Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : Does my hon. Friend agree that, in terms of the know-how funds, the Government should look carefully at the possibility of increasing assistance to eastern Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union to provide help

Column 319

in respect of civilian nuclear installations, which constitute a menace to them and to us? There is scope for Britain to offer technical help in dealing with such problems.

Sir Russell Johnston : I am not competent to say whether that could appropriately come under the know-how funds. Perhaps it comes under the arrangements which already exist within the Atomic Energy Authority, which already has 50 or 60 people in the Soviet Union. I agree with my hon. Friend that we must try to give help.

My central criticism of the Government's approach is that they are too laid back. I fear that there are still too many on the Government Benches who believe that, somehow, everything the British do is better than what can be done by everyone else. I do not take that view. We should talk more positively about co-operation, not only in the immediate area of the European Community but in terms of contributing more on the international scene through the United Nations.

12.26 pm

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath) : I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker. To see, as the new Chairman of Ways and Means, someone from one's own intake abandoning the boisterousness of the Back Benches and becoming a pillar of the parliamentary establishment brings joy to those you have left in the swamps behind you. I also pay tribute to the Foreign Secretary. We in this country are lucky to have Rolls-Royce diplomacy, and I cannot think of a better driver for that Rolls-Royce. To change the metaphor, Britain has the ability to box above its weight in international affairs, and I suspect that that was an important factor in the recent general election.

The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston)--I have spoken following him in many debates--survived the election with only 26 per cent. of the vote in his constituency. We are used to being lectured by those on the Bench which he occupies on the danger of running the nation with what they describe as a small percentage of the total vote. I shall search his speech in Hansard carefully tomorrow to see if a note of humility entered his contribution, bearing in mind his share of the vote.

I wish at the outset to discuss defence. Deciding which subjects to choose, bearing in mind the time available for the debate, is like being offered a box of chocolates. One picks one or two, but not long afterwards realises that it was a shame not to have chosen some of the others.

I was among those who were persuaded to support the "Options for Change" proposals. I did so with some reluctance, having a military background. It seemed right that Britain should be responding to the changing scene in eastern Europe, with east Germany now part of NATO and with Russia applying to be a member of NATO as well. I see one of my Whips with his pencil poised. I enter a note of caution ; the rest of my remarks today will be rather bland.

We have cut defence expenditure by 6 per cent. In the election campaign, our opponents were suggesting cuts of 27 and even 50 per cent. Having cut defence by 6 per cent., I would find it hard to support in this Parliament any further cuts, still less be persuaded or be asked to persuade any of my hon. Friends, that such a further cut was practical in today's terms.

Column 320

Changing from a continental to a maritime strategy, as we are doing, is expensive, occasioning greater mobility involving more helicopters, better communications and so on. We cannot have defence on the cheap and it has never been our policy to attempt to do that. In considering the situation in Europe, one is looking at a vast scene. I note that, in a parliamentary handbook, I am described as a Euro- idealist, whatever that may mean. It was curious in the last election to find myself outflanked by the Liberal Democrats and my Labour opponent, whose approach was so remote from public opinion that they did themselves great harm. Even so, there is an element of idealism in what we are attempting to do in Europe.

As I have told the House before, my grandfather, who was in the Navy, was a beachmaster at Gallipoli and my father was shot in the face at Dunkirk. Both wars came about because Europe was divided, and I take great delight in the fact that my generation is in the process of building up a Europe that will be strong enough to resist such pressures and, I hope, to extend peace to other parts of the world. Some people are engaged in an argument about a wider and deeper Europe, and I heard what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had to say. My personal preference is for greater attention to depth. I have spoken to politicians and diplomats in eastern European countries. They have a thirst for membership of the European Community. They are in danger of seeing it as the answer to all their economic and political problems, which is nonsense. Many of those countries are not ready for the European Community and will not be for a long time to come, but I understand their support for the European Community--it is only natural.

We should not be ashamed of what we are trying to do. Twelve ancient, proud countries are trying to come together to achieve greater coherence to our foreign policy. That is jolly hard to achieve. We are trying to have a genuine common market and to do something about subsidies and the crazy common agricultural policy. We should not be ashamed of taking time to sort out our own problems before we widen the European Community, although I agree that we cannot wait until everything is perfect before we attempt to do so. I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber said about our approach to the middle east. I believe that Britain has a greater responsibility for the Palestinian issue than any other country in the world. Our predecessors made a ghastly blunder. They promised a small strip of land to two different peoples : the Arabs, who had helped Britain get rid of the Turks from Jerusalem and to destroy the Ottoman empire ; and the Jews, who were at that time seeking a homeland, as they were dispersed throughout Europe. I am unhappy that we have only observer status at the current rounds of talks. Although I welcome those talks, they are going down an odd track.

A few months ago, I was invited to sign a petition by a prominent composer in Iceland. Part of it said :

"It is the policy of the United States that the Conference" --referring to Madrid--

"will not be based on international law or on UN resolutions but on the current balance of power between participants. The Palestinian people is now pressured to relinquish its inalienable and universally recognised rights, as fixed in the UN Charter and repeatedly endorsed by the General Assembly of the UN".

Column 321

I decided not to sign his petition, but he had a point when he suggested self-determination. Although it is not a theoretical concept for this country--God knows, we fought a war 8,000 miles away in the south Atlantic so that 1,800 people could exercise their rights of self-determination and in recent months we felt that the Kuwaitis were justified in resisting Iraqi aggression--what about self-determination for the Palestinian people?

I hope that the Foreign Office does not feel that we can simply leave it to the United States. I welcome the achievements of Bush and Baker, but 33 per cent. of Israeli goods flow into Europe and we are entitled to tell the Israelis that, if they want special treatment within the European Community, they should behave according to the Geneva convention in terms of a country occupying territory. Unbelievably Yitzhak Shamir said in Madrid that the problem was not about territory. What would we have said if Galtieri, at the time of the Falklands conflict when the Argentine troops were in Stanley, had said that he was prepared to have a conference and discuss the long-term political future of the south Atlantic but that, naturally, territory did not form part of the dispute? I say bluntly that, in the middle east, we are talking about the military occupation of land. In my father's generation, in 1939 in Europe, the military occupation of land was unacceptable. It is equally unacceptable in the 1990s, and must be brought to an end.

In the past 18 years, I have taken up much of the time of the House speaking about Cyprus. I started my adult life being shot at by EOKA. I was lucky enough to guard Sir Hugh Foot, the last colonial governor of Cyprus, and I have been fascinated by that beautiful but tragic island ever since.

Once again, the world looks to the United Kingdom to give a lead. Even the United States says to us, "You know the place ; you were the colonial power and you have sovereign bases, so you give us the lead." We are right to support the Secretary-General, but I hope--the Foreign Secretary gave us some encouragement--that we shall play a major role in obtaining a successful conclusion to the talks. At a time when barriers are coming down across Europe--I was in Berlin when the wall went up, and I was delighted to see it come down--it is disgraceful that, in Cyprus, there is still a green line--in fact, it is rusty red--running across that beautiful country. It divides one group of people from another and it requires a United Nations force, including British troops, to keep the two sides apart. Cyprus is a member of the Commonwealth and wants to be part of the European Community. We have clear obligations that I want to see carried through to the limit.

I find myself in optimistic mood. My hon. Friends will know that I did not always agree with what the Government tried to do in the 1980s. I thought that there were occasions when we were arrogant and did not listen to the people of this country. I am happy with the way that we have resolved various problems, and I am more than delighted that the British public have supported us in what we have done. I look forward to five years of widening prosperity. I like the image, once used by Churchill, of the rearguard

Column 322

being brought in. We know from our constituencies that we have rearguards that need to be brought in. In our inner cities, among some of the poorest people of the country, there is a sense of isolation. The Conservative message is not merely to promote competition ; it contains an important element of compassion. The other day I came across a Gaelic blessing, "May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, may the sun shine on your face." Following what, for me, came as an unexpected election victory, the road is rising to meet the Government of the day. The local elections suggest that the wind of public opinion is still at our back. We have suffered a cruel recession ; there is a high level of unemployment in my London borough. But I believe that we are lifting out of that recession. I also believe that a bit of sunshine on their faces will be warmly welcomed by the people of this country.

12.37 pm

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) : I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment. You are new to your post and I am new to the House. As a new Member, I was given advice by some of my colleagues. Some people said, "You should try to be non-controversial, but then you risk being boring." Other people said, "You should try to be controversial, but then you risk being interrupted." I hope that I shall strike a balance-- perhaps I shall be both boring and interrupted.

I succeed a Member, Neil Thorne, who served the House for 13 years and had a reputation among his constituents of dealing diligently with their problems. He is bitterly disappointed at his defeat, and I arrive as someone who never expected to be elected in such circumstances. Throughout its history, the constituency of Ilford, South has normally followed the national trend. There have been only two occasions since 1945 when the constituency has had a Member of Parliament different from the Government. In 1950-51 and 1964-66, it had a Conservative Member of Parliament under a Labour Government. I am the first Labour Member of Parliament for Ilford, South to serve under a Conservative Government. My constituency is an Essex constituency. I was born in Essex and I am a man of Essex. We are not all Thatcherites or Tories in Essex--there are many Labour Essex men and women. In my constituency there was a swing to the Labour party of 5.9 per cent., three times the national average and twice the London average. That happened because we fought on the policies that the Labour party fought on nationally--on transport, health and education, and unemployment. We fought consistently and firmly, and we won.

I therefore do not believe that some of the explanations for Labour's defeat are necessarily valid. Sweeping generalisations do not take account of different results in defferent constituencies. I want to say a word about another predecessor of mine. In 1974, when I was still a student, I worked through the summer trying to get postal votes on the Becontree estate in Goodmayes, one of the wards in my constituency, on behalf of the Labour Member of Parliament, Arnold Shaw, who had been the Member from 1966 to 1970. He was re-elected in February 1974, and I helped him to get an increased majority in the October 1974 election.

Column 323

Arnold Shaw worked hard on a number of issues. He was a firm opponent of racism and was firmly in favour of stopping all cruelty to animals. If I can follow in his footsteps, in those two areas I will be a worthy successor to him.

Mine is a London constituency in Essex. Ilford expanded 100 years ago because of the coming of the railways. Now 40 per cent. of its people commute into central London, travelling from Seven Kings and Ilford to Liverpool Street or on the Central line from Newbury Park and Gants Hill to the centre of London. Alternatively, they have to try to drive down the Romford Road or go along the appalling A13 through the chicane around Canning Town.

It is appallingly difficult for anyone living in east London to travel into central London to work. East London is the neglected part of this city. It is the area with the highest unemployment, and it has suffered from a lack of investment. It also suffers greatly from the fact that we have no strategic Greater London authority to provide planning and environmental measures to help our community. Ilford would greatly benefit from such a body.

We would also benefit from the end of the recession and the ending of unemployment which has resulted in one in nine of my constituents being out of work. We lost half our manufacturing industry in the late 1980s. A vivid example of that occurred last week, when the Plessey factory in Ilford started being knocked down. It has been disused and empty for some time-- since even before the defence cuts under "Options for Change". Plessey was symbolic to Ilford, but the jobs disappeared a long time ago, and now the factory is just rubble. We need to ensure that the same fate does not overtake other defence industry workers and defence establishments, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said earlier. My constituency is a mixed one. East London and Ilford have often received immigrants and refugees from other parts of the world and we have Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and many others from various parts of the world. We also have a large Irish Catholic community and people from the Caribbean and Africa. We all live in harmony. Although there are difficult international questions--the one over Kashmir being a case in point, events in the middle east being another--there is harmony in our community. It is a bit ironic to note that if the grandparents of some people in Ilford tried to seek asylum in this country today, they would suffer fingerprinting, restrictions, fines on air carriers and, potentially, the inability to seek asylum if the Bill introduced before the election is reintroduced.

We need a sense of history and perspective. The ancestors of many hon. Members sought refuge in this country from oppression, exploitation and discrimination. However, the Government and the European Community by some of its proposals seek to erect barriers against people in other countries who are in danger and in fear. I do not accept that, and more should be said about it.

I mentioned the middle east. In that context, I disagree with the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend), because one can draw some hope from the talks process initiated by the United States. That process will be greatly assisted and accelerated if the Labour party wins the election in Israel in June and if there can be greater

Column 324

involvement by European Community countries, including Britain. It is a shame that there are not similar processes in other areas of the world, because Kashmir, for example, would benefit from dialogue and negotiations between the parties in that dispute.

I was struck by the Prime Minister's words on Wednesday. He said : "Increasingly, countries that join the European Community will also join the Western European Union, as the European pillar of a common defence effort ; but, if the need ever again arose, it would be through NATO that the members of the WEU would defend themselves. Any European country joining the WEU will still look to NATO--including the American presence in Europe--for its defence."--[ Official Report, 6 May 1992 ; Vol. 207, c. 73.]

That is fine, but then I read the Maastricht treaty. Article J.4 states :

"The common foreign and security policy shall include all questions related to the security of the Union, including the eventual framing of a common defence policy, which might in time lead to a common defence."

That is a far stronger statement than the one by the Prime Minister, and it is not qualified.

The wording in the Queen's Speech is different again, and does not seem to accord with what the Prime Minister said or with the Maastricht treaty. It states that the Government

"will aim to develop the Western European Union as a means of strengthening the European pillar of the alliance and the defence component of the European Union."

That mentions a "defence component" and not common defence, which is a much stronger term than simply "component".

It is time for the Government to come clean. Do they favour a continuation of the Atlantic Alliance, or do they favour a Western European Union military alliance? They cannot have both, because as anyone who has had discussions with the French socialist Government or with people in other European countries knows, ultimately one must make a choice.

So far, the Government have refused clearly to spell out their aims. What will be their stand on integrated European forces? What view will they take on British and French nuclear weapons, and where will ultimate authority for them lie? Nowhere in the Queen's Speech or in the debate have we had an answer to those questions, and we deserve answers.

Although there is a reference in the Gracious Speech to the Government working

"for a comprehensive and verifiable ban on chemical weapons, to prevent the proliferation of biological weapons and other weapons of mass destruction",

it is regrettable that there is no reference to a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. How can the Government expect other countries to strengthen the non-proliferation treaty and to preserve it after 1995 if they are not prepared to act in good faith, in accordance with article 6, to secure further measures of nuclear disarmament?

There is a great window of opportunity. Both Russia and France, for different reasons, have placed a moratorium on nuclear testing. Why is Britain not joining them, and persuading China and the United States to follow suit? There would then be the possibility of a global ban on nuclear testing. There is a great opportunity ; it will be tragic if it is lost and the French moratorium comes to an end. I hope to make further contributions to debates in this place. I shall not confine myself to foreign affairs matters.

Column 325

I understood that it would be appropriate to do so today, however, and I appreciate the opportunity that the House has given me. 12.51 pm

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham) : It is an honour to be able to follow the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes), who confidently and competently exposed his considerable knowledge of international affairs. He and I both represent barometer seats. He told us that his goes back to 1945 and that until the general election his constituency was always represented by a supporter of whatever Government were in office. Gravesham's record goes back to 1922, and has bucked the trend on only two occasions. I wish the hon. Gentleman well over the next four or five years. Barometer seats are such that I shall be back in the House after the next general election and he will not.

It is a good morning for debating the Gracious Speech. We are secure in the knoweldge that we shall have a Conservative Government with a majority for at least the next five years. This morning we are safe in the knoweldge that throughout the country 1,000 Conservative councillors have been safely returned to serve their councils over the years ahead. However, there is no room for triumphalism on the Government Benches. The Conservative party won the general election because of the manifest unsuitability of the Labour party for government, but early canvasses and opinion polls made it clear that the electorate was dissatisfied with two years of recession and with the way the Government handled those matters, and took the view that responsibility for the recession rested in no small measure with us. I fear that we turned the tourniquet too tightly when dealing with an inflationary surge. I well remember our departed right hon. Friend, Norman Tebbit, warning the then Chancellor of the Exchequer of the dangers of turning the tourniquet too tightly and creating a recession. His comments were extremely relevant, especially with hindsight.

The people knew, however, that there was no contest when it came to who had the economic competence and fitness to lead the country out of the recession. That is why we have a Conservative Government. The country also weighed up possible leadership in the international arena in the years ahead, the choice being between the right hon. Members for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) and for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and my right hon. Friends the Members for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) and for Witney (Mr. Hurd). What a choice that was, and there was no doubt what the result would be in a general election. The team that is to lead Britain in a changed world needs to be excellent, thorough and understanding.

We have a changed world indeed. The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, for example, are gone and in their place is turmoil and Balkanisation. There is a warning for this country in the dangers of Balkanisation when we think of the integrity of the United Kingdom. The United States is troubled and wallowing in lack of direction. The symptoms of that were shown recently in Los Angeles.

Germany seems to have taken very much the wrong track by giving top priority to its territorial ambitions for unification. It has not faced up to the cost of unification,

Column 326

and the way in which it is going about unification is making the rest of Europe and the world pay for the costs of its territorial ambitions. Germany has created a distortion in the strength of the deutschmark which, combined with the relaxation and weakening of the work ethic in Germany, is creating a problem. The Germans must be careful, and they must watch out for the rise of mindless thugs. We are hearing a discordant baying from such people which is reminiscent of the 1930s. The onus is on our friends in the Christian Democratic Union and in the Christian Social Union to stand firm and courageous, and not to give way to the intolerant racist beast which has lain dormant for 40 years in the breast of the German nation.

Across the channel, France is yet another example of the failures of socialism. This should be a great opportunity for the moderate right in France. The way forward for the moderate right in France is not to make references to "smelly foreigners", but to remember the wise statement quoted by Sir Winston Churchill :

"United we stand--divided we fall."

It is incumbent on moderate conservative parties in France to get together and to win power in France--and to join us in creating a new Europe of co- operating nation states.

For far too long, France alone has given the leadership in the European Community. Our timidity in not joining the European Community in the first place--and, perhaps, in delaying taking part properly in the exchange rate mechanism--created a situation in which those organisations were moulded in accordance with French vested interests. We need to break that mould and create a new Europe which takes into account the requirements of our country and those of the other smaller nations within the European Community.

In this troubled world, we see Japan losing its self-confidence and going into recession. The work ethic there is also coming into some doubt. We contrast that with the United Kingdom which has a firm majority Government, an economy coming out of recession and a leadership who are the right team with the right policies. We have the right opportunities to bring things about.

The challenge of this Parliament is to get Europe right for the future. The Maastricht agreement, an achievement of the Prime Minister, was one of the great pointers for the public in the general election. The Maastricht agreement and the negotiations showed that we have in the Prime Minister a man of steel. That man of steel will preside over the future of our European Community for six months later this year.

We have a series of challenges in our European Community. We must tame the mushrooming expansion of the convergence funds and we must reform the common agricultural policy. We must carry out a revision of the exchange rate mechanism and we must set the Community on the road to becoming a Community of co-operating nation states and not on the road to becoming a centralised federal bureaucracy. I was delighted to see those objectives headlined and highlighted in the Gracious Speech.

Clearly, we are now on the road to recovery from the recession in this country. With that will come the reduction in the public spending deficit, but the prospects for a reduction could be ruined if we do not face up to the challenge of the convergence funds. It is a matter of common agreement that the common agricultural policy involves a very large and, to a great

Column 327

extent, wasted expenditure of resources. It was the CAP which created the very large deficit that Britain had to face. If the convergence funds continue on their current course, as proposed, it will make the net United Kingdom contribution to the European Community of £2.1 billion look very small indeed. We all know that the proposals being touted about by Jacques Delors are to increase the regional funds by an extra £7 billion, equivalent to a total of £20 billion by 1997. That vast amount will unstitch the financial solidity of the countries of Europe and put intolerable strains on our own budget.

The reform of the CAP is essential. The failure to reform the CAP is a major cause of the continuing failure of the Uruguay round of GATT. The continuing failure to achieve a successful conclusion to that round could retard or even destroy recovery from worldwide recession. The objectives are best summed up by Arthur Dunkel, who commented recently :

"By throwing away the weapons of protectionism--import controls, restrictive deals, laws against the free flow of goods and services--a new trade deal will cut European unemployment and help Eastern Europe revive. Above all, it will start to arrest the decline of the poverty-stricken countries of Africa and Latin America."

I should like to dwell on the subject of Latin America and Africa. Particularly in Latin America, we have witnessed a remarkable success with the return to democracy. With the one exception of the Cuban dictatorship, all of Latin America has returned to democracy.

Mr. Corbyn : What about Peru?

Mr. Arnold : The recent hiatus in Peru must be dealt with.

Mr. Corbyn : Come on--it was a military coup.

Mr. Arnold : What occurred in Peru represents a response to Marxist terrorism in the form of the Shining Path. Those pressures should be recognised but the consequences should not be acceptable. I am sure that my right hon. Friends have expressed Great Britain's feelings to President Fujimori about that blot on the return of democracy in Latin America-- another being Cuba, whose regime the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) supports.

The return of multi-party democracy is not confined to Latin America. It is extending in Africa, as we saw with the handover of power following the elections in Zambia. Combined with the return of democracy to those countries is the introduction of liberal economies, privatisation and the opening up of markets. Like democracy in Peru, those are very fragile flowers and we must work against pressures such as those exerted by the continuing failure to reform GATT. All those improvements would be ruined if the developed world--the European Community, the United States, and Japan--lurched into renewed protectionism.

The other objective is the revision of the exchange rate mechanism. I believe that our membership of the ERM has had a major influence on the recession in the United Kingdom. Although it has had the benevolent effect of creating stable exchange rates of benefit to international trade for Britain and in assisting central banks to control international fund movements by international corporate treasurers and currency speculators, I do not believe that the fixed exchange rate should be an overriding economic

Column 328

objective to the detriment of other economic objectives such as growth and employment. That matter will have to be examined in the months ahead--in particular, we should consider whether there is good sense in tying the ERM currencies to the anchor of the deutschmark. It may well be that, because of events in Germany, that link is already out of date.

Germany made clear policy decisions about the priority of the reunification of Germany and in the process has destroyed the strength and stability of the deutschmark. To retain that strength and stability, Germany has introduced interest rates that are too high in order to maintain the over- valuation of the deutschmark. That is forcing others to alter currency values through excessive interest rates to the detriment of our economies and employment. The redefinition of currency relationships must be a primary objective of the United Kingdom presidency of the Community.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary pleaded that we Europeans should not be for ever tearing up the institutions of Europe to look at the roots. He said that we should leave European Community institutions alone. In particular, we should bear in mind the centralised Community role in foreign affairs. The more we head down the path to a single European voice in the world community, the more likely it is that the Community, as an institution, will take the permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council that we have rightly enjoyed, as have the French, since the United Nations was established. That is a particular aspect of our voice in the world that we must not overlook.

Almost alone among the leading countries in the west, we have a stable Government with a perspective of years. We have an outstanding Foreign Secretary and we have a Prime Minister who has shown his mettle. We must now exercise our leading role in the European Community and in the Security Council to find a new, stable way in a greatly changed world.

1.6 pm

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting) : I join other hon. Members who have today extended their warm congratulations to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment. Many hon. Members, irrespective of which party they represent, have worked closely with you and the many organisations in this place, and we know how helpful and courteous you have always been. It is a great pleasure to see you join the distinguished new appointments of Madam Speaker and the other Deputy Speakers. I am honoured to make this speech while you are in the Chair.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) on his maiden speech. We have known each other for a long time and we are close friends. In his short speech, he covered many of the issues that are of great concern to London Members, irrespective of the parties that they represent. He also brings to the House a wide knowledge of international affairs. Although he said that that would not be the sole subject on which he will concentrate, I am sure that he will always be listened to with great interest when he speaks on international affairs. It will be only a short time before my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South is held in great respect in the House for his knowledge and for the courtesy that he will

Column 329

show to colleagues in debates and in his general membership of the House. It is a great pleasure to welcome him here.

I want to concentrate solely on Cyprus, for several reasons. Sadly, Cyprus will shortly have been divided for 18 years following the invasion be Turkey in 1974. As other hon. Members have said today, we are one of the guarantor powers for the island of Cyprus. Cyprus is a member of the British Commonwealth.

I welcomed the comments made by the Foreign Secretary and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). Many hon. Members in this place have had a long interest in Cyprus. Like myself, they have always argued for one overriding commitment and principle--a united Cyprus where the rights of the communities on the island, be they Greek or Turkish, are respected and protected. No one has had greater involvement in that criterion for Cyprus than the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend).

Over those long 18 years, many of us have followed the involvement of the United Nations, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. We have had great hopes that there would be an honourable settlement, but, no matter how high our hopes have been, there has been no progress to an honourable settlement.

Sadly, many of the things that we have opposed for many years still exist. The island is divided. Thousands of Turkish troops are still on the island. Stolen property and land are still in the hands of the people who took it, even though they have no lawful right to it. Attempts to attain the free movement of people throughout the island have met with no progress. There have been attempts to open Famagusta as a city. Sadly, again we have got nowhere. Despite our efforts, there has been virtually no meaningful progress.

Although both communities have obviously suffered, the Turkish Cypriots have suffered far more than the Greek Cypriots. There has been very little development in northern Cyprus. Without doubt, the rights of Turkish Cypriots have been eroded. They are given few opportunities to travel. One has seen the lowering of their standard of living. That is one of the things that I deeply regret. Despite the fact that Mr. Denktash describes himself as the President of northern Cyprus, there is widespread opposition to him within the Turkish Cypriot community. He most certainly does not speak with the full authority of Turkish Cypriots. In October, an article in the Turkish Cypriot newspaper, Ortam --it is still fairly recent--states :

"Mr. Denktash, who for 30 years has accused his opponents of treason and gagged them through bullying and with political terror, should realise that he has reached the end of the road. Denktash, who is a custom-made person for the cold war period, is unable to keep in step with the new understanding prevailing in the world now." Sadly, that sums up Mr. Denktash. Whereas, to their credit, many Turkish Cypriots wish to see a settlement, we cannot say the same about Mr. Denktash.

What is of specific concern to us and, I hope, to the Government is that there is a debate on Cyprus at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg today. The Minister should note that the number of the relevant document is 6589. It is being presented to the Council of Europe by a

Column 330

member of the Spanish delegation. That member was asked by the Council of Europe to go to Cyprus to find out the number of settlers coming from mainland Turkey to the northern part of Cyprus. According to that member's report, which is published today--the figures have been given by people in Mr. Denktash's Administration--in 1974, 115,600 people living in northern Cyprus were regarded as Turkish Cypriots. In 1990, the figure given was 171,500 people. In view of that substantial increase, we are entitled to ask who the thousands of extra people living in northern Cyprus are.

I put it to the Minister that those sheer numbers alone have sadly damaged the chance of finding an acceptable solution. We face the problem of what will happen to the people who are now living in northern Cyprus even though they have no basic rights to residency in that part of the island. They were brought there by Mr. Denktash to strengthen his position with the full support of Ankara. It would be interesting to hear exactly what is the Government's view on that point.

For many years, the Americans sadly showed little interest in Cyprus. In February this year, I and other Members of Parliament went to Washington specifically to discuss the situation in Cyprus. To the credit of the Americans, they now obviously wish to see a settlement. We met senior politicians and members of the Administration. They made it clear that they wished to see a settlement in Cyprus. They also said, "If only the British Government would back us up in the kind of settlement that we want, progress could indeed begin." They were highly critical of the lack of meaningful support from the British Government for the efforts of the American Administration in their discussions with not only Mr. Denktash but most especially the Government in Ankara. I will be interested to hear exactly what the Minister says in reply to that comment.

Over the years, I have often asked in the House what the Government's policy was, always to be told, "We support the United Nations." I put it to the Minister that, while I and, I am sure, all Members of the House welcome that, it is no longer sufficient for the Government simply to say that they support the efforts of the United Nations.

The question was asked this morning why a senior Minister from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had not visited the island of Cyprus. Will such a visit be considered in the next few months? It would clearly show both sides in Cyprus and the Governments of Turkey and Greece that Great Britain is as committed as the Americans to a meaningful settlement of the tragedy of Cyprus.

Are we at long last to pressurise--again I use the word "pressurise"--both Mr. Denktash and Ankara for meaningful reductions in the number of Turkish troops stationed on the island? To the credit of Sir Geoffrey Howe, a former Member of the House, he always said to the many hon. Members who met him over the years that it would be common sense for both Turkey and Mr. Denktash sizeably to reduce the number of Turkish troops. Sadly, that has never taken place. Will we put pressure on both Mr. Denktash and Turkey to do so? Are we to see Famagusta opened up as a city? Again, that would give hope in Cyprus.

I come to my final point ; I am aware of the time. One of the great problems that we in the House who work for a settlement in Cyprus have always experienced is that,

Column 331

when we seek to hold meetings of Turkish and Greek Cypriots, people who are opposed to Mr. Denktash face enormous problems in being allowed to leave northern Cyprus to come here. If Mr. Denktash really wants a settlement, surely it is common sense to allow Turkish Cypriots to meet Greek Cypriots so that they can discuss their vision for a united Cyprus. As I said, I am in no doubt that many Turkish Cypriots want a settlement. Until Mr. Denktash allows those people to leave Cyprus, it would be better for them to meet in Cyprus, which is their home. Mr. Denktash will never give them permission to go to the south of the island. That is crucial.

The British Government have had a long involvement with Cyprus, for historic reasons. We are entitled to seek much greater involvement of the Government in the long-running tragedy of Cyprus, because I and many hon. Members wish to see an honourable settlement that benefits both Greek and Turkish Cypriots. That is where their home is. We should help them to develop what, in a short space of time, could become one of the most prosperous islands in the world. They have enormous potential which, sadly, has not been developed over the past 18 years. Let us hope that, in the coming years, there will be the movement and the development that will bring great pleasure not only to Cyprus but to many hon. Members.

1.20 pm

Mr. David Evans (Welwyn Hatfield) : I want to add my

congratulations on your appointment, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish you well. I wish also to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on his stunning victory on 9 April. Further, I congratulate all the people of Welwyn Hatfield who so wisely voted Conservative yesterday and ousted the Labour district council from power for the first time since 1979. That gives me great pleasure.

Europe was prominent in the Queen's Speech, as was the Asylum Bill. The British people rejected the Labour party, and they do not want to be governed by civil servants in Brussels, champagne socialists in Strasbourg or bankers in Bonn. The vast majority of men and women want to be ruled by this country, not by faceless bureaucrats across the channel. The political union with which they feel comfortable is the nation state, not a super nanny state or part of a federal Europe.

Many people regard nationalism as a dirty word ; I do not. It is what binds people together. It provides people with a collective sense of destiny through a common past and a vision of a common future. A nation's personality is forged through its history and that evokes powerful bonds of solidarity.

The world is made up of more than 100 nation states, and two of the most effective models of economic development over the past 30, 40 or 50 years have been Japan and the USA. They have powerful national personalities. By contrast, large multinational states appear to be in perpetual difficulties --for example, the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, India and Nigeria.

In Asia, it is the small states that are forging ahead economically, such as Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea. They quite rightly feel no need to pool their currencies or to form a federal union--a point that appears to be lost on Jacques Delors, on the Opposition and, I am sorry to say, on some of my colleagues.

Next Section

  Home Page