Foreign Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:43 pm on 22nd March 1984.

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Photo of Mr James Lamond Mr James Lamond , Oldham Central and Royton 6:43 pm, 22nd March 1984

I wish to refer first to an area that has not yet been mentioned, to my disappointment—the island of Cyprus. About three weeks ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) and I, and several hon. Members from both sides of the House, asked the Foreign Secretary what the British Government were prepared to do about the situation in Cyprus. We did so for a number of reasons, not least because of our past colonial associations with Cyprus, the fact that Cyprus is a Commonwealth country, the fact that Cyprus, with Turkey, signed the Helsinki final act, and, equally important, the fact that Britain is a guarantor of the sovereignty of Cyprus. The Foreign Secretary assured us that he was very interested in the matter, and that he was doing all that he could, and said that he hoped that the initiatives at the United Nations would succeed. I have read the speeches of the Foreign Secretary very carefully since then, and he has never allowed the name of Cyprus to cross his lips in any public speech. Today—and I know that he had only a short time in which to cover many matters—once again he did not mention Cyprus.

I believe that it is possible for us to use our leverage to obtain some movement in the situation in Cyprus. The United Nations is taking a special initiative in Cyprus. I have sympathy with the Turkish-speaking Cypriots, now almost all in the north of the island. I also have sympathy for the Greek Cypriots, exiled from their homes and land, trying to build a new life, in which they had been very successful economically. However, any hon. Member who has visited the island will know that the refugees remain determined, if possible, to return to their old homes and to the land in which they have lived so long. Hundreds of families in Cyprus, after 10 years, are still waiting for news of their loved ones who disappeared at the time of the Turkish invasion. These refugees are almost certain to raise the matter with any hon. Member who visits the island, and to plead for our assistance in trying to trace these missing persons.

I believe that the key to the Cyprus problem lies not in Britain, in Ankara, in Athens, or even in the United Nations in New York, but in Washington. It is no coincidence that the declaration of the illegal Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus took place immediately after the signing by President Reagan of a huge $1 billion loan agreement with the Turkish Government.

I note that the United States is very willing to use economic pressure elsewhere in the world—in Zimbabwe, and in Argentina—and that matter has been raised in the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee in the United States. Questioning United States Secretary Shultz on the Cyprus problems, Senator Biden said: When we are not satisfied with Zimbabwe we reduce assistance. When we are satisfied with Argentina we increase assistance. Turkey is the only country to have recognised the illegal Turkish Cypriot State and we are providing increased assistance to her on better terms. Should we not take into consideration, apart from strategic needs, harmonization with our foreign policy? Secretary Shultz said: The geographic position of Turkey is strategic. I believe that that is the reason—and there must be a special reason—why the United States is not prepared to throw its full weight into solving the crisis in Cyprus. It suits what is called the strategic interests of the United States to keep Cyprus in its present unhappy and divided state.

I hope that the Minister, in his reply, will say something about Cyprus, because there is an intense interest, not only among Cypriots living in Britain, but among the British community, in this country, which is a member of the Commonwealth.

I deal next with a matter that should be a top priority, not only in this Parliament, but in every Parliament throughout the world—world peace and disarmament. Let us understand clearly that the negotiations in Europe, involving European and north Atlantic countries, concern not only us; they are of intense interest to the people of every country.

Two world wars have begun on the soil of Europe. About 80 per cent. of global arms expenditure is the result of the defence programmes of the countries which signed the Helsinki final act. That was specifically brought out by the Secretary-General of the United Nations when he spoke in 1975 at the signing of the final act. He said that the 35 countries represented were responsible between them for 80 per cent. of the world's arms expenditure. He said that much could be achieved by those present. Unfortunately, the position then has not improved in any way.

The countries which signed the final act, East and West, can destroy the world 10 times over, but still we are not content. Next year Britain plans to spend £17 billion on defence. In 1985–86 Britain will spend an additional £1 billion, making £18 billion in total. In 1986–87 Britain will spend £18·6 billion. In those three years we shall spend nearly £54 billion on defence, expanding our armoury of weapons all the time. That is £13·5 billion more than we shall spend on education in those three years. We shall be spending £10 billion less on the National Health Service, including capital expenditure, than we shall on defence. Our priorities clearly are for defence spending yet we already have the capacity to defend ourselves and the rest of Europe without further expenditure.

Why do we imagine that only the British people have to make sacrifices because of the arms build-up? Let us examine the documents issued following the nonalignment conference in New Delhi at the beginning of last year. They express great concern about the spreading of nuclear arms and missiles all over the world. Rightly, they do not mention cruise missiles in particular, but there is no doubt that at that time cruise missiles and Trident were much in the minds of the people present at the discussions.

The documents also mention the huge waste of world resources on cruise, Trident and SS20s which are enormously expensive to a world with finite resources.

The Brandt commission report published in 1980, "North-South: A Programme for Survival" and its more recent "Common Crisis" show that no progress has been made in the struggle to save the world from itself in the three years between their publication. "Common Crisis" says that the world has slipped back even from its unhappy position in 1980. There has been an alarming deterioration.

We are fond of defending our defence policy. Our nuclear defence policy is defended with the argument that it has kept the peace in Europe for 40 years. Perhaps it has done that in Europe, but the victims of the nuclear arms race, the casualties of the hidden, secret war of starvation, sickness and deprivation, are the 800 million destitute people in the Third world. They can only stand and weep when they see 15 million of their children dying of starvation every year. They are the real victims of our defence policy. I speak not only of Britain's defence policy, but of the defence policies of all the countries which signed the Helsinki final act, including Socialist countries. They must also examine what they are doing to the Third world by continuing to build up arms.

That is why I call on our Government to take new attitudes at the disarmament talks in Geneva and Vienna, and especially at the Stockholm conference on confidence and security building measures and disarmament in Europe. That conference has just finished its first eight weeks. It will open again. It is particularly concerned about the confidence building mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) in two interventions. Disarmament measures are important. It is important to decide on a reduction of arms, mutually agreed and verified, but nothing will be achieved until there is confidence between the two sides.

For all our arguments with the French about the Common Market, we do not feel threatened by its possession of nuclear weapons because we have confidence in that country. If we had the same confidence in eastern Europe, we might make some progress in the talks. The talks which have just reopened in Vienna have been going on for 10 years and progress has been practically nil. Some people believe that there is no will to make progress and that we are glad that the talks continue so that we can find out about the other side's military advances.

We should seize the opportunity of the Stockholm conference. I have met Ambassador Edes, who is leading our delegation. He was extremely kind and courteous to me. We had a long discussion and he told me what was happening, as far as he could bearing in mind the confidentiality of the conference. I admire the work being done there, but the remit is too narrow. The conference is discussing and elaborating on some of the baskets that were in the Helsinki final act signed eight years ago. The confidence-building measures mentioned then involved observers at troop manoeuvres over a certain size. The arrangement has worked well. Moves have been made by both sides suggesting that observers should be present when the troop numbers are not as high as are laid down in the final act.

Our ambassador told me that the conference is busy trying to make the agreement mandatory. If no difficulties have been experienced in working the agreement on a voluntary basis, is it worth wasting three years on such military technical detail? It is an important matter, but it is not likely to build confidence. I regard that as a waste of valuable time and money.

When the conference resumes, why does not the United Kingdom make a move towards some real confidence-building proposals? Such proposals are on the table and being discussed. I think of an immediate freeze on nuclear arsenals.

The leader of the Liberal party, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel), from his experience of the Soviet Union on a recent visit, said that the Russians do not want to freeze at the present level because they believe that we have sneaked in with cruise and Pershing missiles and gained undue advantage. I believe that to be their position. Previously they have been in favour of a freeze. They agreed to it at the special session of the United Nations and in the United Nations itself. Perhaps they will rein back a little if we suggest freezing at the present level. It is a point that could be negotiated. If it were obtained, it would build the confidence that is necessary before we can take further steps on disarmament.

Why do we not renounce the first use of nuclear weapons? The Prime Minister has said that such declamatory statements are of no great value. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) put forward much the same view when he said that it is a long slow process to build up confidence. We may think that such statements are of no great value, but what do the Russians think of them? It is the confidence of the Russians that we are trying to build up. If they want us to make such a statement, why should we not make it? Surely we are not saying that we will make the first use of nuclear weapons in another war. I cannot believe that our Government are pursuing that policy, although on several occasions I have heard them accused of doing so.

I should like to see a complete ban on nuclear weapons, an agreement on the non-use of military force and an end to cold war propaganda. There are children in this country who have been subjected to such a deluge of anti-Soviet propaganda over the years that they are unaware that the Soviet Union, Great Britain and the United States were on the same side in the last war. They think that our enemy in that war was the Soviet Union. Who can blame them for thinking that when we consider what is printed in the press?

The steps that I have suggested have huge support among ordinary people. Freeze resolutions carry immense public support in the United States. It is interesting to examine the political statements that are being made by the contenders for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. They are taking a freeze seriously. Perhaps it is only an attempt to obtain votes. I do not know whether they are sincere—I do not know them well enough for that—but I am interested to learn that they believe they can get strong electoral support by taking this line. That must mean that there is much support for it in the United States.

If our Government can take a lead in bringing these things forward when the Stockholm conference resumes, we shall have done a great service not only to our own country, to Europe and to North America but to the whole world where millions are being starved because of the continual arms race.