Previous SectionIndexHome Page

8.55 pm

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): In the time that is available to me I cannot cover all the points that I wanted to raise. I welcome a number of issues in the Gracious Speech. I welcome the belated decision on legislation to ratify the chemical weapons convention. I had an Adjournment debate on 24 April and it was clear at that

16 Nov 1995 : Column 214

time that the obstacle was not in the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office but in the Department of Trade and Industry. It was a lack of concern, vitality and interest by the then President of the Board of Trade. Now that he has moved to 10A the legislation is to be introduced and I welcome that.

It is important to welcome at least some of the references in the Gracious Speech to nuclear weapons. I am speaking about the reference to the comprehensive test ban treaty. However, the other parts cannot be welcomed. The Gracious Speech contains an interesting phrase about the Commonwealth. It states:

Can the Secretary of State explain how antagonising 50 member countries of the Commonwealth contributes to strengthening ties and how becoming Mr. Chirac's poodle on defence policy in any way contributes to the integrity and co-operation of this country with other nations?

The French Government's nuclear test programme in the south Pacific has nothing to do with technical needs. The former President, Mr. Mitterrand, was told by his military advisers that it was not necessary to have further nuclear tests and the socialist Government introduced a moratorium on them. As part of his election campaign Mr. Chirac, in a Portilloesque style, launched a tirade calling for further nuclear tests by his country. When he won the election he presumably felt obliged to carry out such tests although they were not necessary and the advice given to the former Government was that they were unnecessary. He went ahead, although the tests began directly after the non-proliferation treaty negotiations, which had been agreed with some difficulty, to extend indefinitely the life of the treaty on the assumption by many countries that there would be no further nuclear weapons tests. It could therefore be perceived by many people worldwide that the French had acted in bad faith. Unfortunately, our Prime Minister and Government, despite the overwhelming wishes of this country's people and the majority of public opinion in France, have chosen to align themselves with that policy and bad faith towards the non-proliferation treaty.

Many points have been made about other aspects of the Commonwealth conference, which I shall not go into now, but another matter has not been mentioned: the fact that, for the past few years, the Government have been giving co-operation not just to the military in Nigeria, but with regard to police equipment and policing. I hope that serious attention will be given to that because, clearly, in a repressive society, what a country does with its police force can be as offensive, oppressive and brutal as what it does with its military. We need to consider closely not just the military contracts and assistance to the military in Nigeria, but other aspects of the power of that corrupt kleptocracy and evil regime.

I wanted to comment on some of the points made about the position in former Yugoslavia, but unfortunately I do not have time. I shall, however, make just one point. If we must choose between an ideal solution based on preservation of the integrity of a state, and a peaceful solution based on recognition that, in elections in that state, 85 per cent. of the people voted for ethnically or religiously based parties rather than unitary parties, and if

16 Nov 1995 : Column 215

we are realistic, we will have to come to terms with the fact that some form of de facto internal partition will be necessary. If that is what comes out of the negotiations in the United States of America, I hope that hon. Members on both sides of House will recognise that that is the best that is available at this time, accept it and work, manfully, womanfully, all of us together, to ensure that there will be support on all sides for the peace agreement.

Having seen the United States media and heard some of the comments made by members of Congress in the past few days, I believe that it is highly doubtful that President Clinton will be able to get his 25,000 troops. If that is so, the United States, having sabotaged previous negotiations in the past, will, in this one, have the rug pulled from under its President at the last minute to sabotage the agreement. I hope that it will not come to that, but I am sceptical, given what Mr. Dole and Mr. Gingrich are up to.

In the past few days, President Clinton has made a positive statement in relation to another sector. I could say that the Government have taken up the words that I pressed on them with regard to chemical weapons in the Adjournment debate in April, but, regrettably, I cannot do so in relation to my Adjournment debate on 31 October, when I called on the Government to rejoin the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Despite President Clinton's remarks in the past few days that he wishes the United States to go back into UNESCO, our Government have clearly set their face against doing so.

I regret that, in the 50th anniversary month of the establishment of UNESCO in London, the Queen's Speech does not refer to our country playing its part again in that organisation. That is part and parcel of the overall approach that seems to have come out of the Prime Minister's speech at the United Nations and of its press coverage, which hinted that, somehow, he wanted to sweep away and undermine a number of international organisations. It does not look good for this country's future credibility, status and standing in the world if we begin to work to undermine international organisations such as the Commonwealth, the United Nations and of course that nasty organisation based in Brussels, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the European Union, the Western European Union, whichever it is.

Another region has not, I think, been mentioned. Two hundred thousand refugees were created in Krajina when Mr. Tudjman took advantage of air strikes to launch a military attack, which has led to enormous suffering. Four hundred thousand refugees have been created in northern Sri Lanka as a result of a military offensive of the past few days. I have constituents who have told me that they have relatives whom they cannot contact, that there is no communication, and that they are worried about humanitarian relief from British organisations not being able to get through.

What is our Government doing as a matter of urgency to deal with that humanitarian crisis and the problems that will be created? That is a far bigger humanitarian crisis than anything that we have seen anywhere this year. Four hundred thousand people are moving across water and through jungle, fleeing an awful conflict and I hope that our Government will do something urgently to assist.

16 Nov 1995 : Column 216

It is important that we recognise that many people from Sri Lanka and Nigeria will seek refuge in this country. It will be deplorable if those countries are on a white list of safe countries and people are refused asylum simply because they have the wrong colour skin.

9.4 pm

Dr. David Clark (South Shields): We have had a longer than usual debate because there was no Question Time. Fourteen right hon. and hon. Members have expressed their point of view in a wide-ranging survey of the world. I should like to take up some of those points. It is appropriate that we should spend the first full day's debate on the Gracious Speech discussing foreign affairs and defence. It is right that we debate those topics at the same time because they are related. If one tries to have a foreign policy without a proper security policy, there are difficulties and vice versa.

My only regret about a debate of this nature is that, on occasion, some aspects of foreign affairs are neglected. I am thinking particularly about the third world and the aid programme. I am conscious of the fact that this an appropriate time to mention that, because all Opposition Members and, I suspect, many Conservative Members are concerned about the reports that there could be cuts in the aid budget. We hope that that does not occur in Budget week. We shall be watching that. I hope that those on the Government Front Bench will have heard the views of Opposition Members about how we would resent strongly any decision to cut the aid budget. It has been reduced too much.

We are also conscious of the fact that this is an important year, because the intergovernmental conference will be taking place, in which European and foreign identity and defence and security aspects will be playing dominant roles. We wish the Government well in their presidency of the Western European Union. I believe that on this issue we are at one with the Government. We believe that the WEU should develop into the European arm of NATO, not as an alternative to NATO. We have made it clear that we believe that any European defence identity must be at Government level and must not be part of the European Union or the European Commission per se.

Mr. Portillo: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's support in this matter, but I should warn him that, from the evidence of the WEU meeting in Madrid, there is a danger that he would be isolated in Europe by taking that stance. I thought that it was the Labour party's policy not to be isolated.

Dr. Clark: I was trying to begin my speech in a consensual manner and I am sorry that the Secretary of State made that point.

We have already heard the statement of positions by the various Governments for the IGC. We know that there is a wide range of positions, from the Dutch who seem to favour complete integration, to the French position, which is similar to ours, and there is the German position. As the Secretary of State knows, a great deal of negotiation and compromising have yet to take place. We believe that the Government are right on this one and that their view

16 Nov 1995 : Column 217

will prevail. I believe that our French allies will be good associates in this case.

There are other aspects of the Queen's Speech, particularly on defence matters, with which we can concur. The opening statement that

is something that we can go along with entirely. One of the aspects of the Secretary of State's Blackpool speech that offended myself and my colleagues was the way in which he seemed to imply that patriotism was the monopoly of one party. I am sure that, on reflection, he does not hold that view now and that he understands our anger about that point.

We know what the Government's intentions are--they have made them quite clear--and, in the ensuing year, we shall be trying to assess how closely the Government live up to their lofty statements. I must say, however, that in some of the records of their activities we find a huge gap between their intentions and the actuality.

It is another point of consensus that Labour has always supported NATO right from its inception. The Foreign Secretary heaped lavish praise on the former Labour Foreign Secretary, Ernie Bevin. Of course, that view is dear to the Opposition. We have stuck by NATO and believe that it has served not only this country but Europe and the world very well for almost 50 years. It has also shown its ability to adapt to the changed world system. Indeed, it must be a cornerstone of the security of Britain, of Europe and, in a sense, of the wider world.

Another point on which I hope we agree with the Government is support for the United Nations. We have always been enthusiastic about the United Nations and believe that it needs to be the key player in bringing stability to world security. Of course, we are keen to support further reform of that august body. We accept that it has to change and adapt as it enters its second 50 years. Much needs to be done.

If there is one lesson to be learnt--I think that we all take it on board--it is that an unsettled world, due to the breakdown of the two-power system and the breakdown of the client-state relationship, means more instability and more areas of military conflict. The role of the United Nations in policing such conflicts and sometimes enforcing the peace will involve military action.

If there is to be military action, we need the United Nations to be much more professional. I think that the United Nations itself knows that. No Government will commit their young men and women to a peacekeeping role unless they believe that they have a fair chance of coming out alive. We therefore need a controlled system of communications and command. A great deal of effort needs to be put into the United Nations to enable it to handle military situations more effectively.

Having said that, we believe that there is more to security than the military. Indeed, many of us would argue that many of the conflicts across the world could have been avoided if the economic and social problems of the areas involved had been dealt with more sensibly.

The architects of the United Nations devised the Security Council, recognising the defence and military role of the United Nations. They also planned an

16 Nov 1995 : Column 218

Economic and Social Council that would be of equal status, but it is a matter of deep regret to me that the latter, through the actions of the member nations, became an inferior council. I believe strongly that had more attention and more resources been given to the Economic and Social Council, many of the conflicts in the world would have been avoided.

We also note with pleasure that the Government state in the Queen's Speech that they aim to improve the co-operation between NATO and Russia. That is absolutely vital, and we shall be monitoring the Government's efforts in that regard. Indeed, there is a role for us all--not only the military--to play. We have the "Partnership for Peace" agreement with NATO and Russia, under which there will be military exchanges and co-operation. We have an intergovernmental relationship. If we are to try to help Russia to evolve into a pluralistic democracy, as we understand it, it needs help. We as parliamentarians ought to be using all the avenues available to us to make contact with members of the Duma, to try to explain to them our concerns and beliefs, and to try to break down the prejudice and suspicion between Russia and some of the countries in the west.

Next Section

IndexHome Page