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7.9 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): I shall not follow the comments of the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill) save to say that there can be no hon. Member who has not been deeply shocked and, indeed, appalled by the events in Nigeria in recent weeks. My only slight note of criticism of what the hon. Gentleman said, in a very eloquent speech, is that I do not think that he should cast any aspersion on the total commitment of the Prime Minister. What the Prime Minister said in Auckland carried with it the support of the overwhelming majority of people in this country, regardless of party or any sort of affiliation.

It was right that Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth. Many of us thought that--perhaps-- Nigeria should have been expelled from the

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Commonwealth, but the judgment that was exercised was a fine one. Perhaps a degree of influence can be exercised in suspending rather than expelling Nigeria. I am content to rely on the total commitment and judgment of the Prime Minister. What was decided last week was entirely appropriate. It is right that the hon. Member for Streatham referred to the matter. It is right that he condemned in the roundest and most explicit terms the activities of what is obviously an abominable regime. I join him in hoping that its days are numbered.

I listened to the opening speeches and originally decided not to take part. I had thought that the House would be full for foreign affairs. From a personal point of view, I am glad to have the opportunity to speak, but I am sure that I would carry with me hon. Members in all parties in saying that it is a pity that, on this the second day of debating the Queen's Speech, more hon. Members are not taking part in what is in many ways the week's central debate. None the less, I welcomed much of what was mentioned concerning foreign affairs in the Gracious Speech and I shall refer to a few of the commitments given.

First, I shall deal with the Government's commitment

and to

    "offer further help to countries in Central and Eastern Europe to consolidate democratic reforms and build stability and prosperity in the region."
The events over the past seven or eight years have been as dramatic and cataclysmic as any we have seen in Europe this century. There can be nobody in the House who did not experience a sense of real relief and a thrill when the Berlin wall came down and when those countries that had suffered that long, dark winter of the cold war emerged into a sort of hesitant freedom.

I do not know what other hon. Members present think, but I feel that, perhaps, we could have done more to encourage and to assist. I think back especially to a conversation that I had when I took a delegation to Czechoslovakia--as it then was--some four years ago. We were received by the Speaker of the Parliament, Alexander Dubcek--one of the most remarkable men whom I have ever met. About 15 Members of both Houses were present and we had two hours of conversations with him.

Mr. Dubcek talked most movingly of his own career, of the appalling privations of his people and of the way in which he looked particularly towards Britain. As we were about to leave, I said to him, "Mr. President," for that was his title as Speaker of the Parliament, "what would be the message that you would like to give and what message should I take back to Britain?" He said, "It is very simple really. Of all the investment in my country, 85 per cent. at the moment is from Germany. Of the other 15 per cent., very little is from Britain. That is the message you should take back."

I did indeed take back that message. I saw my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), then Foreign Secretary, and we discussed the matter. Of course he understood and shared the desire to see greater British investment. I do not know the precise figures, and of course Czechoslovakia has split into its constituent parts--the Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic--but I felt then and feel now that there was not throughout the

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west, perhaps with the exception of Germany, a sufficiently vibrant response to the coming down of the wall and the ending of the cold war. So I greatly welcome the commitment in the Gracious Speech to which I referred.

That commitment ties up inevitably with another in the Queen's Speech. Over the page, we read of the forthcoming intergovernmental conference and the desire to

I believe passionately that if we are to have a peaceful, prosperous and secure Europe through the next century, it is very important that the European Union is enlarged to include the Czech Republic, one hopes Slovakia, certainly Hungary, Poland, later Romania and the Baltic states. My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) spoke earlier of a Europe stretching from the coast of Brittany to the Urals and I would welcome that. Indeed, I believe that very few hon. Members would not welcome it.

Of course, such an enlarged Europe would be very different from the current European Union. It is impossible to think of sustaining the structural funds in their present form--not to mention the common agricultural policy in its present form--if it becomes that enlarged Europe. The very institutions will have to change too. One could not necessarily have Commissioners from every single country, especially if the Union takes in Malta and Cyprus, which are already on the list. We could not have Commissioners from everywhere. We certainly could not have a European Parliament that made any sort of sense if it had 1,000 members. That is what we are looking at if we enlarge the Union.

So there has to be much careful and deep thought at the intergovernmental conference next year and in the discussions leading up to it. I very much hope that that will happen because I would like to see that wider, enlarged Europe. In coming together, there is the greatest guarantee of security.

There is an analogy in the words of an American friend, to whom I spoke not so long ago and who was in Hawaii. He was walking with a British friend who commented on the number of Japanese premises and the amount of Japanese investment that he could see. The American turned round and said, "Well, if there had been that amount of Japanese investment previously, there would not have been Pearl harbour." The greater the commitment--financial and otherwise--the lesser the chance of conflict. The greater the contact between people, the greater the understanding and the lesser the chance of conflict.

So, an enlarged Europe, including the countries that I have mentioned, would be the best possible guarantee of a secure, prosperous and peaceful Europe for our children and our grandchildren. Beside that goal, the narrow interpretations of sovereignty--I am not a federalist but a confederalist--pale into insignificance. What matters to individuals above all else is their security. They want to grow up in peace and have a degree of prosperity. Those are old words and slogans but they still ring true and have validity. So I welcome enormously the mention of enlargement in the Gracious Speech.

I am pleased that the Government are to work for the continued implementation of the principle of subsidiarity, although it is a pretty awful word. Obviously, I welcome

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the efforts to combat fraud, although I sometimes think that we get that out of perspective. Of course it is reprehensible and should be rooted out but, set in the scale of the achievement of the European Union to date, it is a minor problem.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) talked of VE and VJ day. I am not among those who claim that the European Community, the Common Market and now the European Union alone was responsible for maintaining peace in Europe, but it is absolutely clear that, at its core, the alliance between France and Germany has done more to banish the prospect of war from western Europe than any other single factor. We should recognise that fact. Although I greatly welcome what appears to be a new and deeper accord--a new expression of the entente cordiale between Britain and France--when people have returned from meetings of the Council of Ministers in recent years, they have tended to talk of other members of the European Union as if there were a quasi-enmity between us. They are our partners and allies. They are nations with which we must work in ever closer accord if peace, prosperity and stability are to be achieved. I greatly welcome that section of the Gracious Speech.

I recently spent some time with colleagues in Finland, one of the new members of the European Union. It is an impressive country of remarkable reliability, efficiency, warmth and friendship, which has achieved an enormous amount since the war. Finland has been independent for only 77 or 78 years, emerging from a long, difficult period when it was part of the then Russian empire. Within a matter of 20 or 21 years, there came the period of the "winter war" and then, technically, Finland was on the other side from Britain, although Churchill and Mannerheim maintained a mutual respect. Churchill always regarded Finland as perhaps a co-belligerent of Germany but never an enemy of Britain. Strong ties exist between us. When I was there, it was apparent that Britain was held in the highest possible regard. That was also apparent when the Finnish President came here on a state visit a few weeks ago.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford said that Britain was held in high esteem around the world. That is true. I am not being egocentric when I say that other countries around the world regard Britain as a special country. They greatly admire the fact that we are a permanent member of the Security Council, a member of the Group of Seven, a founder and leading member of NATO, as well as an important member of the European Union. They look to our long democratic tradition and the evolution of this place with affection and envy. I was certainly conscious of that in Finland. I visited the fine Parliament of that very democratic country, but the Finnish Government had to walk an extraordinary tightrope, maintaining Finland's freedom and democracy when the cold war was at its height, despite the fact that it had a 1,300 mile long boundary with the Soviet Union.

Given the regard in which this place is held, we must be careful not to damage it and talk it down. In some of our debates in recent weeks, even hon. Members tended to denigrate this institution. We must also remember that Finland, which is now the easternmost member of the European Union, forms the European Union's border with Russia. It is therefore particularly concerned about some of the issues to which I referred earlier, such as enlargement. It wants the Baltic states and Poland to

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become part of the European Union. It believes that it has a pivotal position--no one can deny that--but it also believes that, given the strength of our democracy, we have a contribution to make in bringing that about. We must not fail the expectations of friends and allies like Finland within the European Union.

The Gracious Speech also says:

I was particularly glad to see that commitment in the Gracious Speech. This country has an aid record of which we can be proud, without being complacent, but many people are perturbed by recent suggestions that our aid programme will be cut in the forthcoming Budget. I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on the Front Bench. I hope that he will convey to the Chancellor, as I have already done in writing, my earnest hope that our aid programme will not be cut. Although we have every right to be proud of our programme, we are a great country and we have all the responsibilities consequent upon membership of the organisations that I mentioned a few moments ago. We have a pivotal position in the European Union and it would be shortsighted and unfortunate, to put it mildly, if there were a cut. I do not think that it will be cut in view of the bold and realistic commitment in the Gracious Speech, which I welcome enormously.

I suppose that I have some of the prejudices--we all have prejudices--of the old paternalistic Tory, but I take pride in the fact that this country built a great empire in the last century and took a degree of civilisation around the world. I never feel apologetic about our imperial past. Of course, we would rather that some episodes in it had not happened. That is inevitable in any human organisation, but the balance sheet is overwhelmingly on the credit side.

I hold the Commonwealth very dear. I believe that we have a responsibility, and a moral one, to many of the poorer nations. I suppose the poorest one I visited in my capacity as a Member of the House was the Solomon Islands, way down in the South Pacific. People may think, "How wonderful and romantic." Yes, it is beautiful and the people are friendly and delightful, but they live in grinding poverty and their life expectancy is half that of our own. It is therefore most important that such countries should be given every possible help.

I visited the Solomon Islands in 1988 for the state opening of Parliament. The temperature was 110 deg, the band played "God save the Queen", the Speaker wore his wig and robes and everyone else wore three-piece suits. It was an absolutely marvellous, splendid occasion.

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