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Mr. Mackinlay: I read The Daily Telegraph.

Mr. Garnier:-- that the very notion of a common foreign and security policy was always a utopian chimera.

Britain, which has throughout been influential in European foreign policy, has said that it favours limited changes to CFSP structures and improved mechanisms for intergovernmental and interinstitutional co-operation. In his article, to which I have referred, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney considered the future of the CFSP. He wrote:

He added that Britain favours development of the CFSP

    "by consent, not by coercion, and with the flexibility to act and react quickly and imaginatively without the legal and procedural constraints of Community practice."

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A strengthened CFSP secretariat, my right hon. Friend said, should include a small forward-planning unit that might, for example, provide contingencies for the council to consider in reaction to a particular event. That would contribute to

    "a flexibility which allows ministers to respond to fast-moving events . . . CFSP should lead from common analyses through common policy to common actions."

There is no doubt that defence and security will be important issues at the intergovernmental conference. The review at the IGC should take account of the overriding and continuing importance of NATO; of developments in western Europe since the signing of the treaty on European union that affect the shared interests and common security of member states; of progress in the implementation of economic and political reforms in the countries of central and eastern Europe, including the development of new partnerships with western institutions and the perspective of their enlargement; and of the future potential for instability that might lead to challenges to European interests and to conflict and suffering that European states will wish to prevent or relieve.

The United Kingdom is irrevocably part of the European Union. We wish to see a Europe that is outward looking rather than introspective, pulling its full weight internationally and acting as a power for good in the world. We want a Europe that encourages and allows flexibility, recognising the diversity of its members rather than trying to impose undue conformity. Its development must be realistic, attainable and supported by its peoples.

As for defence and security, I hope that we shall carry into the debate a firm view that European nations should develop arrangements for the future that will ensure that, consistent with our NATO obligations, Europe collectively is able to shoulder more effectively its share of the burden of promoting security and stability on the continent, on its periphery and beyond. We shall also want to see arrangements put in place that ensure that the burden is shared equitably among European nations.

The Western European Union has an important and growing role to play in the development of a European security and defence identity. There is a close relationship between the WEU and the security guarantee contained in the Brussels treaty and NATO with the security guarantee that is contained in the Washington treaty. We have worked over the past decade since the reactivation of the WEU to develop its ability to contribute to the European pillar of NATO, which is the means of enhancing the European contribution to NATO's actions and of taking our fair share, with our north American allies, of the burden of ensuring our common security. The consequence of the decisions taken at Maastricht is that the WEU is now being developed into having a dual capacity, not only as a means of contributing to the European pillar of NATO but as the defence component of the European Union.

Definition of the European defence policy should start with a proper assessment of what Europeans can realistically expect to do together. Surely it would be wasteful to develop separate and wholly European military structures. Europe should capitalise on the foundation that has been built in NATO so that it is able to continue to provide the basis of our common defence

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and security and we are able to preserve and further develop a basis for bringing together coalitions of European and north American forces for major combat operations as, for example, we saw in the Gulf.

In that context, the WEU's role should be to act as a more effective European pillar of the alliance. In the new strategic environment, however, military forces are more likely to be used for lesser crisis-management tasks; for peace support operations and in support of those working for the United Nations or the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

NATO structures and capabilities are being adapted to allow the WEU to undertake the new tasks to which I have referred. It would be unreasonable, however, to expect the United States and Canada to participate in every such mission in future. There must be genuine burden sharing. Although we do not doubt the commitment of our north American allies to our common defence, we should not overstrain that commitment by expecting them to intervene in all European security operations. It would be wrong to act on the basis that they will always be here just when we need them.

The United Kingdom has world-class, highly experienced armed forces, both regulars and reserves. I was glad to read the reference in the Gracious Speech to the Reserve Forces Bill. I think that that measure will underscore the valuable role that the reserves play. When I was with the armed forces parliamentary scheme, I was fortunate to get to the Falklands, where there was a company of territorial soldiers. That company was taking its part in the roulement--the deployment of a military company in that far-flung theatre. I hope that the Reserve Forces Bill, which we shall debate later in the Session, will yet further reinforce the view that the Government and the public find that the reserves carry out a valuable role that is much appreciated.

The main vehicle through which Europe should work together is the WEU, acting either on its own behalf or, if it wished, in response to a request from the European Union. I am delighted that, at the beginning of next year, the UK will assume the presidency of the WEU. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will attend its discussions regularly and reinforce the British point of view on the defence of Europe. There is no point in pretending that we can cut ourselves off in political, diplomatic or trade terms from the continent of Europe. It is important, however, that we do not allow ourselves to be subsumed into some wonderful wish-tank in which all difficult and problematical issues can be solved by saying, "Let us all fold the WEU into the European Union and assume that the WEU will provide the European army." Life is not like that. I strongly urge my right hon. Friend, when at the WEU or when discussing European defence matters elsewhere, to ensure that our position is firmly made clear.

European defence and security will be one of the key issues at the IGC. It is vital. European defence and security is our defence and our security. We must play a leading role in the debate up to, and at, the conference to secure the arrangements that we believe should be put into place for the future--arrangements that are realistic, flexible and command popular consent. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence continues, as I hope that he will, to ignore the abuse that is being spilled at him from across the Chamber, and continues with his

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sensible course of managing the affairs of our armed forces; if he ensures that they are allowed to remain in a state of stability, that they are allowed to be maintained in a state of high morale and that they have the best possible equipment; he will ensure not only that he is held in the highest esteem but that our armed forces, which have been the envy of our allies for centuries, will themselves remain in the highest esteem.

I am very pleased to have been able to contribute in some small way to the debate this evening. I trust that the Gracious Speech will be as warmly welcomed by others in the Chamber as it has been by me.

8.30 pm

Mr. Bill Etherington (Sunderland, North): Last year in the debate on the Queen's Speech, on 29 November, because there was a shortage of hon. Members who wished to speak, I spoke for 32 minutes. On that occasion I was able to pay tribute to certain constructive policies that were being proposed by the Government. It represented some 15 per cent. of what I had to say, but it was 15 per cent. more than I am able to make reference to tonight, because the Gracious Speech is bland in many respects and quite dangerous in others.

I enjoyed the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), the shadow Secretary of State. I wish that I shared his confidence that this will be the last Queen's Speech that I will debate in opposition. I fear that that will not be so because the Government will go the full term. I do not think that an opportunity will arise where they can go to the country and hope to win an election, and that pleases me immensely. That did not seem quite so clear last year, but it does now.

One of the great pleasures of the debate on the Queen's Speech is that a Back Bencher can speak on any subject providing that he does not stray away from the Queen's speech, or what he thinks should be in it. I have always been grateful for that, because, unfortunately, since the Jopling reforms Back Benchers have not had quite the same opportunities to be free of their party, whichever party that happens to be, to say what they really think and to allow for some fresh ideas on occasions.

I was a little concerned when I read through the Gracious Speech to read one or two terms. I know that it is easy to be accused of picking out words and putting one's own interpretation on them, and I trust that the House will accept that I am not trying to do that, but there are certain phrases that mean different things to different people, and I have to try to interpret what they mean to me. The term "minimum nuclear deterrent" has been used, as part of the policy of the Government, as has "preventing the proliferation of weapons" and "test ban treaty".

I am sorry to tread over ground that has already been extremely well trodden in the debate, but I do not see where those particular aspirations fit in with the quite reprehensible attitude that the Government have shown towards the French nuclear tests. No consideration has been given to what our Commonwealth partners in New Zealand and Australia feel about them, or to the people who live in the area. I make the point to the Government that it seems to me that if only two countries were in favour of the tests--every other country appears to be either against them or neutral, but mostly against them-- perhaps it is time that we revisited the matter and decided

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that we may well have been wrong. I think that we are wrong, and I hope that as time goes on the Government will appreciate that. We will not move towards getting an effective test ban treaty by taking the attitude that we have over the French tests. It has caused tremendous dissatisfaction among the public, and I hope that that will be reflected when we have a general election.

Reference is made to the role of NATO and its relationship with Russia. The term "to consolidate democratic reforms" is used. I do not imagine that anyone would argue about that, but I hope that the Government are talking about consolidating democratic reforms and not just about what is pragmatic for commerce, because at the moment in Russia the regime that this Government are supporting and propping up does not seem to have the whole-hearted support of the Russian people. If we really believed in democracy, we would respect what its people are asking for. I am afraid that at the moment that is not happening.

The Gracious Speech also says:

I have always understood that the word "substantial" means anything above nil. So if one presents somebody with one penny, one is providing them with something substantial. But that is not the way in which most people will read such a phrase. Most people would assume from reading it that we were giving out tremendous amounts of foreign aid and that that will be maintained. In effect, since 1979, year on year we have seen a reduction in the real value of what this country is paying out in foreign aid. We heard many fine words, not least from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, about the United Nations. If we really had respect for the UN, we would uphold what we had agreed to do within that body. We would also perhaps consider taking a little more notice of some of the International Labour Organisation conventions, on which the Government have an appalling record.

Mention was made today of the problem of Nigeria. The term used in the Gracious Speech is

If the Commonwealth is to mean anything at all and if it is to reflect the sort of life, the ethos, the principles that an advanced democratic nation expounds, there is no place in it for a military dictatorship. There is no place for totalitarian states within the Commonwealth. The question should be whether sanctions will be considered. Another word of warning on that issue. Nelson Mandela states that something serious and substantial needs to be done about the situation in Nigeria. I hope that the Government will take more notice of him than they did when he was in exile, when through the African National Congress he was begging this country to put sanctions on South Africa. I have no doubt that South Africa might have been reformed a lot more quickly had it not been for the support of Baroness Thatcher and her ilk when it really mattered. I hope that we shall see some change in the Pontius Pilate-type approach: waiting to see which way the wind is blowing, before we decide what we are going to do. Human rights are more important than pragmatic considerations of commerce. The Government do not have a very good record on that, but I always live in hope that we can look to better things.

Northern Ireland is mentioned in the Gracious Speech. The Government say that they

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    "will continue to build on the present peace."
I sincerely hope that the present peace continues, so that it can be built on. Once again, I make a plea to the Government, as I have done on previous occasions, to be prepared to enter into meaningful negotiations with any organisation that is not proscribed by law. If an organisation is considered fit by the Government to stand in elections and to represent people in local government, and, indeed, in the Chamber, should that be the case, it should be recognised and negotiated with. Sinn Fein has every bit as much right to be negotiated with as any of the Unionist factions. I hope that the Government will do something about that, because if the peace process flounders, we will go back not to where we were, but to something that I believe could be considerably worse, and I am fearful of that. I sincerely hope that that will not happen.

I cannot help but note that small businesses get a mention in the Gracious Speech. I am afraid that they do not do too well out of the market forces that are so beloved of the Government. The reality is that many small businesses rely on their revenue from large businesses, which are often in quite a monopolistic position. It is all very well saying that market forces will prevail, but if one is a small business and wants the bills to be paid, and the people who owe money also keep one in business, one is in an extremely weak position. I hope that the Chancellor, in the Budget, does something about that so that small businesses can deal with the debt that they often face. Banks are not very kind to small businesses; I hope that they will receive a better response from larger businesses.

I was pleased to learn that the Government are fully committed to the channel tunnel rail link. I have been a member of the Committee considering the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill since February last year, and do not see the Committee stage ending before February next year; the news gave me some consolation. If such business is not to be dealt with in the Chamber--I fully accept that that is not unreasonable--I hope that the Government are whole-heartedly behind the Bill in its entirety.

Mention has been made of easing the restrictions on broadcasting ownership. I hope that the Government will not go down that road. Monopoly holdings already exist in the press and other media--which the Government themselves have suffered for on numerous occasions, if they could but see it--and I hope that they will not allow the position to worsen.

The education proposals are probably the worst aspect of the Queen's Speech. The Government say that they intend to expand nursery education. When the Conservatives were in charge of one or two local authorities, including some counties--they are not in charge of many now--their record was abysmal. The expansion of which the Government speak will not happen when Labour councils that have provided nursery education for four-year-olds are now threatened with a loss of the revenue that would allow that provision to continue.

I hope that the Government have learnt the lesson of the poll tax, because the nursery education voucher scheme is the poll tax in reverse. It gives out regardless of circumstances rather than taking in regardless of circumstances, as the poll tax did. People will be

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subsidised when they are prepared to pay for private nursery education; others will be subsidised when they may have other arrangements. The net result will be the inability of local authorities to provide such education--I understand that 87 per cent. of it is currently provided by local authorities. The system may bring about a negation of what the Government claim to believe in.

I am also intrigued by the borrowing powers for grant-maintained schools. The coupling of those powers with selective school admissions will mean the disestablishment of state education.

The Government say that they will make better provision in the housing sector. If a return to private landlords and people living with intimidation and threats represents better provision, yes--we are on the way to that. Housing provision will improve only if the Government start to take note of those involved, and make some £1,000 million per annum available for the creation of 30,000 jobs in the sector and to enable us to escape from the current continuing decline in housing. That would also help the homeless.

I note that the Government intend to abolish councils' responsibility for the homeless. We now know that, according to Government policy, the homeless are responsible for their own plight--not unlike the unemployed.

An important element that is missing from the Gracious Speech is the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill. I was appalled to discover recently from an organised publicity campaign by the Body Shop that one in five women suffer from domestic violence at some time in their lives. That is appalling in a civilised society, and we must find a way of legislating against such bestial behaviour.

I have spoken for 13 minutes. I have not tried to drag my speech out as others have, but I shall sit down to allow two of my hon. Friends the opportunity to speak.

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