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Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton) : I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for making it possible for a Conservative Member, who is neither a Privy Councillor nor a knight, to participate in the debate. I believe that I am only the second Conservative Member to come within this category.
Column 392I wish to refer to the middle east. I hesitate to pontificate on Israel's problems, for I have no qualifications or even ostensible reasons to do so. I am not a Jew and I have no Jewish votes in my constituency. I have no family or business connections with the middle east. If I presume to take an interest in it, it is because, ever since I was an undergraduate 25 years ago, I have considered the existence of the Jewish state of Israel to be an inspiring cause. It was and is a fitting outcome to centuries of pogrom, persecution and horror, culminating in the dreadful genocide of the Nazi beasts, that millions of Jews should live once again in their historic homeland. I make no opology for that deep emotional feeling. I know that many hon. Members feel differently and that their hearts go out to the plight of the Palestinian Arabs. I respect their honourable concern and I ask only that they should respect mine.
It is easy for us, sitting here, to forget the deep feelings of those who live with the problems all the time. Some of those problems are irreconcilable. There are religious or nationalistic fanatics on both sides who have bombs, guns and Molotov cocktails and are prepared to use them. There are others who answer terror with terror, and who have been inadequately punished and too speedily pardoned. Some of those Jewish fanatics view all Arabs as enemies to be mercilessly transferred--that is, deported--to live anywhere other than in the land of Israel. They are matched by Arabs whose blind hate festers in camps in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere, dreaming of revenge for 1948 and a return to olive groves and houses that have long since been destroyed. Those are the people on both sides who are driving out moderation, frequently through violence or murder. Several brave Palestinians within the PLO wanted to talk to Israel, but they have been cut down by bullets fired by men like Abu Nidal and others who are interested only in victory, not in settlement. All of us who know and love Israel have been distressed by what has happened in recent years. There has been unacceptable brutality and shameful scenes of repression. There can be no justification for the aimless beating of captives who have surrendered or who have been arrested during a riot. Whatever the provocation, whatever the Jewish outrage after terrorist incidents such as the fire-bombing of the bus in Jericho the other day, none of us who love Israel can for one moment condone such brutal repression. We are not blind to Israel's faults, but we recognise her strengths and her remarkable achievements.
There must be negotiations if Israel is to survive as the sort of country in which so many of us have long believed. There can be no future in permanent occupation of the west bank and Gaza. The Arab majority do not want them there and the famous "double D" equation of democracy and demography cannot indefinitely be ignored. If Israel is to remain a Jewish democratic state, it cannot indefinitely rule over 1.5 million hostile Arabs with no vote. Either the west bank and Gaza must be annexed, and the Arabs offered full Israeli citizenship, or the issue of self-rule for the Arabs must be grasped. The status quo cannot be an option.
Annexation would be wrong in principle and, ultimately, fatal to the Jewish state. Instead of facing that desperate dilemma, some Israeli politicians have taken refuge in the dread word "transfer." Others believe that the problem will be solved by millions more Jews flooding in from the Soviet Union or elsewhere to create more facts on
Column 393the ground and so alter the demographic balance. Every serious student knows that those are impossible dreams and, for transfer, they are repulsive nightmares. The brutal language of Rabbi Kahane or the new Moledet party is light years away from the inspiring visions of the pioneers who struggled to build a modern democracy out of the ashes of Auschwitz.
On the question of the Palestine National Committee declaration in Algiers, the declared independence of Palestine is a less important part than the more or less explicit acceptance of resolutions 242 and 338, although without any unequivocal acceptance of Israel's right to exist and certainly without any promise of an end to violence. Nevertheless, it is certainly some progress. I do not believe that the Government should go overboard about it. They will doubtless wish to adhere to their usual policy of quiet and informal contact with the PLO at official level until there are considerably more forthcoming moves from the PLO towards public recognition of Israel and an end to violence. We certainly need to keep in close touch with the Bush Administration because of the important role that they play in this matter.
The difficulty of dealing with the PLO is twofold. First, it must explicitly accept Israel and stop the violence. Secondly, there is the question whether it can actually deliver a deal and, if so, whether it would be the sort of deal that Syria would tolerate or which any Government in Israel could accept and still last for more than five minutes. Since the Israeli elections, with their depressing outcome, and since the withdrawal of King Hussein--at least for the moment--from the scene, the position has become even more difficult. We can now forget about a United Nations international conference including the five members of the Security Council, which King Hussein wanted and which Mr. Peres and Mr. Schultz were prepared to accept. There is no support from Mr. Shamir and there is inadequate political backing in the Israeli electorate.
Further negotiations--and there must be such--need to involve the two super -powers and appropriate representatives of sovereign Arab countries, which can also include nominees of the PLO. At present, Israel will not sit down with the PLO, but she need not inquire too carefully into the antecedents of the Palestinians across the table. Mr. Arafat has plenty of experienced people whom he could use for that purpose and whose names are well known. Whether the Arab League, the Islamic Conference or some ad hoc grouping of Arab states is used for that purpose is not very important. It is a halfway house between bilateral negotiation and a United Nations-sponsored conference. The essential requirement is that the two super-powers are actively involved and that any Government of Israel can show their electorate that they are negotiating directly with sovereign Arab states and not solely with the PLO.
Israel is often told to speak to its enemies. The Arab League represents its enemies, and the PLO is part of it. Even if such negotiations can be set in motion--and it will need all the clout of the Americans and the Soviets to get Syria, Israel and the Palestinian deputation into the room at the same time--it is as well to be realistic about the negotiating aims. Heady talk from Algiers about a Palestinian independent state on the west bank and Gaza
Column 394--incidentally, that has been rejected, of course, by Iran and the Syrian-backed rivals to the PLO--will not be a suitable basis for success.
The only realistic possibility involves, at least for the foreseeable future, a condominium of Jordan and the Palestinians, led by the PLO, over a demilitarised west bank and Gaza. Those are the outlines of a settlement which every serious student can perceive. Many of us must know in our hearts that there will be no independent PLO state of Palestine on the west bank and Gaza in the foreseeable future because no Israeli Government could accept such a thing and survive for five minutes.
There can be no Yamit style evacuation of Ariel, Kiryat Arba or other West Bank settlements, let alone dismantling the Gilos or Ramots of greater Jerusalem. Yamit, for example, was a fine town of 15,000 people. Now it is sand again in Egyptian Sinai, but the demolition of that new town was a strategic necessity that Israel accepted. Although Sinai was never part of biblical Eretz Israel, the evacuation of Yamit--I remember it well--brought almost intolerable strains on the Israeli democracy and it was carried through by a Likud Government led by Begin. No Israeli Government led by Shamir, Peres or a combination of either could peacefully evacuate and demolish west bank settlements, but sovereignty over them could, conceivably, pass to Jordan or be jointly shared by a condominium of Jordan and the Palestinians.
The way must be found for the Arabs of Nablus, Ramallah, Hebron, Khan Yunis and all the rest of them on the west bank and Gaza to rule themselves, but without their also ruling Jewish Ariel, Kedumin and Emmanuel. God knows it is a daunting, dreadful problem, even if the negotiations can ever be begun, let alone successfully completed, but we must try, and the sooner the better.
I wish to address my concluding remarks to my Jewish friends in Israel and in this country. There are some who do not care a fig what anyone else thinks, let alone listen to Gentiles such as I who do not live in Israel. There are many others who will bear to their dying day the unspeakable traumas of the holocaust, whether through personal involvement or the murders of loved ones. They will trust no one else with their own security. Perhaps there is nothing that I can say to them, except to respect their fears and concerns. There are hundreds of thousands of other Israelis, however, who wait fearfully every day for telephone calls about their sons and daughters patrolling with the Israeli defence forces in Hebron, Gaza city or indeed Galilee.
There are also others who have grown weary of international condemnation and of the constant strain of violence, war and terrorism. There are yet others who know in their hearts that concessions can be made for peace, just as they were successfully made in Sinai. They should make their voices heard, even though the election is over, as people of good will. Their voices should be echoed by hundreds of thousands of Arabs who are fed up with the squalid conditions, miserable lives and absent leaders who have achieved nothing for them in 40 years.
It is a shame that the phrase in which many of us believe has become the slogan of one small section of Israeli political society. I believe that that phrase should belong to all decent Israelis, except those on the repulsive and lunatic outer fringe. It should also belong to all moderate and sensible Arabs yearning for a better existence. It should be the slogan of world leaders, of Bush and Gorbachev, as
Column 395well as King Hussein, Shamir, Peres and even Arafat--all those whose assent or acquiesence is vital for a lasting settlement. The words are simple and heartfelt and they are well known in Israel, "Peace now, before it is too late."
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : I understand that the Front- Bench Members want to start their winding-up speeches at 1.50 pm. Time may prevent me from echoing what the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) said in his excellent speech. It was a thoughtful speech, which was delivered with sincerity. I listened with great interest, and I shall re- read with greater interest the points that he made.
I was disappointed with the content of the Queen's Speech on foreign affairs. A substantial chunk of the wording was directed towards foreign affairs, but it consisted largely of collective wishful thinking on the part of the Government. The real meat was on the second page where we got down to the legislative proposals that will affect us domestically. As we have lost a world role, this place now contemplates its legislative navel. We are about to get involved in a whole range of Bills that will do nothing to address, but will merely exacerbate, the country's problems, which have been created by the Government's policies.
I do not look for a return to the day when the country dominated the world militarily or economically, but I regret that we have so few chances to talk about world events. The Government do not seize the opportunities that our political and cultural traditions should give us--opportunities to influence world events more constructively than we do. We have a great deal to contribute to human experience. We could be visionary. Whatever is said about us, we remain a powerful, rich, influential nation capable of contributing greatly to the relief of world poverty, ignorance and enmity between nations. Indeed, we could solve such problems domestically if only the Government would turn their attention to them. Years of experience and expertise have produced enormous cultural and political respect for us around the world.
We could use those legacies, but instead we squander and abuse them under the leadership of a petty-minded xenophobe who struts around the world interfering and lecturing in her usual arrogant and high-handed manner. It is a pity that she does not spend a little more time going round this country and visiting the various communities of our inner-city areas to see the enormous and dangerous damage that her Government's policies have inflicted on so many of our people. She might try listening rather more than lecturing this and other nations. But I make those comments more in hope than in expectation.
In the past 18 months I have visited Nicaragua three times. The Government's attitude to Nicaragua emphasises the client-state status that we have in respect of United States foreign policy. I have heard the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State regularly say from the Dispatch Box that a political settlement in Nicaragua is needed, but never once has he or any of his Front-Bench colleagues voiced any criticism of United States policies there. There has been no word of condemnation about the mining of Nicaraguan territorial waters, the United States economic blockade of Nicaragua, or Contra terrorist forces being financed by the United States. We have heard
Column 396not a word of open criticism because the Government dare not criticise. They are poodles of the United States when it comes to its policies on central America.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State never loses an opportunity to condemn Nicaragua, and if he were to reply today he would once again seize the opportunity to attack it. He says that Nicaragua is not complying with the terms of the Esquipulas accord, but he does not say anything about the death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala. In Nicaragua there are no death squads and no terrorist bases, but there are terrorist bases in Honduras. Instead of criticising those countries for their failure to meet the Guatemala peace accord provisions, he merely seizes every opportunity to attack Nicaragua.
We have had a debate and a series of questions on the damage caused to Nicaragua by hurricane Joan. The extent of the damage in Nicaragua is even greater than we first feared. Some 231,000 people, representing 6.4 per cent. of the population, have lost everything. Some of the worst damage has occurred within the bread-basket regions of that country. The hurricane has added problems to the already critical economic position. Nicaragua has been suffering the cost of aggression that amounts to almost $12,000 million and there have been 54,000 victims of United States-inspired terrorism led by the Contras. The damage has been enormous, yet, despite our close political and cultural links with Nicaragua, our contribution will be a measly £413,000, which includes the money that has come from the EEC.
Perhaps the Secretary of State for Defence or the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will advise me whether more money will be made available to Nicaragua. Will the Under-Secretary of State reconsider his decision not to visit that country when he tours central America next year? He says a great deal about Nicaragua. Perhaps he should visit that country to see the reality ; we might then have a little more respect for him when he talks about it. I hope that those questions will be answered today, if not later. I assure the Under-Secretary of State that many Labour Members will return constantly to the subject of Nicaragua and the problems of central America.
Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan) : When opening the debate the Foreign Secretary almost complained about the fact that part of it would be taken up by defence matters, but as the Gracious Speech linked the two subjects it is legitimate to take some time to discuss arms control and defence. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that foreign affairs debates are limited in length and frequency and that we should find more time for them. That would provide more opportunities for my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) to give the House more of his cool, thoughtful and moderate speeches. His speech today could be summed up, in the words of Ernest Bevan, as a tour d'horizon.
The debate has covered a wide range of topics. The stage was set by the opening speakers, so my remarks will relate to defence and arms control. There are few areas in which the gap between the rhetoric and the performance of the Government is wider. We have optimistic references in the Gracious Speech to support for the 50 per cent. cuts in strategic weapons in the United States and Soviet arsenals. We have yet to hear what will be the attitude of the
Column 397Government, as we approach the end of the first round of the strategic arms talks, to the Soviet suggestion that the United Kingdom should be involved in the second round. Perhaps the Soviets will place a condition on final agreement on the first round of British and French participation in the second round, as was envisaged at Reykjavik, when a further 50 per cent. of the nuclear arsenals will be subject to negotiation.
The Foreign Secretary made no meaningful reference to short-range and tactical weapons systems. The absence of concensus on modernising short- range and theatre weapons is one of the biggest problems confronting the Alliance, yet it appeared nowhere in the Foreign Secretary's speech. The agreement that was reached at Montebello about five years ago seems to have been made a long time ago in terms of the attitudes and priorities of the Alliance. The Secretary of State for Defence still bears the scars of the Monterey meeting shortly after the INF treaty was agreed, when he sought compensation for the cuts that that treaty envisaged. He was alone in the Alliance in seeking compensation and he returned so that his mistress could do better. She duly went to the NATO summit in March, when she sought to use her special relationship with President Reagan to secure consensus on modernisation.
As in so many instances, Chancellor Kohl arrived at Washington and spoke to President Reagan some time before the Prime Minister had even reached the starting blocks. We had the two communiques, one issued for European consumption and one for British consumption. The two did not add up to a consensus but were evidence of the wide gap between the British position on modernisation and the ambitions of the rest of Europe.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said, when we went to the Federal Republic and spoke to what can be called all three sections of the German coalition, we found that there was no enthusiasm for the process of modernisation as envisagd by this Government. It would not be true to say that there is yet within the Federal Republic widespread support for a third zero, but it is clear that within the Bundeswehr and the Ministry of Defence in the Federal Republic there is at least some support for a 2 zero. If one goes to the Chancellor's office, one finds that the figure is about 2 zero. The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) referred to Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the Liberal Minister for Foreign Affairs. His proposition is clearer--he is certainly in the 2 zero position, getting towards the third zero position. In the most important European member of the Alliance, there is no enthusiasm for precipitate modernisation of those weapons systems.
Mr. Ian Taylor : Nevertheless, does not the hon. Gentleman think that the statement by Chancellor Kohl in the past few days about the modernisation of short-range nuclear forces is much more in line with the British Government's approach, and has he not had time to read it?
Mr. O'Neill : I am always reluctant to answer questions that start with the word "Nevertheless, does he not". I read the statement by Chancellor Kohl. His position is clear, that no decision will be taken until well after the general
Column 398elections of 1990. That may be for internal political reasons, but it is nothing like as speedy a decision as would be required by our Prime Minister. I believe that it will be a major issue in the general elections. I suspect that there will not be a majority Government and that a coalition will be formed. They will have to put up with Mr. Genscher, and one of his conditions for support is that there will be little progress in modernisation well into the 1990s. By then, the matter may have become academic in any case. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) made the point about the failure of the West to pick up President Gorbachev's offer of substantial cuts in conventional weaponry. The definition of disparities seems to lie at the heart of the delay--that was the impression that my right hon. Friend got when he spoke to the present United States Secretary of Defence. It was not the United States that was to blame for the failure to obtain a clear expression of the differences and disparities between the two blocs in Europe. The latest defence Estimates show that in several areas there are considerable contradictions, for example, in main battle tanks. If one compares the figures quoted by the Ministry of Defence with those of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, one finds that according to the MOD figures there are 4,600 fewer NATO main battle tanks, 500 fewer NATO artillery systems, 7,230 more Warsaw pact anti-tank guided weapons systems and 730 more Warsaw pact tactical aircraft.
I want not to dwell on these details but to go behind them, and when we examine the problem of whether the beans that we are counting are the same on each side we are struck by the aridity of the Foreign Secretary's approach, which is so depressing. That is why we are concerned. We may be optimistic that an Alliance-wide application of the bean counting process may prove more realistic and honest than publications emanating from the Ministry of Defence. Since Gorbachev took power--between 1985 and 1988--the Soviet Union has increased the numbers of its main battle tanks in the central region more slowly than NATO. The Soviets have also cut the numbers of tactical aircraft at a greater rate than NATO. I could expand on these figures ; suffice it to say that the information was given me by the Library and is freely available to anyone who wants confirmation. In addition to these problems of conventional stability, there is the problem of how we will get to the negotiating table. In all the Foreign Secretary's remarks about the quality of the Alliance and the good relations with other European nations we heard nothing about the French involvement in winding up the CSCE and the relationship between NATO, the Warsaw pact countries and the non-aligned countries of Europe. This critical problem must be addressed. I cannot imagine that it was merely good manners on the Foreign Secretary's part that prevented him from mentioning the subject, and that he did not want to offend the French. I realise that he has quite a job building bridges to Europe after the damage done by the Bruges speech, but it is incumbent on the Defence Secretary to answer this point and to state the Government's attitude to these serious problems, which we hope can be nipped in the bud so that CSCE can be wound up, human rights and associated matters can be sorted out, and
confidence-building measures can be put aside to enable the Warsaw pact and the 23 countries of NATO to consider the complicated issues of conventional
Column 399stability as quickly as possible so that consultations may be held which can then be reported back to the other seven interested nations.
In the context of conventional arms we do not want the sort of haphazard cuts that have been made in British defences and which will continue to be made. The Gracious Speech did not mention defence expenditure, but the Prime Minister referred to an increase of more than £1 billion over the next three years--
Mr. O'Neill : This increase in no way repairs the damage done over the past few years. Between 1984-85 and 1988-89 there has been a cut in real terms of 7.8 per cent.; between 1988-89 and 1991-92 there is likely to be a cut of 0.8 per cent. A likely increase of 1.7 per cent. will follow in 1991, and an increase of 1.3 per cent. in the year after that. Perhaps those figures are the basis of the Prime Minister's confident predictions, but they are based on an assumption of inflation running at 5 per cent. this year, 3.5 per cent. next year and 3 per cent. the year after. Today we heard an announcement of a 1 per cent. increase in interest rates and of the largest ever monthly trade deficit, which is likely to result in the largest ever annual trade deficit, so these figures can clearly be given no credence and the confident noises by the Prime Minister are no more than noises made to try to appease realistic anxieties felt by her Back Benchers.
At this time of problems with the trade deficit we should delay no longer the decision to buy British tanks from Vickers, a decision that should have been taken yesterday on the basis of merit and of a planned and constructive development of our procurement policy. Certainly, on occasions, trade deficits impact upon defence expenditure and defence considerations. However, there can be no justification whatever for trade deficits being used as an excuse for sending the Chancellor of the Duchy to Iraq to bolster some kind of trade delegation when we have appalling evidence of the nature of the war that is being waged against the Kurds.
The Government deserve a degree of credit for their persistence in pursuing a chemical weapons ban treaty. We wish them well and hope that the optimism of the Gracious Speech is borne out by events. One of the relatively few encouraging points that came out of the American election was the speech by George Bush in Toledo. He went so far as to say that, if he could get nothing else out of his presidency--I hope to God that he can--he hopes to get some form of chemical weapons ban treaty over as wide an area of the world as possible.
There was one reference during the debate to something that would cost precious little. That is how my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) referred to it in his measured and compelling speech. He spoke about the national shame that we must feel about the unrepresentative nature of much of our armed forces. He said that, if we are to encourage the confidence of our people, the armed forces must be truly representative of all our people and of all the communities that make up our society.
There have been several references to the new thinking in the Soviet Union and to new opportunities. Then there were remarks such as, "But, on the other hand." We heard a speech to that effect from the right hon. Member for
Column 400Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker). He made a characteristically thoughtful speech. I had some sympathy with much of it. He made constructive suggestions about the development of ways in which the Soviet Union could be brought to task. His views were echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). In one of his characteristic speeches, he laid on the line the need to have wholehearted commitment to the improvement of human rights, not only in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe but throughout the world. The new thinking must be supported not only by statements in the House but by positive economic support. If perestroika is about anything, it is about economic construction, just as it is about social reconstruction. The Soviets are basically materialists. Their Communist philosophy is basically economistic in its first application. With wealthy countries, we must seek a means of providing support for the best efforts of the Soviet Union. It is a shame today that the Foreign Secretary has avoided the opportunity of backing Chancellor Kohl's suggestion that we should look towards new forms of economic assistance that would help and encourage the Soviet Union and encourage the economy of Eastern Europe. We are some considerable time and distance from the conditions that resulted in the COCOM arrangements. We should seek to assist the Soviet Union. At this time there are opportunities for new thinking and for new approaches to the problems of peace and disarmament. I am afraid to say that there is precious little in the Gracious Speech that suggests that there is evidence of new thinking on the part of the Government.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Younger) : I am grateful to the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neil) for his opening remarks. Having one day in the debate on the Gracious Speech to discuss defence and foreign affairs is almost traditional and is welcome to all of us. Although today's debate has not been entirely balanced between foreign affairs and defence, it has nevertheless been an opportunity for both of these important subjects to be aired in the House.
The Gracious Speech has emphasised again the importance that the Government attach to the maintenance of our country's defences and our membership of NATO. That has been a constant theme of much that has been said in the debate. The speeches made by hon. Members of all parties have been of great interest and I hope to say a few general words first, and then to do the best I can to meet the suggestion put forward by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) and to answer as many as possible of the points that have been raised.
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, who said--I think truthfully--that today there is great optimism in international affairs. It is widely thought that that is so, and that is the general atmosphere and attitude in any country that one visits.
Forty years ago, western European nations, struggling to recover from the devastation of a world war and threatened by the military might of a Soviet Union which was blatantly engaged in installing puppet regimes in the countries of eastern Europe, took an historic step. The
Column 401Governments of Britain, France and the Benelux countries signed the Brussels treaty committing themselves to building a common defence system.
As hon. Members know, that initiative led directly to the formation of NATO --the 40th anniversary of which we shall celebrate next year. We have much to celebrate, including the continued membership of all NATO's original members, despite many strains over the years and far-reaching changes in its strategy and the expansion of the Alliance to encompass most of the free nations of Europe. Most of all, we shall be celebrating next April peace--the peace which NATO has guaranteed throughout these intervening 40 years.
It was Ernest Bevin who said in 1948 :
"If we are to preserve peace and our own safety at the same time we can only do so by the mobilisation of such a moral and material force as will create confidence in the west and inspire respect elsewhere".
NATO has fulfilled those criteria admirably.
The resolve shown by the Alliance in recent years was rewarded with the INF agreement and the start of a process which, for the first time, will lead to the elimination of an entire class of nuclear weapons. It gave me particular pleasure to visit RAF Molesworth in September to witness the removal of the first cruise missiles from western Europe under the terms of the treaty.
The lessons learned during the long years while the Soviet Union refused to negotiate seriously about arms control should not be forgotten now that a more realistic outlook and less aggressive stance appear to have been adopted by the Soviet leaders. The security of this country and the other NATO nations is vital and demands a sober approach to arms control negotiations, not an uncritical embrace of superficially attractive proposals.
Mr. Heffer : I should like to ask the Secretary of State a question about NATO. Is he really suggesting that it was good that the Greek colonels could use NATO weapons to suppress democracy in Greece and that the Turks could use NATO weapons to invade Cyprus?
Mr. Younger : The hon. Gentleman knows that those events happened some time ago. NATO made its position clear at the time. The good thing is that both those countries have survived those experiences and are still in NATO.
Only last Wednesday Dr. Worner, the Secretary General of NATO, emphasised the importance of maintaining strong modern forces in the Alastair Buchan memorial lecture which he delivered in London to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He remarked : "It would be very odd if the Alliance were to jeopardise its policy of deterrence just at a time when there are prospects of making the Soviet leadership understand the importance of its contribution to maintaining stability in Europe "
We are cautiously optimistic about the possibility of securing further arms control agreements, particularly on
Column 402conventional and strategic nuclear forces. It is disturbing that, despite Mr. Gorbachev's talk of "reasonable sufficiency" in defence, we have not yet seen any evidence of a slowing down in the rate at which the Soviet Union is modernising its own forces or, as my right hon. and learned Friend said in his opening remarks, a reduction in those forces, which are grossly in excess of what might legitimately be needed for defence. We have not seen a diversion of resources from the military to the civil sector, although it is rightly said to be one of Mr. Gorbachev's aims. We have not seen a change in the structure of Warsaw pact forces, which remain organised for large-scale offensive action. While this capability for aggression exists, it is vital that the West should keep up its guard. There are some signs of change. Defence Secretary Carlucci has sat in the cockpit of a Blackjack bomber, and MiG 29 Fulcrum aircraft took part in this year's Farnborough air show.
The exchange of visits this summer between Porton Down and the Soviet chemical warfare establishment at Shikany provided an opportunity for the Soviet Union to be more forthcoming about its chemical weapon capabilities.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary reminded the House in his opening speech, a global ban on chemical weapons is a goal to which we attach a high priorty. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Clackmannan for mentioning that he appreciated that point. The Soviet Union possesses the world's largest and most comprehensive chemical warfare capability. It is right that we should look to it to give a lead in the negotiations to eliminate these inhuman weapons. We require greater openness from it to ensure that the complex problems of verificaton of any agreement could be met.
In this context, the fact that the visit to Shikany took place at all is encouraging, but while we showed considerable openness during the Soviet visit to the chemical defence establishment at Porton Down, the return visit revealed that the Soviets still take a different approach to secrecy. The helicopter overflight did not afford a view of the whole site, many of our questions were either evaded or not answered at all and access was denied to a facility which commercially available satellite photographs clearly indicated was closely connected to the Shikany complex. So, although the exchange of visits was a step forward, the Soviet Union will have to be far more open about its chemical weapons and other capabilities before we can have the confidence necessary for further arms control agreements.
In the meantime, we must take every step necessary to preserve our security. We must maintain a strong defence, and continue to invest in up- to-date forces, both conventional and nuclear. The importance that this Government attach to defence is demonstrated by our record. Defence spending last year was more than one fifth higher in real terms than when we took office. We have ordered 64 new vessels for the fleet, seven regiments of Challenger tanks and 23 battalions of armoured vehicles for the Army, and 500 new aircraft for the RAF. I am pleased to announce further today that the main development the day before contracts for the European fighter aircraft were signed yesterday in Munich. These contracts are a major step towards producing this advanced, agile fighter, which will enter service with the RAF in the 1990s.
Column 403The strength of our commitment to defence was re-emphasised earlier this month when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced substantial additions to prevous defence spending plans as a result of which the budget will now be growing by about £1 billion a year over the next three years. We intend to ensure that these extra resources are used effectively. Our drive to pursue value for money will continue--in the procurement of defence equipment and the management of defence.
Mr. Younger : I can confirm that the £1 billion extra each year is in cash terms. The figure in real terms is approximately an average of 1 per cent. growth per annum. that is much better than most of our NATO allies.
Mr. Younger : They are the same as for all the rest of public expenditure published in the expenditure White Paper. Therefore, it is certain that they are pari passu with the rest of the public expenditure provisions. We expect that to be a healthy and useful addition to the defence budget.
The money devoted to defence is not the whole story. We rely critically on the courage, efficiency and dedication of the members of our armed services. We see these qualities most obviously in the fight against terrorism. The contribution that the services make to preserving the peace in Northern Ireland against a vicious and ruthless enemy deserves our wholehearted admiration and gratitude. Our service people also contribute to internatinal peace keeping. A contingent serves in Egypt with the Sinai- based multinational force and observers group. Another contingent serves with the United Nations forces in Cyprus.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said earlier, our naval forces remain on patrol in the Gulf. In the two years up to the beginning of this month, when the Armilla patrol stopped accompanying entitled merchant ships, they had accompanied over 1,000 merchant vessels through the Strait of Hormuz, more than all the other Western navies put together. No merchant vessels have been attacked while in company with warships of the patrol. This is a magnificent record.
I am grateful to hon. Members who have contributed to make this a valuable and interesting debate. I am afraid that I cannot extend all of that fulsome praise to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I thought that his speech was thoroughly unworthy of the Front-Bench spokesman of a major political party. However, to be a little more generous to him, I have to say that he had an extremely unenviable task because speaking in a debate on defence and foreign affairs for a party that has a policy neither on defence nor on foreign affairs would tax the most skilled foreign affairs spokesman. The right hon. Gentleman did not reach the standard that he should have reached. The right hon. Member for Gorton commented on the speech that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made in Bruges. In those comments, the right hon. Gentleman
Column 404was at his most waspish and unconvincing. He fought tooth and nail the Single European Act, and it is a bit rich for him to offer us lessons on how we should interpret it. That point was well made by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber.
The Single European Act sets out how decisions are to be taken to build up the kind of Europe that all member states want to see. It does not say or try to say what those decisions should be. Perhaps the Opposition have not fully appreciated that. The Prime Minister's speech at Bruges was a strong statement of Britain's commitment to Europe. She said, "Our destiny is in Europe". It was also a strong statement of the kind of Europe that Britain wants to see, one that is more interested in building prosperity than in building castles in the air. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) said, that vision is widely shared by the other member states.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) asked about the BBC world service, but he was very wide of the mark. To hear the hon. Gentleman one would think that the world service had virtually been wound up. The BBC world service has had a 40 per cent. increase in funding in real terms since 1979-80, and output has increased from 711 hours per week in 1979 to more than 767 hours per week now. The Government have already spent about £90 million on improving audibility, and capital funding will continue on the implementation of a 10-year audibility programme. The British Council has been given an extra £6 million for the financial year 1989 -90, and that is a 10 per cent. increase in real terms in the direct grant that it receives from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. That means that the mixed money grant as a whole will be more than 7 per cent. higher in 1989-90 in real terms than it was this year.
Mr. Tony Banks rose --
We are always pleased to see in these debates the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). His speech was delightful, except in the middle section where I fear that he ran out of material. It was much more entertaining in the middle but was devoid of content. I wish to say a few words about the conventional stability talks to which the right hon. Member for Leeds, East rightly referred. We want those talks between the 23 members of NATO and the Warsaw pact to start as soon as possible. It is fair to say that we have played a leading role in discussions in Vienna on a mandate for those talks. The broad objectives of the Alliance for the forthcoming talks have already been agreed by NATO Heads of Government at their last summit, and we want to present to the Vienna meeting a substantive and balanced document. Progress on human rights is also important. It is thanks to Western efforts that we have come a long way on that subject.
The right hon. Gentleman also suggested that the NATO nations were entering a period of unilateral disarmament within NATO as a result of budgetary pressures. Of course, he is right that there were budgetary pressures. I have no doubt that the NATO Alliance collectively over the past nine years has made progress, thanks to the influence of the Government, and successively maintained a policy of deterring aggression through sustaining the strength of its nuclear and
Column 405conventional forces. Many NATO nations have achieved real growth following the lead given by the United States and the United Kingdom, which has permitted a substantial investment in modern and effective weapon systems, overwhelmingly in the conventional field. In the case of the United Kingdom, it is now clear that we are back on the path of sustained real growth in the defence budget and there are encouraging signs in other NATO nations, such as Norway and Germany. We attach great importance to the continued commitment of American forces in Europe which is vital to European security. I am sure that the United States Administration, under President-elect Bush, will understand fully the importance of that commitment and the need to maintain it. We should not be rushed, as the right hon. Gentleman wished, into hasty or unilateral reductions. The goal is to tackle the massive Soviet superiority, a policy that we can follow only from a position of adequate strength.
I also wish to respond to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson). As the House is aware, we are considering the options for replacing the Chieftain tank. Ministers had a first meeting to discuss that yesterday, as widely mentioned, and it is a difficult procurement matter. No decisions were taken. Further work is required and has now been put in hand. It is still our intention to reach a decision on that by the end of the year.
I must also congratulate the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) on raising the issue of the results of the first year of ethnic monitoring of applicants and recruits to the armed services. I listened with great interest to his balanced and valuable speech. I can assure him that the armed services go to considerable lengths to ensure that their recruiting efforts reach all ethnic groups and that their selection procedures are without bias. In the light of the results of the initial survey, I wholly accept that further action is required, and we are already fully committed to such action.
Column 406The next step is to establish the reasons for the low rate of applications from ethnic minorities and the lower success rates when they occur. We are seeking the views of the Commission for Racial Equality and of the members of the Home Secretary's advisory council on race relations on how best to carry that work forward. I take the hon. Gentleman's point that we have an obligation not merely to be even -handed in this, but to appear to be over even-handed. The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber raised the question of modernisation and force restructuring. To maintain deterrence at a minimum level of forces in the face of the Soviets' continuing modernisation of their own forces, including their short-range nuclear systems, we have to ensure continually that our forces are effective, responsive and survivable. The process of modernisation and restructuring the Alliance's forces will in no way undercut the real reduction in NATO's land-based nuclear weapons resulting from the implementation of the INF agreement.
NATO will continue to maintain only the minimum level of forces consistent with credible deterrence. The NATO nuclear stockpile in Europe is consistent with that. It is today at its lowest level for 20 years and has been reduced by 35 per cent. since 1979. That shows that our policy is working in the face of the need to keep a strong defence and to base upon that further armaments reductions. It is delivering a reduction in nuclear weapons when all previous attempts at such a policy did not succeed.
I hope that the House will give warm support to the Government for their continued pursuit of future reductions in nuclear weapons and the abolition of all chemical weapons throughout the world, and to do so from a position of strength. The Government have been able to provide that strength and to establish a firm basis from which to negotiate reductions in armaments. Without that strength, I am convinced that we would never have had the reductions. With it, we can say that it is a highly successful policy.
It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned. Debate to be resumed on Monday 28 November.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Fallon.]