Home Page

Column 145

Registered Homes (Rights to Residence)

3.33 pm

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield) : I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the residential security of persons living in voluntary, private residential or nursing homes and for connected purposes.

The proposed Bill aims to introduce a clear legal framework to protect the residential security of people admitted to private and voluntary homes. It seeks to place a statutory obligation on the proprietor or manager of a home to enter into a care contract with a resident prior to admission. The terms of the contract would be governed by regulations and include a requirement that residents being asked to leave the home must be given a specific period of notice. In addition to the resident being supplied with a copy of the contract, the Bill requires a copy to be supplied to the resident's nearest relative or representative and the local registration authority. They will also have to be notified formally if the home asks the resident to leave. The Bill would place a clear duty on the registration authority to ensure that-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. Will hon. Members please listen to what is being said on the ten-minute rule motion? It concerns an important matter.

Mr. Hinchliffe : The Bill would place a clear duty on the registration authority to ensure that, where necessary, the resident is given advice and assistance to obtain alternative accommodation. Although paying residents possess certain common law rights of occupation, very few people in private or voluntary homes are made aware of their legal position. As a consequence, it is rare to hear of anyone challenging the legality of an attempt by an establishment to force that person to leave. The Bill aims to simplify the legal position and to ensure that residents of private and voluntary homes, who are often vulnerable and isolated people, cannot be forced to leave before appropriate alternative arrangements for their care have been made. The legal position of a resident in such a home appears markedly different from that of a person in private or local authority housing.

For many people it is clear that entering care significantly reduces or effectively ends the right to residential security that they previously enjoyed, and at a time in their lives when often they are least able to defend their interests. People directly affected by evictions from homes are rarely able to make a stand on the issue, and therefore the extent of the problem that the Bill addresses is difficult to assess because it is largely hidden.

I am particularly concerned that there are worrying examples of people being dumped by private homes. Some time ago I came across a case in my constituency where a private home admitted an elderly lady for a short stay while her family went away for a well-earned holiday. Within hours of her arrival the home determined that her

Column 146

condition was such that it could not care for her. Rather than taking appropriate steps to arrange proper alternative accommodation, the home simply put her in a taxi and packed her off to the local police station.

Elsewhere in Yorkshire a local authority has recently had to threaten private homes with deregistration because of concern about the eviction of residents and the use of what is, effectively, emotional blackmail to pass responsibility for them on to relatives. A report to Sheffield's social services committee earlier this year described how one woman had been dumped at the out-patients department of the city's Royal Hallamshire hospital simply because she had become too difficult to handle. As the hospital's report confirms,

"it is more common to hear of relatives being forced to make alternative arrangements for the care of a relative, often with little, if any, prior notice."

While a marked change in the condition of a resident may mean that in the resident's own interests, as well as those of the home, he or she needs more appropriate care, many evictions arise because of inadequate or non- existent assessment of the person's circumstances prior to admission.

Even more frequent are examples of people being forced to leave because of a reduction in their financial resources and their inability to meet the required fees with their retirement pension and an insufficient income support supplement. This point was raised by numerous hon. Members in yesterday's debate on community care and the Griffiths report. In these circumstances, people who do not have relatives who are prepared to top up their contributions--as many do nowadays--frequently move down market to cheaper and what must be described as less desirable conditions.

I hope that the care contract provided for in the Bill will improve the assessment process before admission and reduce the number of residents with inadequate financial resources who are admitted to care, only to be forced to leave subsequently when they are unable to pay their bills. The Bill addresses a problem facing some of our most vulnerable and dependent citizens. I am sure that, from their experience of cases in their constituencies, many hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber will see the logic behind the measure, and I hope that they will support its continued progress through Parliament.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Hinchliffe, Mr. Tom Clarke, Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse, Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mrs. Maria Fyfe, Mr. John Battle, Mr. Ian McCartney, Mr. Max Madden, Mr. Chris Mullin, Mr. Bob Cryer and Mr. David Blunkett.

Registered Homes (Rights to Residence)

Mr. David Hinchliffe accordingly presented a Bill to provide for the residential security of persons living in voluntary, private residential or nursing homes and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 205.]

Column 147

Defence Estimates

[First Day's Debate]

[The following Reports from the Defence Committee are relevant : Second Report, Staffing Levels in the Procurement Executive, House of Commons Paper 269 ; Third Report, The Working of the AWACS Offset Agreement, House of Commons Paper 286 ; Fifth Report, The Progress of the Trident Programme, House of Commons Paper 374 ; Sixth Report, The Royal Navy's Surface Fleet : Current Issues, House of Commons Paper 419 ; Seventh Report, Decommissioning of Nuclear Submarines, House of Commons Paper 316 ; Eighth Report, The Procurement of the Tucano Trainer Aircraft, House of Commons Paper 372 ; Ninth Report, The Availability of Merchant Shipping for Defence Purposes : July 1989, House of Commons Paper 495 ; Tenth Report, The Vertical Launch Sea Wolf Missile System and the Type 23 Frigate Command System, House of Commons Paper 409 ; and Eleventh Report, The Procurement of the Light Anti-Tank Weapon LAW 80, House of Commons Paper 350.]

Mr. Speaker : I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. A number of hon. Members who are now seeking to raise points of order also want to be called in the debate. I hope that they will not delay it.

Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think it is appropriate to raise this with you now. You will know from past defence debates that in my constituency many factories produce defence procurement goods. I believe that some of the investment in those jobs is now under threat as a result of the confusion about the £5 million of proposed cuts in

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Conway : If I can--

Mr. Speaker : No. I was hoping to call the hon. Gentleman. He could raise just such issues in his speech.

Mr. Conway : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Order. I call Mr. Heffer.

Mr. Eric Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Under no circumstances should we ever challenge your ruling, and of course I am not challenging your ruling, but may we have an explanation of why the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and me, among others, which expresses the views of the conference of the Labour party, and is therefore a view held not just by the Labour party but by millions of people in this country, has not been called?

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda) : No, it is not.

Mr. Heffer : My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) may not know because he has not been a Member long enough, but on many occasions in the past, I, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) and many others were called to speak when proposals of this kind were made. I would like to ask why

Column 148

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Member has been here for a long time and he knows that it is not possible for the Chair to select more than one amendment. I have announced my decision about which amendment I will call today. Of course I will do my best to ensure that the hon. Member and his right hon. and hon. Friends who signed that amendment may take some part in this two-day debate.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is not for us to challenge your selection of amendments, but did you, Mr. Speaker, when you decided not to select the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), appreciate that it is exactly in line with Labour party policy at its conference? Is it not a great pity that Opposition Members will now be denied the opportunity of supporting their own policy?

Mr. Speaker : These are all points that could legitimately be raised in the debate. I call Mr. Secretary King.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : As it was not a point of order, I think we should hear the Secretary of State.

Mr. Brown : It is a serious point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : I am not prepared to have a debate about my selection of amendments. I have already announced my selection, which is the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Brown : I have a point of order which is in no way connected with your selection, Mr. Speaker. I want to know, further to the legitimate point raised by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), whether it will be in order, if we catch your eye during the debate, to refer to and debate some aspects of the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). Although there are only 10 signatories here, there are another 4,201,000 out there who agree with what he has said.

Mr. Speaker : As I am sure that the House is anxious that we should get on, I can give the hon. Member a short answer. The answer is yes.

3.43 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom King) : I beg to move, That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1989 contained in Cm. 675.

When preparing for this debate, I took the opportunity to read the Hansard reports of last year's debate. There is a deadly similarity between the position in which we find ourselves now and what happened last year. Last year, I think it was the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) who raised a point of order about whether it was in order for the official Labour party policy on defence, which was the subject of his amendment and that of certain of his hon. Friends, to be debated and not--

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Column 149

Mr. Speaker : Is it a point of order for me or a disagreement?

Mr. Rogers : It is a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it proper for the Secretary of State, after you have ruled that a previous intervention was not a point of order, to waste the time of the House by referring to that intervention?

Mr. Speaker : I was asked by the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) whether it would be in order for these matters to be mentioned in the debate, and I gave the answer : it is in order.

Mr. King : If the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) had done you the courtesy of listening to you, Mr. Speaker, he would have heard that it is in order to debate the amendment. Despite the sensitivity shown so quickly--we all understand why--by the hon. Gentleman, in a short while I shall have a little more to say about that amendment, which was carried with precisely twice the majority that the Leader of the Opposition could raise against the pathetic attempts of the official Opposition to prevent a vote on that amendment at the Labour party conference.

It is a privilege for me to speak for the first time as Secretary of State for Defence. I hope that I will carry the House with me when I pay a warm tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger). Whatever people's political views, as both Secretary of State for Scotland and Secretary of State for Defence, there was no better liked Secretary of State, and I am proud to follow him in this office.

We are here to approve the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" and we have before us the report of the Select Committee on those estimates. Tagged with the estimates is a most impressive selection of reports of the Select Committee on a number of items that it has reviewed. I look forward to working closely with my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) and the right hon. and hon. Members who serve on the Committee. We have our different responsibilities, and I have no doubt that we shall have our disagreements as well, but I recognise that their responsibility, on behalf of the House of Commons, is to scrutinise the work of my Department. While we shall defend our interests vigorously, at all times we shall give prompt, courteous and, I hope, informative responses to any approaches that my hon. Friend and his colleagues may make to us.

I welcome the timing of this debate, immediately after the recess. Every hon. Member must share my feelings about the incredible nature of many of the events that have been taking place in the world, particularly in Europe, during this period. It is right that we should, at this early opportunity, have the chance to address, as the House of Commons, the important developments that are taking place in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and their implications for the defence of our country and for western defence.

During this time we shall need the fullest possible opportunity for consideration of, and informed discussion on, the issues that confront us. I have a specific announcement to make. It is vital that we have the resources that we need to address these issues and to get proper public understanding of them. To contribute to this, I have decided that the Ministry of Defence should help to establish a new centre for defence studies in Britain. A competition was held between universities, polytechnics

Column 150

and other institutions to decide where it would be set up. The idea excited wide interest among them, and resulted in many attractive proposals. The final choice was a difficult and close one. I can now announce that, subject to satisfactory negotiation of a detailed agreement, the centre will be set up at the university of London. This work will be strictly independent of the Government, and our hope is that, besides establishing a research reputation in its own right, the centre will act as a focal point to draw together and further stimulate the excellent thinking and research on the various aspects of defence issues taking place at other institutions. Perhaps I should say something about the structure of the debate.

Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North) : Before my right hon. Friend does that, will he tell us what the arrangements will be with existing institutions that deal with similar topics? I have in mind the independent institutions, the Royal United Services Institute and institutions of that character. Will we have further information from my right hon. Friend at an early date on these matters?

Mr. King : My hon. Friend's last sentence is the correct answer to his question. I wanted to make an announcement as soon as the decision had been made. There are valuable institutions working on different aspects, and it is felt that there is scope for a central body of the sort that I have described. It will not be working in competition with the various institutions. Instead, it will be engaged in bringing together, enlisting support and, on certain occasions, contracting out certain aspects of its work to other institutions. It will not be funded solely by the Government, but the Government will be making a significant contribution towards the costs of what will be independent activity.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that about nine months ago I visited the school of peace studies at Bradford university, and that it promised to send me any leaflets or literature that it produced setting out the multilateralist point of view as opposed to the unilateralist point of view? He will be interested to know that I have received nothing from the school of peace studies. Does he not think that that is disgraceful? May I suggest to him that the new body that he has announced will have to be much more objective than the Bradford peace group?

Mr. King : I hope that what my hon. Friend suggests will be achieved.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : What were the terms of reference given to Professor Lawrence Freedman, if it be him, and what is the financial arrangement?

Mr. King : The final terms have yet to be established. As I have said, the Government will make a worthwhile contribution towards the cost of the institution. I shall be happy to let the hon. Gentleman have at an early date the terms of reference that are applicable. I shall say a few quick words about the structure of the debate, which is scheduled for today and tomorrow. This evening, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement will, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, be speaking about the areas of his

Column 151

responsibilities. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at the start of the debate tomorrow. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces will wind up the debate tomorrow. I shall concentrate mainly on the wider strategic issues. Ministers at the Ministry of Defence will be dealing with their specific areas of responsibility. Within two days of taking over my new responsibilities I joined in welcoming the first official visitor to the Ministry of Defence. General Yazov was the first Soviet Defence Minister to visit the Ministry. Nothing could have focused my attention more clearly on the new situation that exists or on the new opportunities that exist for better understanding between our countries. I was pleased to receive an invitation from General Yazov to visit the Soviet Union, and I hope to do so in the coming year.

A more recent illustration of the increasingly close relationship and the development of better understanding between our countries was the meeting in West Germany last month between the C-in-C of BAOR and the C-in-C of RAF Germany with the C-in-C of the Soviet western group of forces. It was the first time since 1966 that the C-in-C of BAOR and the C-in-C of the Soviet western group of forces had met. More recently I had an opportunity to visit Hungary. In addition to being shown something of Hungary's tank and helicopter forces, I had the opportunity at the military institute in Budapest to address 200 senior officers of the Hungarian armed forces.

These are all signs of what is now becoming possible and of the opportunities for closer contacts. We shall be seeking to develop such contacts between the United Kingdom and the Ministry of Defence with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact. There are further developments, with the continuation of the conventional forces in Europe negotiations in Vienna and the resumption of the START talks with the agreed objective of a 50 per cent. reduction in strategic nuclear weapons. As a result of the Wyoming meeting, there is agreement in principle on a chemical warfare convention with the aim of working towards a massive reduction of chemical weapons, and progressively their elimination.

All that points to a time of great optimism in relations between East and West. It is a time of hope in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. I am sure that the whole House admires the courage and determination of President Gorbachev in what he is trying to do through perestroika and glasnost. During recent months there has been the change to a non-Communist Government in Poland and the removal of the iron curtain in Hungary with the promise of free elections and the Communist party changing its name. Those developments were almost inconceivable only six months ago. There is pressure for change in East Germany, which has been marked this afternoon by the resignation of Mr. Honecker. There has been a mass exodus of East Germans who are no longer prepared to tolerate the misery and repression of totalitarian rule.

Everywhere one may go--I certainly found this when I visited Hungary--there is a wide recognition, even among the most committed Communists, that Communism does not work and that Socialism has failed their countries. There is a desperate desire to move towards a free market

Column 152

economy, which might at last give their people an opportunity-- [Interruption] I must tell some Opposition Members--not all, because I no longer know where half of them stand--that Hungarian Communists complained to me about the disastrous inefficiency of state industries and public ownership. The only people who still agree with some Opposition Members are Mr. Honecker and Fidel Castro. In general, the world has changed and moved towards those who want the benefits that a free market economy can bring to their people.

This is a time of change, great optimism and hope, but it is also a time when the West must show great responsibility. It must be prepared to help during these very difficult and dangerous times. It is manifestly a time of great danger because tensions exist within the Soviet Union--a union of 120 different nations. Those tensions are evident in the strikes in the Baltic states, Armenia and Azerbaijan. There are tensions, albeit of a different sort, in eastern Europe and within the Warsaw pact, such as those between East Germany and Hungary and Czechoslovakia about the treatment of the East German refugees. They are the tensions that I experienced during my conversations about the position of Transylvania and the difficulties between Hungary and Romania about the treatment and status of Romanians in Transylvania. There are the difficulties now being posed within the Warsaw pact because of the new non-Communist Government in Poland. When I was in Hungary, Hungarian Ministers were being openly questioned about whether Hungary would go neutral, alongside Austria. What would be the implications of that within the Warsaw pact? A whole range of possibilities exists, and it is a time for great care and constructive thought in the West.

Mr. Heffer : The right hon. Gentleman, like most of his hon. Friends, is now trying to suggest that Labour party members have always agreed with the economic and political system in the Soviet Union. He knows that that is not true. Over the years, most of us have fought strongly against the anti-democratic regimes in the Soviet Union and in east Europe and have defended the rights of all those seeking democracy, but, at the same time, have argued for democratic Socialism in the East and the West. The right hon. Gentleman knows that, so why does he, like Goebbels, persist in a lie?

Mr. King : If the hon. Gentleman does me the courtesy of reading what I said, he will see that I particularly referred to state ownership, state industries and nationalised industries. I have sat in the House long enough to hear the hon. Gentleman's speeches in defence of clause 4 to know how much he subscribes to that and I have listened to Hungarian Ministers telling me what an unmitigated disaster state ownership has been for industries in their country. I understand entirely why the hon. Gentleman is sensitive on that point, but he will understand why history will judge him in the way it will.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Since the Secretary of State is talking about changes in eastern European countries, is it not time to assist that process of change by abandoning the threat of mass extermination with the purchase of Trident, which massively increases our nuclear firepower capacity? Would it not be better to join countries such as Canada, a member of NATO which signed the United Nations nuclear non- proliferation treaty and which will not have nuclear weapons on its soil?

Column 153

Mr. King : I shall come to the nuclear deterrent and I shall seek to explain to the hon. Gentleman precisely why the sort of policy that he advocates shows that he has learned nothing from the success of the policy of deterrence. At the very time that we are debating the triumph of NATO and the resolute position of the West, which for the first time is bringing the prospect of freedom and hope to the people of eastern Europe, he is peddling the old question--why do not we change the policy that has manifestly succeeded?

It is easy to look at what is happening in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and feel that there is an unstoppable momentum and that we are inescapably moving towards happier and safer times. But, as I have said before, the dread warning of Tiananmen square could occur elsewhere as a result of the tensions, difficulties and challenges that authorities in the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc countries face. This is a time of great danger while we wait to see how those countries respond to the democratic pressures created by the marching of young people and the other pressures that we see on television every night.

Our greatest comfort has always been the strength and resolution of NATO and its refusal over 40 years--it is its 40th anniversary this year--to give in to blackmail, Soviet pressure, the great arms threat that we have faced and the pursuit of world domination and victory for Soviet economic and social policies. NATO has stood against all that and has proved superior. Such economic policies have failed the Soviet people. Standing firm, strong and united has brought NATO its success. It would be fatal to abandon it or change it until we are certain what the outcome will be.

The siren voices have started. They were echoed in the amendment that was supported by the overwhelming majority of the Labour party conference and in the remark of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that there is no longer any threat. That is just the sort of dangerous, easy solution that led us to abandon our defences at a crucial time with the consequent disasters of the 1930s.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) rose --

Mr. King : At a time of great hope, which I hope we all share, for the people of eastern Europe-- [Interruption.] I can understand why Labour Members become very embarrassed by this. The hon. Member for Rhondda has already shown how thin his skin is, and he is showing it again now.

At a time of great hope for the people of eastern Europe, the worst that we could now do would be to betray them when our firm stand has brought them the hope and opportunity of freedom. We must not betray them now by dismantling our defences--

Mr. Benn : Quite apart from the fact that the Conservative Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, was a firm supporter of Hitler, as captured German Foreign Office documents have confirmed--Lord Halifax was sent to congratulate Hitler on destroying Communism in Germany--will the right hon. Gentleman turn his mind to the point of the amendment? Can he give the House a single reason why Britain should be spending more as a percentage of its gross national product on defence than the average for other NATO countries? It would save us between £3 billion and £4 billion a year if we spent the

Column 154

same amount on defence as do France, Germany, Italy and the rest. Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with that question, and will he realise that he is not at Blackpool giving another 10 -minute ovation to a dying Prime Minister?

Mr. King : I find myself in some difficulty in answering that because I am not absolutely clear which amendment I am supposed to be addressing. Is the right hon. Gentleman asking me to address the amendment that all the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen voted against at his party conference? If so, he had better ask them why they thought it unreasonable.

I shall explain exactly why it is important for NATO to keep up its defences--

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Secretary of State has just declared that he is not sure which amendment he is talking about. If he cannot follow his own speech, what chance do the rest of us have?

Mr. Speaker : Perhaps I can help. We are not debating any amendment yet.

Mr. King : The uncertainty was on the part of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, not on mine.

Although we all hope for a successful outcome of the conventional forces reduction talks and for good will, confidence and trust to grow between the East and us, the Soviet rearmament capability continues virtually unabated. The Soviets still produce one new submarine every six weeks and two new aircraft and six new tanks every day. In certain significant respects, they are modernising their capability. SS21 missile launchers have more than doubled in number since Mr. Gorbachev came to office. We must act in good faith, but we must also recognise that there are uncertainties. Dangers will arise from the tensions in the Soviet Union and from the political instabilities in eastern Europe. The House must not underestimate the enormous logistical challenge to the confidence and trust of the West presented by the Soviet Union.

The unilateral arms reductions to which the Soviet Union has committed itself involve the dismissal of about 100,000 officers--out of 500,000 men- -and pose the problem of how to find jobs and houses for them all. How easily can that be achieved? The Soviets' reductions involve the destruction of massive amounts of equipment. What are the chances of these major challenges being met within the proposed time-scale?

Recognising the important point that a totalitarian state can change direction very much faster than any democracy, it would be grossly irresponsible to dismantle our defences now. It is important to maintain stability. If one examines the relationship between NATO and the Warsaw pact, it is obvious that NATO is crucial to us as our insurance for our defence, but I believe that a strong NATO also benefits Warsaw pact countries because they need a stable and predictable Europe.

I was struck by a phrase used by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), about the developments in eastern Europe and the relationship between NATO and the Warsaw pact. He discussed the problems of reductions in arms levels and tension and described the two alliances as two great Sumo wrestlers locked in combat. The real problem for Sumo wrestlers in

Column 155

disentangling is that, if they move too fast, they can both end up flat on their faces. If super-powers and alliances end up flat on their faces, other people can quite easily get hurt. It is important that we maintain the credibility of our defence. If the Soviets maintain their forward defence capability, it is important that we do, too.

Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends may find my next point more difficult. If we want the process and the opportunity for freedom to develop in eastern Europe, there is a strong argument that in the short term the structure of the Warsaw pact needs to remain as some assurance of stability on that side as we move into this difficult period, provided that President Gorbachev's commitment to non-interference in the internal politics of the countries of the Warsaw pact is scrupulously observed.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) rose --

Mr. King : In a moment. I want to deploy this point.

That is why it is important at this difficult and dangerous time that both NATO and the Warsaw pact remain in post. They are not the same. If course we do not accept any moral comparison between them, but at this time of great political uncertainty and economic danger we do not want to add to the uncertainty and the fear that could stop those encouraging processes. Given those uncertainties, any suggestion of the denuclearisation of Europe is profoundly irresponsible. The Warsaw pact countries do not expect it at present. We have to stand on the defence and maintain the credibility of our flexible response-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), having argued against cruise missiles, having stood shoulder to shoulder with the women of Greenham common, and having been profoundly wrong time after time, has the nerve to sit there and parade his opinions again.

I profoundly believe that we should maintain the stability and the security of our defences. In the long term, it matters as much to the Warsaw pact and the Soviet Union to have stability in the Western Alliance. That is why in the short term we respect the situation in the Warsaw pact.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : Will the Secretary of State answer the very simple question that was put to him by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)? Why should Britain spend a higher proportion of its GDP on defence expenditure than any of our European partners? Why should the Germans pay 1 per cent. less, and the French pay 0.25 per cent. less, and why should the average contribution be 1.75 per cent. less? Why should we be subsidising the European defence effort? Why should not everyone contribute equally?

Mr. King : We should make a proper contribution to the defence of the West. I am proud not only of the cost but of the quality of the contribution that we make to NATO. I am concerned about the financial commitment of some of our allies. It is no secret that we should like some to make a greater contribution. [Interruption.] Instead of bellowing, the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) should try to understand my argument. It is profoundly the wrong moment for us to think about cutting arms.

Column 156

In the current developments, we have important responsibilities to NATO.

Next Section

  Home Page