. If we do not speak up, no one else will do so. I hope that the Minister recognises the horror that the Kurdish people face and the responsibility of all Governments to do something to protect the precious lives of those people. This year has been one of unprecedented so-called environmental disasters. There have been floods in Bangladesh and floods and drought in Africa, and a series of hurricanes have devasted the people of central America and the Caribbean. Some of those disasters are natural-- for example, a weather cycle causes hurricanes and consequent death and destruction--but others are not so natural. There is a strong link between the likelihood of flooding in Bangladesh and the deforestation of the Himalayas, just as there is between the drought in north Africa and the deforestation of the mountains of Kenya. On the one hand, deforestation causes microclimatic changes which bring about drought and, on the other hand, lead to loss of ground cover to prevent the run-off of water which itself causes floods. That precious water could contribute to the agriculture of the future.
This subject perhaps warrants a special debate so that we can discuss the effects of environmental pollution in this country, western Europe and throughout the world. It has been known for a long time that, if we continue to burn up fossil fuels at the present rate, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will rise. That in turn will cause a global warming, the melting of the polar ice caps and the invasion of much land by rising sea levels. Such climatic changes will bring about drought, floods and other major changes in the earth, just as other forms of pollution, which have led to the rapid depletion of the ozone layer, will undoubtedly cause further environmental problems. It is not as if there will be a cataclysmic end to world civilisation as we know it at some point in the 21st century. We shall see a growth in what we are told are natural disasters and a growth in environmental illnesses, poverty and hunger.
It falls to all Governments, particularly this Government, to consider whether their policies are perhaps unwittingly contributing to this process of environmental disaster. There are strict rules in this country, western Europe and the United States governing the dumping of toxic waste. Unfortunately, however, a large amount of the toxic waste that is not dumped, because of the tight regulations, is exported to poorer countries for disposal, with ensuing environmental damage.
We must consider carefully the control of all toxic waste and insist that it is not exported but is kept in this country where it can be disposed of safely. It should not be dumped on the poor people of the Third world who often lack the facilities to deal with it. There is something evil about offering toxic waste, which would cost more than $250 a
Column 391tonne to dispose of in the United States, at a price of $40 a tonne to the people of poor countries. In some cases, the price offered to those people to deal with the toxic waste is greater than their gross national product. That shows how precious the wealthy countries of the world consider the disposal of such waste. Further action is required unless we are to see another incident such as that involving Karin B.
I wish to say a few words about debt and poverty in various parts of the world. Many of the environmental disasters in Brazil and elsewhere are a direct consequence of the debt crisis. Countries that are told that the only way that they can get themselves out of debt is to produce more cash crops for export to wealthy industrial countries more rapidly deplete their national resources, such as timber or anything else. They do so to increase their export revenue so that they can meet the rapidly rising interest rates of the World Bank and other financial institutions. This action contributes to environmental disaster. It serves to take wealth and resources from the Third world to the first world and the losers are the poor people of the poorest countries. Something must be done to stop the removal of wealth from the poorest countries to the richest, and that something is a world economy that does more than charge exorbitant interest rates to remove national resources from poor countries for the benefit of wealthy countries.
Many international agencies have tried, and continue to try, to do something about the important matters to which I have referred. The British Government left UNESCO--the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation--a few years ago. The Government are talking about returning when UNESCO is run in the way that is desired by the United States and Britain. I thought that the purpose of membership of an international agency was to participate in it, rather than dictate to it how it should be run. There is the United Nations environment programme. The total budget of the programme in 1986, the last year for which full accounts are available, was only $28 million, of which $1,471,000 was contributed by the British Government. It is the most woefully underfunded agency within the United Nations. It could be argued that it is the most vital of all the agencies. I hope that the Government will consider increasing Britain's contribution to it, increasing its powers and increasing its work. If they do not, we shall continue to see environmental disasters and continuing problems for the world's population. There is no room for complacency. It cannot be said that deregulation or free enterprise can solve the world's problems because they cannot. Instead they will lead to the destruction of the ozone layer, further pollution of the seas and, for example, destruction of the Antarctic.
I hope that the Government will be prepared to listen to the arguments and take them most seriously when they arise in the United Nations. I hope that the House will return to them on a full day's dabate.