|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 13361945. In each of those years, the physical shape of Europe was changed, just as it will be changed by the events of this year. History does not divide itself neatly into centuries. Historically, the 19th century did not end in 1900 but died in the trenches of the first world war. The 21st century has not waited until the year 2000. We certainly live in most historic times.
In eastern Europe, we are seeing the collapse and end of 40 years of oppression, as the remnants of the Communist leadership try to cling to office. Like all revolutions, this one began with intellectuals-- Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov and the woman poet Irina Ratushinskaya. They were brave people because they spoke against arbitrary arrest, labour camps and psychiatric hospitals, and they got their message out to the world and to the Soviet Union itself. There were also political heroes, such as Imre Nagy, Dubcek and Lech Walesa. I remember hearing, when I was a student at Oxford in 1956, that most tragic and moving radio broadcast by Imre Nagy, saying that the tanks were moving to Budapest and begging for help from anyone in the world.
Help did not come, so, in effect, Hungary lost 30 years, just as Czechoslovakia lost 20 years when the tanks moved into Prague. [Interruption.] The West was not prepared to move because at that time the Soviet military might seemed supreme. There were times in recent history when Socialism seemed to be triumphant and when the values that the West respected and lived by seemed in the descendent.
Mr. Tony Banks rose --
Mr. Baker : I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment, but I want to finish this piece about the developments in recent years. Mr. Gorbachev's unique contribution is that, instead of crushing dissent with the Red army, he has allowed the forces in Eastern Europe to break through and do their own thing. He has rejected the Brezhnev doctrine, which was to use military might to bring the satellites to heel. The Kremlin's chief spokesman, Mr. Gennady Gerasimov, said recently that eastern countries were free to conduct their own affairs, which he called the "Sinatra doctrine"-- "You can do it your way." Incidentally, that is about the best joke to come out of the Soviet Union since Mr. Khrushchev published his grain forecasts.
Any Communist leader who wants to reform today faces an inexplicable and inescapable dilemma : how does one implement crucial economic reforms in the eastern bloc without opening a Pandora's box and without unleashing political reforms that will take away the Communist party? That is the Gorbachev dilemma. As developments unfold in Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Bulgaria, it is clear that nowhere in eastern Europe has anybody found th solution to that dilemma : how to bring about economic reform without escalating a further phase of political reform.
People have lost patience. Moscow stands by as the old guard crumbles. The West must watch closely and listen carefully, for in eastern Europe today the cloth of history is being cut.
Mr. Tony Banks : I should like to take the right hon. Gentleman back to what happened in 1956. Perhaps he would like to inform the House where the well-scrubbed young Baker stood then. We know what he thought about
Column 1337the invasion of Hungary, but what did he think in 1956 about British aggression in the Suez canal area in conjuction with the Israelis?
Mr. Baker : We had vigorous debates in the Oxford university Conservative association. I was an official of that association, and we supported the Government of the day and their actions. That is all on record. The hon. Gentleman cannot divert the attention of the House from the point that I was making. There has been consistent repression in Europe for 40 years. The hon Gentleman would be one of the first to object to that and would be on the side of the freedom fighters.
The national motto of Czechoslovakia is "Pravda Zvitezi"--"Truth will prevail". Would that it would always prevail. It certainly did not prevail in 1968, when the Soviet tanks crushed the Prague spring uprising. Among those who were arrested and imprisoned was the playwright Vaclav Havel. Six months ago, it would have been preposterously fanciful to think that he could be considered as President of his country. Only about two months ago, the then Prime Minister, Ladislav Adamec, dismissed Havel as absolute zero. Now Havel is waiting for his country's call. Havel is a man of ideas who, to use his own phrase, understands that words are capable of shaping the entire structure of government.
Of course, the words of the dissidents found a ready audience in societies that were rotten to the core with inefficiency and corruption after 40 years of central planning. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield waxed eloquent about planning, saying how it was an essential part of a Socialist society. They have had 40 years of it in the eastern bloc ; now they do not want any more.
Mr. Neil Hamilton : My right hon. Friend's point about planning is important. Does he recall that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) was part of the Government in 1964 who introduced a national plan? On the day that the national plan was published, Her Majesty's Stationery Office ran out of copies because it had not printed enough. The Labour Government could not even forecast how many copies of the plan they would need. It was not exactly a good augury. It underlines the fundamental failure of the planning process of that time.
Mr. Baker : My hon. Friend has a good memory. He is correct. Within about two years, the Labour Government abandoned the national plan. They created the Department of Economic Affairs to implement the plan. I think that it was invented during a taxi ride between this place and St. Ermin's hotel. It was not an effective plan. No one can pretend that Socialism has been anything other than an unmitigated disaster for the countries of eastern Europe. In 1956, Khrushchev said, "We will bury you." He forecast that Soviet production by 1980 would be greater than American production. In fact, America's GDP in 1980 was three times that of the Soviet Union. The Soviets failed in that part of the economy which is most dear to Socialists : the producing industries. Marx writes about production again and again, and Socialist thought has focused on production again and again. Why did Socialist policies fail? They failed because the Sociaists believed too much in the producer and put producer interests above consumer interests. That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim). They failed because they did not realise the dynamism of innovation which comes from the market
Column 1338place. Socialists wanted to eliminate the inefficiencies of private ownership, but they created new pinnacles of inefficiency. My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton could well have told the story about the tractor factories in Russia. There are 3 million tractors in Russia of which the Russians are proud as a symbol of agricultural progress. However, of the 3 million tractors in Russia, at any one time 250,000 are being repaired, not because they have broken down but because, when planning the output of the tractor factory repair shops, a planner said that the shops should repair so many tractors each month. If the shops fall down on that target, the tractors have to be taken back off the land. As a result, at any one time in western Siberia, half of the tractors being repaired have not broken down. That is the consequence of Socialist planning.
Not only has Socialism failed economically, but it has dramatically failed environmentally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley said. When the planners decided to increase cotton output in-- Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South) rose
Mr. Baker : No, I certainly shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman has just strolled in and, like the Ancient Mariner, he "stoppeth one of three". I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman ; he can stroll out again and go and have a cup of coffee.
When the planners decided to increase cotton production in the southern republics, they diverted for irrigation purposes, two main rivers which supplied the Aral sea. As a result, the level of the Aral sea in southern Russia has fallen by a third since 1960, and if nothing is done it will not exist by the year 2010.
Mr. Baker : The hon. Gentleman should pay attention. He is interested in environmental matters and should see just how badly Socialism has treated the environment in this case. In the areas from which the sea has now receded, poisonous salt dust blows over the surrounding districts, many of the flora and fauna have been killed, there is a high rate of typhoid, cholera, hepatitis and throat cancer and there is one of the highest infant mortality rates anywhere in Asia.
Large multinational western companies are frequently attacked by Socialists like the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) because of their environmental policies. I can think of no clearer indication of the law of unintended consequences and no clearer indictment of central planning than the laying waste of the Aral sea by the Socialist planners of the Soviet Union.
Mr. Corbyn : The right hon. Gentleman should be aware that, two weeks ago, I had an interesting meeting with an environmental campaigning group from the Soviet Union who openly admitted that the industrial policies followed in the past by the Soviet Union and many countries in central and eastern Europe had done a great deal of environmental damage. The difference is that those people felt that they had the power to change the policies to stop the destruction of their own environment. The policies of free-market economies which the right hon. Gentleman propounds have led to the pollution of the North sea and the Irish sea, the destruction of the rain
Column 1339forests in Brazil and Malaysia and long- term serious environmental damage by multinational companies all over the southern countries of this planet.
Mr. Baker : I am glad to say that some people in Russia now recognise the environmental damage. When I was there a year ago, I was shown computer models of the lakes and seas in Russia. It is a disgrace, and as far as I know, nothing has been done about it. The difference between Britain and the Soviet Union is that we are getting on with solving the problem of environmental pollution. The lesson to be drawn from the analogies that I have used is clear : the more Socialist medicine is forced down a country's throat, the weaker that country becomes. In eastern Europe, undiluted Socialism has been forced down many countries' throats. In Great Britain at the next election, the Labour party will peddle its own brand of Socialism, and that, too, would make our country weaker. At heart, the Labour party is still a Socialist party. For all the repackaging, and for all the duplicity of the policy review, the party is the same underneath. It does not matter what one calls it--market Socialism, designer Socialism, filofax Socialism or even cordless telephone Socialism- -it is still Socialism.
The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) has written a book entitled "The Future of Socialism". Where is he today? I thought that he would at least have the decency to come and answer this debate. He has thought about the future of Socialism and is trying to plan Socialism out of the Labour party. We are not to have a reply from one of the Labour party ideologues today ; instead we have heard the Back-Bench ideologues. I believe that the book written by the hon. Member for Dagenham, "The Future of Socialism" is about to be remaindered, along with Socialism itself.
When Labour Members talk about fair taxes, they mean crushing taxes. When they talk of a charter of employees' rights, they mean giving more power to the trade union bosses. When they talk of public interest companies--their latest phrase--they mean renationalised private industry. Let there be no mistake about it : the Labour party still believes that a Labour Government should have a leading role to play in the economy. That belief runs through the whole of the policy review. The analysis of the policy review is simple : market forces and individual choice have failed and all that Thatcherism has done in the past 10 years has failed, and the answer is to bring back all the planning mechanisms--regional investment banks, directed investment, controls on business. How old and quaint all that now sounds.
The Labour party's policies are in sharp contradistinction to everything that the leaders of the eastern European countries now want. When I met Lech Walesa a fortnight ago, he said, "We want British, German and French companies to tell us how to run our industries." He actually used the word "capitalists", because he realises that Socialism has failed. Those countries want the advantages of a market economy and all the advantages that capitalism can bring, such as property rights that are properly protected, shareholders, freedom to invest, dividends and freedom to make money and keep it. They have realised that state subsidy is not the way to prosperity. They also want an end to the system that has
Column 1340been described in the following terms : "We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us." That is what eastern European leaders want. It is ironic, is it not, that, at a time when eastern European leaders want shareholders, the Labour Front Bench team threatens dividends? They do not believe in shareholders. They want to abolish dividends and would like to reduce the role of the shareholder to no role at all.
Mr. Skinner : As chairman of the Labour party, I was elected, unlike the right hon. Gentleman, who got the job on the nod from the Prime Minister, and I am unpaid, unlike the right hon. Gentleman, who is on a big fat Cabinet salary. In that capacity, let me ask him this. Is he now going to tell us that those in eastern Europe want the poll tax, the cardboard boxes, the drugs and all the rest associated with the capitalist society that he is so happy to defend? Are they requesting them, too?
Mr. Baker : If the hon. Gentleman is making the absurd proposition that there are no down-and-outs in Russia, and that Russia does not have a drug problem, he has no understanding of what is happening in the world. I am glad that I gave way to him. I suppose that, as chairman of the Labour party, he is my shadow, and he speaks with the authentic voice of the Left wing, which is very much larger than the Labour party would like to think.
Is it not ironic that, while Poland is to open its first private school this year, the Labour party wants to strangle private schools? Is it not extradordinary that, while Hungary and Poland are talking about privatising state industries, all we hear from the Labour party are threats of nationalisation? I hope the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) will tell us his list of industries to be nationalised. Will it be British Water, British Gas or British Telecom? Let him publish his list because everyone else has published one. He should add his twopenn'orth as well, because we want to know.
How can the Opposition want to shackle the market now, when eastern Europe wants to free the markets? When will the Labour party realise that Socialism does not work and that no example of a successful Socialist country exists? What creed posseses the Labour party to make it decide that we in Britain should now start imitating eastern Europe when eastern Europe wants to imitate us? Where has the Labour party been sleeping for the past 10 years?
The world is on the move again, and it is moving our way. In the dark years, this Government kept the torch of liberty burning bright. Now millions upon millions of fellow Europeans are emerging from that twilight. They are coming to embrace us and to live in a common European home governed by values and principles which this Government have held dear for decades. My colleagues and I are proud to belong to a party, a Government and a country which have been so steadfast in the defence of freedom.
Column 134112.41 pm
Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton) : During my political career--in 1986--I attended the congress of the Communist party of the Soviet Union in Moscow and the congress of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany in the German Democratic Republic. I then had the pleasure--if that is the right word--of listening to Mr. Gorbachev speak to his congress for six hours and listening to Mr. Honecker speak for four hours to his congress. Having heard the 57-minute speech with which the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) opened the debate, I must tell him that his speech was certainly east European in its length, but it lacked the spontaneity and the standing ovations which mark such speeches in eastern bloc countries. Having listened to marathon speeches, I reflected on the fact that the House of Commons teaches us how to make speeches of gargantuan length but not how to listen to or absorb them.
The hon. Member for Tatton, whose good fortune has led to this historic debate, asked a question which is worthy of a reply. He asked why I had been called upon to speak from the Opposition Front Bench in this debate. That question deserves some consideration. The hon. Member for Tatton is conceited if he believes that I am complementing him in this debate because I am the hon Member for Hamilton. Perhaps I am a more appropriate choice as the Opposition Front Bench spokesman because Kier Hardie, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) referred several times in his contribution, worked in my constituency. Indeed, Kier Hardie lost his job in the coal mining industry in my constituency and was forced to open a tobacconist and confectioner's shop to make ends meet before he went on to greater things. Perhaps I am an appropriate choice because part of my constituency formed the Mid-Lanark seat. In that historic by-election in 1888 Kier Hardie stood as the first Labour candidate, and started a process which led to the foundation of the Scottish and then the British Labour parties. Perhaps I am an appropriate choice as Opposition Front Bench spokesman because Alexander MacDonald, a Member of Parliament in the middle of last century and president of the miners' union, was born and brought up and finally died in my constituency.
Perhaps a better explanation, however, lies with the election of my first predecessor in the constituency of Hamilton. The first hon. Member of Parliament for Hamilton, Mr. Duncan Graham, was elected in 1918, in what was called the coupon election. The coalition swept the country, but Mr. Duncan Graham won the Hamilton seat because the Conservative Whips issued two coupons to two candidates who split their vote equally and thus allowed Mr. Duncan Graham, the Labour candidate, to be elected. Labour won Hamilton in 1918 because of a foul-up in the Whips Office, and that tradition goes on to this day. The debate has inevitably been sparked off by events in eastern Europe. I associate myself with the sentiments expressed by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and by the hon. Member for Tatton about Dr. Andrei Sakharov. I met Dr. Sakharov in July this year when he spoke at the Royal Institute of International Affairs. His death today is an event of considerable significance. He blazed a trail in the Soviet Union, and his bravery is without comparison. He not only survived persecution, imprisonment and banishment, but went on to serve as a
Column 1342distinguished member of what is increasingly becoming a free and open Parliament in the Soviet Union. Credit is due to Mr. Gorbachev for his recognition of that courage and the return of Andrei Sakharov from exile in Gorky.
When I was in Leningrad in September, in the official shop I purchased a poster published by the Communist party of the Soviet Union illustrating the work of the Congress of People's Deputies and the Supreme Soviet. Among all the usual photographs of the hierarchy, there was a photograph of Dr. Sakharov, with other members of the Opposition in that Parliament, arguing with the President of the Supreme Soviet, Mikhail Gorbachev. If the Conservative party published such posters featuring its former leaders, one would regard it as more open.
We should note the dignified, peaceful and orderly way in which the people of eastern Europe have taken back their lives. We must admire the lack of vengeance, violence and retribution against those who gaoled, tortured, persecuted and oppressed their people for so many years and who, it is now revealed in graphic detail, robbed them at the same time. What all the missiles, tanks, troops and ships that we deployed against those countries for 40 years failed to do, the people did for themselves simply by saying, "Enough." They politely but emphatically told the Stasi in East Germany and the secret police or party militia which existed in so many other countries the local equivalent of, "Get stuffed". The architects of repression, oppression, internal security and control immediately bowed before the earthquake of popular support, gales of liberated laughter and the derision of people from whom, after four decades, the yoke had finally been lifted.
I regret to say that the opening speech in this debate, though witty in part, was in stark contrast with the brave and inspiring example that we have seen in eastern Europe in the last year of this decade. It is sad that the traumatic and reviving events among the brave people of eastern Europe are being used as a ramp in a trivial and superficial attack on the British Labour party and on democratic Socialism. In no way does it diminish those who have fought for their freedom and are continuing to do so even on this very day. The hon. Member for Tatton was in the witness box in the High Court in 1986. In his defence he said that he and other hon. Members on the trip about which accusations had been made, for which he received handsome damages from the BBC, were winding down during the parliamentary recess and that there was a little larking about. His contribution today fell into that category, rather than representing a sensible contribution to a major subject before the House, the nation and the world.
It is appropriate that the chairman of the Conservative party should have been singled out by the Government to give their view in this debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said, the right hon. Gentleman has even less credibility than Mr. Egon Krenz, about whom he spoke earlier. At least Mr. Krenz, for the brief period he was in power, was elected by the party that he represented, and removed pretty quickly--
Mr. Robertson : Yes, Mr. Krenz was elected by the party, undemocratic though that may be. The Conservative party does not go through any form of election. Its chairman, picked by Mrs. Honecker at No 10 Downing street, was the architect of the abolition of the
Column 1343Greater London council. He disagreed with the people, thought that the people were not capable of making a decision about local government, and swept away the GLC. Who could be more appropriate than the unelected abolitionist to represent the voice of free enterprise?
Mr. Kenneth Baker : No one has regretted the demise of the Greater London council--with the exception of its former chairman, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who actually has the regalia of his former office tucked away in a trunk awaiting the opportunity to don it once again. As the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) has been waxing eloquent about the Greater London council, can he say whether it is Labour party policy to restore it?
Mr. Robertson : There is a commitment to restore proper government to London. Proper elections are the hallmark of the Labour party, whereas the unelected chairman of the Conservative party sits here as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the hallmark of the Conservative view being to abolish elections when the election result is likely to be inconvenient to the party.
Mr. Tony Banks : Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend. Our policy documents are copious and perhaps not read all the way through by everyone. At a meeting of the London group of Labour Members, of which I am the chair, our hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould)--the Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment--made it clear that when a Labour Government are elected, city-wide government in London will also be restored.
Mr. Robertson : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's clarification. We shall also restore government to Scotland in a Scottish assembly. The Government prattle on about freedom and champion the cause of self- determination in the Baltic republics, but cannot even fulfil the Standing Orders of the House and establish a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. A little hollowness can be detected in all their protestations about freedom.
There is one favour that the right hon. Gentleman can do for the people of Czechoslovakia. I shall be visiting Prague next week, and I understand that the Czechoslovak Communist party is, in its reorganisation, looking for a new name. It might be worth suggesting "Conservative and Unionist party" as being admirably suitable. It will not have escaped the notice of Conservative Members and people in the country that almost universally those who are losing their positions in the great revolution of the people throughout eastern Europe--all those who have propped up the dreary, drab regimes over the years--are called conservatives, and they are not conservatives for nothing. The regimes that they have propped up have all the usual characteristics.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) looked in the "Concise Oxford Dictionary" for a definition of Socialism, which was a worthy objective. I looked for a definition of Conservatism in a book written by the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) called "Right Thinking"--something of a contradiction in terms. It was published some time ago.
Mr. Robertson : It was remaindered a long time ago. I bought my copy in a second-hand book shop. Its antiquity is amply evidenced by the fact that it has two equally lyrical prefaces--one by Margaret Thatcher and the other by Sir Ian Gilmour, who at that time were apparently even speaking to each other. I read through the book for inspiration and found a definition of Conservatism taken from an address given by Abraham Lincoln in 1860 :
"What is Conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried against the new and untried?"
There is the epitaph for all the collapsing Conservatives in eastern Europe and those who are about to go out of fashion in the West.
Mr. Michael Brown : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertston) misquoted Abraham Lincoln. He used the words, "Is it not" whereas the quote states, "It is not".
Mr. Robertson : As one witnesses the inspiring scenes shown on our television sets in the past few weeks, one has detected an instinctive sympathy at No. 10 Downing street with the beleaguered leaderships and establishments of eastern Europe, rather than with the noisy, ordinary, impudent, protesting rabble in the streets demanding the resignation of those leaders.
One may consider, for example, the fate of Erich Honecker, currently under popular house arrest as there appears to be no existing law permitting him to be charged. He is accused of amassing huge personal wealth and of owning a number of dachas--private houses in the country. I understand that Mr. Willi Stoph, the former Prime Minister, has also been accused of keeping 100 different brands of whisky in his cellar. In our part of the world, that would be regarded as trade advertising. In any event, it is not difficult to make a comparison with the British Prime Minister and her own private wealth, with her dacha in Dulwich and at Chequers, as well as a very fashionable flat in the most expensive part of Westminster. At this very moment it is being fortified and having railings put around it--which must make the members of the East German politburo green with envy.
The peoples of eastern Europe are turning their backs on Communism but not on Socialism. Certainly they are rejecting the one-party, bureaucratic, centralised state, with its tyranny, oppression, economic failure and crushing censorship. But the people are not turning their back on social welfare and on justice. The people are demanding something new. They want more freedom, more choice and greater democracy, but they are not demanding Thatcherism. They foresee not the blueprint of
Column 1345the unregulated market system, with all its inequalities and injustices, but rather the example of what they know to be democratic Socialism. They do not want to exchange one form of tyranny for another. That is why Alexander Dubcek, whom the Chancellor of the Duchy mentioned, spoke in 1968 of
"Socialism with a human face."
That is what is required now. It means dismantling the dead weight of the state apparatus, introducing multi-party democracy and decentralising power in those countries ; it does not mean embracing cut-throat laissez-faire, with no provision for the wellbeing of the community and no support for the weak and needy.
In the streets of Leipzig and in Wenceslas square the crowds shouted, "Gorby, Gorby, Gorby." No one shouted, "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie." Even Lech Walesa does not think like the Prime Minister, although she admires him, and he admires her in some ways. In September I visited the Soviet Republic of Georgia and met the former deputy Speaker of the Georgian Parliament, a man of great distinction who reached the age of 80 last month and has clearly been a power in the land for many of those 80 years. He said to me, "Mr. Robertson, I have to tell you that Mrs. Thatcher is very popular in this area." I told him that I was not a bit surprised to learn that Mrs. Thatcher had struck a chord in the land which gave birth to Joseph Stalin and to Beria.
Lech Walesa, however, sees another side of the Prime Minister's image. He described her, in the presence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), as "Mrs. Hyde", and explained, "We cannot transfer your system to Poland, because we do not like human and legal aspects of it." Walesa, a democratic Socialist himself, prefers the positive ideals of western Socialism. Only a few weeks ago he was in this country as a guest of the TUC, speaking out for the values of free trade unionism--values that our Prime Minister certainly does not share, and indeed has undermined considerably by banning trade union membership at GCHQ.
What those brave and visionary people in eastern Europe are demanding is far more akin to western democratic Socialism than to any concept of free- market Thatcherism. Not surprisingly, they have little time for the fruits of Thatcherism that are enjoyed in this country--unemployment, social strife and water shares. True, they want to privatise, but on a wholly different basis from ours. Their aim is to unlock a locked and rusty system of total state ownership, rather than simply selling off the family silver. Let members of the Adam Smith institute go to Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia or Bulgaria and try to peddle the idea of selling the nuclear power stations and the water in the taps.
Mr. John Maples (Lewisham, West) : The hon. Gentleman has taken us on an interesting tour of east European cities that he has visited recently and people whom he has met. I have been wondering whether he will ever return to the subject of Socialism in the United Kingdom. Conservative Members are faced with a genuine dilemma, with which the hon. Gentleman may be able to
Column 1346help us. We do not know whether to take Labour's policy review seriously. Are we to believe what the review says, or are we to suspect that nothing has changed underneath? If I asked the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) whether, in the light of the review, the Leader of the Opposition is still a Socialist, what does the hon. Gentleman think that his right hon. Friend would say?
Mr. Robertson : I advise the hon. Gentleman to go on listening to my speech, which will give him the answer to his question. I also recommend that he read the policy review, from which he will discover why we are consistently ahead in the opinion polls, and why our victory at the next election is guaranteed.
The real divide in eastern Europe is still between the reformers and conservatives--between those with vision, like Mikhail Gorbachev, and reactionaries like President Ceaucescu. Thatcherism, with its Little England rhetoric and its worn-out cold war attitudes, sometimes has more in common with the rigidities of Ceaucescu than with the trail-blazing radicalism of Gorbachev. The socialist parties are the parties of modernisation and reform. We alone want to encourage dialogue and new systems to cope with the sweeping changes that are transforming Europe. That is why democratic socialism is in the vanguard of the new Europe.
The motion refers to the withering away of Socialism in the Western world. I remind the House that there are Socialist parties in Government, either on their own or in coalition, in the following European countries : Spain, France, Sweden, Austria, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium, Holland, Greece, Iceland and Finland. Since the people of those democratic countries of western Europe have all chosen Socialist parties to govern them, the preposterous idea that Socialism is withering away underlines the negative and empty basis of the motion.
Thatcherism has been consistently lacking in its ability to encourage British exports. We need only to consider the largest trade deficit in British history to see that all too clearly. Nowhere, however, has Thatcherism failed so conspicuously as in its failure to export itself. Thatcherism has been well and truly rejected, even by our closest European Community partners who regularly and universally isolate and marginalise our Prime Minister at their gatherings. Britain has become the outpost, the last bastion of an outdated and backward-looking creed. The European social charter is defined by the British Prime Minister, and only by her, as "Marxist." For the Prime Minister, anything that attempts to replace the economic free-for-all with social rights and responsibilities is to be labelled in that sloganistic way.
Mr. Kenneth Baker : A moment ago, the hon. Gentleman referred to France as a Socialist country. I believe that it was at the top of his list. France has a very successful economy. Does he accept that in France income tax is very low, that it has a very high proportion of nuclear power and that it has an independent nuclear deterrent? Does he regard those as characteristics of Socialism?
Mr. Robertson : Socialism has different manifestations, but its common characteristic is that it believes in a proper place for the market and in a social infrastructure which provides help those who need it. Socialist Governments throughout the world do not accept the narrow ideology that the Conservative party seems to believe is worth
Column 1347exporting to other countries. Socialist Governments believe in people being free to make their own choice within the Socialist system. Although there are points of difference between each of the Governments that I have mentioned, they are all Socialist in their title, in their ethos and philosophy, and in the message that they put forward. The idea that Socialism is withering away is completely and utterly silly.
Mr. Benn : My hon. Friend may wish to point out that Dr. Sakharov, warmly praised by the chairman of the Conservative party, was totally opposed to nuclear weapons. To quote Dr. Sakharov as an example of the model that we should follow is thus to confirm the Labour party's view that nuclear weapons should neither be possessed nor used.
Mr. Robertson : The mighty Dr. Sakharov was a Socialist and held a number of views that I am sure the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), if he took more time, would find profoundly embarrassing.
Even with the European Community there are those who disagree with the Prime Minister--the great new ideologue who stomps the world stage labelling people Marxist even if, like Chancellor Kohl, Prime Minister De Mita of Italy or Prime Minister Silva of Portugal, they are as Right wing as she is.
The ideas being put forward in Europe are the ideas of tomorrow and are relevant to the future. We are Socialists because we know that things could be much better. On its own, the market delivers fear and uncertainty. I return to a quotation from the book compiled by the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle from Mr. Ian MacLeod, a former Conservative Minister, who said in 1969 :
"On the general point that everything has its price, I am a keen believer in market forces, but I do not go as far as this. Indeed I think that basically over the years, this is a Whig rather than a Tory doctrine. Everything has its price. Yes, but that would mean no regional policy. It would mean a disastrous future for the regions. It is an excellent policy for the strong, but we are also concerned with the weak."
Those words should haunt Conservative Members and they should consider how far away from that ideal they have drifted.
We live in a society where preventable--I stress that word--poverty and injustice are allowed to go unchecked. We live in a society which is able to shorten hideously long hospital waiting lists, house its increasing numbers of homeless, educate and train its wasted and forgotten young people, but does not do so because it naively and foolishly believes that the all-powerful market will deliver the goods. The market, however, has not delivered and the number of homeless young people living in cardboard boxes on the streets of London has reached a record and shameful level, our old people live on a pension which is the lowest among all our European partners and too many of our sick go untreated due to lack of resources.
Column 1348In his opening remarks, the hon. Member for Tatton described as organised disruption the largest petition that has ever been presented to Parliament containing 4.5 million signatures in support of the nation's ambulance crews.
Mr. Neil Hamilton : I certainly did not describe the petition as organised disruption. I have no objection whatever to the presentation of that petition to the House, or to the explanation by the hon. Gentleman who presented the petition pointing out the number of people who had signed it. I resented the number of Opposition Members who, under the guise of points of order, tried to have a debate about how many cardboard boxes should be placed on the Floor of the House.