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Column 396As others have said, there should be a form of Marshall plan to help Hungary and other middle European countries economically. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) said, without that support the Hungarians may have a difficult economic time as they try to straighten their economy. The West faces a great liability, and I would bring in America to stand alongside us, with most of the English-speaking world, so that Hungary can return once more to European values.
I note that I am trapped, as it were, between my hon. Friends the Members for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) and for Carshalton (Mr. Forman). I do not think that that is the result of a plot. Both are men of great integrity and I listen to their views. I am concerned about the values of European civilisation, and I do not doubt that my hon. Friends share that concern. I have respect for the individual and the Judaeo-Christian tradition. I hope that we can build upon it. I am concerned especially that there should be a free society which upholds the values of the individual and the mixed economy. I was not a Member of this place when it was decided that the United Kingdom should be a member of the EEC, but I voted subsequently as an agnostic pro in favour of membership. I still see the EEC as a market. I disagree with those of my hon. Friends who say otherwise, and I understand that I shall probably have to go into perdition for a time for making that admission. I do not like the social market and I do not want any form of political link. I want a free economic market. I realise that I am in trouble for holding that view, but I have not worked out where it will take me.
I am not a federalist. After all, man is a tribal animal. We cannot have intellectual levitators deciding what we are to do. I would not for a moment consider my hon. Friends who sit either side of me to be intellectual levitators. They could make a fortune at a circus if they were. Indeed, they could do so in the House now that we have television cameras in the Chamber. Imagine the spectacle of political levitation shown live on the television screen! We must never forget that we are tribal animals. Russia is beginning to discover that fact as nationalism spreads, especially in such places as Estonia. It is certainly true of Europe and of bodies such as the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru. People like to belong to small groups. I must mention the problems of football hooliganism and the introduction of identity cards. Many football hooligans are just frustrated people with nothing to believe in. They wrap themselves in the Union Jack and disgrace it. They have lost their sense of identity. We must accept that though we are Europeans, with European civilisation, we still belong to smaller tribes. The marriage of those two will be as important politically as any other factor in our future. If we forget that fact, there is a danger that the system will break down.
I want to make three sharp comments, or perhaps I should refer to them as acute points. They relate to three matters that I wish had been included in the Queen's Speech. Every year, when the Gracious Speech states :
"Other measures will be laid before you"
I have great faith that somewhere among those will be the measures that I want. They have not materalised yet, but they must be somewhere, waiting to come out. I shall watch week by week, in the hope that they will arrive.
Column 397First, we need a more controlled planning law which is on the side of the residents and not the developers. That is a non-party point, so I appeal for a little assistance from the Opposition. [H on. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] The developer can appeal if he does not get his way, but the residents whose lives are about to be destroyed have no right of appeal. That is against natural justice-- [Interruption.] In my constituency good houses are being knocked down and replaced by tiny flats--the dolls' house society. There are no gardens--it is also a window box society. Is that progress in this green age? [H on. Members :-- "No."] I am glad to have such support. The feelings of the House are with me. We need legislation that will free the individual to protect his environment.
Secondly, I must mention the community charge, which I know is dear to many hearts, but not so dear to many others. The Government have not gone far enough on the question of low-rated houses and I regret that there was no mention of that in the Gracious Speech. The safety net should be lifted next April, not the following year. If it is not, it will be like having a cyanide pill. That is painful, as anybody who has tried it will know, because he would not be here today--[ Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] I am glad that hon. Members are still with me.
With my third point, I may win if not universal approval--I would never desire that--at least some support. Something must be done about the London Underground. [ Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] Again, the House is with me. The way the Underground is run is neither Socialism nor privatisation. It seems to be run by people in outer space. Certainly, we can never find them. I do not really mind whether the Underground is privatised--although I should probably prefer that--or socialised, but somebody will have to run it. At present, there is nobody in charge. People in my constituency
Sir Rhodes Boyson : If the hon. Gentleman sees people writing on the tube, he will know that they come from my constituency. They write to me every week. The average delay on the Metropolitan line into London is six minutes on every journey. As the delay varies from one minute to 30 minutes, my constituents have to leave home 20 or 30 minutes early in case the train is late. It has reached the stage where, because people can no longer tell when they are likely to arrive, my constituents have turned to taking sandwiches on their journeys. This week, the guards have been taken off the Bakerloo line, as though it were the safest in London. Staff shortages have already led to tramps sleeping in the Underground and people selling lavender there. It is like going back to the 19th century.
Our capital city deserves a first-class Underground service. The £1 billion being spent on the Jubilee line is petty cash by comparison with the total investment that is required if trains are to run punctually and if the travelling public are to arrive for work on time. That investment must come either from the Underground system being privatised or from it being socialised. It cannot go on as it
Column 398is. [ Hon. Members :-- "Socialise it!"] Like many other right hon. and hon. Members, I maintain close contacts with Hungary, which was only the second country after our own to construct an Underground system. Although I have not yet travelled on it, I shall do so next time I visit Hungary. If it is better than ours, perhaps the Hungarians can provide us with assistance in the running of our own system, in exchange for some of the overseas aid that we give them. 1.36 pm
Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) : I have a suspicion that the Secretary of State for Defence will feel inhibited in responding to the last three points made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson). I shall do so on his behalf. I wholly agree that restrictions are needed on developments in the south, but if they are to be effective there need to be regional policies for the north and for Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman was right also to condemn the poll tax. Speaking as a Scottish Member of Parliament, I can tell right hon. and hon. Members representing English and Welsh constituencies that they do not know yet what will hit them next April. I agree also with the right hon. Gentleman's plea for greater public expenditure on the London Underground. If the Minister replying were not the Secretary of State for Defence, I am sure that he would have agreed with all three propositions also.
I wish the new Foreign Secretary well in his third incarnation, in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Without wishing to repeat points effectively made in earlier speeches, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be successful in re-establishing the robust role of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and of the Cabinet in directing the nation's foreign policy.
For the first time in many years, the debate on the Loyal Address has been held against a background of new hope and fluidity in world affairs. My only complaint about the Gracious Speech is that it does not come near to capturing that spirit. Apart from the phrase "remarkable changes", one would have thought that the world was going on as before. The Gracious Speech gives the solemn assurance that the Government will maintain "adequate and effective" defence. So I should hope.
Many right hon. and hon. Members have reminisced about the Berlin wall. I remember being taken, as a young Member of Parliament, to the top of the post office tower in East Berlin and seeing from that height the ghastly concrete snake that divided the city. I shared in the general sense of excitement and relief when the wall was torn down. However, we must admit that the speed of change has taken us all somewhat aback. Only six months ago, like the right hon. Member for Brent, North, I was in Hungary having talks with the emerging democratic opposition parties with colleagues from Liberal International. At the time, we were talking of greater freedoms in the context only of Hungary and Poland, yet already we have seen East Germany, Bulgaria and now, we hope, Czechoslovakia, choosing the path of reform.
Only two months ago, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife, North- East (Mr. Campbell) and I made a short visit to Bulgaria to meet members of the Agrarian party. When we returned, we were not believed when we reported that in our conversations with President Zhivkov, he had said that he would probably retire in one year. No
Column 399one in the press seemed interested, because it seemed improbable that, after 35 years, he would be relinquishing power. He has gone faster than I expected, and probably faster than he imagined as well. Authoritarian leaders can no longer dictate their own political longevity--not even through interviews in The Times.
How should we respond to this mood of change? I believe that President Bush and the new Administration in the United States have reacted correctly--in a calm but positive way, talking sensibly about United States force reductions in Europe. It is the convinced view of Liberal Democrats in the House that NATO and the Warsaw pact should themselves be used as the instruments for balanced and carefully controlled disarmament.
I took a rather optimistic view of what the Foreign Secretary said earlier about the modernisation of short-range nuclear weapons. Reading between the lines, I understood him to say that, while that issue was certainly dead, it was not yet formally buried. I hope that that is indeed the position.
In the long run, we should be looking towards a Europe free of the presence of the super-powers, in which we can contemplate the eventual orderly replacement of those two great organisations with a united, pan-European common security agreement. That time, however, is some way off. Those who fear the might of a future united Germany should, in my view, be the first to press for it to be firmly embraced within a genuine European economic and political community. We are right to be on our guard against a revival of old European nationalisms, but we cannot be on our guard if the prevailing wind from Downing street carries siren voices of ultra-British nationalism across the Channel to our partners in Europe, who are trying to extend civil democracy to a European level.
As we shall be discussing eastern Europe next week, I do not wish to continue with this theme for too long today. Let me, however, ask the Government to be optimistic rather than pessimistic. I have been rather concerned by the misuse of the word "destabilise" in public debate over the past few weeks. For half a century, hundreds of thousands of Soviet and American troops have been in Europe, bristling with conventional and nuclear weaponry, and a concrete wall has divided one of our great European cities. That is indeed a perverted definition of stability. We must hope that the current flux leads to a more ordered and less tense Europe, leaving the super-powers with resources to devote to far better purposes in the world.
While we should certainly welcome the spread of freedom and liberal democracy throughout the world, let us ensure in our own foreign policy that our definition of freedom is not selective. Some elements of our recent foreign policy can scarcely be said to have enhanced our espousal of those virtues. There is, for instance, our extraordinary stance on Cambodia, about which the House has already expressed its deep unease. There is the cruel treatment of the Vietnamese boat people in Hong Kong, graphically described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) on the first day of this debate. After the murder by death squads of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador this week, I hope that the Conservative party will perhaps be rather more fastidious about whom it welcomes to its gatherings.
I hope that the global effect of the easing of East-West relations will lead to a more determined effort to solve the
Column 400long-standing regional conflicts in the world. In the middle east, the second assassination of a Lebanese president in recent years has again set back the tentative approach on the road to peace, and the now more conciliatory attitude of the PLO leadership has not yet met with an adequate response from Israel. I hope that our Government, together with the super-powers, will use all their efforts to secure the long-awaited peace conference on the middle east.
Let me conclude by concentrating on a specific regional problem on which I believe that the process of East-West improvement has already had a major impact. I refer to southern Africa, from which I returned last week. The Cubans are already moving out of Angola, faster than was arranged under the United Nations agreement, and under the new regime I think that the East Germans are bound to follow suit. The South African Government can no longer be obsessed by the fear of Reds under the beds and creeping Communism across Africa ; indeed, by harping on over the years, they have done more than anyone else to promote Marxism among their people. In my experience, people in the townships know little about Communism except that it is declared to be on their side.
When I was in South Africa, I had the extraordinary experience of hearing on the BBC overseas service, on which I was dependent for a fortnight for news--I hope that the Foreign Secretary will resist further Treasury pressure against that excellent service--the early speeches of Mr. Egon Krenz made about three weeks ago, in which he spoke about the reforms that he intended to introduce in East Germany. One such reform was a civilian option instead of military service. It was strange to listen to that speech in South Africa, where young Jews and Christians are locked up for six years for refusing to do military service. Suddenly, the detested East German regime seemed more liberal than the South African one.
The mood of change in South Africa since the elections is substantial and genuine. Since my previous visit three years ago, I found in discussions with officials, representatives, and those voicing black opinion a fundamentally different mood. One MP of the ruling party said :
"We know what we have to do. It is only a question of how long it takes us to do it."
That is a remarkable change from the attitudes of previous South African regimes.
I hope that the settlement in Namibia will have a good effect on South Africa. The composition of the new constituent Assembly ensures that there will be a multi-party approach to writing the constitution. Together with others, I visited Namibia during the elections. We should pay a heartfelt tribute to UNCTAD and to the many British local government election officers who participated in making the elections a success. We should also pay tribute to groups such as the Royal Corps of Signals, which provided a basic network of communication throughout the election process.
Above all, our tributes and admiration must go to the 96 per cent. of Namibian people who turned out to exercise the right to vote in the most trying conditions. I met people who had walked for miles through the night to reach the polling stations, only to stand in the blistering heat all day and be turned away because there were not enough polling stations and told to come back the next day. It is extraordinary that they have such determination to use the democratic process after 20 years of bloody strife.
Column 401The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and I attended a meeting where a pastor of the Congregational Church detailed the cruelties and iniquities inflicted on him and his black friends when they were children. He said that, at the age of 56 he would go into a polling booth for the first time and use his cross as a cross of hope, reconciliation and faith. That demonstrated a completely new spirit in the country, which I hope will spread from Namibia to South Africa.
The Foreign Office must be vigilant in two matters that affect the future of Namibia. The first is the stranglehold of debt which the South African regime maintains over the new emerging country. The second is their retention of the Walvis bay port. I hope that the Government will respond vigorously on those matters.
I also hope that they will respond to the requests from the new Government in Namibia for specific help of a type that we are uniquely placed to give. We can help in training the police and military, in developing the English language--which has been chosen as the official language even though Afrikaans and German are just as predominant in Namibia--and in training in the Civil Service, where promotion for blacks has hitherto been blocked beyond a certain point. In those three areas, we should give direct and committed help.
The climate in South Africa has been improved by the release of detainees and by the remarkable and peaceful success of that great rally in Johannesburg organised by the ANC. I visited Walter Sisulu in his house in Soweto, and I found a man remarkably lacking in bitterness after 26 years of detention. The Government should lift the ban on Ministers meeting representatives of the ANC. Now that South African Ministers and business meet them, there can be no case for maintaining that objection.
There is a mood of expectancy that Nelson Mandela will be released, possibly at Christmas. I hope that that will happen. Equally, I hope that the Prime Minister will not mistake his release for the single most important event in South Africa. Those pressing for his release made it clear to me that more important than that, as Nelson Mandela would agree, would be the lifting of the emergency, the re-creation of a free press, the release of all detainees, the permission for exiles to return, the unbanning of political organisations and the creation of normal political activity. Only then should the Prime Minister contemplate a visit. Even when all that has been done, we shall merely return to normal apartheid. The Group Areas Act and the Population Registration Act will still exist ; until they are repealed, one cannot see progress to ordinary constitutional change. We must maintain selective international pressure. It has worked, and this is not the time to back off. In her speech on the first day of the Loyal Address, the Prime Minister proudly referred to the old order before her Government being replaced by one
"based on merit, ability and effort."-- [Official Report, 21 November 1989 ; Vol. 162, c. 24.]
I have never doubted those qualities in the Prime Minister, but the international order requires greater vision than that. I should like us to promote genuine freedom and greater economic and social justice, and to offer help and protection to the weak and dispossessed. When we consider the remaining regional conflicts--southern Africa, the middle east and central America--we must
Column 402hope that in the 1990s the shadow that has lain so long over the United Nations Organisation will be lifted and that in our future foreign policy it will be possible for that organisation to play a much more effective role in global affairs.
Mr. Martin J. O'Neill (Clackmannon) : Despite the sparse attendance on the Benches, we have had a good, wide-ranging debate. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the news of the retirement of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) has been exaggerated. He will be here to give us advice and chastise us at every opportunity until the general election. Although many of us hope that that general election will be called as soon as possible, we shall be happy to hear my right hon. Friend for some time to come. It is correct to spend some time on national and western security when the Gracious Speech has that as its highest priority, although in recent weeks we have had several debates on foreign affairs, not least because of the rapid pace of change in eastern Europe. Only a few weeks ago in the middle of the defence estimates debate we heard the announcement of the retirement, or sacking, of Herr Honecker, the East German head of state. Since then we have seen many exciting changes and it is right for us to be preoccupied with their many consequences.
It would be remiss not to pay tribute to the recent victims of terrorist attacks--the murder of Corporal Islania and his six-month-old daughter on 26 October, the thankfully unsuccessful car bombing of Lieutenant-General Sir David Ramsbotham on 14 November, the dreadful murder of the three members of the Parachute regiment at Mayobridge in Northern Ireland on 18 November and, more recently, the attempted murder of Staff Sergeant Mudd and his wife at Colchester. Those incidents shocked everybody by their frequency and the ease with which security can be penetrated to take unaware people whose life work has been devoted to ensuring vigilance. The Secretary of State will not wish to comment on the example raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), but I hope that with his usual vigour he will pursue the matter. The events at Deal have made the public far more aware of security lapses and have alerted everybody to the seriousness of the problem.
To return to the happier and exciting events in central Europe, pluralism and democracy have emerged in amazing ways within a relatively short period. The promotion of pluralism and democracy is one of the best ways to guarantee western, eastern and central European security. One could almost add Bulgaria to that list. Moreover, the popular feeling that is emerging in Czechoslovakia will, I hope, shortly enable us to include that country on the list. As soon as it is appropriate, I hope that the Foreign Secretary will provide assistance to the brave Czechs and Slovaks in their struggle for social and political reconstruction.
One of the most obvious ways to promote social and political reconstruction is to secure an orderly reduction in the forces of the Alliance and the Warsaw pact. That would reduce the burden of arms expenditure and it would also help to erode the already diminishing distrust and fear on both sides.
The Federal Republic of Germany and the United States are contributing most of the financial assistance.
Column 403With characteristic generosity, the West Germans have responded by providing £1.1 billion in Government loans for investment by German firms in Poland. That was reported in The Independent on 14 November. West Germany's altruism is not totally devoid of self-interest. When I was in Warsaw last week I was told that of 600 contracts that had been signed between the Polish authorities and foreign countries, about 250 were with German companies. It is little wonder that the concern expressed in Poland about the events in the German Democratic Republic was not about German revanchism but about West Germany's industrial investment being deflected to the GDR. I suspect that the Poles are over-anxious. The Federal Republic of Germany has long been actively involved in the GDR's economy. The breaking down of the wall will facilitate but will not necessarily encourage a new wave of investment in that area.
The only serious concern about German revanchism was expressed by the hard- liners in the now-dying Polish Communist party. Everybody else was relaxed and self-confident. They felt that the changes in the GDR need not necessarily affect their western boundaries. That view was expressed by members of all political parties and by members of the political establishment.
I am optimistic about the news that the United States has responded generously to Poland's request for aid, but it is depressing to find that the sums which the British Government intend to provide to Poland amount to only £25 million to be invested in a know-how fund. They have also promised that they will contribute European Community initiatives.
When I was in Poland I met an official of the House, who was giving advice to his Polish counterparts on how we conduct our affairs. I hope that he will report to the authorities and the appropriate Committee on the Polish experience in televising their proceedings. It seems to be far more extensive and exciting than our own. It is essential that we give encouragement and sustenance to the fragile democratic party institutions in eastern Europe, but it is far more important to play our part in helping their economies out of the chaos and neglect that are the result of 40 years of Stalinism. If our economy is not sufficiently strong to make a contribution comparable with that of the Federal Republic, we should at least back West Germany in its approach to the security problems of central Europe. No one, apart from the Prime Minister, appears to believe that there is the slightest possibility of a follow-on to Lance. Anyone who supports the continued existence of short-range nuclear forces beyond the CFE process must be mad.
In Germany the old slogan used by people opposed to those forces was "The shorter the range the deader the German". The new slogan must be, "The shorter the range, the deader the shopper". It is clear that the Soviets will want to stick to the agreed timetable for the removal of those weapons. Our objective should be to march in step with them. That must not mean that the CFE talks in Vienna are seen as a barrier to further initiatives. When the comprehensive concept was agreed and the NATO summit took place, hardly any of the advances and improvements which we have been celebrating were in any way certain or properly evident. Therefore, it is essential that we are as flexible as possible in our approach to the talks on conventional forces in Europe.
Column 404I can understand Secretary of Defence Cheney seizing the opportunities offered by recent improvements to increase the search for cuts in his budget. As he seeks to secure those cuts, so should we. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) questioned the validity of the Labour party carrying on with a successor to Polaris. Before the general election he disagreed with Labour party policy on nuclear disarmament. Now that we have responded to the new challenges offered by negotiated disarmament he again disagrees. He was wrong before the election and he is wrong now.
Mr. Douglas : Let me put it this way. That is a terrible distortion of the position that I took in 1987. I agreed with our policy in 1987 and I continue to take that stance now. That is where I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill). He should not use his position at the Dispatch Box to perpetrate a falsehood about a colleague without first giving him notice.
Mr. O'Neill : For reasons which I shall not go into, I could not make a comment of that nature in the previous defence debate. As my hon. Friend repeated it this morning, I thought it appropriate for me to handle it in the correct way. I have now done so.
I and many other Opposition Members believe that cuts in defence expenditure are attractive. They are something that we would wish to secure in the most orderly manner possible. That was agreed on both sides of the House.
Although cuts are attractive, they do not enhance stability. Even parity at lower levels does not necessarily enhance stability. By stability, I do not mean rigidity, but the absence, or means of securing the absence, of tension. We should look to the constructive message contained in President Bush's speech last Wednesday. He said that the idea of containment was becoming sterile and increasingly irrelevant and has been replaced by the need to establish a new European security order based on the principles that were first considered by the Palme commission--the concept of common security. We can start the process of building on the exchanges taking place between NATO and Warsaw pact officers under the confidence-building measures. I welcome the visit of General Sir Richard Vincent, the vice chief of defence staff to the Soviet Union and wish him every success in his discussions.
The talks in Vienna on military doctrine are due to start early in the new year. It has been suggested that they have only academic significance, but we would be missing a tremendous opportunity if we did not talk far more seriously. Given the encouragement of President Bush's remarks this week, we should enter the talks looking for means to establish a new security order in Europe. If we reduce or thin out our forces, we call into question the concept of forward defence and force to space ratios.
The desire of the United States and the Federal Republic to proceed with a second phase of CFE will not
Column 405be satisfied by the intellectual and somewhat abstract challenges of qualitative changes in weapons systems. There has to be far more on the agenda.
One of the most depressing aspects of the Foreign Secretary's speech, with which I agreed in considerable part, was the absence of any groping towards a new security order in Europe. It may be in the speech of the Secretary of State for Defence, but I have heard the right hon. Gentleman speak on the matter before and he passes over it with exceeding speed. In an interview on Radio 4 last Friday lunchtime, he certainly presented no prospect of fresh thinking. Of course, it is not mentioned in the Queen's Speech, but it certainly should be included in the Secretary of State's speech today. Obviously, we want him to tell us what he is considering as a follow-on to Lance.
We know that there are prospects for talks on the removal or reduction of short-range nuclear forces in Europe as part of the CFE process. We must now consider whether the Government are still prepared to breathe oxygen into the corpse of the follow-on to Lance. If they are, it would appear that they are alone in Europe. No one in Germany or America and none of the other allies seems to be interested in that project.
The talks on defence cuts which followed the interviews given by Defence Secretary Cheney at the weekend may be somewhat confusing to hon. Members. They certainly are to me because the figures that he has suggested and the parts of the defence budget that he may cut do not necessarily have a direct impact on Europe. A number of the cuts which Mr. Gorbachev has announced in the past 12 months will take considerable time to achieve. The demobilisation of 125,000 Soviet officers will require their relocation to civvy street and finding them accommodation of a standard to which they have been accustomed during their military service. Those potentially dislocating problems will be repeated across the Warsaw pact countries, and are a very different set of military problems from those that would be encountered by a volunteer Army such as ours as a result of arms cuts.
We have to recognise that in the early stages, when we are still debating CFE, there will have to be a major change of doctrine and a major review of British commitments to the defence budget. The International Institute for Strategic Studies report on the military balance has now been accepted by everyone. There is no prospect of a surprise attack from the east. There is little prospect of such an attack succeeding through any of the countries that have been mentioned this morning. Therefore, we have to look to new, less provocative forms of deployment and equipment. To do that we need to consider questions such as force specialisation and restructuring. We also have to consider our own defence budget.
It is not the easiest task quickly to make rational cuts to the defence budget. We have had a series of defence cuts through a process of review by stealth ; a layer of skin has been taken off the body each year. That cannot carry on if the health of our contribution to the Alliance is to be sustained. We must consider a process of dismemberment and restructuring, which will involve the co-operation of and consultation with several of our allies. The Government have singularly failed to address that task. That isolation from the debate within the Alliance and from the general debate on how we can most
Column 406effectively take advantage of the changing circumstances in Europe, how we can work within the Alliance to create a new security order, the Prime Minister's unwillingness to consider it and the manner in which she skated over it, are perhaps the most depressing aspects of Government defence policy.
Everyone in this country is looking for fulfilment from the Secretary of State. We hope for a clear sign of the direction that defence expenditure will take at a time when we are grossly overcommitted in areas where we need no longer be, when we are isolated within the Alliance on short-range nuclear forces and when we have a Government who do not believe that changes in defence and security east of the Berlin wall will be permanent or will make a contribution to European security.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom King) : It is a great privilege to have the opportunity to wind up the debate, which was so wisely opened by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The House thought that he made a most impressive first speech as Foreign Secretary. I suggested to him that next year we might have a defence and foreign affairs debate and reverse our roles, but I must accept that, whereas perhaps a little while ago arms reduction issues were driving political considerations forward, there is no question currently but that political developments are driving on developments in arms negotiations. I shall try to reply to the considerable number of points that have been made, but I shall not be able to reply to all the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson). Some are for me and some are for the Whips or anyone who would care to join in, but I know that his comments on a wide range of subjects will have been noted.
The Gracious Speech emphasised the importance that the Government attach to the maintenance of defence and our membership of NATO. Pretty standard words appear in different forms in most Gracious Speeches, but this year they have true meaning. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) quoted the Chinese proverb that it is a curse to live in interesting times, and no one doubts that we are currently doing so.
Throughout, there has been a serious tone to the debate ; not a tone of certainty from the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) --who both remembered some of the history from which the present position is emerging, and said what some of the implications of that may be--but a sombre tone, because they recognised that, while there is excitement about and manifest hope, which we all feel, for the developments, there is a worry that things may not go as we should wish.
I was impressed by a remark made by my right hon. Friend about not only the courage but the wisdom of people in eastern Europe in so much of the way in which they are responding to change. He sensed the mood of the House in that. We had a defence debate not long ago and I have been thinking today how many things have happened since that time, when I believe Mr. Honecker was still in charge. The Berlin wall has been breached and
Column 407there has been a massive movement of East Germans and we now understand that Mr. Honecker is to face investigation, if not trial, by the new authorities.
At the time of that defence debate, only Hungary and Poland were on the move. Since then they have been joined by East Germany, even Bulgaria and now Czechoslovakia. Hon. Members may have seen the photographs taken last night in Wenceslas square. I could not see an inch of free ground in that amazing picture. Only last Sunday, half a million people gathered in Riga in Latvia to celebrate their national day--a further sign that that empire is under threat, as the right hon. Member for Leeds, East suggested.
We come to this foreign affairs debate mindful not only of events in eastern Europe but of the fact that the situation in many other parts of the world is not normal. The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) referred to southern Africa. Areas that have seemed immobile for so long are now dramatically on the move.
Of keen interest to the House is the situation in Hong Kong. My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), who explained to me that he could not be here for the winding-up speeches, rightly said that we shall shortly have our last chance, given the impending final session of the Basic Law drafting committee, to decide the position that the Government should take vis-a-vis the Chinese view of democratisation in Hong Kong. We are conscious of our responsibility to do all that we can to ensure that the provisions of the Basic Law accord fully with the terms of the joint declaration. We are aware that, in that context, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs has recommended the introduction of full direct elections before 1997. The Committee also recommended that it is for the people of Hong Kong to decide their system of government. We must therefore await the outcome of the current debate in Hong Kong, but it is clear that our main objective must be to ensure that the system of democratic government in Hong Kong is well established and can last through and beyond 1997.
I understand that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) is also unable to be here. At least the right hon. Member for Leeds, East spoke his own words and did not shower us with a cascade of press cuttings such as that inflicted on us by the right hon. Member for Gorton. My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford summed him up well : the right hon. Member for Gorton made it absolutely clear that if one is in a minority, one must just give in and immediately accept the majority view. As the Government of the country, we must do what is right ; it does not matter whether we are in a minority or not. As Secretary of State for Employment, I have been a minority of one in the Council of Ministers on some of the issues that are now coming back round the circuit as we debate the social charter. I argued my case and in the end we had a majority because those who had not studied the issues but who were not in favour of Socialist proposals coming up through the Commission realised the danger. I make no apologies if on occasion we fight our corner for what we believe is right for Britain.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, East referred to his obituary. I have no doubt that we shall have quite a few valedictory addresses before he goes and that this is not the last that we shall hear of him. I shall deal a little later with his remarks about European developments.
Column 408My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) referred to the importance of the Western European Union. The whole House knows of the leading role that my hon. Friend plays in the WEU and of the importance that the Government attach to that institution. The WEU has an essential part to play in European defence co-operation. We are cautious about developing any defence role for the European community, at least at this stage. We have more pressing priorities and we have, at the moment, a sure and reliable defence in NATO. That is where we stand on the specific point put to me.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate also referred most interestingly to the opportunities that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary held out for the enlargement of the Council of Europe and for ways in which it could spread. I believe that he referred to an association and to a cultural agreement being signed. I think that we are all conscious of what has been happening in the Barbican recently. Picking up a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North, who referred to Hungary as a "European country", which it certainly is, we have been privileged to hear and to see Hungarian music and culture recently in London. That is a welcome addition and a reawakening of an element of European culture.
My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) drew attention to the important role of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. He was right to say how valuable it was that, during Mr. Gorbachev's visit in 1984, it was the IPU that provided an opportunity that might not have been so easily achieved through various other channels at the time. I am sure that all hon. Members believe in the importance of developing links between elected Members in all the countries of eastern Europe as they strive to embrace democracy and in the need for close contact with them.
The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) made certain allegations about what, on the face of what he said, appeared extremely serious lapses in security at the Wellington barracks. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would let me have the full details, because the Army authorities will obviously wish to investigate fully. He also raised the issue of the use of dependants as security guards at military bases. I am not aware of any such use and there are no such plans at present. However, the way in which the hon. Gentleman presented his case might give some offence to many families and dependants in West Germany who are with the Army and the services. Anybody who goes to Germany is struck at present-- [Interruption.] Well, I must say this bluntly, and the hon. Gentleman will know what I mean.
People are struck by the fact that the services in West Germany face an evil threat. There have recently been murders that have shocked the House. As so often happens in such cases, one is struck by the way in which the services come together, not in fear but in shared determination. I have been hugely impressed by wives and grown-up children saying, "We want to do anything that we can to play our part." If there is a role here for, say, a neighbourhood watch, or for some other means by which people who want to play a part can do so to ensure that evil men do not succeed, and if people can provide greater security for their communities, I welcome that. However,
Column 409I understand what the hon. Gentleman said, and I have given him a clear answer to the specific point that he raised.
I thank the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) for what he said about security issues. Although we are talking about big global matters and the developments in eastern Europe, at the same time we and the services face evil and vicious security attacks. The past week has seen the tragedies to which he referred. The whole House stands together in the determination-- [Interruption.] No, we do not seek to exploit it. It is a serious situation and a lot of people face real problems and threats.
Mr. King : No, I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman, because he has not been present throughout the debate and I am talking on a matter about which I believe hon. Members overwhelmingly stand together with the security forces on the need to resist terrorists in that way.
The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) made a moving and eloquent plea for a just settlement in the middle east. She knows that our clear position is that we want an international conference as soon as possible. We strongly support the present efforts of the Egyptian Government in trying to bring Israeli and Palestinian representatives to see whether preliminary talks can start, so that there can be developments in that area. The tragic developments elsewhere in the middle east, in Lebanon, are a constant reminder of the urgent need to find a happier outcome and solution to the problems there.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) got into a discussion with the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) about their different versions of sovereignty. One argued that national autonomy is unattainable and the other that the treaty of Rome is a denial of sovereignty. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made the Government's position on Europe clear. We see the Community as a framework for ever closer co-operation between the separate nation states. If, in the Community, we combine our separate strengths without any loss of national identity, that is the best way, and it is on that basis that the Community has evolved successfully so far. The Community could not succeed should it deny national customs and traditions. My right hon. Friend spoke clearly about our approach to Europe, and his remarks received warm support. The right hon. Member for Tweddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale spoke in particular about Namibia. We have supported the United Nations peace plan throughout. We welcome the concilatory approach of the SWAPO leaders after their success in the election and we hope that SWAPO, with the other parties, will be able to reach
Column 410agreement on a new constitution. We fully support the efforts of the United Nations to ensure a peaceful transition to independence. Although there will be a later debate on the subject, today's debate has been dominated by developments in eastern Europe and their implications for NATO and the European Community. We recognise that this is a time of great hope, but it is also a time of danger. One factor has struck me and it illustrates this point. Daily, we are re-learning the names of territories in eastern Europe that some of us did not remember. I had to get out the map to find out where Moldavia and Transylvania were. We already know where Armenia is. Not many years ago, these territories were cockpits of conflict and dissent. Now, they are once again in the news.
I have to choose a careful path between two right hon. Members. My right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion rightly said--I do not wish to enlarge upon it, but I understand why he did so--that the Warsaw pact is bankrupt. A different situation is emerging as a result of the developments in certain eastern European countries. The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale warned that, when one sees what could happen between Hungary and Romania, Turkey and Bulgaria and Turkey and Greece, one realises that the existence of the Warsaw pact and NATO has acted as an over-control against what might otherwise be local disputes. Considering some of the names that I have just taken off the atlas, one sees the dangers of this dissolving into other local and rather vicious conflicts. Recently, my right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion and I were in Brussels, I was struck by the absence of the Italian Foreign Minister, who was attending in Budapest a conference with the Hungarian, Austrian and Yugoslav Foreign Ministers. That evoked the different relationships that might develop, and if developed constructively, could be to the benefit of stability.
As the Autumn Statement made clear, we stand secure in our present defences, willing to play our full part and anxious to see the success of the arms reduction talks in Vienna, the continuation of START and the successful development of the talks on chemical weapons between the United States and the Soviet Union. We affirm, more forcibly than ever before, our support for NATO and the vital need for NATO countries to stand together. It is inconceivable that successful arms negotiations and reductions can be achieved by 23 separate states. We need NATO and the Warsaw pact if negotiations on that difficult exercise are to be successfully completed. Standing firm in our defences does not mean that we seek to undermine the East, or to obstruct the encouraging developments that are taking place. That is manifestly not the case. The reality is that, while we stand firm and sure in our own defences, those developments will continue at a pace which almost defies description.
It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned. Debate to be resumed on Monday 27 November.