Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Corbyn : If an hon. Member is granted an Adjournment debate on a constituency matter, he can speak for about 15 minutes, so it is rather curious that only four minutes is being allowed for me to discuss the rest of the world. I shall make only two brief and simple points.

The Minister praised the Government for their work on environmental matters and claimed that they were the greenest Government in the world. She said that Britain was busy examining all the causes of world pollution and the various phenomena that go with it. That argument would be stronger if the Government had given a commitment yesterday, during the Committee stage of the Antarctic Minerals Bill, to declare the Antarctic a world environmental park rather than allowing the prospecting for minerals that will inevitably lead to the development of mining operations in the Antarctic and damage to the fragile ecosystem. The Opposition forced the Bill to be debated and to be sent to Standing Committee, and there will be another debate on Monday evening. I hope that people will understand our role in that.

The announcement earlier this week of the growth of emissions of carbon dioxide from British industry and British power stations makes Britain the country with the largest increase in the world. That comes at a time when the Prime Minister is lecturing people and saying that she is doing more than anyone to solve the problems of the greenhouse effect. It sits rather ill.

Likewise, although there is undoubtedly a genuine concern about rain forests, the reality is that many poor countries are being forced to chop down their rain forests and destroy their natural resources simply to repay overseas debts. There is an inextricable link between debt and the destruction of the environment. It is time that the British Government clearly recognised that. Market forces are a major cause of damage to the world's environment. We need a strengthened United Nations environmental protection agency and a different attitude from the Government towards the environment. My hon. Friends the Members for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd)

Column 1298

mentioned the problems of the Kurdish people in Iraq. Kurdistan is a nation of almost 20 million people--the largest unrecognised nation in the world. The Kurds are one of the most abused peoples, and the treachery that has been meted out to them throughout the century is a standing disgrace, in respect of which all major Governments are, to some extent, guilty.

Many Kurdish refugees from Turkey have recently arrived in Britain. We have close relations with the Turkish Government and Turkey is a member of NATO. Indeed, the Turkish President was invited to Britain last year and was feted at enormous public expense. Will the Government make the strongest possible representations to the Turkish Government about their treatment of the Kurdish people in Turkey, about those people's legitimate desire for self-determination and about the conditions suffered by 120,000 Iraqi Kurdish refugees? They fled to Turkey not because of a humanitarian gesture from the Turkish Government, but because of the repression that they had suffered from the Iraqi Government.

Will the Government make representations to the Turkish Government to ensure access to the Kurdish camps at Mardin, Mus and Diyarbakir for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Red Cross and other respected bodies such as the International Medical Relief Foundation, which wants to examine the many examples of the poisoning of the Kurdish people by Iraqi agents. Did they not suffer enough in Iraq, with all the oppression, murder and use of chemical and other weapons against them? They were forced to flee to Turkey, only to find Iraqi agents in the refugee camps. Those people deserve something better, and the support of the rest of the world, in their attempts to live a just and peaceful life. I hope that the British Government will stop pretending that everything is all right in Turkey and that that country is returning to democracy, and will instead expose the abuses of human rights in Turkey and its Government's oppression of the Kurds. We should not shut our eyes to those problems but should stand up for the rights of those poor, unfortunate people--as we would expect others to do for us if we were in a similar position.

1.49 pm

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) : I will at least start on a note of consensus. If we are to pursue a realistic foreign policy, we must first know ourselves. We must evaluate our country's history, strengths, weaknesses and potential. Our history as a country in relation to external affairs since 1945 has been of a process of adjustment to the new role that we can play in the world. Central to that process have been developments within the European Community. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office concluded long ago that our future lies in a closer relationship with the new Europe. Until recently, British public opinion seemed to lag behind that view, but recent public opinion polls, notably that appearing in The Daily Telegraph and the recent Eurobarometer poll, suggest that it now recognises the value of that relationship.

The Prime Minister--the queen across the water--has had rather a bad day. It was the Prime Minister's failure to appreciate the sea change in public opinion, as evidenced by recent polls, that made her so misjudge her political stance on Europe. That is emphasised by her

Column 1299

insensitivity over the past few days in respect of the French revolution--an event that is fundamental to most French people, and to which they make obeisance. By her criticism, she allied herself in respect of France--as she has in the case of South Africa --with the old regime, rather than with the newly emerging forces.

The Prime Minister's formation ill suits her to understand the processes of change, and her temperament makes it difficult for her to co-operate with others. She still hankers after a special relationship with the United States that is no longer on offer, and still attempts to fan a narrow and unhealthy populism, with a much-reduced response. As the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) implied in his advice to the Prime Minister in his very wise speech, she should turn down the volume in respect not only of the European Community but of other areas of foreign policy.

The cross of Grantham must be one of the biggest burdens that Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers must bear. The two Ministers of State who are with us today are the partially acceptable face of a foreign policy that is directed more and more from Downing street in a strident and populist way-- and in a misjudged populist way, because public opinion has changed. Rather like an old end-of-pier entertainer, the old appeals no longer receive quite the response that they enjoyed in the past.

By failing to recognise our strengths, the Prime Minister is failing to capitalise on our potential. Clearly there are few areas in which we can still play a solitary, unilateralist role. One is Hong Kong, on which we had a most valuable debate yesterday. Over the years, one has gained the impression that the Government's obsession with keeping on the right side of the People's Republic of China has led to distortions in our foreign policy on areas adjacent to China. One thinks of the policy on Tibet, and certainly that on Cambodia. Another area is Argentina. Over the past few days, we have heard what may be construed as encouraging noises from Mr. Menem, the new President of Argentina, in relation to the Falklands. It will be helpful to know how the Government read those signals. It is clearly wrong that our relations are so strained with that great Latin American country. We cannot continue indefinitely in that immobilism. We need a more coherent position. The position that has been clearly adumbrated by my party is that it would be ready to open talks, without preconditions, with democratic Argentina on the future of the Falklands. That is also the view of the Foreign Office, which is seeking wherever possible to build bridges, but there is a vast road block--the No. 10 veto- -across the way to closer relations between ourselves and Argentina.

Leaving aside Hong Kong and the Falklands which, in their own way, are a legacy of old colonial relationships, is it not quite clear that Britain's role in the future will increasingly be within our alliances? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said with his usual force, global problems need global solutions. Working within our alliances involves a process of give and take and a series of compromises, not absolutes. We in Britain have a unique position in the world through our permanent position on the Security Council and our role within the Commonwealth and the European Community. Our aim should be to maximise our influence in those organisations in which the sum is greater than the part. Who can deny that, latterly, strident isolationism has reduced our strengths and is contrary to our national

Column 1300

interests? Within the Security Council we pay tribute to some of the work that has been done. It is clear that the negotiating skills of Sir Crispin Tickell, our permanent representative, allowed us to play a substantial and positive role in relation to the Iran- Iraq war.

The Government fail to recognise that the lack of sympathy with Third world issues, and particularly the lack of understanding in relation to South Africa, have mightily reduced the effects of our policies and the positive role that we can play elsewhere. I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) on his positive comments about the Commonwealth-- another of the areas in which a unique diplomatic asset for us has been mightily underutilised. It is a forum for world problems in miniature. A day or so ago, the Prime Minister talked about the solution of the drugs problem. Such problems can properly be addressed in the Commonwealth. When the Government talk about the problem of Hong Kong, is it not proper to say that there could be a much greater urge to seek a solution within the Commonwealth context? With the Commonwealth and our EEC partners about 60 countries could help us to share a major moral burden in respect of the future of Hong Kong. I and my party regard the Commonwealth not as an alternative to Europe but as intertwined with Europe, giving us a special strength. We know that the Commonwealth is not only of proven strength but is increasing. We look forward to the addition of Pakistan. We believe that Namibia is likely to be the fiftieth member, and we understand that Cameroon is already making approaches to the Commonwealth. At least that shows that it is an institution recognised by others as having a new vitality.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) made some cogent remarks about the tragedy of Cyprus. For too long the Government have adopted a laid-back position--cautious, waiting on the sidelines, failing to appreciate the special role that Britain has in Cyprus. Britain has subcontracted the Cypriot problem to the United Nations.

The Government's lack of commitment to the Commonwealth is also demonstrated by their policies towards the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Institute. The Prime Minister demands the right to be different within the Commonwealth. One thinks of the Okanagan statement on the Commonwealth, with the exception of Britain. One thinks of Britain's self-exclusion from foreign affairs Ministers' statements on South Africa. The Prime Minister demands the right to be different within the Commonwealth and the European Community but she expects Stalinist uniformity over developments in NATO. Those demands do not sit easily together.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and other hon. Members have referred to the importance of the Venice and Madrid declarations on the middle east and to the fact that by and large, we follow the decisions that the Israeli Government have taken over the middle east. If the policy change by Mr. Shamir, not just Likud, which is likely to affect the stance adopted by the Israeli Government, effectively scuppers the new peace effort, and if the United States Administration establishes as a consequence an international peace conference, what will be the stance of Her Majesty's Government towards the peace conference? The intifada will continue. There will be enormous human rights abuses. Israel will be the

Column 1301

despair of its many friends. It will harm itself both in relation to the occupied territories and internally as a result of its own divisions, unless it comes to terms with the new facts in that area. I agree very much with what was said by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) about the Inter-Parliamentary Union and other similar institutions. I agree, too, with the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) that one should not seek to portray the Council of Europe as an alternative to the European Community. It can play a bridge-building role between eastern and central Europe but we should not give yet another signal to Europe that we are faint hearts on the European road.

My hon. Friends the Members for Hamilton and for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) have already said all that needs to be said about the Kurds. I repeat the question about the British Aerospace contract. The Government could veto it. We shall regard the British Government's response to the Hawk contract as a litmus test of their policies. Will business considerations prevail? Will the British Government view sympathetically human rights for the Kurds or will they view sympathetically the use of chemical weapons in Iraq?

My hon. Friend the Member for Cambodia-- [Laughter.] With respect, I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley might half accept that appellation. As she mentioned Cambodia, I hope that the Government will assure us that they will not favour the inclusion of the Khmer Rouge in any group that is involved in the peace negotiations, given the history of the Khmer Rouge.

As for the Sudan, the only democratic Government in the area have been topplied by a military coup. We know that the Prime Minister, Sadiq al- Mahdi, is under arrest, and it is said that he could face the death penalty. I appeal to the Government to make representations to the new military regime in Sudan on behalf of Sadiq al-Mahdi. South Africa, is the area in which the Government's policy--or rather the Prime Minister's policy--is seen at its most personal and malign. That is important in itself but it also has symbolic importance. We know that the Government adopt attitudes in relation to human rights in Poland--at the tomb of Father Popieluszko--and in Hungary at the tomb of Imre Nagy. When will the day come when the Government will pay similar tributes to Steve Biko or other major South African patriots? As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) said, it is not just a question of the release of Nelson Mandela--even with all the importance attached to that--it is also a question of the context within which Mandela is released, analagous to the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group and the conditions that it has laid down for a proper release for Mandela. Our assessment is that the South African Government have not yet recognised the need for fundamental change. To them "negotiation" means negotiations with people whom they chose. Even the five-year plan talks about group rights. We believe that by colluding and by treating South Africa as just another country, we are playing into the hands of the establishment. Only sanctions or measures-- call them what one will--are likely to bring the powers that be in South Africa to the recognition that they

Column 1302

must do deals with the African National Congress. By issuing a statement on behalf of Nelson Mandela, President Botha has implicitly recognised the importance of the ANC. However, to our Prime Minister, the ANC is still just another terrorist organisation. When will the Prime Minister be ready to meet Oliver Tambo and other

representatives of the ANC? That would be a positive signal. I endorse all that my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley, (Mr. Pike) said about Namibia and repeat his questions.

In conclusion, the Government's faults in foreign policy are but an extension of their faults in domestic policy. They are reflected in the curbing of public expenditure. The proportion of our GNP that is devoted to aid is half what it was in 1979. The Government are weak on human rights and have a strident unwillingness to accommodate the other side in any discussions.

Under a Labour Government there will be a new internationalism and a recognition of our new status as a country. We will play to our strengths, which are many. They will not be undervalued as they are under this Administration.

2.7 pm

Mr. Waldegrave : I start by paying one tribute in which I know the Opposition Front Bench will join. The diplomatic service provides a great service for our country. Many hon. Members of all parties--on visits to Cyprus, for example--have had the benefit of the help of our diplomats. If they have not, the diplomats are always available. Let us think for a moment about our diplomats in dangerous places, such as Beirut, and pay a special tribute to them.

We have had some magisterial speeches today. My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) made the second of two magisterial speeches in two days. He has told me that he cannot be here for my reply to the debate, but I should like to put on record the fact that I thought his speech outstanding.

The speech of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) was in the great tradition of his speeches. This week this country has lost and mourns our greatest entertainer, Lord Olivier, but luckily things are not all bad. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East is his natural successor. He described himself as a timid man, to whom verbal fisticuffs cause deep and lasting anxiety. He made up some amusing new facts about the past. He referred, for example, to the inflation rate. It is boring to have to remind him that the OECD figures show that in 1975 Italy's inflation rate was 17 per cent., but the United Kingdom's was 24.2 per cent. I cannot remember who was Chancellor of the Exchequer that year. The crocodile that ate one of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues would never have dared to take even a nip at him. He would have returned, as he did over the years, having swallowed up many people from the Militant Tendency, with the crocodile well digested.

There was much in the speech of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East with which to agree, just as there was in the speeches of the hon. Members for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson). One of the difficulties in debating with the Opposition Front-Bench speakers is that they decorate their fundamental agreement with us on many points with a verbiage of

Column 1303

personal attacks on my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. They do so partly to disguise how much underlying agreement there is. We know the game. We learn it from their boss, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). He often agrees with us on, for example, the middle east and our approach to eastern Europe, but that does not preclude a certain personal venom in his approach. After the prolonged period of paralysis in European politics since the second world war, after the iron curtain fell across Europe, the liberalisation in the Soviet Union has once again put events in Europe back at the centre of the world stage. Not long ago, it was fashionable to say that all the political interests in the world focused on the Pacific. We can now see that the two great events in Europe--the room for manoeuvre which is being allowed in eastern Europe and the development of unity in western Europe--have put those European events back at the centre.

I agreed with the right hon. Member for Leeds, East--although I did not entirely agree with his inflation figures, as he will see in Hansard --when he said that the tide of Communism had turned and that that was recognised in the Soviet Union. In a way, the Soviet Union has become a status quo power and, perhaps belatedly, has recognised that she will do well to manage to maintain much of her present position. This has transformed her approach to regional conflict in a variety of places, as the right hon. Member for Leeds, East, the hon. Member for Hamilton and others have said.

The Soviet Union now has a quite different approach to the United Nations, which provides an opportunity, as the right hon. Member for Leeds, East said, to use that institution in some of the ways that its founders hoped it could be used, including the great former Bristolian, Mr. Ernie Bevin, who at the time of the foundation of the United Nations in San Francisco made a speech that bears re-reading. There are hopes for partnership in relation to south-west Africa, the middle east, Cambodia and, as the right hon. Member for Leeds, East said, central America. As Mr. Gorbachev said in New York, this has ended the primacy of ideology in the Soviet Union's approach to foreign affairs.

There was a fascinating debate between the two leviathans of the debate--I was going to say "dinosaurs"--the right hon. Member for Leeds, East and my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, on where the central and eastern parts of the Soviet Union now extend. I tend more to my right hon. Friend's side of the debate. The Finlandisation of central Europe is an objective that is not without hope. It means the achievement of neutral countries following a non-aligned policy and their own social, political and economic strategies, which Mr. Gorbachev endorsed as being their right in his speech in Strasbourg.

It is therefore somewhat paradoxical if, at this stage, we encourage the idea that those Finlandised countries--to use a form of shorthand--should be encouraged to go into the western camp. I wonder whether that would be in their interests in the medium term--where we go in the longer term is a different matter. We should not be unwilling to make it clear that, if Mr. Gorbachev means what he says, his new freedoms for the eastern European countries should lead to their being able to choose that status for themselves, which would be greatly to the benefit of their people. I also thought that we had an outstanding speech

Column 1304

from my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), to which the hon. Member for Swansea, East has already paid tribute. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State is more expert on the European Community than I am. She introduced the horrible word "subsidiarity", which is not hers. The concept, if not the word, was invented by Mr. Delors, who has much to his credit, including that word. If we could think of an English word, it would be more helpful. It is the principle upon which we should be working--that there is quite enough for Brussels to do without loading on to Brussels matters with which it need not deal. I am sure that hon. Members of all parties could make an allowance on that. There is no benefit in pushing matters up to higher tiers of Government just for the sake of it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup had the emphasis wrong. He said that wherever we could co-operate internationally, we should. That is the wrong way round. It is where we need to co-operate internationally that we should.

My hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon was right to say that we should re-emphasise the matters that are going right in Europe, in many of which we have played a leading part, such as the liberalisation of the economy and the avoidance of the fortress Europe concept. Wherever I go in the world, I find that people from the Maghreb, the middle east and the wider world fear that Europe will turn in on itself and become fortress Europe. It would be a disaster if the greatest trading group in the world became an illiberal force in economics. My hon. Friend gave other good advice and I know that my right hon. Friend will note it carefully for the negotiations that lie ahead.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup asked, a little suspiciously, whether our praise for the Council of Europe meant that we were trying to make it into an alternative to the Community. Of course we are not. A number of other hon. Members mentioned the Council of Europe. A useful, new role is emerging for that body, which is to become one of the forums in which discussions in central Europe can take place. Hungary, Poland and the Soviet Union now have guest status and Mr Gorbachev made his interesting speech at Strasbourg. We should welcome this developing role for the Council of Europe.

The hon. Member for Hamilton and the right hon. Member for Leeds, East talked about central Europe. I cannot answer properly today the question of the hon. Member for Hamilton about additional sources of money for Hungary. I hope that we can deploy some. Some part of the purpose of my visit was to assess what we can do with how much money. He will note that we have provided a fund of £25 million over five years for Poland. In terms of debt, that is nothing, but in terms of moving people and developing programmes to help individuals and training, it is a considerable programme and a departure for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which will be welcomed by hon. Members of all parties. We shall have to think how to spend the money properly, and institutions such as the Great Britain East Europe Centre will have a part to play. The last thing we want to do is to give the impression that the money has been tainted by Government intervention in the politics of other states. We must respond to requests and make it clear that it comes, if possible, with all-party backing and certainly with some independence from Government.

Column 1305

In East-West relations in general, the liberalisation and transformation taking place in the background is being recognised and endorsed in the arms agreements coming forward--not the other way round. Peace is not made by the formalities of arms agreements, as we learnt in the 1930s as a result of the Kellogg pact and other agreements that failed. If the underlying forces are moving to conflict, treaties cannot stop them. It is the other way round. Now that affairs are moving in the right direction, it will become surprisingly easy to make treaties. I am talking about history nervously because of the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) who is looking rather gloomy about my references to the Kellogg pact, so I may have made a mistake there already.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup asked us to consider whether we yet believed that Mr. Gorbachev or any other Soviet leader could contemplate the break-up of the Soviet empire. He was not disagreeing with the right hon. Member for Leeds, East here. I do not think that any Soviet leadership could contemplate the break-up of the heartland of the USSR. There is reason to hope that the internal problems of the Soviet Union--the challenges of the nationalities and the economy--will make it take a more relaxed view about trying to maintain some control over countries that it once thought it needed as buffer states. What is in it for the Russians if they try to run the economy and defences of Hungary, given that they have enough difficulty with their own problems? There may be hope. There may be.

We have heard a number of interesting speeches about the Arab-Israeli question. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge, whose leadership of the Conservative Friends of Israel is contributing to the building of bridges between those who are genuinely seeking progress on this matter.

We regard the Likud party decisions with considerable dismay. Yesterday, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary met Bassam Abu Sharif of the PLO to show that we think it even more vital for the PLO to stick to its moderate position, which it reaffirmed last December, now that it is under the extra pressure of watching Israel's tentative moves towards rapprochement apparently being reversed. If the PLO can maintain its position, the other voices in Israel will have time to be heard and the friends of Israel in the United States and Europe will have time to emphasise that the election proposal--in its original form not much more than a minimal proposal--needs development rather than diminution. That is what we should all be seeking to achieve.

The hon. Members for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) and for Swansea, East and my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Sir D. Walters) asked what would happen if, despite all the efforts, the election proposal dies. I assure them that we are not backward in seeking an international conference. In fact, we have been rather ahead of the United States on this matter and our position is embodied in the Madrid declaration of the Twelve which was widely welcomed in the middle east. In that declaration, we say that not only should there now be an international conference but that the PLO must

Column 1306

participate in it. That is only realistic as it will be impossible to find any other interlocuter who carries weight.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge made two points that I support strongly. The first was that nothing will be gained by seeking to isolate Israel. In that respect, I agree with the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). The capacity of Israelis to batten down the hatches and see the world as threatening all round them is one of the problems in making progress towards negotiation. Nothing that reinforces that attitude helps peace. Israel is a democracy, and forces in Israel, movingly represented in a recent piece by Amos Oz in The Daily Telegraph, need our support and help.

Grave problems also exist elsewhere in the middle east. The hon. Members for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) are both known as passionate protectors of the tragic Kurdish people. They both said that the Kurdish tragedy may be continuing. As has been said, the British Government played an honourable role in drawing the attention of the world to the tragedy at the time, when very few others were prepared to speak out. My speech at the Paris conference on chemical weapons was the only one to mention Iraq by name. All the others somehow managed to avoid the subject. I do not claim too much credit for that ; we could not keep silent. The question that we face is the perennial, and most difficult of all questions for Foreign Office Ministers and Governments to answer : how we should balance our trading interests and our care for human rights. At what point do we say that we cannot deal with a country, or that we must seek progress by contacts, pressure and influence? I have heard Opposition Members advance that argument the other way in relation to the Soviet Union at its worst and China at its worst periods. It has been argued that we should not cut countries off and that we should work with those people who we can work with. That can be said of some in Iraq as well. This is a difficult and agonising decision. I have no answer to it today, nor about the proposed Hawk deal. All that I can say is that the analysis of that will be carried out within the guidelines that we have maintained in the past in these matters.

Sir Russell Johnston : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Waldegrave : I can add very little to what I have already said, and I have much of the rest of the world to try to cover. Doubtless if a decision is made that is adverse to those arguments, we shall have other occasions on which to pursue them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks) mentioned Iran. He is right to say that if there are signs of progress after the presidential election, Britain must and will respond to them. He is also right to say that the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen is another country that has noticed which way the wind is turning in the Soviet Union's foreign policy and is seeking other friends. Royal Navy ships recently went there, which a few years back would have been surprising, and they were greeted with the usual Aden welcome.

The hon. Member for Swansea, East mentioned Sudan. The first thing that we want to say to that new Government is that, above all, the Sudan needs peace in the south. We urge the new regime to maintain human

Column 1307

rights in relation not only to previous Ministers, but those in the south and in the country as a whole. There is confusion and it is difficult to say at this stage what will happen.

Several hon. Members, led by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), mentioned South Africa. My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) made a speech with which I very much agreed. The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) spoke about South Africa and Namibia. I am much less of an expert on this than my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, but I found much of what they said out of date. It seemed to be simply a replaying of the gramophone record of sanctions, as though nothing had happened in southern Africa, the relationship between the Soviet Union and South Africa were not changing, and the hopes of progress were not higher now than they have been for many years. Our opportunity and challenge is to pass on that greatest African economy intact to its rightful owners--the population as a whole--rather than passing on a ruined economy, as happens so frequently in other parts of the world.

The hon. Members for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber and for Aberdeen, North spoke about Angola. We were greatly encouraged when, against the odds, President Dos Santos and Dr. Savimbi met and agreed the ceasefire. Although the delegations have now broken off their talks, we believe that they may shortly be resumed and we are urging both sides to show flexibility.

The return of the murderous Pol Pot regime in Cambodia must be out of the question. Any influence that we can use to that end we shall try to use.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Swansea, East for giving me the opportunity to speak about Argentina. It is true that the recent statement by the new President Menem--whose peaceful transition to power we must welcome in that populous country--and by foreign minister Cavallo, seem encouraging. If Argentina is now ready to exclude sovereignty from talks, we welcome that as a basis for talks. It appears to be saying that it will do that. Things are moving fast, so such a move is a welcome sign to which we shall respond appropriately.

We had a speech of considerable volume from the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Haynes) on Cyprus. I regret

Column 1308

that, a couple of weeks ago, when we had a most moving debate on Cyprus to which I replied, something detained the hon. Gentleman and he could not be there. Nevertheless, we welcome him now. I strongly refute his argument that the Government are doing nothing on Cyprus. The diplomatic activity last year in relation to Cyprus was probably more intense than for any territory with the same population. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, have all met President Vassiliou. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about President Vassiliou. There has been a range of diplomatic contacts aimed at producing progress, and we are certainly as dedicated to the outcome which the hon. Gentleman rightly and eloquently defended as anybody else.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks), the hon. Member for Islington, North, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East and my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) talked about some of the new planetary issues and the use of multinational organisations such as the United Nations and the Commonwealth to try to produce solutions on an international and multilateral basis. I pay tribute to the environmental achievements in Brazil last week by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development.

On the proliferation of missiles--

It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.



That, at the sitting on Wednesday 19th July, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 15 (Prayers against statutory instruments, &c. (negative procedure))--

(1) Motions in the name of Mr. Neil Kinnock relating to Water and Public Health may be proceeded with for not more than three hours after the first of them has been entered upon ;

(2) if proceedings on such Motions have not been previously disposed of, Mr. Speaker shall at the expiration of that period put the Question already proposed from the Chair ; and

(3) no further such Motion shall then be made.-- [Mr. Sackville.]

Column 1309

Northern Relief Road (Birmingham)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Sackville.]

2.30 pm

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) : I should like to express some of the concerns of my constituents and more general concerns about the recent proposals of the Department of Transport in respect of the Birmingham northern relief route, the Birmingham north orbital route or, as some of us believe it to be, the new M6. Those concerns can best be summed up by citing a letter from two of my constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, who live in Hednesford road, Brownhills. It is one of many letters that I have received on the subject, and it indentifies the general concern about the initiatives announced by the Government. It states :

"Dear Mr. Shepherd,

It was in May, 1984 that we were first informed of the new proposed Road, our house was in line on four out of the five proposed routes, which is the Chasewater variation route, so it was quite a shock. My wife and I purchased our home in 1976, we were very happy with it liking the design, location and the friendliness of the people and neighbours of the area, we thought we were very lucky.

We both had good jobs and set about planning and vastly improving the property, patio window, large bay window, all double glazing, fitted kitchen, all Regency Design plaster moulding throughout, landscaped garden etc. so when we heard that we may lose our home, naturally we were very upset.

But, worse than anything has been the waiting, and the last 5 years have been the worst of our lives, all the enjoyment has gone out of our home, due to the fact that we can no longer make any plans not knowing about the future, and how long we have here, making us feel very insecure.

So you can imagine how we felt when we received a letter from the Department of Transport 2 weeks ago, saying that a decision has still not been reached on the route, and then to read in the local press on Friday evening that it may take another 5/6 years before we know due to the fact that a toll road is now being considered, is just too much, there is a limit to what one can endure.

After the Enquiry ended last September, we were promised of a decision in about 6 months time, of which we were patiently awaiting, to be expected to have to live through another 5/6 years like we have through the last 5 is quite unthinkable.

All we are asking Mr. Shepherd for both ourselves and all our neighbours is for them to please, please make up their minds so that we can get on with our lives once again, and to save all the misery and unhappiness that we are experiencing through all the uncertainty."

As the Minister will know, such anxiety and much more followed the Secretary of State's announcement by way of a written answer on 22 May to launch a Green Paper entitled "New Roads by New Means". He said that he proposed to hold a competition for the private sector to finance, design, build and operate a road which would serve broadly the same purposes as would be served by the published proposals for the Birmingham northern relief road. This road will be effectively the new M6 bypassing Birmingham.

On the same day as the Secretary of State's written answer to that parliamentary question he wrote to me enclosing a copy. The West Midlands regional office of highways at Five Ways tower also wrote that same day to members of the public advising them of the proposed competition and saying that in the circumstances it would

Column 1310

be inappropriate to take decisions on the Featherstone to Coleshill north orbital route until the competition had taken place. I stress that the delay explicit in the decision-making procedure is caused by the decision to defer until completion of the competition. I also stress that the release of information was arranged by the Secretary of State and the Minister of State without any consultation or inquiry involving local Members of Parliament as to the appropriateness of singling out this new M6 for a competition. Inasmuch as their predecessors had sought and in some respects accepted the views of their colleagues who were affected by the new M6, I deeply regret the Minister's decision to eschew consultation. I do not believe that this was intentional arrogance. Rather, it was the casual indifference of a functionary. It was insensitivity, not deliberate arrogance, but I ask the Secretary of State and the Minister of State to reflect on the nature of representative government. To consult is not merely a courtesy ; it is a way of seeking consent or acquiescence, and it is proper and right. The conception of what I call the new M6 around Birmingham has been protracted. It was in August 1978 that the Department's road programme and highways policy division first issued a planning brief to the west midlands regional office instructing it to begin preparation of two schemes aimed at a new north orbital route to relieve the severely overloaded section of the M6 passing through the northern part of the west midlands conurbation. The schemes related, respectively, to a section planned to run from Essington--M6--to Bassetts Pole--A38--and to another to run from Bassetts Pole to Dunton. The brief was to examine not only new route solutions but an improvement of existing roads, and it assumed that a high standard dual two-lane all- purpose route would be provided.

The then Parliamentary Under-Secretary announced in a press release dated 9 August 1978 the addition of both schemes into the trunk road preparation pool. In 1980, the two schemes were included in the 1984 onwards reserve list. In the 1983 roads White Paper they were identified as dual three-lane standard roads, and the Bassetts Pole to Dunton scheme was extended to the M42/M6 near Coleshill. Further examination of the schemes led the Department to the conclusion that, to provide as much relief to the M6 as possible, the volumes of traffic that would use the new route would require a dual three-lane route to motorway standard. On that basis, the Department proceeded to public consultation in 1984.

At preview meetings held in Birmingham on 8 May 1984, the director of transport in the regional office presented proposals for what had by then become known as the northern relief route. The following day, 9 May, the Department issued a press release announcing a public consultation exercise on the route. Separate consultation documents for the two schemes were distributed to households in the area. The documents presented five feasible alternative routes which had been identified between Essington and Bassetts Pole and two between Bassetts Pole and Coleshill. They also included an assessment of the impact of each route, and questionnaires to be completed by 20 July 1984. All the route options could take land and required the demolition of housing and other property. All options

Column 1311

would also have effects on land and property remaining close by, in terms of noise, depreciation, severance and so on, during and after construction.

Public exhibitions of the proposals were held from 17 May to 9 June 1984 at a number of local points. Representatives of the Department and of the consulting engineers were in attendance to explain the alternatives and to answer questions. The total attendance at these exhibitions was 6,400, and 6,278 questionnaires were returned. Responses were also received from a number of public bodies. No consensus emerged from the consultation exercise. The response of residents was to reject all routes or to opt for the ones furthest from their homes. The Secretary of State for the

Environment--NIMBY--would well appreciate the natural response that most of us have to development.

Opinion among public bodies was divided. The regional office was in the process of analysing the public response when the then Minister of State visited the area in October 1984. Each local Member of Parliament affected by the scheme took up the matter and one of my hon. Friends raised it in an Adjournment debate on 4 December 1984. In his reply to that debate, the Under-Secretary said that he was conscious of the fact that the uncertainty about the new route created anxiety among those living in the area and could lead to a certain degree of blighting of property. For that reason, he said that the Department was anxious to reach as early a decision as possible and to make an announcement in the early part of 1985. The then Minister of State paid another visit to the area on 12 July this year--I wish that the present Minister of State had done the same. It was not, however, until 11 March 1986, when the then Minister with responsibility for roads and traffic met local Members of Parliament, that the decision became known that the preferred route was broadly in line with the green-- Chasewater--and yellow options which had been considered at the public consultation stage. The Department announced the decision in a press release on 12 March 1986. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary wrote to me enclosing an advance copy of the press release on that date. It reiterated the urgent need for a new road. Paragraph 2 said :

"the main aim of the new road is to provide urgently needed relief to the heavily overloaded sections of the M6 where it passes through the West Midlands conurbation."

It went on to note that the M6 plays a

"vital role in the national road network"

but that it had become

"the victim of its own success".

This meant, and means, that it is one of the most heavily used sections of our motorway system. By 1980, average daily flows had already exceeded 110,000 vehicles in places, and peak flows of over 130,000 vehicles a day had been recorded. That is for a road with a design capacity of about 70,000 vehicles a day. The percentage of heavy goods vehicles was 30, which was exceptionally high. In other words, the M6 at certain times is near collapse in the Birmingham section. Anyone who uses the section knows how desperate the situation is. It is made even worse by essential road works and the level of accidents which occur.

The Department noted the growth of traffic levels and recorded that by the design year for the scheme there would be more than 200,000 vehicles per day in the north-west/south-east corridor through the region. A large

Column 1312

percentage of the traffic passes through the conurbation or is long-distance traffic which has its origin or destination within it. It is the nature of this corridor traffic which leads many of us to believe that the north Birmingham relief road will become effectively an integral part of a continuous flow of traffic along the M6 from the north-west to the south-east. Hence it is commonly referred to as the new M6. The announcement of the preferred route brought into effect the blight provisions of section 192(1)(f) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971.

The press release also advised that, depending on the time taken to get through the statutory stages and on the availability of funds, work on the scheme would commence in 1991 and that the new road could be open to traffic in 1993. By the time of the planning inspectorate's press release of 8 March 1988, subject to completion of the necessary statutory procedures construction could still start in 1991, but would take about three years to complete. Presumably that means an opening at some time in 1994.

The press release envisaged publication of the draft line orders in mid- 1987. In the event, it was September of that year. On 8 March it was announced that there would be a public inquiry between 24 May and 23 September 1988. The inspector, Mr. Kavanagh, reported to the Departments of the Environment and of Transport before Easter of this year.

On 18 May, the Secretary of State published his White Paper entitled "Roads for Prosperity", with no reference to the Birmingham north orbital route. On 22 May, in a flurry of activity, he published his Green Paper entitled "New Roads by New Means", which dealt with bringing in private finance. Again, that did not mention the Birmingham, northern relief route. Characteristically, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State sent a letter dated that same day, which included his planted parliamentary question and his written response, which was to the effect that there is to be a competition for the finance, design, construction and operation of a private road, which would serve broadly the same purposes as would be served by the published proposals for the Birmingham northern relief road. This, for want of a better term, new road proposal would not be confined to the preferred route identified by the previous Secretary of State.

The thought that there is a possibility that a new motorway may be constructed somewhere, don't know where, don't know when, is a curious end piece to the hard-won acquiescence on an identified preferred route. Indeed, the Government have already spent about £10 million of our money on specialist firms and consultants, principally Sir Owen Williams and Partners.

The Minister claims that this work is not abortive. He will make this information available to private commercial firms--not to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker nor to me, nor to the general public who paid for these reports, but he will make it available to private commercial interests. Further, the Secretary of State thinks that it would be inappropriate to take decisions on the presently proposed draft scheme and orders until this "sometime future" competition--date unknown, legislative basis uncertain--has taken place. Homes and lives have been blighted, as recognised by the Department having already paid out £2.3 million, and there are more payments in the pipeline. All this is for a

Next Section

  Home Page