Adjournment (Summer)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:54 pm on 29th July 1982.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr James Lamond Mr James Lamond , Oldham East 6:54 pm, 29th July 1982

The Summer Adjournment debate has followed its usual course this afternoon. We have had a lively and interesting series of debates which, unfortunately, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you were unable to join us in listening to until about an hour ago.

When one listens to the various speeches, it is difficult not to be dragged into making some comment on them because most of them touch subjects on which we are all interested. With one brief exception I shall try to resist that temptation because time is moving on.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham) made an eloquent speech about unemployment in the Manchester area. As my constituency is in that area I should like to confirm, underline and support all that he said. There are 15,000 people now unemployed in Oldham. On my calculation, the Government must be spending between £150,000 and £200,000 every day of the week on unemployment benefit in Oldham. When one considers those figures, it brings home clearly the enormous expense to the community of having 3·2 million people out of work in Britain. I do not criticise the money that is paid in unemployment benefit—far from it, because it is inadequate. However, I am criticising the complete and final loss of a very important British asset—its skilled work force.

With those words I pass to my point for the attention of the Leader of the House. The Leader of the House is a patient, intelligent and shrewd man. All hon. Members know that. He is shrewd enough to be able to have a good guess at the point that I want to raise. If he thinks that it is about the special session of the United Nations, he is correct.

I have raised that matter with the Leader of the House several times and he has answered me as kindly as he can. During the whole of the Session, since last November until today—and I suggest this will be the case even into the overlap at the end of October—it has not been possible to find time to discuss the special session of the United Nations on disarmament. That is despite all the subjects that we have discussed, the six special debates on the Falklands crisis and the many debates on unemployment.

It is four years since the first special session. It is an important enough subject to have attracted some attention in the House. The Prime Minister went to New York to address the special session. President Reagan addressed the special session. Mr. Gromyko spoke for the Soviet people and read a special message from President Brezhnev, and many other foreign Ministers and leaders of nations throughout the world attended. However, we have not been able to find half a day, before or after that session, to discuss what should be said or its outcome.

I have made those points already in your hearing, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and you, as well as the Leader of the House, may be weary of them. However, I should like to add a couple of points that have arisen since I last mentioned the matter.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Perez de Cuellar, has visited Britain and had a meeting with the Prime Minister. There was a short report of what he said and how he felt after that meeting in the Sunday newspapers 10 days ago. Those who were interested enough to read those reports will have noticed that he was extremely pessimistic, not as a direct result of his meeting with the Prime Minister but because of the world situation and two matters in particular. The first has been touched on by one or two hon. Members this afternoon and that is the position in the Lebanon. It is extremely serious and if it drags on it could lead to the involvement of world Powers and, ultimately, to a world war. The United Nations Secretary-General regarded that as one of the most serious matters to have arisen since 1945.

The second cause of grave concern to him was the negative outcome of the United Nations special session on Disarmament. I had the privilege of attending sessions in 1978 and 1982. This year, I was struck by the wide participation of the public, through non-governmental organisations, in the special session. There were at least 10 times more people directly involved than in 1978. The very fine document that resulted from the first special session was not matched in any way by the document resulting from the second special session.

Such matters must concern us. I know that hon. Members have many other matters on their minds. Someone who continually preaches that world war is round the corner and that we are likely to be blown to smithereens any day will not be listened to happily. I can understand that. It gives me no great pleasure to have to pass on this message to hon. Members, but they must realise that a most dangerous situation faces the world. All the other subjects that have been discussed this afternoon, even including the interesting speech about the imminent collapse of the banking system in the Western world, which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), are not as important as the maintenance of the human race. The human race will be in jeopardy unless we are prepared. The human race will be in danger unless we are prepared to get down to concrete negotiations on disarmament. I am not alone in thinking that. The Leader of the House should realise that twice in the past year ¼ million people have been mobilised in Britain in demonstrations for peace. Is there any other subject—whether trade union legislation, or reform Bills—that could muster two such demonstrations a year? There have been enormous demonstrations, not only in Britain but throughout Western Europe.

I participated in a demonstration of at least 1 million people in New York when I was there for the special session. The people came from every part of society. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) had the honour to address the meeting and was extremely well received. He preached the same message as I preach—that it is essential to sink the political differences between ourselves and the Socialist countries in Eastern Europe and to get down to discussing the survival of the world.

Fortunately, we live in a democratic country and the peace movement can express its views. However, that is not so everywhere. Turkey is a fellow member of NATO, an organisation set up to defend what we believe to be the best way of life. As a democrat, I strongly support that view. However, the Turkish Peace Association has seen its members arrested and placed on trial. At this moment its members face the death sentence for nothing more or less than participating in the peace movement and trying to bring home to Turkey the same message that we can peacefully bring home in Britain.

I should have liked an opportunity—apart from that offered now—to debate these matters. The Leader of the House will probably say that I could have raised the matter during the debate on the Defence Estimates. I tried to do so but it was a ragged and unfortunate debate for me, because only about one other hon. Member was interested in this subject. Most of the debate consisted of demands for more and more expenditure on armaments. We should find time for a debate on this subject. We could then discuss, perhaps, the interesting issue of the cost of civil defence and so on.

There is much in the point that was raised about civil defence, but it should be borne in mind that boroughs and towns up and down the country that have declared themselves nuclear-free zones and said that they will not participate in nuclear civil defence expenditure and in organising such affairs have done so from the best possible motives. They want to show the rest of the world that at least in Britain there are people who will speak out for peace and who will make a cry from the heart, asking that the rest of the world should focus its attention on this vital issue. We should begin by holding a proper debate on the subject so that people can see that we take it seriously.