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Mr. Curry : Has the Labour group yet settled the strike of the members of its secretariat in the European Parliament offices in London? They went on strike against the appointment of two extra staff in Brussels, following no consultation with the London-based staff.
Mr. Robertson : It is good to see how the hon. Gentleman, who abandoned his seat in the European Parliament to come to the lush pastures of Westminster, goes into the minutiae and technicalities of industrial relations in the British Labour group. The Tory group is so small it has no industrial relations problems. If that was the seventh cavalry, it tells us a lot about the defence policy of the Tory party.
Worse is still to come for Britain. Marginalised as it is by the personality of the Prime Minister, after Madrid she finds herself locked into a process of European monetary union which is wending towards its conclusion--a process which she had gone to Madrid specifically to balk. She returned from the summit full of the grand idea that she had got her own way again and told the House that her master plan and no one else's was on the table. All the other leaders went back to their countries and told the truth to the European people. We heard the truth from a
Column 1252source even closer than that. Why else did the Chancellor of the Exchequer say last week in Paris, as reported by The Times, that "he would like to have had a say in the final compromise reached last month in Madrid"?
The Times reported that the Chancellor had wistfully said that it might have been better if finance Ministers also attended European summits. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes that degree of criticism, we can treat with true scepticism the laudatory noises from the Foreign Office.
Now there will be an intergovernmental conference which the Prime Minister tried to stop. She cannot stop it now. When it takes place, as it assuredly will, she can veto any treaty amendment that emerges but she cannot stop the others going it alone--perhaps outside the treaty--and Britain will be left attached to a train with no say over the route or the driver.
We find ourselves isolated and marginalised on European monetary union, and even more so on the social charter. Alone among all the European states, Britain sees the charter as a Marxist trap. All the other Right-wing parties see it as a crucial component of persuading workers that the single market is not just about business but is a vital prerequisite to what the Foreign Secretary told the CBI at dinner last month was a "level playing field" for trading. Our Government alone, in their private obsession-- delusion, even--know better than the best that the charter is a Marxist danger. I ask the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), who is probably as wet as the right hon. Member for Wallasey, to enlighten us. We keep asking which elements of the social charter have their base in "Das Kapital"? It is an intriguing question which the Foreign Secretary refused to answer on Wednesday. The draft charter has now been published ; Madame Papandreou has put it forward. Which aspects of it led the Prime Minister to tell the Daily Mail that it originated in the Marxist period?
Mr. Robertson : As my right hon. Friend says, that would be regarded as a Marxist document, too. Probably Joseph Stalin's interpretation of Marxism is the version that the Prime Minister accepts as her own working document.
Given Britain's isolation, it is small wonder that last week the distinguished Europe correspondent of Newsweek, Mr. Scott Sullivan, who is scarcely a supporter of the Labour and Left-wing movements in Europe, wrote :
"Thatcher's high-handed, arrogant manner often detracts from her good, or at least defensible, ideas."
He added :
"Labour's capture of the banner of Europeanism has goaded Thatcher into a spate of pettiness."
How true that is. The catalogue of pettiness includes the obstruction of the Lingua programme of language teaching in our schools and involves health warnings on cigarette packets, the veto on concessionary travel for pensioners and the twisting and turning on drinking water standards in which the Secretary of State for the Environment has been indulging this week. Mr. Sullivan's conclusion was spot on. He wrote :
"Margaret Thatcher, the most reluctant European of all." The tragedy of it all does not rest only with the electoral kamikaze policies of the Prime Minister. The real tragedy
Column 1253is that our country will suffer for a generation because of her folly. Britain faces the single European market of 1992, and the years before it, with crippling handicaps.
Mr. Ian Taylor : The hon. Gentleman has been attacking my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister throughout his speech. It comes ill from a spokesman of a party which has only recently found that it believes in Europeanism, which had to get rid of its European MEP leader immediately after the election to cover its embarrassment, which has more CND Members of the European Parliament than any other group, and which on wider issues has sat uncomfortably with NATO, being unsure whether it is unilateral or not. We could go on about the confusion in the Labour ranks. It would be much better if the Labour party were to try to find a consistent policy.
Mr. Robertson : The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends went on and on during the election campaign about the issues to which he has referred. When they were put to the ultimate test, the electorate chose to believe the Labour party and its vision of Europe. It rejected the carping and the negative views of the Prime Minister and those who toed the party line during such a dreadful and sabotaged campaign.
We are going into the single European market of 1992 with the highest inflation rate in Europe, along with the highest interest rates and the largest trade deficit, a deficit that is growing every month. As if that were not enough for our beleaguered economy to withstand, our vital manufacturing investment is still barely above the level in 1979 when the Government took over the economy. When education and training give all our competitors the edge, even before 1992, we are cutting higher education. Our training record is appalling. Teacher morale is at rock bottom and some children in London cannot even go to school because of teacher shortages. The Government are selling off the public sector and the seedcorn of Britain's future in the very market place that is the Prime Minister's dream.
I move on to the middle east. There is undoubtedly a major crisis facing Israel. That view is shared widely in the House. Even Israel's strongest and most robust friends throughout the world are in a state of despair about the suicidal shortsightedness of current Israel policy. As the intifada continues, the killings on each side go on apparently unrestrained. Every one of us--not only those who have strong affections for Isreal--shared the anguish and anger after the bus outrage last week. As each week passes we are ashamed by the killings of Palestinians in the occupied territories, yet the pointless and degrading violence on both sides continues. The decision last week by the Likud hardliners to try to trap the party and the Government of Israel into conditions that will render the West Bank elections a travesty and a mockery of the very democracy on which Israel has always prided itself, must make the few remaining middle east optimists in the world weep with despair.
Mrs. Dunwoody : No one would dispute the point that my hon. Friend is making. He will be aware, of course, that over 70 men and women have been murdered in the West Bank and in Gaza because they "collaborated" with
Column 1254the Israeli authorities in moving towards some form of elections. I am sure that my hon. Friend will condemn that as strongly as he condemns other happenings in Israel.
Mr. Robertson : I warmly endorse what my hon. Friend says. The violence on both sides is indefensible and regrettable. Our criticism of the Israeli Government does not detract from the fact that violence on all sides is escalating and that we must seek a solution. In that context, it is regrettable that the Israeli Government have taken such a negative position.
I pay tribute to the Labour members of the coalition who joined in the tough decisions that the Government made to help the country. They helped their country to salvage its honour and now they must watch the Likud party destroying everything. The Labour group in Israel is right to threaten the coalition, even if it takes a few weeks to pull the rug. To stay with this doomed group of unrealistic and self-deluded bigots would be to hand a poisoned legacy to future generations of Israelis. If, as rumour has it this week, the United States is considering in the face of the Likud decision promoting an international conference on its own, can we be assured, and will the Government confirm, that the United Kingdom will back the conference? In the meantime, let us continue to impress upon those who will not see that security and safety for Israel will never be achieved by a gun being held permanently to the heads of those who are in the occupied territories.
Another area of the middle east should haunt the world. Within Iraq an unspeakable campaign has been mounted against the Kurdish minority. First, they were bombed and then they were rocketed. They were shot at and blasted into the mountains where they live. Much, much worse was to come. Last summer the Iraqi forces, freed from the war with Iran, were turned on their own people. This time they chose to deploy chemical weapons, which were outlawed by the civilised world after the first world war. At the village of Halabja the cameras covered the outrage. A horrified world saw for the first time the sheer barbarity and indecency of the slaughter of innocent civilians by poisoned gas. Last September, I visited the camps in south- east Turkey. They were full then, and, disgracefully, they are today, with the Iraqi Kurds who had fled from the poisoned gases that had been dropped on their villages. It was an unforgettable experience. The faces and the horrifying stories of those proud people will stay with me for ever.
For a time the West rightly reflected the outrage at the criminality that the Iraqi Government deserved, but soon--much too soon--it was business as usual. the Iraqi Government, having managed to face down the condemnation of the West, having ignored the vilification of the civilised world, and having seen that Governments such as ours, who had the evidence--in many ways the British Government produced the evidence--and who made the noises of outrage, then went back to doing business with the merchants of chemical death, learnt a cynical lesson pretty quickly.
The persecution continues in Iran. Entire villages are being demolished and communities are being devasted. Thousands of Kurdish people are being "resettled". They are being transported to camps at the other end of a vast country. The world remains silent as the campaign continues. The announcement this week of the order for Hawk trainer planes perhaps explains the silence. As the
Column 1255genocidal use of chemical weapons lingers in the air, and even as the Kurdish villages are being bulldozed, the selling of war planes continues.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. William Waldegrave) : Before the hon. Gentleman's statement becomes established mythology, I tell the House that no permission has been given to export Hawks to Iraq. Those matters have not in any way been decided.
Mr. Robertson : The Minister has answered the question that I was about to ask. The order cannot go ahead unless the Government give the OK. The Government's policy, which sometimes is a little frayed at the edges, is not to sell lethal equipment to Iran or Iraq. The Minister says that no decision has been made, but what do they intend to do? Will they block it? The Minister should have said not that a decision has not been reached, but that it had been reached and the answer was no. The Government must get off their knees and put real pressure on the Iraqi Government to stop their campaign against the Kurds. If they do not do that, they will live with the stain of the unfilmed, untelevised, but nevertheless very real atrocities.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised the problems of the Kurdish people in Iraq, and I am sure that they will be grateful for that. Although the Government may not allow the export of military hardware to Iraq, is it not just as beneficial to the Iraqi Government to be given banking facilities, credits and increased trade? They have exactly the same effect of propping up the Iraqi economy, which is used to finance the war machine that is practising genocide against the Kurdish people.
Mr. Robertson : My hon. Friemd makes an accurate point. One of the most indecent acts during the events last year was that while the Foreign Office was correctly expressing its outrage about the deployment of chemical weapons--as verified by the Government's defence research establishement--the Government sent a Cabinet Minister, no less, to the Baghdad fair to announce the doubling of trade credits to Iraq. How the Government can hold their head high when practising such double standards defies description. This debate can cover only a small number of issues. It is a dramatic time ; a time of real decision in the world. In South Africa, central and Latin America and the far east, the process of change is breaking up all the old preconceptions and stereotypes. It should be a time for Britain, in all the arenas where we still have influence, to play a decisive role in shaping the sort of world that will emerge. If we have become observers instead of players, marginal instead of central, ignored instead of listened to, that is a reflection of how British foreign policy has become an extension of the Prime Minister's increasingly personal and unstable style of Government at home. That style was on trial in the European Parliament elections last month. The Tory vision of Britain in Europe faced the test of the ballot box--the ultimate test of the British people. That vision and that style at home, in Europe and beyond, was solemnly rejected by the people of Britain. As the right hon. Lady ploughs on relentlessly, incapable of learning any of the lessons of that electoral disaster, she heads for an even worse result when she finds the courage to face the British electorate again.
Column 1256Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster) : I am both pleased and honoured to be called so early in the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I suspect that this honour was not because of me, but because of the subject that I intend to discuss--the work of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and in particular the role of the British group. This is not just the centenary year, but is the centenary week of the centenary year of the IPU, and a bust of its co-founder, Sir William Randal Cremer, is sitting in the Member's Lobby. He is the first Back Bencher to be so honoured, so perhaps there is hope for all of us--the noble breed that carries on the work of this House by day and by night.
As most hon. Members are aware, I am a recent ex-chairman of the IPU. I congratulate and salute the excellent, capable and hard-working present chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall). He is ably supported in his work by the senior Opposition officer on the IPU, the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), who I note is deservedly sitting in his place on the Opposition Front Bench.
The British group and its responsibilities are rather different from most of the other groups in the 111 Parliaments of the world. It does not simply provide British representation at various inter-parliamentary conferences of both a plenary and, increasingly, a specialised nature, it also deals with the bilateral parliamentary relations between Britain and other countries. The ability to send delegations to any other parliamentary countries, coupled with the contacts between Parliaments that can be furthered above and beyond those bilateral delegations and visits, is essential to our IPU role.
In answer to an earlier intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State referred to the role that parliamentarians can play in international relations. That is now becoming both self-evident and appreciated, but it was not always so. My right hon. Friend's Department was a little slow on the ball in the 1970s, and even in the early 1980s, and it was not until after the Falklands war that it suddenly realised that such contacts were vital and that the Foreign Office needed to maintain a close relationship with the House, with the IPU being very much a part of that relationship.
Hon. Members are close to, but not part of, Government and, therefore, can meet their parliamentary counterparts on an informal basis and establish links, build bridges and float ideas. The Government cannot do that because, understandably, they are bound by Government policies and have to stand on formal positions. The combination of foreign relations between Governments--especially our Government--and parliamentarians is becoming increasingly useful. I wish to state three examples that began during my time in office and have since been furthered. The first relates to East- West relations. It was not an accident that the British group decided to take the initiative on the eastern bloc at a time when it was far less fashionable to do so. It was not an accident that the IPU British group
Column 1257provided the vehicle for Mr. Gorbachev to make one of his most significant international visits in December 1984. Nobody would pretend that he came here simply to talk to Back Benchers, but it is fair to say that they definitely contributed to the success of his visit. I well remember the return visit led by my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Whitelaw, ably supported by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). I have affectionate memories of that visit to the Soviet Union when the right hon. Gentleman gave an ample display of both his diplomatic and photographic talent.
The second example relates to Argentina, with which we have maintained parliamentary relations. It is my fundamental belief that at the right time --which I hope will not be too long delayed--those parliamentary relations will prove very useful. The third and for me the most important example is the way in which the British group has made a significant contribution to and a continuing development of parliamentary relations with the Republic of Ireland. We should all be conscious of and encourage that.
It is not for me to make a long speech about the various IPU conferences and the issues that they discuss. I want to deal with more general matters within the international work of the IPU. All of the 111 Parliaments of the world are members of the IPU. In the old days it was a sort of democratic club. In the 1950s it was under the world leadership of Viscount Stansgate- -not an uninteresting fact--that a decision was taken that all Parliaments of the world, and in particular of the Communist countries, should be admitted. That has led to East-West contacts at all levels, now prominent in terms of governmental as well as parliamentary contact--but in those earlier days at least we maintained some kind of contact.
It is very pleasing when countries again become democracies and rejoin the Inter-Parliamentary Union. It is not often realised that when a coup occurs the country concerned is obliged to resign from the IPU if it does not have a Parliament. I well remember a conference in 1984 when I sat near the delegation from the Cameroons, which kept on leaving and then re-entering the chamber. The reason they kept leaving was that their president was losing a particular gun fight at the presidential palace. When he began to win the gun fight, they re-entered the chamber again. Fortunately, the Cameroons retained its Parliament by the end of that conference--but that particular delegation had a particularly busy and mobile time. Virtually all Latin American countries have rejoined IPU, and they have been very well received.
My second point concerns the uses that Governments, as well as parliamentarians generally, can make of the IPU in establishing positions. A Government's position is often reflected by the comments of parliamentarians. One example of that was the vote on the Falklands issue at the IPU conference in Rome in 1982, which was a most useful precursor to a vote important to Britain that was to take place in the United Nations one month later.
My third point relates to personal contact--the opportunities for which are legion in the IPU. Right hon. and hon. Members may smile when I say that the British-Irish interparliamentary body originated in part at a lunch given by the British group in Seoul in Korea. That seems an odd place for British-Irish relations to
Column 1258commence. Nevertheless, the Irish delegation on that occasion included the Speaker of the Irish Parliament and the parliamentary party leaders of both Fianna Fail and Fina Gael. That is an example of the opportunity that such conferences provide to establish useful contacts.
Finally, I pay tribute to the international work that is done in relation to the human rights of parliamentarians. As right hon. and hon. Members sit in the relaxed atmosphere of this Chamber, it is easy to forget that being a Member of Parliament is an extremely hazardous occupation in many countries. The work of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in that respect has been valuable and has contributed to, if not directly led to, the release from imprisonment of hundreds of our colleagues since the war.
I recall that at the height of the repression of the Iranian revolution the Iranian delegation was put in the dock at an IPU conference and had to defend itself with regard to two prisoners whom I knew personally, and one of whom had gone blind. They were both released shortly after that conference.
The British-Irish interparliamentary body is an example of the IPU's bilateral work and stems directly from improved parliamentary relations through a continuous exchange of delegations with the Irish. After the joint studies report of 1981 and the Anglo-Irish Agreement, we now have, as the result of the marriage of governmental commitment on the one hand and of parliamentary action on the other, the body that we hope will shortly come into being and play a very useful role. I want to express my gratitude for the support I received both from the Government and from the official Opposition in forming that body.
Over the past year, the basis of the body has been agreed with the Irish. It will have 25 members a side, will meet in plenary session twice a year, and will have an appointed membership for the duration of each Parliament. It will be quite unique, and will provide something far more than just the normal exchange of delegations between two countries. We are at the stage where a formal application is about to be made to the Treasury for the independent funding of that body under the auspices of the IPU. Despite the ominous murmurings of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I am reasonably optimistic that the interparliamentary body will have its first plenary meeting next February.
As to the future, there is a need to exploit the parliamentary aspect of foreign and diplomatic relations to the utmost, and in that the IPU has a crucial role to play.
As this is the IPU's centenary week, obviously I have concentrated on its activities, but I must pay tribute also to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and to the British-American Parliamentary Group which, although their functions are slightly different, play an equally important role.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been very helpful, and it is extremely conscious of the role that the IPU can play. The British-Irish interparliamentary body is a positive example of the future relationship between two Parliaments. We must consider carefully our attitude towards parliamentary groups and their funding, particularly if the IPU is to continue to operate effectively. It is not easy dealing with all the Parliaments of the world and for the IPU to be responsible not only for the British-Irish body but, for example, the virtually annual
Column 1259exchanges with the Soviet Union. The IPU needs to respond to virtually every country of the world, many of which spend much more than we do on parliamentary relations--perhaps because they realised its importance before we did.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union is certainly not a travel club for right hon. and hon. Members. Its activities are becoming increasingly specialised and concentrated. Long may it continue, and long may it have the support of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East) : I hope that the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) will forgive me if I do not take up his points, except to reminisce that when I first attended the Council of Europe in the early post-war years one of the French Union delegates failed to return from the summer recess because he had been eaten by his constituents. There is a risk in being a member of some Parliaments that fortunately does not exist in our own.
I wish to echo the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and to describe both the opportunities and the dangers presented by the end of the cold war and Britain's role in meeting that challenge. The cold war is over. That is proved in a million ways. It is proved by the continuing talks on arms control and reduction between the Soviet Union and the United States. More importantly, and more convincingly, it is proved by the co-operation between the Soviet Union and the United States in areas of tension in many parts of the world.
In the middle east, for example, the Soviet Union is currently trying to shift the policies of both Syria and Iraq into more constructive directions. The United States and the Soviet Union, almost single-handed but with useful assistance from the British Government, produced the recent agreement on Angola. In the far east, co-operation between the super-powers seems likely to produce a settlement of the appallingly difficult problem of Kampuchea, and even on central America Mr. Shevardnadze recently handed President Bush a message indicating that the Soviet Union is ceasing its supply of arms to Nicaragua.
In the light of all that evidence, it is ridiculous to pretend that the situation is as it was even two or three years ago. Even more important in some ways is the fact that glasnost, which was introduced by Mr. Gorbachev, has finally destroyed Communism as an international force. Now that the Russians themselves admit the appalling state of their economy, and the weaknesses in their present democracy, and now that the world has seen the response of the Chinese Communist leadership to democratic protest by the students in Tiananmen square, it is not possible now to regard Communism as a threat to international stability. Some Communist parties might be a threat, but the international Communist menace has gone for ever. However, I hope that we are beginning to realise that the cold war, by dividing the more powerful countries into two blocs under Soviet and American leadership, gave much of the world 40 years of moderate stability. If the opposing alliances had not existed, it is difficult to feel confident that Turkey would not by now have been at war
Column 1260with Greece, and, in eastern Europe, Hungary at war with Romania. The ending of the cold war has allowed the nationalisms that were suppressed in the opposing blocs to come to the surface again. That is challenging many elements of stability in the modern world. Not only the Yalta settlement, which most of us would wish never to have been adopted, but even the settlement of Versailles is at risk in the present troubles in Yugoslavia. Concepts that were last familiar before the first world war are now re-emerging as forces in international affairs. For example, the concept of mettel Europa is now attractive to many Germans, Austrians, Poles, Czechs and Slovenes. We now face a world that is changing fundamentally as a result of the ending of the cold war.
Glasnost--the introduction of more openness in the Soviet Union--is now threatening the unity of the Soviet Union itself. After all, Russia is the last 19th century empire to have survived until nearly the end of the 20th century. In recent meetings of the Soviet Parliament we have seen very powerful national forces showing themselves in the Baltic states, in Georgia and in the Asian republics. All of them, to a greater or lesser degree, want something that they would call independence. How the Soviet Union comes to terms with this new wave of nationalism and what consequences it may have for stability in adjoining parts of the world is sometimes somewhat alarming to contemplate.
I noticed that, in a recent meeting of the Soviet Parliament, one Russian delegate even suggested that, if things go on like this, Russia should secede from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In the Russian republic now there is an extreme nationalist movement called Pamyat, although, fortunately, it did not win any seats in the recent elections.
One might think that, in some respects, the world is set for a return to the politics of the 19th century, but we cannot afford to return to the politics of the 19th century because the world cannot afford any more wars, even wars with conventional weapons. Science has created certain global problems that can be satisfactorily dealt with only by global solutions under the auspices of global organisations. We are all very familiar with the problems created by nuclear power, both in its civil and military forms, and we are becoming more aware of the problems created by chemical pollution which, like nuclear problems, recognises no frontiers and can be dealt with only by international action.
As I said when I spoke in our last foreign affairs debate nearly a year ago, it is a reflection of Britain's diminished role in the world, and indeed of Britain's diminished interest in the world, that we so rarely debate foreign affairs in their broader aspects. We used to have four or five two-day foreign affairs debates every year when I first entered the House about 40 years ago.
There is an overwhelming case, as I said last time, for trying to develop the United Nations as originally intended, as the basis of a world society, with appropriate institutions to fulfil that role. For the first time since the United Nations was set up, Mr. Gorbachev has created the conditions on which that might be done. For its first 40 years, the United Nations could not work as the charter envisaged because the Soviet Union did not believe that a world society was desirable or possible. I am sorry to say that the only person who still holds that view is the British
Column 1261Prime Minister, who believes that the word society has no meaning either at home or abroad. I will discuss the implications of her position in a moment.
Action on those problems is now extremely urgent for two reasons. First, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton said, we cannot be certain that Mr. Gorbachev will remain leader of the Soviet Union for the rest of his natural life. There is a growing and dangerous gap between his ideas and Soviet reality. That gap is well expressed in the saying that glasnost has given the dog more freedom to bark as perestroika pushes its food bowl further away. The deterioration in the Soviet economy over the past few years is bound to create dangerous tensions in the Soviet Union, and could lead to some changes of direction in Soviet domestic policy, although not to any significant change in Soviet external policy. The facts that produced the change in Soviet foreign policy under Mr. Gorbachev are facts whether or not he is there and are bound to influence his successors, if he goes, as much as they have influenced him.
There is a second reason why the problem is urgent. We have imagined far too lightly that the problem of world peace and stability are mainly for the super-powers and their allies. We now see military missile technology spreading fast all over the world. Already 22 Third-world countries have missile programmes, and 17 have already deployed missiles. Some of those countries either already have nuclear weapons or the capacity to acquire them quite fast. In all cases, they could use missiles to fire the poor man's nuclear weapon, chemical weapons, a problem to which my hon. Friend rightly paid attention.
Unless we can proceed much faster than Governments presently seem prepared to envisage in building an international framework through the United Nations for coming to grips with some of the problems, we may find that this weather window--this moment of opportunity--is passing. The new situation creates special problems for us in Europe. I will mention a few of the more obvious.
How can we help east European people to return to the community of Europe, which is not necessarily the same thing as the European Community. How can we reconcile the return of east European peoples to Europe with the desire of the European Community in its narrower sense to strengthen its internal cohesion? That problem raises some difficult questions, which, I am sorry to say, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office dodged when I asked her about the Government's attitude to the Austrian application for membership of the European Community--an application which may be followed in the next year or two by applications from Sweden and Finland, and it is possible to envisage applications by Poland and Hungary within four or five years.
The question of how, if this development proceeds, the inevitable dilution of the European Community can be reconciled with many European countries' desire to increase the internal coherence of the existing Community will create some difficult problems for us quite soon--perhaps even in the coming months.
Another question that we must consider is whether it is possible to Finlandise eastern Europe, which has rightly been described as a sensible objective, without Finlandising at least parts of western Europe. That raises some very difficult questions. When he opened the debate
Column 1262for the Opposition my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton rightly criticised President Bush for offering so little financial economic assistance to Poland. I do not quite understand why the European Community, which is now as wealthy as the United States, should not take the lead in offering financial and economic assistance to eastern Europe, a lead that it would be much easier for the Soviet Union to accept than a lead by the United States. So far, however, apart from a very interesting speech this week by ex-President Giscard d'Estaing, there has rarely been even speculation about these problems by any of the western European leaders, least of all, I fear, by our own Prime Minister.
The central question that bulked so large in the recent NATO meeting was how, in the new situation, to meet the special needs and fears of that newly-created state, the Federal Republic of Germany, which is already feeling the pull of the concept of mittel Europa that to many Germans is another word for Gross Deutschland. [ Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] It is all right for hon. Members to say, "Hear, hear", but these problems are with us now and underlie many of the tensions that were evident at the last summit.
With some reluctance I turn to what Britain is doing in this extremely challenging though sometimes dangerous but also hopeful new situation that has been created by the end of the cold war. As I said earlier, one problem is that the present Prime Minister rejects the mere concept of society. She says that the word has no meaning. She rejects it--as we saw at NATO and at the recent European summit at Madrid--just as much in the international context as in the national context. She has nothing to say on these issues, except to go round the world parroting about the need to protect national sovereignty. However, by agreeing to deregulate the British financial markets and by taking the lead, as the right hon. Lady the Minister of State said, in asking for an open industrial and commercial market in Europe by 1992, she has abandoned British sovereignty. No one knows better than the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he is no longer master of his own economic and financial policies. He can be blown off course by events not only in Europe but in Latin America the United States and any other part of the world. We enter the new period in a somewhat dangerous position--very much weaker, relative to our partners, than we have ever been before.
Today's summit in Paris has exposed Britain's economic weakness. In its report the other day, the OECD pointed out that Britain has now lost fifth place among the world's largest economies to Italy. For the last two years we have been producing less than Italy. We have higher inflation now than Italy, something which would have been inconceivable to many of us a few years ago. It is obviously unfamiliar to many of the bemused faces which I have stirred out of their hebetude on the Conservative Benches. I am not, of course, talking about the Government representatives on the Treasury Bench.
Mr. Healey : No, with respect, they did not. The interesting point about the inflation gap between Britain and her European partners is that it was much lower when we were in power because inflation generally was much higher. It was pointed out in the Financial Times the other
Column 1263day--I apologise for responding to a sedentary intervention by the Minister of State--that the big difference between the time when we were in power and now is that the terms of trade deteriorated by 17 per cent. in the industrial countries during the 1970s. During the eight years of this decade that deterioration has been reversed. That is the main reason why inflation has been a much less serious problem, but the gap between the British inflation rate and that of our European partners is larger now than it was. At no time when the Labour party was in power was our inflation rate higher than that of Italy.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton pointed out, we now have higher inflation, higher interest rates and a bigger balance of payments deficit than any of our major competitors and any of our colleagues in western Europe. That is not a good position from which a British Prime Minister can influence the policy of Britain's partners in any of the international organisations to which we belong. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has not, like Mr. Gorbachev, removed ideology from the sphere of international relations. She finds it almost impossible to make a speech these days which is not redolent with comic strip nationalist ideology--the only ideology, apart from that of the market, with which she is familiar. During the last year the right hon. Lady has met every challenge by insulting all her allies simultaneously, which is a very odd way for the Prime Minister of a country that has been reduced to weakness to talk. She accused President Kohl and Mr. Genscher of "wriggling" after the last NATO summit. She insulted President Mitterrand repeatedly at some press conferences, as I see the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), recalls. Although she has not yet told us so, it is quite clear that she regards President Bush as an upper class wimp, so wet that one could shoot snipe off him. However, it has not helped Britain, or even the Prime Minister, to add the diplomacy of Alf Garnett to the economics of Arthur Daley. However, that is the twin blessing that she has showered on us in recent years.
As I pointed out in the House the other day, the Prime Minister instructed Mr. Bernard Ingham to tell The Daily Telegraph correspondent that she was going to help Kohl to screw Genscher. Instead, Kohl helped Genscher to screw her, and he did very successfully. I apologise for the word, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it is Mr. Ingham's, not mine. I should have been infinitely more delicate in referring to the operation that was carried out.
The Prime Minister even rewrote the whole of British history by telling the French this week that they should not be so proud of liberty, equality and fraternity because we first introduced it in Magna Carta. I learnt some history when I was a little boy. My impression was that Magna Carta had been imposed on a wicked British King by the barons. It brought no freedom to the ordinary people of our country. If the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity existed before the age of enlightenment in 18th century France, I suppose they existed among some members of the Roundhead group in the British civil war, notably among the Levellers.
That has not done the Prime Minister very much good, either. I read this morning, to my horror, that our Prime Minister was booed by the people of Paris when she appeared yesterday at a ceremony to commemorate the rights of man. I suggest that we all write a letter to her, offering our support, as she may find that essential. I understand that tonight the right hon. Lady will be
Column 1264accused by the French Prime Minister on Channel 4 television of what he calls her "social cruelty"--a nice phrase that will figure more often in our debates in the future.
The Prime Minister has isolated herself in Europe, in NATO and in the Commonwealth and has done so at a time of our greatest relative economic weakness. I should like to make a timid suggestion because I want to help the Prime Minister to overcome the problems created by what my Peruvian psychiatrist friend rightly described as--what was it? I have forgotten it, but it will come back in a moment. The Prime Minister would do well to confine her rottweiler politics to her Cabinet colleagues, who are now quite used to the virago intacta and who, in any case, never feel it possible to answer back.
Better still--I am being daring in making the suggestion in the presence of the right hon. Lady's two loyal advocates on the Government Front Bench-- would it not be a good idea to let the Foreign Secretary run British foreign policy and to give the Foreign Office a look in? The Box is strangely depleted now and I suspect that that is because three of the civil servants have gone out to divide "Das Kapital" into sections and to find out which particular section justifies the Prime Minister in describing the European Community's social charter as a Marxist document.
What is odd and disturbing about the Prime Minister is her position on Europe and especially on the need for some institutional structure to underpin the open market which she wants and which the Minister of State has told us that she is working so hard to achieve. It is not a wild idea to say that, just as the horrors in Peking, which the House debated yesterday, came about because the freeing of the market was not accompanied by the creation of democratic institutions to regulate and control it, so the freeing of the European market could lead to appalling disturbances and disruptions, unless it is accompanied by institutions capable of regulating and controlling it, of which the proposals in the social charter can undoubtedly be one. It is now clear that, if the Prime Minister is serious about environmental problems, she must agree that the rich countries should help the poor countries to adopt techniques for, for example, freezing food, which do not involve destroying the ozone layer. If she wants to deal with the drugs problem, the rich countries will have to help the poor countries, which depend on growing crops which produce drugs, to find alternative ways of making a living. There are many such countries in Latin America and in southern Asia. Until the Prime Minister takes off the rusting and decrepit medieval armour which she loves so much and returns from her time-warp to join us all in the 20th century, Britain will remain, as she has alas become, an irritating irrelevance in world affairs whose importance does not even require a response.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Column 126511.23 pm
Mr. Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup) : I was able to say a few words yesterday about the Chinese question, and I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me today. I will, indeed, be brief. Before I leave the subject of China, I should like to refer to a statement made by the Under-Secretary of State who replied to yesterday's debate--that we must go slowly and find out the views of the people of Hong Hong. We are past that stage now. Nobody with any deep acquaintance of Hong Kong and nobody on the spot doubts for one moment that the people of Hong Kong want to move faster towards the democratisation of the colony. Clearly, saying that we must go slowly and find out their views does not answer our point.
I want to make two points on Europe, which are tied up with what the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) has been saying. I have had the opportunity in public in the past few weeks of making known my views on the European position, and I shall not follow the right hon. Gentleman in several of the points that he made. First, we are hearing a great deal about the Council of Europe at Strasbourg, which many of our colleagues in the Community treat as a further weakening of our attitude towards the Community. Perhaps that is because this is the Council's 40th anniversary. It achieved useful work, especially in relation to human rights, during its early years, but it was formed as a forum for discussion and nothing more. It has never been able to fulfil any other purpose than being a useful forum for discussion. We used it when we discussed the future membership of the Community.
The Prime Minister has praised the Council continuously in her answers to questions. Again, that raises doubt in people's minds about whether the British Government want to weaken the Community rather than to strengthen it. I want to make it absolutely plain from my point of view--and, I think, from that of many people in the country--that the Council of Europe is no substitute in any way for anything which the European Council does
Mrs. Chalker indicated assent.
Mr. Heath : I am glad to have the endorsement of the Minister of State. I know that my right hon. Friend strongly supports the development of the Community. I am pointing out the reaction in the Community, with which I am always in touch, to what is said when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister warmly welcomes the Council at Strasbourg in three successive weeks and, in answers to questions here from Labour Members, says, "Yes, of course, it is a splendid organisation, doing much better work." I want to make that point clear, in view of our relations with our Community colleagues. My second point relates to the development of Europe. Looking back on the past two years, one sees that it has changed with bewildering rapidity. As the right hon. Member for Leeds, East has said, many of the questions are open ones. At the moment we can give answers to some of them, and I should like to try to do so briefly.
The first question relates to our attitude towards Austria--and, as the right hon. Member for Leeds, East mentioned, to Sweden and Finland also. My view is that, until the end of 1992, the Community has all that it can manage to handle when dealing with achieving the open
Column 1266market by 1992. I have spent five years in negotiations in the Community and I know the burden that that places on everybody, from Foreign Office Ministers downwards, when trying to reach agreement about a future member of the Community. Therefore, it is not practically possible for the Community also to handle questions such as the admission of Austria, Finland or Sweden.
Secondly, Austria is bound by the treaty of 1955. I know of no indication from Mr. Gorbachev that he is prepared to waive that treaty and to allow Austria to become a member of the European Community.
Thirdly, I do not believe that, from the point of view of the Community after 1992, we can admit neutral members. Therefore, we must ask whether Austria is prepared to give up neutrality to come into the Community, even if the Soviet Union would allow it? Having been in close touch with those in authority in Austria, I must report that I have had no indication that Austria is prepared to give up neutrality.
The same thing applies to Sweden and Finland. When the right hon. Member for Leeds, East asked whether the solution was the Finlandisation of eastern Europe, I must reply that Finland has existed, under skilful political manoeuvring, in its present position because it has acted without upsetting the Soviet Union and without becoming fully tied into the European Community.