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Column 396Everyone who has met or been in contact with Ian believes him to be a most honourable man and a victim of power politics. Earlier this year my hon. Friends the Members for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) and for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) visited Iraq and my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield was able to speak to Ian.
I am also extremely pleased that, as a result of a suggestion from the Foreign Office, King Hussein raised the issue with the Iraqis. I feel that he also believes that this is a matter of humanitarian need and that the case is not based on genuine forgery or fraud. What is extremely disturbing, however, is the fact that Ian is now the only long-term prisoner in Iraq. Increasingly, I believe that this case is simply one where Ian was arrested as an excuse to try to secure the imprisonment of the mayor of Baghdad, who was a political inconvenience to the then leadership. I believe that Ian is a hostage. Perhaps he is a hostage because of our Government's courageous decision not to sell Iraq Hawk aircraft for fear that they might be abused by the Iraqi air force.
It is more likely, however, that he is being held because of the imprisonment of Salim Hassan who was convicted in 1979 in the United Kingdom for murdering a former Iraqi prime minister. He is now serving a life term in prison. As the Iraqis told my hon. Friends in September, they are explicitly making this link with Ian's imprisonment. Although the Foreign Office assumed that that was the real reason behind Ian's continued imprisonment, the Iraqis, until recently, had never said so. Now they openly say that if we release an assassin, they will release an innocent man.
The purpose of calling the attention of the House to this case before we adjourn is that Ian will be spending another Christmas in prison. His courageous wife, Shirley, is in Iraq now. The Iraqis try to pretend that they are a civilised people, that they are turning westwards and that they want to trade with and receive aid from us. It is with unacceptable, however, that they should use such uncivilised and barbaric practices to hold on to Ian Richter. Another purpose of the debate is to thank the Foreign Office publicly for the work that it has done over many months. I believe that it could not have done more. The overriding reason for this debate, however, is to pay tribute to Shirley Richter, her children and particularly her husband. I believe that he is serving the nation's cause-- although not deliberately according to our wishes--as I know that he would not want to be released if the price for his release was the release of a convicted assassin.
On humanitarian grounds and at this time of Christmas I call, once more, on the Iraqi Government to release an innocent man.
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : Christmas this year may not see any spending records in the shops, but, assuredly, there will be one new record. My activities as a trustee of Crisis at Christmas, an admirable and most deserving charity, tell me that there will be a record number of homeless people in Britain this Christmas. They dwell not only on the streets of London, but on those of Manchester, Glasgow and other cities
Column 397across this country. That there will be room for many of them indoors at Christmas 1989 owes everything to charitable endeavour, not to the Government's efforts.
The Leader of the House advised his ministerial colleagues to do more listening. I hope that there will soon be more evidence that they have heeded his sound advice. Since 1979, homelessness has doubled and the number still grows apace as more and more psychiatric patients are dumped on the streets in the name of community care. The number of homes repossessed by building societies in the first half of 1989 was two and a half times greater than for the whole of 1979. That is a striking figure.
Some 120,000 households will have presented themselves as homeless to local authorities this year. What is also extremely worrying is the record number of children living in poverty this Christmas. Of all Britain's poor, about one third are children.
Happily, however, another record will be broken this Christmas--a record number of young people will be working to provide food and Christmas shelter for Britain's homeless. Amidst all the inhumanity of official attitudes to homelessness, their example at least is one of man's humanity to man. Should there not be a ministerial statement on the record number of homeless people before the House rises for the Christmas recess?
For about the 40th time since the Government came to power, we are debating the motion for a parliamentary recess while still awaiting the fulfilment of the Government's 1979 election promise to create a coherent system of benefits for people with disabilities. Is there anything that the Leader of the House can tell us today about the Government's intentions? Will there be any announcement before the recess? In November, a small package of reforms was announced at the time of the uprating. Welcome as each individual reform may be, their timing was more an attempt to camouflage the Government's repeated failure to uprate child benefit than a move towards a coherent structure of benefits for the disabled. The Government have consistently refused to involve voluntary organisations and outside experts in the so-called review process. Therefore, the major statement that is rumoured for the new year does not fill them with much hope.
Notwithstanding the minor adjustments since then, there are still too many casualties among chronically sick and disabled people of the April 1988 cuts whom Ministers dismiss with pristine Thatcherite contempt. Last July, I raised repeatedly with social security Ministers the fact that some people with AIDS were entitled to £30 more under the old supplementary benefits scheme to meet the costs of their special diets than many of them now receive under income support. That is a cruel cut in benefits for people, many of whom are terminally ill.
Last week I finally received a reply, which was five months overdue from the Minister with responsibility for the disabled. It included the fine sentiment that nothing could be done because
"income support is a non-contributory benefit which is financed by the taxes paid by the working population, many of whom are low paid themselves."
However, the people he conscripts to his aid, without consulting them, do not have a life-threatening disease which is exacerbated by poor diet and poor living conditions. What makes it even more absurd is that the
Column 398cost of drugs for someone with AIDS is estimated at more than £100 a week and it is possible that those costs will soon be extended to non-symptomatic people with HIV.
The stubborn refusal of Ministers to undo the damage they wreaked in 1988 is not only heartless, but blatantly poor economics. However, I was encouraged by one reply from the Minister, in which he told me that his officials had been in recent consultation with the Department of Health about the financial needs of people with AIDS. Since the split-up of the Department of Health and Social Security last year, it had seemed doubtful whether there was any liaison in Richmond house at all. Before House rises for the Recess, we need to know the outcome of the consultation between the two Departments. On 10 July, the Minister with responsibility for the disabled told his hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) that he was still in detailed discussions with the local authority associations about section 7 of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986. That reply is recorded in vol. 156, c. 381 of Hansard. Only two days later, the Secretary of State for Health declared that section 7 had fallen out of favour. On 24 July, the Minister for Health revealed that no meeting had been held since March and no further meeting had yet been arranged. That was reported in vol. 157, c. 541 of Hansard.
The confusion over the fate of the 1986 Act has continued into the National Health Service and Community Care Bill. On 27 November, during the debate on the Loyal Address, I spoke about the muddle that appears to have been created. I received no reply, and neither did my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) when he spoke during the Second Reading debate. Despite the fact that there were four ministerial speeches on the Bill, references to community care were scant and superficial.
As the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) said on 12 December, the community care proposals have simply been tagged on to a National Health Service Bill. This was recorded in vol. 163, c. 846. It did not please the Government but it was undoubtedly true. After waiting 18 months for a response to the Griffiths report, the White Paper was published only a week before the Bill. It appears that Ministers understand little and care less about the issues involved, which are of the utmost importance to millions of disabled and elderly people, and their carers and families. These issues are also deeply important to the young people who will give so freely of their time this Christmas to help provide food and shelter for many of the worst victims of the crisis in community care whom we now see them sleeping rough, night by night, on the streets of our great cities.
Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale) : For years I have been extolling the benefits and virtues of Manchester international airport, as has the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). I do so because it happens to be the largest single employer in my constituency and is also an enormous asset for the north-west region of England.
As you, Madam Deputy Speaker, may know, Manchester is making a bid for the Olympic games in 1996. If we were lucky enough to win that, it would be the most enormous boost that the north-west of England has
Column 399had for a long time. The campaign has been spearheaded by a man called Bob Scott, who has done an enormous amount of work on the project.
At a recent Question Time, the Prime Minister gave her support to the idea of Manchester hosting the Olympic games in 1996. During the campaign, enormous play has been made of the fact that there are excellent communications in the Manchester area. We have good rail links and an excellent motorway system. We have particularly emphasised how important Manchester international airport would be. Apart from the possibility of hosting the Olympic games, we are also anxious to have more international flights in and out of Manchester airport. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) who, until recently, was Secretary of State for Transport, for the enormous support that he gave us during his time as Secretary of State. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Transport, who has also been particularly helpful.
Dr. Dafyd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) : The hon. Gentleman also has the support of all of us in North Wales in his campaign to increase the numbers of international flights to Manchester, which is an extremely important airport for business and tourist purposes in North Wales.
Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle) : Having been a member of Manchester airport committee, I cannot let a debate on Manchester airport go by without mentioning Liverpool airport, as I now represent a Merseyside seat. That is also an important gateway and should be more effectively linked with Manchester so that they can be used jointly. The future of Liverpool airport should be linked with the successful Manchester airport, with which I was proud to be associated.
Negotiations have been continuing for some time with American Airlines, which wants new services in and out of Manchester airport. Delta Airlines wants to fly daily flights from Atlanta to Manchester. North West Airlines wants to fly daily flights from Boston to Manchester. American Airlines wants an additional daily service from Chicago to Manchester. I emphasise the word "additional" because it already has a daily flight between Manchester and Chicago and, due to its success, now wants two flights per day. If we could obtain the new flights, it is estimated that this would create 3,500 new jobs in the area.
Talks with the Americans are due to recommence early in the new year. There is a great sense of urgency because it is necessary for the airlines to know as quickly as possible. If they are to obtain these flights they must start arranging them for their summer schedule. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made a direct personal approach to his American counterpart, Mr. Skinner--not the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), but the Secretary for Transportation in the
Column 400American Administration. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will stress to his Cabinet colleagues how vital these negotiations are.
I am afraid that there is one cloud on the horizon. There is a strike of baggage handlers at Manchester airport, which is causing a great deal of unhappiness in the area. Last week Manchester airport was closed for five and a half days because firemen refused to cross the picket line, thereby compromising the safety regulations. That cost the airport about £150,000 per day in landing fees. The strike is basically about the creation of 94 new jobs and the consequent reduction in excessive overtime. I suggest that it is sad that a union can bring men out on strike because new jobs are being created. The management at the airport have had volunteers doing the baggage handlers' work and they have been fully supported by the board of directors at the airport, which consists of councillors from the 10 district councils which make up the Greater Manchester area. The Government have given enormous support to Manchester airport in the past 10 years and we have also enjoyed cross-party support in the House. Now all those efforts are being impeded by an unnecessary strike. If the people concerned care about the future of Manchester airport and its effect on the economy of the north-west, I hope that they will get their men back to work at the earliest possible opportunity.
My second point concerns Barlow Clowes. I felt rather like a jack-in-the- box yesterday while the statement on the affair was being made, because I desperately wanted to ask a question about it. Quite a number of my constituents were caught up in the Barlow Clowes crash, most of them elderly people who had invested their money in the company because they had been advised by people whom they thought were properly qualified advisers that they were investing in Government securities with a company licensed by the Department of Trade and Industry.
I cannot help feeling that Lord Young, when Secretary of State, did not handle the problem quite as sympathetically as he might have done. Incidentally, it was fascinating to see the rift among the Opposition yesterday. The Opposition Front Bench spokesman welcomed the compensation, albeit grudgingly. Then the hon. Member for East Ham--
Sir Fergus Montgomery : I knew that the hon. Gentleman was one of the hams. In any case, I noticed how angry he was about the fact that compensation was being paid. He sat in his place fuming and grumbling about the way in which taxpayers' money was being handed out, as he said, to stuff the pockets of the rich.
Mr. Banks indicated assent.
Sir Fergus Montgomery : I assure the hon. Gentleman that many of the people in my constituency who were involved are not rich. They are elderly people who had invested their savings or redundancy payments in an attempt to get a little extra income--
Column 401Sir Fergus Montgomery : As it is Christmas time, I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman might have cared a little more about people who have suffered a great deal of anxiety over the past 18 months. The hon. Gentlman's views were, in any event, not shared by the Opposition Front Bench spokesman.
I also want to point out to my right hon. and learned Friend that the Secretary of State did an extremely good job yesterday and many people are happier as a result of his statement. He made it as quickly as he could because he especially wanted to deliver it before Christmas, but 42 minutes was not enough time to devote to the issue. This also proves that, no matter how hard one tries, one cannot please everyone.
The Government have made a generous and fair decision but in today's Daily Mail a man called Leslie Mullard, whose £64,000 nest egg disappeared, gives the deal only a lukewarm welcome because, he says, investors should have had a total return on their capital and the income that would have accrued on it. Perhaps the hon. member for Newham, North-West and I do not differ in believing that the lesson of this sorry affair is that people must realise that high-return investments often carry high risks.
Sir Fergus Montgomery : It was in recognition of that fact that the ombudsman recommended an abatement of 10 per cent. of investments of up to £50,000. It is the old story--nothing in the world can be acquired for nothing. High-risk investments may bring high returns, but they also involve high risks.
Finally, I want briefly to mention the problems of the National Health Service in my constituency. Recently, the two health authorities that cover my area put out consultation documents. Trafford health authority feared an overspend of £1.1 million next year, so it advanced some of the options on which it believes it may have to embark. One option is to close the accident and emergency services at Altrincham general hospital ; the second is to close the geriatric unit at St. Anne's hospital ; and the third is to cease general family planning services.
All these options have been bitterly opposed by local people. I happen to believe that my constituency has been badly served in the provision of hospitals. We were promised a new district hospital years ago--then, suddenly, the option disappeared, not by decision of the Department of Health but by decision of the North Western regional health authority. No one has ever quite explained to me why the hospital disappeared when it did.
Mr. Alfred Morris : The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that many of his constituents go to the accident and emergency department of Wythenshawe hospital. How concerned is he about the current proposals affecting that department?
Trafford general hospital, the general hospital for Trafford health authority, is difficult to get to from my constituency ; Wythenshawe hospital in the South
Column 402Manchester health authority area is much more convenient. However, the consultation document put out by South Manchester health authority proposes some rationalisation between Wythenshawe hospital and Withington hospital. Option A, the preferred option, would make Wythenshawe no longer a major accident centre, and it would lose many of its services.
Comments on the documents must be in by 6 January. I have had a long talk with the chairman of the South Manchester health authority, who has assured me that no decisions will be made until all comments have been studied. Suffice it to say that these proposals have caused a furore in my constituency. I have been bombarded letters from concerned people who are worried about the future. The problem has also allowed mischief makers to have a field day and to claim that everything has already been decided. Perhaps something could be done to avoid the period of uncertainty that always seems to occur at this time of year.
I realise that we are spending more on the Health Service. I realise that there are more doctors and nurses and that more patients are being treated, but people's expectations have also risen enormously. My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) and I went to see the Secretary of State for Health recently, and were told that more money would be forthcoming in the Chancellor's statement.
Then, last week, I received a letter from my hon. Friend the Minister for Health, who said :
"The announcement of an extra £77.8 million for North Western RHA includes a cash increase on its general allocation of 6.34 per cent., or a real terms increase of 1.28 per cent. This compares well with the resource assumptions issued to the RHA in August, when we asked the Region to plan for an increase in real terms within the range 0.3 per cent. to 0.2 per cent. In addition, there have been increases to a number of specific allocations for identified programmes, as shown in the table attached to the press statement. As a result of these increases, there is of course no reason for unplanned service reductions, and we expect NHS services in the North West to continue in the pattern of improvement which has been set in recent years."
That sounds very nice and it gives me a great deal of hope, but there is still a nasty suspicion lurking in the back of my mind that the new money is not quite so adequate as we had at first expected. I believe that the health authorities in the north-west do not know the amount of their allocation, and they will not know it until some time early in the new year, but they believe that they will have to find at least 1.6 per cent. to cover potential pay awards and price increases, over and above the 5 per cent. allocated for inflation by the Secretary of State. Any underfunding of review body pay awards to doctors, dentists and nurses would make the situation considerably worse.
I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House will convey to our right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health my request for reassurances on the three issues that I raised before the House rises for the Christmas recess. 6.10 pm
Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone) : It is appropriate that my speech should deal with the problems of getting patients to hospital. It appears that the Secretary of State for Health is allowing the problems currently confronting Britain's ambulance service to escalate, to the point where he will be able to exercise less control than he
Column 403traditionally does. It is wrong for the House to adjourn for the Christmas recess without debating the problems besetting the ambulance service. Unless the Secretary of State can offer new advice, the dispute will get worse and worse.
My experience is that, once Christmas is over, people look forward to their holidays. Therefore, there is no reason for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to imagine that he willl be able to starve the ambulance men back to work or use his economic powers to force them back to work on what are clearly unacceptable financial terms. I appreciate that the Secretary of State does not want the dispute to spread to other sectors of the Health Service. However, that argument does not wash, because problems already exist in those other sections. Right hon. and hon. Members have heard both from the midwifery service and the speech therapy service that they are discontented. Messages and warnings are also being received from the nursing service. That dissatisfaction also should not be allowed to develop to the point where it is even more difficult to overcome. The Secretary of State for Health has remarked that arbitration is a figment of the 1970s, but that is the wrong way of looking at a service that has served us well in the past. All my working life, I have believed that every trade union/employer agreement should make provision for a dispute procedure. When I worked in the mining industry, I was involved in the concept of its different collieries working together to reach different agreements on working conditions, both by consultation and through conciliation, and coal agreements. That could be achieved only through a binding acceptance by both sides to follow a conciliation procedure and to refer any disputes to an arbitration tribunal.
It is as well to refer some disputes to a third party, who can stand back and view matters in a different light from that of the two combatants. It is wrong of the Secretary of State for Health to suggest that the arbitration service would simply cut the award by half. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is so right in the views that he expresses, and if he is so certain of the fairness of his offer, what does he have to fear from the arbitration service, which would take into account awards that have already been granted? Many years ago, when I was a member of the Labour Staffs Association, the National Union of Mineworkers and NACODS accepted an offer, whereas our association declined to do so and took the matter to arbitration. The panel openly declared that, because the two other organisations had accepted the employers' offer, and even though our members deserved more, a higher award to them would upset the equilibrium. That is the way in which arbitration works, and there is nothing wrong in using it.
The Secretary of State for Health should not feel that he is backing down by going to arbitration. His refusal to do so has more to do with bolstering his own ego. No doubt he has made promises to the Prime Minister and to others of his right hon. and hon. Friends who are Ministers, that he will not personally intervene in the dispute. That is not the right way for a Secretary of State to conduct himself, and neither is his attitude a responsible one. Today, we do not have an ambulance service that the public can rely on. The House should have debated the dispute before the Christmas Recess, because the majority
Column 404of the public are of the opinion that the Secretary of State is wrong. We are here to represent the public and to express their views in this House, and the House itself ought to decide whether or not the dispute should go to arbitration.
Once the ambulance service dispute goes to arbitration, the problem will be over. Right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House appreciate that the need for a reliable ambulance service will increase over Christmas, and it is wrong to put the public at risk. About a week ago, one of my constituents collapsed and died at a local football match. Although it would be wrong to claim that he died only because the ambulance service was unavailable and because it took about half an hour for an Army ambulance to arrive, the individual who tried to revive him is an ambulance service worker. There is an ambulance depot only two minutes away from that football ground, and it is not hard to believe that, had it been operating properly, that constituent would be alive today.
At the ambulance station about half a mile from where I live, workers are turning up for duty, willing to answer all emergency calls. However, when they arrive for work, the station's chief superintendent asks, "Are you willing to work as normal?" When they answer no, the ambulances' ignition keys are removed. The ambulance men and ambulances are available, but because of the way that the dispute has been handled, they cannot respond properly to emergency calls.
If the Secretary of State for Health is so worried about the problems of the ambulance sector spreading to other parts of the National Health Service, why does he not remove it from the control of his Department and place it under that of the Home Office, together with the police and fire services? That would be to return to the former situation, under which it developed from a combined fire and ambulance service.
Before the House rises, there should be an understanding from the Secretary of State for Health that he will refer the ambulance dispute to arbitration, so that our ambulance men can return to work.
Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight) : The House should not adjourn for the Recess until it has debated two important matters. The first involves my constituency. On 11 December, 230 of my constituents were informed that their employer--a subsidiary of Norcros named Temperature Ltd.--is to close, with substantial job losses and effects on the island's economy, and that a small number of jobs will be transferred to Portsmouth. The factory concerned is located behind Sandown lake, in an area that suffers the highest seasonal rate of unemployment in the whole of the United Kingdom. Any job loss that erodes our industrial base on the island deals a serious blow to us. I am sure that I have the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House when I say that we feel for the 230-plus employees who have been given notice so soon before Christmas.
The Isle of Wight development board has tried very hard to find a way of assisting in the difficulties, and I am pleased to say that a number of large employers on the island--such as Westland Aerospace and Plessey--have already expressed an interest in taking on skilled
Column 405employees. In an economy such as ours, skilled men are always in demand ; it is the unskilled who are difficult to employ. The problem came about because of a lack of orders from British Rail for rolling stock containing air conditioning. The position is rather complicated ; British Rail had originally secured a tranche of units for the 158 express from British Rail Engineering Ltd, and, following the prompt and successful completion of the contract, established a reputation for its reliable, high-specification and thoroughly serviceable air- conditioning unit. BREL, however, is now a privatised organisation.
I went to see the vice-chairman of British Rail to find out what could be done to assist the factory. Temperature was alarmed that it had been taken off--or, rather, had not been able to get on--the tender list of the major rolling-stock suppliers : it had had to join up with a French company manufacturing railway air conditioning to get on to the tender list in this country.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport recently announced record investment in new rolling stock, and for train sets to go via the Channel tunnel. We hear a good deal nowadays about the level playing field of the EEC. British taxpayers' money is being invested--quite rightly--in rolling stock to meet the needs of the Channel tunnel in the 1990s, and the increasing demands for air-conditioned trains to improve the comfort of passengers. Yet, for reasons that I have been unable to ascertain, a British company providing a first-class product has been excluded from the tender list. That raises a serious issue of principle.
I received a letter from Mr. David Kirby, British Rail's vice-chairman, on 1 December, and sent it on to the company. In the letter, Mr. Kirby told me that the opportunity of further orders for the company was likely to arise next year--which, as hon. Members will appreciate, will be far too late.
I have involved myself in the possibility of the privatisation of British Rail's assets on the Isle of Wight. The island's modest railway network does not, in my view, fit into the overall jigsaw of Network SouthEast. Unfortunately, the negotiations were blown somewhat out of proportion during my absence on holiday. I was unable to comment in the local press, and was attacked vehemently by a number of political opponents. I had, however, contacted my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport in June or July, in the hope that he would visit the island to consider the possibility of separating the local service from British Rail. I also hoped that he would pay a non-ministerial visit to the Temperature factory nearby to see the manufacture of air-conditioning units for himself. Unhappily, because the saga had been blown out of proportion in my absence, the Minister probably--and rightly--took a step backwards from involvement in the political mele e that followed : British Rail certainly did. I fear that no good was done to Temperature's employment prospects, and that, had we made more orderly progress, the position might be very different today.
Last week, I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, informing him that considerable investment in new rolling stock and air conditioning was likely to go overseas--perhaps to EEC
Column 406countries, but not to parts of the United Kingdom and certainly not to my constituency. I hope that, now that the problem is on the record, I shall obtain a positive response from my right hon. Friend, and that we may yet find out why we have been prevented from participating in that investment and thereby maintaining a significant part of our manufacturing base on the Isle of Wight. My second reason for suggesting that the House should not be adjourned prematurely relates to the awful happenings in Romania. I find it extraordinary that the Opposition should have chosen to submit a private notice question on Panama, given that the loss of lives there is--fortunately--small in comparison with that in Romania.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : I know that the hon. Gentleman came into the House only in the most recent general election, and he may not know that Mr. Speaker has said repeatedly that private notice applications should not be referred to on the Floor of the House. Does he accept, however, that only the procedures of the House prevent me from correcting what he has just said?
Mr. Field : I can help the hon. Gentleman. I myself submitted an application for a private notice question about Romania. It is obvious that one application was agreed to, because we discussed it earlier in relation to Panama ; it is equally obvious that others were not, as there has been no discussion of them until now.
Mr. Field : The position in Romania is extremely serious. I believe that we should consider the plight of the poor people in that wretched country--if not tonight, at least before the House adjourns for Christmas-- especially in view of our considerable volume of trade with it. We receive an imbalance of manufactured goods from Romania, which is one of the only COMECON countries with a balance-of-payments surplus--indeed, I think it is the only one. It is obvious that an evil regime is being propped up by the considerable foreign exchange balances that have been built up.
Her Majesty's Government really ought to agree to meet companies that are importing Romanian goods and to discuss an urgent switch of production away from the regime, with the aim of bringing it down--and the sooner the better. In Britain, we are fortunate because we can elect and dismiss Governments without the intervention of a bayonet or a bullet.
I hope that, as right hon. and hon. Members go home to their families, as they put their arms around their children and make their once-yearly visit to church for midnight mass on Christmas Eve, they will remember the awful events that have taken place in Romania in the past few days. Thousands have been injured and maimed in the streets because they wished to enjoy the freedom that we have in the House--freedom of speech.
The events in Romania show that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is right to stand alone on the world stage and, once again, refuse to bow to the Chamberlainesque breeze that is blowing through Europe. We have seen reductions in American forces and President
Column 407Mitterrand swooning over the reunification of Germany that Chancellor Kohl is in helter-skelter pursuit of. Therefore, I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is standing alone and saying that we must not be dazzled by the events in eastern Europe. The horrible events in Romania in the past few days have driven that lesson home.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : We should not adjourn for the Christmas Recess until we have discussed the situation in Panama. I am glad that the Leader of the House, who has a distinguished record as a former Foreign Secretary, is here to reply to the debate. If I am not in the Chamber to hear his reply, it will not be because I am not interested, but because I think I am getting the 'flu--that is just about right for Christmas--and I shall read what he says with great interest.
I hope that the Deputy Prime Minister and former Foreign Secretary will say what he really believes, rather than the line that the Government are currently pushing. The Government's current line is craven, it is not based on principle, and it is not, I believe, one that he would wish in his heart to defend.
The United States has given three reasons for its invasion of Panama city. The first reason was to restore democracy. There was much talk in the earlier private notice question about the fact that the election was called off, and that the current regime in Panama is therefore not legitimate. I remind the House that the United States Administration did their best to interfere in the outcome of that election by putting in at least $10 million, and by supporting the Christian Democrats party. That degree of interference was bound to destabilise the democratic processes, undeveloped as they undoubtedly are, during the elections in Panama.
The long-running sanctions against Panama have had an impact on public opinion. Not least among the reasons is the revenue from the Panama Canal, which has been held illegally by the United States Government, and none of which has been given to the Panamanian authorities. Frankly, I think that it was despicable and unwise of the Government to come immediately to the aid of the United States. I count myself as a friend of the United States, but one has to say to one's friends in the United States Administration that the interests of democracy cannot be served by acting as an aggressor, and that is precisely how the United States has behaved today. It has been guilty of using double standards.
The second reason that the United States gave was that its troops went in to protect United States lives. I understand that one United States service man who was hanging around the headquarters of the Panamanian defence forces for some reason was killed. Perhaps he was being more provocative than he should have been. Now dozens of United States troops are dead in the streets of Panama City, because of the action that has been taken. I know that that is true, because I have just spoken to the Panamanian ambassador and he has been in touch with events in Panama. He told me that 114 civilians had been killed and 300 wounded.
I have visited Panama on a number of occasions. I know exactly where the headquarters of the Panamanian defence forces is located. It is in a working-class residential
Column 408area. Anyone who sets out to bombard the headquarters is bound to cause numerous civilian casualties, and that is precisely what has happened.
The ambassador also told me that hospitals in Panama City cannot manage. The United States can take the dead away quickly because it has the facilities. The Panamanians cannot. There is an embargo on medical supplies coming to Panama from the United States. The ambassador told me that pharmaceutical companies which supply hospitals in Panama are refusing to give them plasma, on the instructions of the United States Government, as part of the embargo that they have been imposing for some days. So much for saving lives--it seems strange that the United States wants to save lives by killing people. Many of the civilians killed were entirely innocent. For what purpose? It was supposed to be a bloodless coup. Meanwhile, General Noriega is alive and well and living in Panama--he was not in the headquarters.
I noticed pictures in the newspapers yesterday of fully armed Panamanian defence force soldiers and I wondered why. I could see no reason at all. It is clear that all this has been bubbling away for some time. The Panamanian defence forces, of which General Noriega used to be the head, are all American-trained and probably as good as the United States troops--indeed, judging by today's results, they are considerably better.
Instead of a bloodless coup, the streets of Panama City have blood and dead United States service men on them. What will that do to public opinion in America, when United States soldiers go back in coffins?
The third reason that the United States has given is that it had to move in to stop General Noriega's reign of terror. That is grotesque. I do not stand here and defend Noriega but, as the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) pointed out, one cannot begin to compare him and what has been going on in Panama with Romania and Ceausescu. What about the events in Tiananmen square? How can one talk about a reign of terror in Panama when one compares events there with those in Romania and Tiananmen square? What about the death squad activities in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras? No death squads have been operating on the streets of Panama City. There have been casualties, but they have not begun to compare with what has been going on for years in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, with the knowledge and connivance of United States Governments both past and present.
We do not need any lectures on morality, democracy or terror from the United States, which is scarcely innocent and hardly comes to the discussion with clean hands. What about the support that the United States has given the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua? It is amazing that anyone can accept that the Americans can argue on foreign policy from a position of morality. Let us remember President Roosevelt's dictum in the days of Somosa's dictatorship, which the United States supported up to the hilt. He said :
"He might be a son-of-a-bitch but he's our son-of-a-bitch." That has been the philosophy behind American foreign policy. The United States' action is blatant aggression, it is wholly wrong, and it is an infringement of Panamanian sovereignty. I must tell the deputy Prime Minister and former Foreign Secretary that the United States Government have been acting no better than a bunch of