I am flattered, Mr. Speaker, to be called so quickly to resume my speech. I was relaxing in my place and imagining that I could take a proper intermission.
I was dealing with megaphone diplomacy and the happy change that has been made to that approach. The process of change was started by President Reagan seeing the Soviet Union's Foreign Minister, Mr. Gromyko, slightly over a month ago. However, it is somewhat extraordinary that in the four years of the President's term of office there was no high-level contact between super-powers. The change in that state of affairs is to be welcomed.
There is a valid role for Britain because our part in the process of change is much more advanced than that of the United States. The Prime Minister's visit to Hungary was welcomed on both sides of the House, as was my right hon. and learned Friend's visit to Moscow. There is an increasing number of senior Soviets coming to Britain to visit our Parliament and Government. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East mentioned the visit of Mr. Gorbachev. The right hon. Gentleman must forgive me for being slightly sensitive when I say that I think that he let the House down by saying that Mr. Gorbachev was coming at the Government's invitation. In fact, he is coming at the invitation of Parliament and of Mr. Speaker. It is a visit that the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which represents all parties, has worked on consistently in recent years. The invitation to Mr. Gorbachev and a delegation was aided and abetted by the Select Committee in Foreign Affairs, whose members come from both sides of the House.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, who is, of course, right. However, Mr. Gorbachev would not have accepted the invitation if the Government had not agreed to receive him.
I happen to know that the right hon. Gentleman is precisely correct. However, the more important point is that Members of this place, acting in a parliamentary rather than a governmental capacity, have a constructive role to play. A purely governmental visit is expected by Mr. Gromyko, which should be welcomed by both sides of the House. We have a role to play and I hope that it will be a continuing one. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has already been to Moscow and I hope that that will lead to an eventual summit, with a visit by the Prime Minister to Moscow.
There has been a mutual lack of understanding between East and West of their different systems. That is not unimportant from the Soviet side. However much they affect an understanding of western democracy, there has been a slight failure on their part to appreciate the rapidity of democratic change. Whatever their experience, they tend to stand bemused when Congressmen go to the electorate every two years and when Presidents face the electorate every four years.
The blessing of this election is that there is not a pause of months following a change in the Administration. There is no pause for months on end while thousands of appointments are made. There is no repeat of the marking time on SALT II, the law of the sea and everything else upon which the Americans, Russians and others have been working for a long time. The Soviets are slightly bemused about this but the plus point of the recent election is that progress will continue. It is to be hoped that the seeds have been sown by the Americans, in meeting Mr. Gromyko, for a constructive future. One of the President's earliest pronouncements has been a call for umbrella talks. That must be followed up with great determination if they are to be achieved. It is significant that that is one of the first things that he has said following his re-election.
It is all too easy for the West to be tempted into engaging in too primitive a dialogue with the Soviet Union. That is something that I have always deplored. Dialogue with and attitudes towards the Soviet Union should not always be regarded as a super-power confrontation. When trying to reach policy decisions there is a tendency on the part of far too many to see reds under every bed. I do not address that comment solely to our American friends. All too many western leaders have expressed themselves in that rather primitive way in recent years. It is too easy to do that and it should be recognised that the issues are much more complicated. That approach can go beyond words into actions.
Both sides of the House are concerned about what is happening in central America, which is the United States' backyard. We have only a limited opportunity to exercise any control over what is happening. However, we can maintain an influence, as in other parts of the world, and express our views. There is a terrible danger that an escalation, if that is not too basic a term, could upset the applecart of East-West negotiations and progress towards disarmament, which in the view of many of us is all-important. That progress is certainly more important than the somewhat smaller issues that occur in central America.
I think that it is the view of many that those who have a primitive outlook on East-West confrontation always pay too little attention to local circumstances and events that are actually taking place. That applies to shells from the New Jersey pounding into the Chouf mountains as much as to the events that are taking place in and around Nicaragua.
We must accept realities. The Soviets are here to stay. We must accept their concentration on the system and policy rather than the man. We must accept their capacity to change leaders because of the concentration on policy rather than the man. We must accept also their lack of flexibility. Anyone who has dealt with them, even in a humble way — I have done so myself — finds it a somewhat frustrating experience. They do not have the most flexible system in the world. Their inactivity is sometimes so masterly that events can pass them by altogether. Democracy is more transient in its nature and our changes should be taken advantage of by them as much as we should appreciate what is going on within the Soviet Union. If we call the Soviets everything in the book, it stands to reason that they are human and will react. They will be suspicious of sudden changes of heart. We must work hard to achieve good and normal relations with the Soviet Union with a view to all-important disarmament talks.
Good and normal relations do not always constitute super-power stuff. They need not all relate to disarmament and governmental contact. There has to be a wider dialogue that is social, cultural and personal. That dialogue must extend right across the board. In the recent past, the dialogue has concentrated, for those engaged in it and for observers, on super-power contact and macro issues. The danger here is that distrust is heightened if something goes wrong. A wider approach is more absolute and gives a greater depth to superpower contact between East and West. There are many organisations in Britain that work extremely hard to maintain basic contact with the Soviet Union and the Great Britain USSR Association deserves the tribute of the House. It ensured that basic contact was maintained while the going was difficult and bleak. It has a limited budget, yet it has done a superb job in soldiering on in bad times.
The society was responsible for the first parliamentary delegation after Afghanistan comprising Members of Parliament, although not officially representing the House. In 1981 I participated in that delegation. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Sir J. Osborn), who is the chairman of the Soviet group, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) and Lord Bottomley, who was a Member of this House, were all members of that delegation. There is a role for us to play. The House will forgive me mentioning here the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which I head. Through it, many individual hon. Members have played a considerable role in maintaining bridges when things were chilly because of Government actions.
We must work towards an atmosphere of less rivalry and more co-operation. The changes in the American Administration are crucial, because a climate of confidence must be created. That climate can be created only by avoiding competition and confrontation. That point applies to both the Russians and the Americans, because each tends to provoke the other. In recent years we have seen the way in which that provocation has descended. Now that we are on the way up, we must be conscious of all those factors. What happens in Latin America, the middle east and everywhere else is all important. As confrontation boils up, disarmament and world peace, which are all important to all of us, become more difficult to achieve and our confidence in our ability to achieve world peace is lessened. In recent years the Russians and the Americans have shown a lack of confidence in each other.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, East said that we need to create a better dialogue on the middle east. I was relieved that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said that we are at least approaching a meaningful dialogue with the Soviet Union on such matters as the middle east. It is apparent to all of us that there cannot be, for example, United Nations' action in the Lebanon or other areas where such action is relevant without the participation and approval of the Soviet Union in the Security Council. I am not alone in suggesting to the House that there will be no solution to middle east problems until the Soviet Union is involved to a greater extent. The matter is as simple as that, and it is up to our American friends and allies to appreciate it. If the Soviet Union is generally more involved, we shall create the climate for high-level dialogue and for successful disarmament talks. This matter is all-important, and deserves the attention of the entire House and the whole of the West and the East. We must succeed in getting those talks off the ground and those talks must be successful. Electorates in Britain and elsewhere will not tolerate our delay and our failure in this matter.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) on his extremely constructive and positive speech. The hon. Gentleman rightly said that foreign affairs debates, as opposed to those on domestic issues, offer a far better opportunity for cross-party agreement. The hon. Gentleman is not, however, right in applauding that, because at the end of the day, when looking at international political matters, nationalism takes over. Whether one is a Conservative, a Socialist or even a Liberal, it becomes more important to talk about the national interest than about the political solution. I hope that we shall move slowly away from that view.
As the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) rightly pointed out, foreign affairs debates cover a wide area. I make one request to the Government Front Bench. Ministers who respond to foreign affairs debates must face up to a multitude of questions covering a wide area. Normally they do so by ignoring the fact that those questions were put. Previously, there was a custom whereby a Minister who ran out of time — possibly because of the development of some particularly effective peroration—would arrange for letters to be written to the hon. Member who asked the questions. I believe that that good custom should be revived.
The Minister is shaking his head in a slightly deprecatory way. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that my experience during the last three foreign affairs debates is that that custom needs reviving.
I echo everything that was said by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East and others about the death of Indira Gandhi. Her death was a tragedy, and it has led to a ghastly series of riots and murders. We hope that the situation will become calm and that her son will effectively restore order to a great democracy.
We should properly congratulate President Reagan on his success. I must admit that I am not an admirer of the President, but the fact is that this old warrior has a better opportunity than any American President for a long time to make a positive contribution towards solving problems in a wide area—east and west, the middle east and central America—and I hope that he will do so.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, East congratulated the Foreign Secretary again on his actions on Hong Kong, and I suppose that I should do so as well. What is important is not only the success in Hong Kong, but the development of a better relationship with China. We do not often talk about China in these debates, but I believe that we shall have to discuss it more frequently in the years to come.
I agree entirely with what the right hon. Member for Leeds, East said about Nicaragua. I draw the attention of the Foreign Secretary to the speech made on Wednesday in the other place by the Social Democrat, Lord Kennet. The noble Lord had just returned from attending the Nicaraguan elections. Among other things, he said that he considered that those elections had been conducted fairly, that the results were perfectly proper and that, although there had been disturbances in advance of the elections —the Foreign Secretary referred to them—they were not extraordinary or such as to devalue the result of the elections.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, East asked about our response to South Africa's failure to yield the four people who were involved in arms dealing. The right hon. Gentleman asked what would be done. We should ask also: when will something be done? The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office—the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) — said that something was going to be done. He said the the court had requested that those people be returned to this country and that we were waiting. My simple question is: how long will we wait?
I confess that I am extremely depressed about the European Community. At the end of October, an excellent letter was printed in The Times. I shall quote a chunk of the letter because it put succinctly and well the things I believe and the actions that should commend themselves to the Government. The letter states:
Europe lacks sufficient monetary integration to provide a means of defence against American interest rates and the Japanese exchange rate".
We are still not in the European monetary fund. The letter goes on:
it continues to duplicate costly research programmes; it is failing to produce information technology on a scale that can compete; it has proved incapable of taking measures that would constitute a defence against the effects of disruption in the international oil market.
After 25 years of common market it has not even eliminated technical barriers to internal trade".
The Minister would agree, but he would focus on just that and ignore the other aspects. The letter continues:
in terms of political influence it is still a dwarf when compared to the USA and the USSR, although its population and economic potential are as great.
This situation cannot be dissociated from the fact that it can take years of negotiations in the Council to set up a single research programme, such as ESPRIT, and that the management of existing Community policies is subject to the abuse of the veto even by minor officials from national ministries.
As President Mitterrand put it in his address to the European Parliament on May 26, 1984, 'How can such a complex and diversified unit as the Community has become be governed by the rules of the Diet of the old Kingdom of Poland, where every member could block the decisions? We all know where that led'.
That was a letter from Altiero Spinelli, a former Commissioner and a well known left-wing Italian politician. He was the originator of the proposal for a new treaty of European union. He expressed many wise words in that letter. Many people say that he is perhaps too idealistic, but he is pointing in the right direction.
One sentence in the letter following, from a Mr. J. Leech, summed up the position beautifully. He said:
It is curious that those least in favour of effective European institutions … are also the harshest critics of their deficiencies, without ever being aware of the connection.
The Government have shown no evidence of wishing to improve the decision-making processes of the Community or its democratic base. France appears to be moving away from the Luxembourg compromise, and I wonder how the Government will respond to that. When President Mitterrand was here, he was interviewed by The Times. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East referred to the part of it dealing with defence. Apart from that, I agreed with almost all the rest of what President Mitterrand said. Indeed, I said to myself that I wished he could have been the British Prime Minister. As the Foreign Secretary quotes the President of France with approbation when he deals with defence, he should try to be consistent and consider the President's views on other matters.
I do not think there is any evidence that the Government are willing to accept any kind of effective Community budget. Back Benchers frequently refer to the Community overspending again, but what is the Community to do for Portugal when it becomes a member? It is said that the Government are pledged to Spain and Portugal coming into the Community on 1 January 1986, but we cannot do anything for Portugal unless there are sufficient resources in the regional and social funds.
The Government's attitude is succoured by that of the Labour Opposition, who remain staunchly critical of everything that the Community does. The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who is not here today, makes speech after speech in which he picks at every nit that he can find in the Community. He never says anything positive about what he sees in the Community.
I think that that attitude was to some extent reflected in the appointment of our Commissioners. Lord Cockfield is not known to me and he is not a leading light in Community matters. Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Stanley Clinton Davis. He has already shown a willingness to see members of other parties and to maintain contact, and that is admirable. But, as he frankly admitted, he is a long-standing opponent of the Community. I said to him, "If you can, try to set that attitude aside. Otherwise, how on earth can you expect the Community to work?" Obviously, the Community cannot work if a large proportion of its Commissioners are opposed to the very idea of it.
The Community is very important in matters of overseas aid. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East dealt with that aspect of things at some length, and in doing so covered most of my points.
The tragedy in Ethiopia has been continuing for a considerable time, yet it was partly because of the accidental descent on Ethiopia of a BBC television team, on its way north from South Africa, that the famine received the world attention that it has had in recent weeks. It is a long-standing problem that affects the whole sub-Saharan region.
I do not like attacking the Foreign Secretary. I regard him, as does the right hon. Member for Leeds, East, as a benign man. It is all very well for the Foreign Secretary to say that the problem is terribly important, but such problems are there all the time, and the Government's record is one of continually cutting aid to Third world countries.
Reference has been made to the Foreign Secretary's success in the Hong Kong negotiations. When I was there in September, I was told on many occasions of concern about the increase in overseas students' fees. That action has adversely affected Britain's standing in Malaysia, in India and in the east generally.
In The Scotsman of 8 November there was a very good letter from Stanley Budd, the European Commission's representative in Scotland. He said:
The EEC owns no food. No cereals, no beef, no milk-powder, not even any butter. Surpluses belong to Governments … Many writers in the Press in recent days have offered a simple solution: 'Ship the EEC's food mountain to Africa.' They seem to believe that the Commission in Brussels has the power to commandeer granaries, the money to hire ships and aircraft, and the staff to implement the operation. In fact, of course, every penny of the Community's own resources has to be fought for against the inbuilt resistance of national treasuries.
In other words, it is the responsibility of our Government, the French Government and the German Government—
not the responsibility of the Commission—that the food mountain exists. The Commission cannot be blamed for it.
The Government stand condemned for reducing overseas aid. In 1982–83, our contribution was 0·34 per cent. of GNP, compared with the old target—laid down in the United Nations resolution 2626 of 1970 —of 0·7 per cent. of GNP. Our contribution is only half that amount, and is getting smaller. The Government have made no attempt to enlighten public opinion on overseas aid. The cutting of the development education budget was in itself a significant act.
In the Gracious Speech, the hope is expressed that there will soon be a successful conclusion to the negotiations on the Lomé convention. What line are the Government taking on a renegotiatied Lomé convention?
I broadly agree with the Government's view on the middle east, and there is a fair degree of cross-party agreement, but the outlook is very depressing. At the beginning of September, I attended a seminar in Amman between representatives of Liberal International and the Arab Thought Forum, which is headed by Crown Prince Hassan, the brother of King Hussein. There is general agreement that the solution of the Palestinian problem lies only in some sort of state based on Gaza, on the west bank, but that objective becomes more and more difficult to attain.
There were 3,500 settlers on the west bank in 1977 when the Likud party came to power. There are now nearly 30,000. They are well integrated and it will be very difficult to secure their removal. In the end, it will be done only by United States pressure on Israel. My impression is that unless something positive happens over the next year or so, the moderates in the middle east—if I may call them that—will lose their power completely. If that happens there will probably be a succession of convulsions such as those that have taken place in the past in the Arab world, with dictatorships of the Left or of the Right emerging and endangering the oil supplies on which the West depends so greatly. The position is grave. We must put every possible pressure on the United States to take part in the Geneva conference that the Soviet Union has proposed, together with the King of Jordan and others. It would seem to be the most effective way forward.
With regard to East-West relations, all the indications are that the arms race will continue, that the United States will pursue "parity" as it calls it, and that the Soviet Union will respond by seeking to catch up with United States "superiority". I am not in sympathy with the USSR's form of government, but I believe that at the moment it can certainly be made to respond to an approach. I believe that the view of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East is correct.
The United Kingdom's contribution must be within the Atlantic Alliance. I do not believe in unilateral action. We must use all our influence with the United States of America. We should put Trident, if we have to have it—and I am not in favour of our having it, because I should prefer that Polaris be not replaced — into the negotiations, as the right hon. Gentleman said. There is no doubt that, in the previous negotiations, the Russians, said that if the French and British included their deterrent in the negotiations they would reduce the number of missiles that they were putting in place. The general arms sales point was well made by the right hon. Gentleman. The Vance-Gromyko talks have perhaps been long forgotten.
It is shameful that we fuel conflicts all over the world and receive money for that. We then flap our hands and say how terrible it is that all these Iranians are fighting these Iraqis, and that they must stop, but that does not stop the production of Exocets or trade.
We, as a country, have not yet adjusted or attuned ourselves to our European role. Our national disposition is to unilateral activity and to independence. In the end, that is politically Luddite. We see it in defence, in the European Community, and in overseas matters.
Our approach to overseas aid for the Third world has been profoundly inadequate. Brandt has been largely ignored and much of our behaviour, alas, has been thin and niggardly. I believe that we shall suffer from that. I believe that we could do much better in many areas.
I take as my text the four main sentences in the Gracious Speech which deal with security policy and arms control:
My Government consider as their highest priority the maintenance of national security and the preservation of peace. They will accordingly continue to play an active part in the Atlantic Alliance.…
With the allies of the United Kingdom, my Government will contribute to arms control and disarmament negotiations and will work for the resumption of negotiations where these have been broken off. They will work continually for a greater atmosphere of trust between East and West.
Having the debate soon after the dramatic re-election of President Reagan and Vice President Bush, an event which has been widely applauded on both sides of the House, we should consider the implications of that reelection for the Alliance and defence and security policy as a whole. In this context, it is beholden or worthy of us to consider an aspect of security policy that is especially President Reagan's own—the strategic defence initiative and the issue of ballistic missile defence.
In a speech in Pittsburgh on 30 October, Secretary for Defence Caspar Weinberger brought home clearly to his and to the wider audience world wide the great importance which the United States Administration attach to evaluating the potential of ballistic missile defence. He said:
The United States has a vision … of a peace secured by strategic defence that would enable us to defend against nuclear missiles by non-nuclear means … We do not seek new weapons that could wreak untold devastation on an aggressor; we do look to the day when we will be able … to destroy weapons in flight rather than people on the ground.
Finding a thoroughly reliable means of destroying Soviet nuclear missiles … is, perhaps, the most morally right … and most noble of the enterprises in which the United States is engaged. We cannot do this yet, but we have made very good progress.
That, of course, very much follows President Reagan's speech of 23 March 1983 which had the same moral tone.
Would it not be better to save lives than to avenge them?",
the President asked.
Are we not capable of demonstrating our peaceful intentions by applying all our abilities and our ingenuity to achieving a truly lasting stability? I think we are—indeed we must.
This is the important part:
After careful consultation with my advisers, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I believe that there is a way. … It is that we embark on a programme to counter the awesome Soviet missile threat with measures that are defensive. Let us turn to the very strengths in technology that spawned our great industrial
base. … I know this is a formidable technical task, one that may not be accomplished before the end of the century. Yet, current technology has attained a level of sophistication where it is reasonable for us to begin this effort.
The effort has begun. It is a sizeable effort, and it is one that will have cardinal importance to the evolution of Alliance strategy, the East-West balance and arms control during the remainder of the decade.
In the financial year 1985, $2 billion is being assigned to the strategic defence initiative to evaluate whether a space-based ballistic missile defence system is technically feasible. The totality of the programme, which will continue until financial year 1989, is of the order of some $25 billion.
We are all aware that many of the arguments on this subject are simplistic and emotional. Since Wernher von Braun and the Peenemünde team started developing the V2 rocket, and we had the construction thereafter of a succession of intercontinental ballistic missile systems, space technology has been used for military purposes. Its main use has been for offensive—potentially aggressive—military purposes. We are all aware that the outcome has been a system of deterrence, a balance of terror, that has, paradoxically, preserved the peace of the world; but it is an uneasy peace. It is a peace with which people are profoundly concerned. They do not believe that the proliferation of offensive systems and the building up of ever larger stockpiles of mass destruction are the way to secure stability and to bring about security.
In the 1950s, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence was evolved. We remember the days when there was a genuine and unchallenged "pax Americana" which was founded upon the overwhelming might of strategic air command. Strategic air command, with its B47s and later B52s, was able to ensure peace, and the Soviets, until the launching of the sputnik and until they developed their ICBM programme, were unable to challenge that American supremacy.
However, during the days when strategic air command ruled the skies unchallenged, and provided the ultimate nuclear guarantee which ensured the peace of the world and the security of western Europe, we all believed it sensible, reasonable and right that the western nuclear deterrent force should be guaranteed to some extent by an effective air defence. No one thought it unreasonable that our own independent nuclear deterrent should be defended by fighter command.
I do not see why, in doctrinal and philosophical terms, it should be wrong for the United States to use its dramatically developed technical capabilities to examine whether those capabilities could be harnessed to ensuring some measure of defence against ballistic missile attack.
The outcome of the strategic defence initiative will not be known until the end of the decade, so decisions do not have to be made by this United States Administration, but we can be certain that the re-elected Reagan Government will pursue the strategic defence initiative with great vigour. It is an initiative that has the President's personal imprimatur upon it. It is very much his own brainchild. It is an initiative formed by people of an ideological persuasion similar to his own, and it is an initiative which has the backing of the industrial enterprises that provide the heart of the United States' military industrial base.
Many writings have been developed to articulate the concept of ballistic missile defence. There are the writings of what is called the high frontier team— Lieutenant-General Danny Graham, former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Brigadier-General Richardson, and many others. The growing consensus is that such a defence would be feasible. The question is the time scale within which such a defence can be affected within reasonable bounds of cost.
The strategic defence initiative is being conducted within the context of a race between the superpowers to achieve dominance in the key space technologies. I refer the House to a pamphlet written by the Defence Intelligence Agency of the United States entitled "Soviet Military Space Doctrine". It is difficult for us to obtain information and facts upon which to make judgments in these subjects, but the consensus, if one reads the non-classified journals, is very much in line with the findings of this pamphlet. It says:
The Soviet Armed Forces shall be provided with all resources necessary to attain and maintain military superiority in outer space sufficient both to deny the use of outer space to other states and to assure maximum space-based military support for Soviet offensive and defensive combat operations on land, at sea, in air and in outer space. Western analyses catalogue a continuous and in-depth Soviet drive to improve on its current military space capabilities and to develop new ones as technological breakthroughs are achieved.
The CIA has recently been hinting that the growth in Soviet military spending has not been quite as substantial as we had feared. There seems to have been some tailing off in their expenditure on conventional armaments. However, there has not been any fall in their expenditure on offensive nuclear delivery systems, inter-continental ballistic missiles, intermediate range missiles and submarine launched missiles. Nor has there been any tailing off in their development of military space technology. The Soviets' attitude to arms control makes this clear.
The Soviet Union was the first of the super-powers to deploy an operational anti-satellite weapons system. It is a rather crude system. Its efficacy is rated at approximately 50 per cent., but it is in service and it is deployed. That is the imperative that drives the United States to develop its own anti-satellite weapon system, launched from the F15 Eagle fighter aircraft.
The Soviets have been reluctant to come to the conference table to talk about arms control, particularly the control of offensive nuclear systems, so long as the United States has been developing its anti-satellite weapon. They have sought to make the halting of the United States development programme for its anti-satellite weapons system a precondition for coming to the talks. I can understand the Americans' determination not to give in to such blackmail and to wish to secure at least some parity with the Soviets in this sector. The United States has always said that its prime concern is to secure mutual, balanced and verifiable control of offensive systems. We hope that this process can be re-engaged now that there is a new United States Administration in office.
Where does all this leave Europe, and what should the attitude of Her Majesty's Government be? My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary referred to the meeting at Rome at the end of last month in which we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Paris protocols to the Brussels treaty—the process by which Germany and Italy were enabled to come into NATO, and the Western European Union in its present form was established.
At the Rome meeting, Her Majesty's Government undertook, along with the other six members of the WEU, to attend at ministerial level—that is, defence Minister and Foreign Minister level—biennial meetings of the WEU Council. The ministerial Council of the WEU could be used to formulate a European approach to the military implications of space technology and the consequences of related developments for the Alliance as a whole. There is no other body in a European context within which this can be done, as France does not participate in the Euro-group.
The WEU has two other advantages. First, it has a standing armaments committee that could be used to formulate the industrial strategy for the development of those space-based systems that Europe might need. President Mitterrand in his speech to The Hague spoke of creating a European space community, and the vision of the French Government is eventually for an autonomous European space station. A building block towards that would be participation, we hope, by the Europeans in the NASA space station. That is the vision of the French, and they comprehend the importance for deterrence and security of some European military capability in space. That is how the standing armaments committee should be used, particularly as the convention on the European Space Agency precludes ESA involving itself in any purely military space technologies, although in strategic and technical terms the capabilities which are developed jointly on our behalf by ESA have considerable implications.
The other aspect of WEU's advantage in this is that it has an arms control agency. Since the conventional arms limitations on the armed forces in the Federal Republic of Germany were lifted, much of the apparent raison d'etre for the arms control agency of the WEU has disappeared. However, European security policy would be enhanced if our electorates were convinced that there was a specialist body examining, on behalf of the key west European democracies—the countries of the WEU—the aspects of arms control that concern us in Europe.
Everybody has said that were ballistic missile defence to come to fruition, and were the strategic defence initiative to prove that such a defence was possible, the construction of an anti-ballistic missile system by the United States would somehow put western Europe at risk. There would be a global umbrella that would ensure the sanctity of the homelands of the two super powers and enable them to carry on their conflict in Europe underneath that overall umbrella. That argument is fallacious.
We have always been in the front line in western Europe and we shall continue to be so. I do not see that maintaining vulnerability and our deterrence posture on the premise of mutually assured destruction is the right or sane way to proceed. Apart from anything else, the danger of war by miscalculation or accident is enhanced if there is no effective defence against ballistic missiles. No one believes that there will be a 100 per cent. effective system. Even if each layer of the three-tier ballistic missile defence system that is envisaged—the boost phase, the orbital phase and the entry phase — had 10 per cent. ineffectiveness, taken together they would mean that only 0·1 per cent. of offensive missiles got through. We all know that calculation is hyperoptimistic and that a multiplicity of offensive systems can be developed. We are aware of the risk of decoys and other schemes that could be used to penetrate the defences. Nevertheless, it would still make a pre-emptive attack a less credible and much less sane policy. There would be virtually no possibility of taking out the adversary's retaliatory capability at source. Furthermore, the danger of war through miscalculation would be greatly diminished if an incoming missile could be destroyed after launch.
Therefore, we must give this strategic defence initiative our full support in Europe and concert our position towards these developments. I do not believe that this can be done on a purely national basis. The Government have rightly given full backing to the revivification—my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary referred to it as a relaunch—of the Western European Union. This is a way in which we can make sense of that relaunch and use that body, with all its organs—its ministerial Council, its standing armaments committee, its agency for the control of armaments and its parliamentary Assembly, which has an effect on national Parliaments and, theoretically, on public opinion — to make our electorates aware of what is going on so that people do not simply talk in emotive terms about "star wars" or make wild suggestions, as did the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), that it would be destabilising. It will not necessarily be destabilising. I should be much happier if a portion of our country's defence budget and that of NATO went to enhance defence rather than to maximise the killing potential of our offensive system.
I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will consider these matters seriously.
The hon. Members for Ruislip, Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) and for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) both referred to the re-election of President Reagan. Recent events in the United States will clearly have considerable influence on the matters being debated here today.
Having recently visited the United States, I welcome the view of the hon. Member for Leominster on the fact that the Republicans have not gained control of the House of Representatives. I also share his concern about the role of Mr. Jesse Helms, which I do not believe will be particularly helpful. The hon. Gentleman also referred to the Republican platform in the election. The Foreign Secretary must be greatly relieved that this House takes a very different and far more realistic view of the Hong Kong situation than do the Republicans, given the complex problem of that part of the world.
The world has changed considerably, even since our last debate on these matters and has become, as I believe we all acknowledge, a far more dangerous place to live in. I wish to make three major points following the interesting and thoughtful comments of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Johnston) about overseas development. First, however, I wish to deal with two other issues which I regard as important—the future of UNESCO and events relating to South Africa.
I am sorry that the Foreign Secretary did not find time to address himself to the subject of UNESCO as there is great concern about our future role in that organisation. I visited the UNESCO offices in New York three or four weeks ago—as it happened, on the very day on which the recent report, parts of which discredited UNESCO, was deliberately and very selectively leaked. Nevertheless, I believe that UNESCO, with all its faults, has been more sinned against than sinning. I understand that the Government are still considering their position. I hope that they will give some thought to the views of the non-aligned nations. The Financial Times recently suggested that the Prime Minister had not given much thought to the American position on this but would nevertheless follow the President's lead. I hope that that is not the case. On the contrary, I hope that the British Government will accept their role in UNESCO and recognise that in education, science and culture UNESCO plays a very important role as a United Nations agency. Although constructive criticism may be offered, not one shred of evidence of corruption actually emerged. I hope that the British Government will reaffirm our membership and encourage the United States to stay in membership, too.
On South Africa, I was encouraged by the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). I have received information today which leads me to ask some serious questions about the Government's policy in relation to South Africa. I understand from a branch circular issued by the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire branch of the National Association of Probation Officers that a Mrs. L. van der Heefen, a judge in the South African supreme court, visited an establishment of the Berkshire probation service last weekend accompanied by a senior Home Office official who, I understand, is an assistant chief inspector in the Home Office probation service branch. I understand that the NAPO branch has protested to the chief probation officer.
I am appalled that such a visit should have taken place. I am worried by its implications. Where else has that supreme court judge been and what other assistance has the Home Office provided? South African judges are the last people who should be welcomed in this country and given assistance by the Home Office.
Will the hon. Gentleman expand on that and tell us what categories of people he would like excluded from this country and on what basis, and why he is picking on this particular individual or category of individuals for what seems to be rather odd treatment?
It is for the Government to expand on the matter. I am asking the question. I do not intend to answer questions that the hon. Gentleman himself can pursue, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am making a serious point about an apparent change of policy by the Home Office at a very significant time in terms of events in South Africa and I shall not be put off by the trivia paraded before the House by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth). [Interruption.]
I regret that the subject of South Africa, where there have been many deaths in recent weeks, detention without trial and so on, is apparently regarded by some hon. Members as a subject for laughter. For that reason, I am sorry that proceedings in the Chamber are not being televised.
I say to the Minister for Overseas Development that that judge appears to have been on an offical visit and was accompanied by a Home Office official. The House should be told whether the Home Office now has a policy of providing official welcomes, assistance and facilities for South African judges, court officials, police and other personnel who man the repressive agencies of that apartheid state. If the Government's policy is to have no formal or other contact, the House should be told why the Home Office was involved in that way in the judge's visit.
If the policy has changed—this is the central point—there must be the most tremendous outrage. For that South African judge, and possibly others in future, to be officially received, welcomed and assisted here by the Home Office just a few weeks after South Africa showed its complete contempt for British justice by refusing to return the Coventry four—four of its own officials on serious charges here—is a massive insult to the British people and British justice. Will the Minister tell the House whether the Government now endorse and support such contact? If they do, will he tell the House how he squares that approach with that of the Commonwealth and the United Nations, both of which have described apartheid as a crime against humanity.
Right hon. and hon. Members have referred to aid and development. The House and the country were appalled at recent events in Ethiopia and at the television coverage that was rightly given to that holocaust. However, I think that the Minister will expect me to be frank on that issue. The Government emerge from it with no credit. The lethargy that in the past I have been sorry to attribute to his Department I see again today. I offer my view in no sense of conceit, but I think that I am entitled to refer to a question that I asked the Minister on 20 July 1983. I asked specifically what arrangements he was making for
the development of a common policy on the provision of aid to Ethiopia.
The right hon. Gentleman replied
Exchanges take place from time to time with our European and United States colleagues about matters of common interest in the aid field. Aid to Ethiopia is one on which various views are held and I do not think it would be productive to seek a common policy."—[Official Report, 20 July 1983; Vol. 46, c. 159–60.]
How hollow those words sound today. Nothing that the Minister or the Government have done since the people viewed those dreadful scenes on television gives any of us any hope that they are approaching those matters with the urgency required by the British people.
I should like to ask the Minister about the £5 million that the Government have agreed to give to Ethiopia. Where does it come in terms of the global budget on overseas aid, with which his Department has to deal? In the absence of the full explanation that I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give at the end of the debate, many people believe that the Government are taking from the poor to feed the poor.
May I dispel that canard straight away? Surely the hon. Gentleman knows by now that the money comes from the Contingency Fund. Any rational aid budget will have a contingency fund to deal with crises, emergencies and so on. That is what is happening in this case, and it would be ridiculous if it were otherwise.
If that is so, the amount that is being allocated from the contingency fund is meagre in the extreme. The figure of £5 million is about the same as we are giving to two families in the Falkland Islands. It is a trivial amount. Therefore, the Minister will have to be much more convincing in his reply at the end of the debate.
There have been rumours that the Cabinet, in discussing its financial plans for next year, was planning to cut overseas development aid. I do not know whether my hon. Friend heard the news item this morning on the radio that said that several members of the Tory party were worried about that because it would give the wrong image of the Tory party. That is appalling. I wonder what my hon. Friend thinks of that news.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I hope to come to it.
The facts about Ethiopia have been known for some time. There have been four harvest failures and six wars. We know that there have been food centres. The tragedy is that if people leave their land to go to those food centres, they help to create next year's lack of harvest. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East said, problems are also emerging in the Sudan and Chad, where there has been no harvest for four years and there is a civil war.
I should like to put to the Minister views that have been expressed by several aid organisations, principally War on Want. I should like him to address the facts to which they referred. With regard to Ethiopia, we are told that the Government are committed to giving 600,000, tonnes of grain when 2 million tonnes are needed. War on Want believes that the United Kingdom grain mountain stands at 8 million tonnes and that the EEC grain mountain stands at 32 million tonnes. Therefore, the contribution that we have been making is flimsy in the extreme compared with the resources that are available. I know that the House is extremely concerned about distribution. Transport problems were discussed in the debate on Ethiopia, five days after the Minister gave me his reply last year. The drought was predicted. Many of my hon. Friends predicted precisely what would take place. For us to pretend now that sending out two planes is enough and to complain that there will be difficulty in landing and in distribution is hypocritical nonsense. We have had that information for well over a year, and that should have given the Government a sense of urgency.
I should like to refer to the problem of the global overseas aid figures. Like my hon. Friends, I have been appalled to read the various leaks this week from the "star chamber", particularly in respect of overseas aid. When Hugh Dalton was Chancellor of the Exchequer, Chancellors resigned when leaks were published, although perhaps they were not published until after he sat down. From this Government of leaks, whose interdepartmental disputes are conducted in the media, it is clear—unless the Minister denies it—that there will be a considerable cut in overseas aid. It will be announced on Monday, although the Gracious Speech referred to the need to
maintain a substantial aid programme".
If, as was predicted last night on the BBC, the aid figure will be reduced by £150 million—others predict that it will be cut by 20 per cent.—that represents a tragic blow to the Third world, to those living in poverty, suffering and dying from starvation. What justification can the Minister offer, as the Minister responsible for those matters, if anything like those aid reductions take place?
As my hon. Friend says, the Minister does not appear to be paying attention. Just as he and his colleagues ignored the important debate on Ethiopia last year, the same appears to be happening today.
The people of Great Britain are paying very close attention to the Government's policies on overseas aid, and all right hon. and hon. 'Members know from their postbags that this is one of the biggest issues to emerge since the start of this Parliament. The British people will be looking for an explanation if the Minister sits in his Department and allows these reductions to be made.
Even if there were not a proposal by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the "star chamber" and the Government to make this reduction, the existing figures do not reflect any great credit on the Government and their approach. It is clear that the Government have not the slightest intention of achieving the United Nations figure of 0·7 per cent. of gross national product. Even now, the figure stands at a miserable 0·35 per cent. Compared with other countries we should be ashamed of ourselves. We are way down the league table. Norway gives 1·06 per cent., the Netherlands 0·91, Sweden 0·88, France 0·76 — perhaps all the references we have had to France this morning in another context will lead the Minister to think in terms of that Government's policy on overseas aid—Denmark 0·72, and even such countries as Belgium, Australia, West Germany and Canada, which did not meet the United Nations figure, nevertheless have done much better than we in the United Kingdom have.
If the suggestions that we hear on television and radio broadcasts are correct and there is to be a cut in the region, it is suggested, of 20 per cent., I ask the House to imagine what that means. If, as some people predict, there is to be a 20 per cent. reduction—we shall wait to see what happens on Monday—our miserable figure will slip to about 0·28 per cent. Obviously that is not only unacceptable; it is going somewhere near the ridiculously low figures of the United States, with 0·24 per cent., and of the USSR, with 0·19 per cent.
In the Government's policies on overseas aid we are really seeing that they have far more to do with the Government's attitudes to east-west relations than with the problems of north-south development. This represents a tragedy for the modern world.
Even if the Government cannot be persuaded that it is morally right to contribute more to starving millions, are they not persuaded by enlightened self-interest? Are they not persuaded by the fact that in Ethiopia there are eight British Leyland trucks on show? They are also on sale in Khartoum for £30,000 each. Why cannot we buy them? If we did we should be giving great hope to the men in Bathgate who are to be made redundant because markets for their products are not available. We all know that they are available and that without the debt crisis there would be even more markets for what our people are producing.
Why do not the Government consider the Dando irrigation equipment, which was put on show at the Foreign Office last week by War on Want? Hardly a few hours had passed when we were told that, because there was no demand for that equipment, 37 men were to be made redundant.
Why have the Government taken such a dim view of the Brandt report? Why have they set the priorities that they have on overseas aid and other matters?
I recognise that the Minister has a responsibility to his Department and is being asked by the Prime Minister to take a more global view. However, I remind him that it was Nye Bevan who once said that the burdens of public office were far too heavy to be borne for trivial ends. If the Minister takes the view that because the Cabinet and the "star chamber" demand these unacceptable and unreasonable cuts he should meekly accept them, he and his Government will reap the wrath of the British people, and deservedly so.
Inevitably the debate has been wide ranging, and the speech of the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) was fairly typical of that.
Eight years ago, in the coldest November on record, I was contesting a by-election in Cambridge. On 21 December I made my maiden speech in the House from the Opposition Benches in the context of a proposal by the right hon. Member for Leeds East (Mr. Healey), then Chancellor of the Exchequer, for a cut of £50 million in the overseas aid budget, upon which the then Minister, now my right hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice), resigned his office.
My maiden speech was on the topic of drought, famine and malnutrition in Africa. It was made almost exactly eight years ago.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for Monklands, West that the British record on overseas aid is, as he puts it, miserable. Compared with a substantial number of other countries, not least the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact countries, it is admirable. The reaction to the tragedy in Ethiopia by the Government has been swift and positive, and it comes on top of 40,000 tonnes of grain which had been sent beforehand. With my involvement in the Save the Children Fund, I am deeply proud of the work done not only by the people of the fund but by other British voluntary agencies in the face of this appalling tragedy.
It is in this context that I find it inconceivable that there should be proposals, as are rumoured, to make reductions in the aid budget and even the funds of the BBC Overseas Service and the British Council. I say that it is inconceivable because we read in the Queen's Speech:
My Government will continue fully to support the Commonwealth, to play a constructive role at the United Nations, to maintain a substantial aid programme, and to encourage investment in developing countries.
Looking back at my speech eight years ago, to which no one listened and on which no action was taken, looking at the situation that we now confront not only in Ethiopia but elsewhere, it is obvious that what is really needed is not only preventive medicine, which the Stop Polio campaign of the Save the Children Fund provides, and preventive agriculture but also recognition by the Government that we have an obligation and a duty to endeavour to assist as far as we reasonably can.
looking at the scale of the tragedy which is unfolding and recognising what is being done by us and the voluntary agencies, could not we take ourselves away from our parochial concerns and give the kind of lead which could and should be followed so that we might make some contribution to preventing these tragedies from occurring in the future?
Most hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have taken the grand design of world strategy as their theme. I propose not to do that. Instead I wish to go perhaps to the other extreme and discuss a very small part of the world which, with the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed), I visited this summer as a member of a delegation on behalf of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I refer to St. Helena.
The first problem with such a colony is that people do not know where it is. I am sure that hon. Members know, but the public at large usually have difficulty. Some place it next to Italy. Others think that it is in the Indian ocean. Most people know that it is where Napoleon ended his days, but that is the sum total of the British public's knowledge of the island.
St. Helena is in the Atlantic ocean. It is a small island of about 47 square miles. It is roughly 800 miles off the African coast and about 1,200 miles from the south American coast. It is an inhabited island with 5,500 people of a mixture of races. There are some expatriates from the United Kingdom. There are immigrants from the United Kingdom. The island was a Boer prisoner of war camp and there are some Boers living there. Some 100 years ago, there were indentured Chinese labourers there, and Africans settled there too. There is a completely cosmopolitan community but only one language—English. It is not spoken with any dialect. It is not pidgin English; it is ordinary English such as I am speaking now. If one heard an islander speak, one might have great difficulty in believing that he came from somewhere abroad. Many of the islanders speak English better than I do.
Until recently, the island had very little publicity. The best publicity it has received was the hour-long documentary shown nationally by Anglia Television last August. St. Helena is a colony and we have a responsibility to look after it and to try to lead it to economic viablity. That is crucial.
Of course I would not say that St. Helena is in the same position as Ethiopia. Conditions in Ethiopia are desperate and cannot be compared with the bad standard of living of people in St. Helena or parts of the United Kingdom. St. Helena is not a Third world country. In many ways the standard of living there is comparable to that in parts of the United Kingdom. That is the light in which it must be considered.
The island was settled over 300 years ago with a view to refuelling ships going to India by the cape of Good Hope. That traffic developed and enjoyed its heyday, but it then fell away again and very few ships call at St. Helena now. Apart from the one ship which services the island, there may be one or two calls a year. The livelihood of the islanders disappeared with the sea traffic. When that happened, the island was given over to growing flax for making string which was used by the Post Office. However, synthetic materials were developed in the 1950s and 1960s and, quite sharply, over a period of three or four years, the market for flax disappeared. The fact that St. Helena was covered with flax plants made no difference. The economic viability of the island was lost again, and has not yet been recovered. No Government have yet been able to provide a successful formula for re-establishing economic viability, but I hope that all Governments will continue to try to do so.
There are three ways in which economic viability could be encouraged. First, there is import substitution. Wherever possible, the islanders must be able to grow their own food and to make their own manufactured goods so that they do not have to import goods. The cost of imports is very high because of the problems of transport.
Secondly, we must find something that the islanders could export. They might have some success with fisheries, or with cash crops such as coffee, although more investigation would be needed before a firm proposal could be made.
Thirdly, it is important that the islanders should be trained and should acquire qualifications so that they can return to St. Helena and replace the expensive repatriate advisers. It is inconceivable that there will be video manufacturing plants, for instance, on St. Helena. All half-developed countries—and, indeed, some regions of the United Kingdom—talk about small electronic industries, but such industries will not appear in all the parts of the United Kingdom and all the colonies which want them. Equally, the manufacture of machinery and engineering industries are very unlikely prospects.
However, the islanders could be encouraged to grow their own produce. The difficulty is that there are no facilities on the island for storing water. Below 1,200 ft the island is very arid, but in the centre of the island there is about 40 in rainfall a year, and that is no small quantity. The difficulty is that very little development aid has been forthcoming to enable that water to be collected, stored and distributed throughout the island. There is plenty of land available for gardens, but islanders are loth to try to grow their own vegetables because they know that in two years out of three there will be a drought or a distorted rainfall pattern, and their crops will fail. The islanders have no incentive to grow vegetables.
Water is the first priority. The Government have started a water programme—I give them credit for that—but my experience on the island suggested that the water programme must be extended, and a full programme implemented as soon as possible. We visited the island during a period of drought. Water started to fall as soon as we arrived, but many of the 700 head of cattle on the island were in danger of dying. It is a false economy, and will lead to a lack of morale among the islanders, to start to do something about collecting water—there are advisers there on agriculture and forestry—but not carry it through. The island does not have the resources to see it through periods of drought, and stocks of cattle which have taken many years to build up have to be killed because there is not enough grass for them to eat. Water is the key to import substitution. It should be the highest priority of any Government concerned with the island.
Many schemes for exports have been suggested, but it is unlikely that any non-indigenous industry could be developed sufficiently. For example, there is much talk of lace making, but I doubt whether it would be successful.
I give credit to the ODA for recently approving an offshore fishing survey. St. Helena has one ship that is capable of such fishing. The ship—the Westerclam—is being sent to the African mainland to be refitted to enable it to conduct the survey. I wish that it could have been sent to a British yard. Fish are not especially plentiful around the island, but inshore fishing now supplies local needs. Proceedures for drying and exporting fish have now been got right. One of the island's difficulties is that experts go to the island, make recommendations and leave. Projects cannot then be carried through as the islanders do not have the necessary expertise. Things go wrong, so other experts are sent and recommend something quite different. The islanders feel that one expert is no better or worse than another.
The hon. Gentleman is treating us to an interesting description of circumstances in St. Helena. Can he say anything about how he envisages the democratic element in St. Helena being developed? Does he envisage a French solution—integrating small colonies with metropolitan France—some form of self-government, or something else?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning that. I have given it some thought and hope to discuss it later.
The offshore fishing industry promises to be successful in terms of exports. However, if the island is to achieve economic viability in five or 10 years' time, training and education are vital. Until recently education only up to O-level standard was available. Subjects to A-level are now taught, but the schools are rudimentary. I visited a classroom where teachers were trying to teach A-level physics. All of their apparatus would have fitted nicely into the Dispatch Box. In those circumstances, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to educate islanders to university or technical college level. Because only O-levels were available, islanders were able to come to Britain for two years' work experience.
I was told that no islander had been to university in Britain. I hope that that will change. I saw 16-year-old girls who had just left school trying to teach in a junior school. They worked hard and were doing well, but there is no short cut to having proper qualifications and undergoing a proper term of study. Study to become a teacher, engineer, doctor or scientist is not available. We should provide bursaries or scholarships to enable islanders to attend university degree courses here.
We should congratulate the ODA on having recently approved the building of the central school for 11-plus children. It will incorporate a sixth form. The islanders warmly welcome that development. I hope that it is built properly and has properly equipped science laboratories.
I saw six deaf and dumb children on the island. There is no remedial teaching and no speech therapist on the island. Those children will be a burden for the rest of their lives. Although something should be done from the moral point of view, it should be borne in mind that it is cost effective to provide remedial help. Much can be done to help deaf and dumb children. They need not be a burden on society. Indeed, they should be able to lead useful lives. Islanders have never heard of phonic ears, although they cost only a couple of hundred pounds each. Such distress could easily be ameliorated.
I now turn to the problem of communications. There is no airfield on the island. There is one ship called RMS St. Helena, which makes six journeys a year from St. Helena to Cape Town and back. If it breaks down or if there is a strike and it cannot sail, the island suffers. It has certainly suffered this summer. Yesterday on its way to the United Kingdom there was a fire in the engine room. The ship drifted for about 12 hours and is now near Dakar. Fortunately, no lives were lost. The position is not as bad as it had been feared, mainly because of the efficient action of the officers and crew. However, that shows how vulnerable a small island is. Another ship must now be chartered, which will cost the ODA extra money.
What can we do about it? One might think that the islanders would want an airfield, but that is not the case—perhaps I went there with a preconceived notion that an airfield must be built. There is no general desire for an airfield, although a substantial number of islanders would like one. The islanders would be happy if the ship, which will have to be replaced by about 1987, were replaced by a bigger and better version. A recent report by economic consultants recommends, in so far as it recommends anything, precisely that. The report also suggests that such a ship should be able to carry petrol and diesel, but I doubt whether the Department of Transport would give permission for that. I urge the Government, not just to spend a little money so that the present RMS St. Helena will last from 1987 to 1991—that would not be cost effective—but to spend enough for a bigger and better version of the ship. If we can get the present ship back into service, we shall have time to design a new ship, which could carry cargo at a cheaper cost and more passengers.
There may be a case for an emergency air strip, though not a commercial one. Even if everyone wanted a commercial air strip, it could not be justified. It would cost an astronomical sum, passengers would swamp the island and the cost of air freight is prohibitive. If an emergency strip were built, a Hercules aircraft could land in an emergency, for example, if the two electric generators in the power station broke down simultaneously. It would be useful if a Hercules aircraft could land with supplies, or even simply throw them out of the back of the aircraft while it flew overland. It would also be useful for urgent medical cases which could not be treated on the island.
I now turn to the problems of immigration and the restrictions placed on St. Helenans. Until 20 years ago they could come and go from the United Kingdom, but since then our immigration laws have become increasingly restrictive and repressive. The islanders find it hard to understand why the people of the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar are not in the same position as they are. I sympathise with that view. There are probably more St. Helenans in Britain than there are in St. Helena. There are two big colonies of them—one in Britain and one in South Africa. It is wrong that a small colony, which has been completely British and completely loyal to Britain for centuries, should be deprived rights of entry to Britain. If St. Helenans apply for work permits, obstacles are placed in their way. The age limit for entry has been increased from 16 or 18 to 23. It also takes a long time for visas to be issued.
St. Helena is not like Hong Kong, nor is it like previous British colonies such as Uganda. There is a good case for treating St. Helena on the same basis as we treat Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, and I hope that the Government will consider this.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Johnston) raised an important point about the constitution. As the island is not economically independent, most of the islanders do not have jobs. The Government's policy is to give males, although not females—there is an element of discrimination there—Government make-work jobs, with the result that 90 per cent. of the male population is employed by the Government. That means that 90 per cent. of the male population is debarred from election to the Legislative Council, which must be nonsense. Of course, as in Britain, we must always guard against possible conflicts of interest, and if someone has a job that could lead to a conflict of interest, it is right that he should not be allowed to stand for election. However, for a person who has been given a make-work job and is not a civil servant, the possibility of a conflict of interest must be remote. It should not be inconceivable for the Government to lift the ban, and make the islanders more aware of which direction the island's affairs are going.
The registration of electors is not carried out as it is in Britain. Islanders must go to a certain place to register, with the result that only one third of the population is on the electoral roll. That is not acceptable in a democracy. Nearly everyone should be on the electoral roll, and I strongly urge that the registration procedures are changed. The voting age on the island is still 21. If we have managed to lower it to 18, why can it not be the same in St. Helena?
Much must be done in St. Helena to disseminate information. Before one can ask the islanders whether they wish to be, at one extreme, an integral part of the United Kingdom—as Martinique is to France—or, at the other extreme, wish to have complete independence, they must know what the possibilities are. At present, I understand that the islanders wish to remain part of the United Kingdom, but before we can say that with certainty we must give them some independence so that they can discover all available information and how their process of government works.
I pay credit to the Overseas Development Agency, which is taking steps in the right direction. It is about to build the central school, but it must finish the process. After the school has been built, and children have benefited from it and left with A-levels, they must be given the opportunity to attend universities or polytechnics in the United Kingdom so that the next generation of islanders is competent and professional.
The ODA is to build a new electricity generating station, which is a step in the right direction. However, the island should not be at the mercy and vagaries of shipping. The aim is to have 12 weeks' supply of diesel by 1988. That means that if the supply vessel catches fire, for example, or does not sail, the island will have a severe energy shortage. A tank farm should be built to ensure a supply of diesel and petrol for at leest six months and possibly for 12.
The ODA was right to take a step in organising the offshore fisheries survey. If the survey shows that there are fish that could usefully be harvested offshore, it is important that landing facilities, handling and transportation facilities are supplied. That, of course, would require extra capital. It is necessary that that commitment is made by the ODA.
The ODA has commissioned a report on a new ship for St. Helena. I hope that it will take the matter to heart and will not opt for a stop-gap measure to last the island of St. Helena for three or four more years. If a decision is to be made, let it be the right one so that there can be 20 or 30 years of good transport between the United Kingdom and St. Helena.
Most important of all, the ODA has initiated irrigation schemes and water collection points. So far only about half the programme is the subject of agreement. If we are to make any headway in the economic development of the island, it is important that the full water programme is given the go-ahead and implemented as soon as possible.
St. Helena is not a tropical island. It has faced many difficulties but there is now the possibility of an economically viable future. Its loyalty to the United Kingdom is undoubted. I hope that every Member will give it a fair deal in years to come.
I am anxious that hon. Members who have been present throughout the debate should have the opportunity to address the House. I know that the House will want also to hear the Front Bench replies. If hon. Members restrict themselves to about 10 minutes each, I hope to be able to call all those who wish to contribute to the debate.
The House may or may not be relieved to hear that I shall not indulge in any further special pleading for St. Helena by taking up the remarks of the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek). However, I am happy to be called to participate in the debate immediately after the hon. Gentleman as it gives me the opportunity to observe that representatives from Welsh constituencies now represent about 25 per cent. of the attendance in the Chamber. I am pleased to see such a strong Welsh representation.
I shall not develop the theme of several hon. Members that has been built on the rumours about cuts in the overseas aid budget. I do not believe the rumours. If they were to be of the magnitude that is suggested in the press, that would demonstrate insensitivity to British public opinion that would be hard to comprehend at a tune when everyone's eyes are rightly focused on the tragedy that is unfolding in Ethiopia.
I shall address my remarks briefly to events in Nicaragua. We meet at a time when Nicaragua is mobilising and the 82nd airborne division is preparing itself for something. I share the concern expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary about any Soviet arms build-up in central America, especially if that involves missiles. However, it is necessary to transgress far into the realms of unreality to pretend that events in Nicaragua are akin to those which took place in Cuba. It is necessary for us to dismiss that thought from our minds—certainly at the present time.
Was the position in Nicaragua so grave for the United States that it entitled a superpower to indulge in destablisation and mining of ports long before the elections were held? It looked as though elections would be conducted in a full, fair and free way. I do not wish to judge today whether they were. The fact is that elections were held that were regarded by many as fair and they led to the return of the existing Government. One must bear in mind the integrity of the sovereignty of individual states, however small they may be. The evidence is conflicting. I have gathered evidence from not only the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua but the United States. The regime in Nicaragua has produced a booklet which states:
In April 1982 the Government of the United States presented Nicaragua with an eight-point proposal in which were summed up the conditions that must be met, according to that Government for the normalisation of relations between the United States and Nicaragua. The Government of Nicaragua agreed to discuss the eight points presented by the United States if the United States agreed to discuss those questions that preoccupied Nicaragua. Notwithstanding this disposition to engage in dialogue, the North American Government refused to accept a continuation of the conversations, even interrupting the informal epistolary exchange that had been maintained until 13 August, date of the last Nicaraguan communication, which remains unanswered.
Having abandoned the way of dialogue, the North American Administration qualitatively and quantitatively increases its aggressions against Nicaragua, utilizing as its instruments counter-revolutionary mercenaries organized, trained, financed, armed and directed by the Central Intelligence Agency (the CIA), and redoubling its political pressures and economic aggressions to the prejudice of Nicaragua.
That is one side of the coin. We have heard the other side expressed more often. It was expressed perhaps most forcefully by Secretary of State Shultz on 20 March, when he said:
If regimes responsive to Moscow and Havana and hostile to the United States are installed in Central America, we will pay a high price for a long, long time.
A document produced by the United States Information Agency states:
Nicaragua is a grave threat to all the countries in Central America, beginning with its immediate neighbours, Costa Rica and Honduras.
The document went on to amplify that statement.
The evidence is conflicting, but what stands out is the fact that it is right that a degree of criticism of the United States for its attitude towards Nicaragua should come from Conservatives. Although I accept that we do not want a Soviet build-up in central America, destabilisation cannot be the way in which a super-power should react, especially when it is carried out only too readily in other parts of the world by the Soviet Union. It is right that criticism should come from Conservative Members, because we criticise in the knowledge that we are friends and allies of the United States, that we stand together in NATO and that we shall continue to be the closest ally of the United States in the foreseeable future. The Opposition's criticism of the United States might be more persuasive if a greater acknowledgement were made of the United States' role in NATO and if the Opposition did not believe that we should embark upon a defence policy that would destabilise NATO and make the Alliance that much more difficult.
I criticise not just because of the problems confronting a small country in central America, which did not have the choice of being in America's backyard, but because of the effects of what is happening in central America, especially on the United States. The United States has increasingly become the policeman of the world. If it is to maintain that role in a way that is acceptable to the free western world, it can do so only on the basis of moral superiority, and that cannot be enhanced by the destabilisation of the Governments of small countries. That view is held by many of my American friends.
The events in central America inevitably take the world's attention away from atrocities that are being committed by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and in other areas, where it is actively engaged in trying to destabilise regimes. That must continue to be an impediment to peace talks between the super-powers.
I was delighted to read on the tapes this morning that the Soviet Union has given a favourable response to the suggestions of the United States for umbrella talks. Talks will soon begin between Secretary of State Shultz and Mr. Gromyko. That must be right, and it must also be right to have umbrella talks, enabling the overall situation to be examined, rather than being bogged down by arguments about fine detail. I wish the talks well, but we must do more in Britain in case those talks flounder.
We are in an ideal position to act as an intermediary between the United States and the Soviet Union. There is a need for a third party. There is the five continents' peace initiative, involving six Heads of State in the non-aligned world, trying to act as an intermediary between the two super-powers, both politically and from a technological point of view, to see where the lowest common denominator can be drawn in finding the greatest consensus between the two super-powers. The initiative can also be taken by an individual country, such as the United Kingdom.
We do not have the resources for developing emerging technology in terms of "star wars", so we can take a detached view of that question. In my judgment, that enhances our ability to stand between the two superpowers and ensure that negotiations continue. I also believe that our retention of the nuclear deterrent enhances our ability to take that individual line.
It seems strange that, apparently, it is not the perception of Labour Members that unilateralism—far from rendering us more independent and capable of adoping an intermediary role—makes us that much more dependent on the United States. It gives us no choice but to rely entirely on the United States nuclear umbrella as a deterrent. I find the Opposition's argument illogical, and I hope that in due course they will take a different view. We can speak far more authoratively to both super-powers if we are a nuclear weapon state. I have no love of nuclear weapons and would like to see their removal from the face of the earth, but we have to be realistic. Let us at least use our possession of nuclear weapons to good effect by seeking to act as a mediator between East and West.
My remarks have been in part prompted by the words in the Gracious Speech that the Government
will work for the resumption of negotiations where these have been broken off. They will work continually for a greater atmosphere of trust between East and West.
We can play a positive role. We still have a fine reputation in the world for diplomacy and negotiations. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has enhanced that reputation by the agreement over Hong Kong's future, which has been generally and rightly hailed as a success.
The visit of Mr. Gromyko next year and of Mr. Gorbachev later this year will give us the opportunity to act as a catalyst between the superpowers in achieving peace. It is perhaps appropriate that we should be talking in those terms when, this Sunday, most of us will be attending a church service to commemorate those who gave their lives in the war. We must ensure that future generations do not have to make that sacrifice.
I am pleased to find myself agreeing with the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) particularly with reference to the Government's statement and the statement this morning from the Foreign Secretary about the elections in Nicaragua. I was distressed about the wording of that statement because it could be construed as an attempt by the British Foreign Office to de-legitimise the Government after the elections in Nicaragua. It might be seen to be covert support for the apparent moves towards military intervention in which the United States is currently involved.
For those reasons I ask the Minister to consider carefully the text of what the Foreign Secretary told us earlier to see whether he can, in the light of remarks that have been made by hon. Members, ensure that the British Government do not say anything that might be seen to be destabilising the democratic process in central America—the most democratic process that we have seen in a central American country for some years.
The United Kingdom's relationship with UNESCO has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke). I received an answer from the Foreign Office this morning saying that British policy towards UNESCO is still being reviewed. It would be helpful if the Minister when he replies, or in a letter to those who have raised the issue, could say what the parameters of the review are and when the Government expect to decide. Those who are members of the national commission in Britain of UNESCO discussed the issue this week and they are deeply worried about what they see to be a trend towards withdrawal in the Government's discussions.
The speech of the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) was another of those speeches from Conservative Members who seem to be fascinated by weapons systems without being able to talk about the political context in which they are deployed. They seem to talk about the deployment of new weapons systems by the West as if they were an automatic contribution to the enhancing of deterrence. They, of course, criticise the Soviet attempt to catch up with that weapons technology as abhorrent and a threat to the West.
We must learn to recognise that no nuclear weapon increases nuclear security. We are told time and again that the Western defence strategy's objective is purely defensive—we heard it again this morning—and that the policy is to enhance deterrence. That is, presumably, honestly believed by Conservative Members. I believe the hon. Member for Ynys Môn when he says that he has no love for nuclear weapons. It is equally the view put forward by strategists in the Kremlin.
We must realise that one side's defensive deterrent is a growing threat to the security of the other side. For those reasons, it is essential that we say that all weapon deployments and potential deployments are an increase in insecurity. In that context, I was worried by the recent discussions that have been going on between the parties of the alliance about the purchase of the sea-launched cruise missile as a new Alliance deterrent. Whatever may be the advantages of a sea-launched cruise missile programme in terms of patching up the defence policies of the SDP and the Liberal party—a fudging of defence policy may suit the alliance—if they decide on that policy without considering the arms control implications of the sea-launched cruise missile programme they are failing to see the grave threat posed by that programme.
I have raised the matter before, and I do not apologise for taking time on it again, because we have seen the way in which the sea-launched cruise missile programme has already been deployed and developed in its conventional capacity. From the point of view of the military, it is a wonderfully efficient weapon. The Tomahawk version can be fired from a standard torpedo tube. It is, therefore, possible to extend the cold war embrace of nuclear deterrence to any part of the world. The weapons can be fitted with nuclear, chemical or high explosive warheads. They have great accuracy, so strategists can spend their time working out elegant, surgical strikes.
Can it be in the interests of security worldwide to turn any naval manoeuvre in any military or political crisis into what can be perceived as a nuclear threat? In international affairs, we have always to look at what is the perception of the intention. Can we increase security by placing the capability to launch a nuclear weapon into the hands of more and more military personnel? Is our security increased with an increase in the accuracy of destroying military targets in so-called counter-force strikes? Do we increase security by acquiring a weapon such as Tomahawk which, if fired in the conventional way, will appear to the enemy radar to be a nuclear weapon and will be assumed by the other side to be deployed on all vessels, and, according to the principles of SALT II, will have to be counted? The implication for verification of arms control of this enhancement of deterrence should be taken seriously.
If we believe in nuclear disarmament, whether unilateral, bilateral, trilateral or whatever, it must be an objective of arms control policy that we should not be deploying new weapons that will make a veritable minefield of arms control verification. I shall quote from Ambassador Gerard Smith, who negotiated with the Soviet Union in the previous American Administration. In talking about the sea-launched programme he said:
It is too often forgotten that progress we have made on arms control to date has depended very importantly on the fact that the weapons systems involved have been relatively very visible to the kind of surveillance technology we have developed. This all important visibility may end with the deployment of the sea-launched cruise missiles. The naval cruise missiles, therefore, stand a very good chance of increasing the interdeterminancy of the strategic threat in the 1980s and 1990s and of undermining one of the key foundations of arms control.
I stress to hon. Members in the alliance who may be talking about acquiring new deterrents through the sea-launched missile system, and to the Conservative party, the tremendous dangers in terms of arms control posed by this new deployment.
There is a link between the proliferation of the arms race and poverty and injustice worldwide. The arms race leads to war, but it also leads to poverty and depression. It cultivates nothing except hunger. The poor in the Third world are subsidising the arms build-up of the First world. American militarisation has been financed by a massive federal budget deficit, which has pushed interest rates to record levels. High interest rates increase the cost of servicing the Third world's huge foreign currency debts, leading Governments to squeeze domestic consumption and contract economic activity. This results in heightened social conflict, which is met by brutal repression in many southern countries.
The nuclear military economy leads directly to food riots and the torture of the hungry. The confrontation of East and West is parasitical on confrontation of North and South, as the Brandt report and other reports have shown. Millions may die in Europe in a nuclear winter because millions are dying in Latin America and Africa. The Third world is paying for the third world war. As the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) has already said, the 500 million people who are suffering from malnutrition represent the way in which the south has already paid for the cost of the nuclear arms and the conventional arms used in the arms trade. Monetarism and Atlanticism, the twin poles of Government policy, contribute significantly to this conspiracy against the world's poor.
I hope that the Government will reply to my next point, either today or in a letter. It concerns the specific charges that have been made about delay by the Government in ensuring adequate aid to Ethiopia in its present crisis, before that crisis became a media issue. Serious charges have been made by Dr. Charles Elliott, whom I knew as a professor in Swansea, and who has recently been a director of Christian Aid. He referred to the fact that the Government have been delaying adequate aid for political reasons. He was quoted as saying that it was the United States, and therefore the United Kingdom, view that a disastrous famine would bring down the Marxist Government in Ethiopia.
I raised this with the Prime Minister on 30 October but she failed to respond adequately. She gave the House the impression that Ethiopia had received more aid than was the case. So far as I can gather, in 1983 the figure was only about £3·4 million—about the same as for the Seychelles. I hope that the Minister will set out the historical position and tell us whether the serious charges to which I have referred are indeed accurate and whether there was a delay last year and earlier this year in ensuring adequate unilateral, bilateral and multilateral aid for Ethiopia.
As a state with post-colonial responsibilities towards the southern countries, the proposed cuts in overseas aid put this country in an invidious position compared with nations that do not have those obligations. This is exemplified by our aid budget for 1983–84 of only 0·35 per cent. of GNP. I believe that the response of the British public to the situation in Ethiopia is not just a short-term emotional reaction to a crisis perceived through the media but a statement that there is still a spirit of internationalism and international co-operation in Britain. The Government must respond to that.
I support my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) who spoke so eloquently about Nicaragua. Having returned from that country only yesterday, perhaps I may give the House some details on what I found there and on the elections. I was there with the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland), a man whom I am happy to call my friend not least because, when I saw my luggage going to Costa Rica when I was going to Miami, he was most helpful in ensuring, I hope, the eventual return of the luggage tomorrow.
Despite its small size, Nicaragua is of the utmost importance in the whole central and south American context. It is an area of great trouble and one of the hot spots with which we must deal in a very careful, measured and considered way. It is a small country and its gross domestic product is tiny compared with many of the larger municipal bodies in this country. Before 1979, it was subject to the highly repressive regime of General Somoza. As a result of a popular revolution—it was indeed popular—a Government emerged who are patriotic as well as Left-wing. It is hard to say exactly what that Government consist of and what their views are. Some have described them as Marxist-Leninist. I do not believe that they are entirely Marxist-Leninist, but to describe them as very Left-wing would be quite adequate.
The new Government faced many problems when they came to power, not least a grave economic situation. Somoza had left no money in the kitty so they had to try to rebuild the economy. The high level of illiteracy has been dealt with by a major literacy campaign. They also tackled the serious health problems, including a lack of doctors, hospitals and so on. To do that, a great deal of foreign aid was required. Cubans are certainly present. I cannot say anything about Cuban military advisers, but I know that there are Cuban doctors and they are desperately needed. If there is to be a call for the withdrawal of all Cubans from Nicaragua, I hope that the free world will recognise that the doctors and nurses must be replaced and that it will provide the aid so desperately needed in that area.
The economic future of the country is perhaps one of the prime areas, on which one must concentrate. The Nicaraguan Government see the solution in terms not only of Nicaragua but of the region. That is where some of the problems arise. It is not only a Common Market solution for central America and the Caribbean, but a social solution, which they see as a Socialist solution. Therefore, to that extent one must recognise that the United States has a real problem. It would help us all to look at the problem in a realistic way as well. That does not mean that Nicaragua is not a sovereign country that has a right to determine and decide its own future, but one must recognise at the same time that America went through the Cuban crisis in the 1960s and does not want to see repeated what was so nearly a catastrophe for the world. I do not think, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn said, that we have reached anything like that situation in Nicaragua, but realising that there is a cause for concern by the Americans would help us to try to resolve the problems of Nicaragua.
One must also realise that Nicargua has been bled by civil war in the north, south and central highland parts, at times coming close to the capital of Managua. The war has been supported by the United States to a great extent in both financial terms and arms and other technical support. It is almost a continuation of the revolution. These are the remnants of the Sandinista civil guard supported by peasants and others in the country who also oppose the Government. War is no solution, and financial support only helps towards the continuation of that war. It places that small country in a desperate situation.
If anyone says that there is no civil war, I tell them that I went to the Atlantic ports, including Porto Cabezo, which is on the Caribbean side, where I saw five coffins being nailed down and two more being put into a lorry. That army is composed of people aged 16 and over. Seven young people had died. Nicaragua has a population of only 3 million, half of whom are under 16. Seven people from that small town had been killed, which means that in real terms the civil war is having an enormous effect on the country.
If one goes to towns such as Esterli, one finds many families in which one member has died, which at least have had close contact with the civil war, or with people who have been severely wounded. They are all involved. One must look at Nicaragua in that context as well.
Nicaragua has been having a civil war, with the patriotic forces being both revolutionaries and extremely nationalistic. It has also been almost a one-party state over the past four years. Almost all the apparatus of state is controlled and held by the Sandinistas, the FSLN, which is the party. The army is the Sandinista army. The police are the Sandinista police. There is rationing in Nicaragua, and anyone wanting a ration card has to apply to the local Sandinista committee. The Civil Service is controlled by the Sandinistas. It is impossible to go into the office of a civil servant without finding an FSLN flag on display. For the last four years of the revolution, there has been complete control of the state apparatus by the party.
Coming to the democratic state of the country, it is apparent that during the past four years there has been party campaigning. A form of press censorship has also been in force in Nicaragua. In some respects, it is not unnatural to have press censorship, especially when a country is at war, as Nicaragua is, but the press censorship has gone beyond that at times, and it is to be deplored.
However, there was an election in Nicaragua on 4 November, and that election is important for the country. I was one of the observers. I was allowed to observe all aspects of the election. Her Majesty's Government did not send observers to the election on the ground that it could not be free and fair. The Italian Government did not send observers on the ground that the preparation for the election was not satisfactory. I think that that is a far better way of describing that election.
We have to ask ourselves, however, whether the preparation could have been satisfactory in the prevailing circumstances. The apparatus of state being in the control of one political party meant that there was a lack of freedom of choice. But political parties have been in existence for a considerable time. They were not allowed to campaign in the way that the FSLN was prior to the beginning of the electoral campaign in August. To that extent, they lost ground. After the beginning of August they were free to campaign, but they started with a disadvantage.
In democratic terms, I always feel that elections are simply the icing on top of the cake. I would be happier to see the democratic organs of government existing before elections are held. It is more important to divorce the army, the police and the civil service from the party apparatus before elections if they are to be entirely free and fair. It is equally important that there should be a lack of anything but the most essential war censorship.
The election cannot be discounted. For 40 years the Nicaraguans did not have free elections. They did not know what they were like. Under the Somozista Government, no one could be clear that the secret police would not know how one had voted in an election. Elections were looked upon with the greatest suspicion. No one who opposed the Government in Nicaragua felt that elections would be secret.
I went round on election day. I had complete access. I drove in a four-wheeled vehicle into the tiniest villages. I was able to go into any polling station. I was able to observe and to ask questions. People told me that they thought that the election had been free, fair and secret. I found that somewhat surprising. But I feel that it augurs well for the future of Nicaragua that people should have found that, almost for the first time, they have had elections which were secret and in which they can have confidence. I wonder whether—despite the background of the Sandinistas and the fact that the Government had total control of the organs of state—if an election had taken place two weeks later, the results might have been more favourable to the opposition parties. Certainly, people were very surprised. The country now has some democratic history, and, provided that there is no going back on the advances made so far, there is hope for that troubled and divided country.
I could speak about the elections for a long time, but I shall mention only one other point. The lack of opposition parties was considered to be one of the defects of the elections. The PLI—the Partita Liberale Independante—behaved rather like the Liberal parry in this country. It could not make up its mind where it stood. It withdrew from the elections but did not tell anyone that it had withdrawn. However, it received a sizeable number of votes.
The largest opposition group was the Co-ordinadora, led by Mr. Arturo Cruz. His campaign was rendered very difficult by the activities of a number of Sandinistas who tried to break it up. But what is not fully appreciated is the fact that the outdoor rallies where the worst disruption took place were held before the beginning of August and to that extent were against the law. Outdoor rallies were permitted only after 5 or 10 August. None the less, Mr. Cruz faced many difficulties and the Co-ordinadora was not given complete freedom.
I believe that Nicaraguans expect a perfection that we do not expect. Mr. Cruz complained that the press did not always report what he said. The press seldom reports what I say. He complained about heckling at his meetings. I have experienced heckling at my meetings. It has been a source of regret to me that I have sometimes been heckled by all the five people who have attended one of my meetings. Perhaps the Nicaraguans expected too much. They did not realise that the democratic process is difficult.
Something very important is taking place in Nicaragua. A national dialogue is taking place outside the political arena, involving the whole social structure and the political parties; The first subject of discussion in the dialogue is the elections that are to take place in a year's time.
Yes, but people are asking for national elections, too, in a year's time, on the basis of an agreement about how elections will take place.
The dialogue may prove to be nothing but a talking shop, like earlier dialogues, but if all the free nations of the world accord that dialogue the importance that it should have, we may be able to resolve the problems which are all too apparent in that unhappy country and part of the world. If, after that dialogue, we can say that we expect that there will be free elections, conducted on the basis of those of 4 November, that there should be satisfactory preparation for elections, that we expect a separation of the apparatus of the state from the party and that political parties should be able to continue to exist after the elections as well as shortly before, that country will be returning to the kind of democracy that we would wish to find anywhere.
The speech of the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) demonstrates why the Government were so wrong not to send official observers to the elections in Nicaragua. It would have been much better if the hon. Gentleman's report and that which I hope we shall hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) had been made officially on behalf of the House and the Government. It is not good enough for the Government to sit back and say that they consider the Nicaraguan elections to have been inadequate or undemocratic when, not long ago, they were happy to send observers to clearly inadequate and undemocratic elections in E1 Salvador. That is a measure of their political judgment of the region.
About seven hon. Members have visited Nicaragua at some time. Each has been impressed by what he has seen and each has been moved by the enthusiam of the Nicaraguan people towards the Government and the political and social process in that country. We must compare what we have heard and what I hope we are about to hear about the terrible dangers and the crisis in central America with what the Government stated earlier this week as their foreign policy objectives for the coming year and the appalling complacency and self-satisfaction with which the Government pursue foreign policy. They support utterly the United States and accept expenditure of about £17 billion on arms and the acceleration of the nuclear arms race. That should be compared with the limited words of comfort for the starving people of north Africa and Ethiopia and the limited amount of foreign aid that has been made available.
We should also bear in mind that we heard yesterday from yet another Cabinet leak that there is to be a cut in the foreign aid budget in the coming year. That is appalling. We should remember that people are starving in north Africa and many other parts of the world, yet a wealthy country such as ours can find so much money to spend on nuclear and other weapons and on supporting an arms race and cut its funding of foreign aid, emergency food aid and development aid.
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food told the House recently that, as of 18 October, the EEC intervention fund held in store more than 4 million tonnes of wheat, more than 1 million tonnes of barley and 330,000 tonnes of rye. That food is being stored at public expense to keep up the price of those commodities while people are starving a couple of thousand miles away in north Africa. That shows the contempt in which many people hold Britain and the Government for our refusal to help the poorest people in many Third world countries. In addition to desperately needed food aid, we should also consider long-term development aid and the promotion of trade policies to assist north African countries.
In the Foreign Secretary's speech today and in a speech made by the Prime Minister earlier this week I detect a continuation of policies that support the United States' global objectives and the European Community's continuing to bloat its agricultural policies and to deny food, development and trade to the rest of the world. These are key and crucial matters. The Government are blinkered by their obsessions with Europe and Washington resulting in denigration of the rest of the world.
The Government's relations with other Governments and peoples show an appalling degree of double standards. They have a touching interest in trade union rights and freedoms in Poland, which is not echoed among trade unions here or in other oppressed countries. The Government continue to refuse to condemn the many violations of human rights that occur in Turkey, a fellow NATO country. They continue to sell arms to both sides in the Gulf war and to support the United States' policy in central America. They accepted the United States invasion of Grenada a year ago.
Many people thought that that invasion was unlikely, if not impossible, and believed that even President Reagan and the Republican party would not go that far. But Grenada was invaded. They destroyed what was happening in Grenada—indeed, they had planned to for years. They said that Grenada was a threat to the rest of the world. It is a credit to the people of Grenada that a country of 300 million people finds 100,000 people such a terrible threat to their security. They planned to destroy the social process in Grenada from the moment that the New Jewel movement formed a Government. The British Government have not condemned the invasion adequately, but have accepted it, along with the destruction of a Government who were doing magnificently for the people of Grenada.
The news on the BBC World Service about apparent preparations for military action in central America by United States forces is disturbing. I hope that the Government will respond adequately to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and tell us what the American preparations are and what the representations of the British Government are to the United States.
I understand that the military hospital of Fort Bragg in North Carolina has been closed to civilian patients; it is normally open to them. That was done a year ago, before the invasion of Grenada. The 82nd airborne division is apparently on the alert. It took part in the invasion of Grenada. There are many signs that the United States is planning a form of military action in central America. What is the Government's approach to this terrible threat to world peace, which we may be on the eve of?
Many hon. Members have spoken about what is happening in central America. Essentially, central America is an extremely poor region, which has been marauded by United States' commercial interests for many years and which has sought independence often. On even more occasions the United States has either sent in its own troops, surrogate armies or friendly dictators to suppress the people there. The list of occasions on which United States forces have been in Nicaragua and that the United States' Government have destabilised Governments in central America, such as that in Guatemala in 1954, is endless.
The area has only 16 million people, yet since the present conflict started 150,000 people have died. That is an appalling death toll, but it does not appear to merit the same anxiety from the Government as do some aspects of eastern European policy. It is disgraceful that the Government are not prepared unreservedly to condemn the United States' approach to that region.
That is a continuation of crass, reactionary attitudes from the United States Administration and from Right-wing forces in America. In 1980, a group calling itself the Council for Inter-American Security Incorporated published "A New Inter-American Policy for the Eighties". It was the background document to the incoming Reagan Administration, and described the need for American resources to be removed from central and Latin America. It described a hatred of many social movements in that region, and it laid down a blueprint for the Reagan Administration. That blueprint has been largely carried out, with the continuing destabilisation of Nicaragua, the militarisation of Honduras and the denial of human rights in Guatemala.
Anyone who visits Nicaragua must be impressed by what he sees. Since 1979, when the Frente Sandinista took over the Government, there have been fantastic improvements in all aspects of society, including health care, education, transport, the economy, democracy, human rights, the rights of women and the rights of minorities. If those improvements had been in what one might describe as a normal Third world country, everyone would be impressed. There has been a great reduction in illiteracy from more than 50 per cent. to about 14 per cent. Anyone would be impressed by the school, hospital and health centre building programme, by the concept of a health policy rather than a sickness policy, and by the concept of full education for people in a poor country. One would be impressed if that had happened in a country that received massive foreign aid, but Nicaragua does not. It has been encircled by the United States military machine, denigrated by American and European media, and isolated as far as possible. However, it has still made those achievements.
As the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West said, Nicaragua is a country at war. There are shortages of manufactured goods, medicines, fuel and many other items. In all the border regions, villages and farms have been destroyed and people and animals killed. The ports of Corinto and Managua have been bombed, along with several other ports. The CIA is deliberately and openly determined to remove or destabilise the Government of Nicaragua. It is surprising that, in those circumstances, so many social achievements have occurred and that there is such complete support for the Government, as was emphasised in the results of the recent election.
Not long ago the Government sent representatives to witness the elections in El Salvador, where there was a 47 per cent. turnout in a compulsory poll. However, on a voluntary poll in Nicaragua, the turnout was 75 per cent. The results showed 67 per cent. support for the FSLN, and several parties obtained varying support from 13·5 per cent. down to a much lower figure. In contesting the elections, the Sandinistas made clear statements about their achievements and record since 1979, and about what they see for the future.
The basis of the American attack on Nicaragua and central America generally is that Nicaragua is a threat to security and a danger to the American way of life. Not by the wildest stretch of imagination could one suggest that a poor country with a population of 2·5 million could be a threat to the United States. It is a poor country that is determined to defend itself and its integrity, and that is something which everyone should admire.
I quote briefly from a statement on the political platform put forward by the FSLN:
For 161 years the United States used its military might to dominate and oppress Nicaragua. The United States created the National Guard to replace the US marines as an occupying force, and installed the Somoza dictatorship. After the triumph of the revolution, the United States began to reorganise and rearm the National Guard, using it as a new instrument of aggression and terror against our people.
It explains how, since the Sandinistas came to power in 1979, they have had to defend their country against the aggression of the United States and protect their borders and integrity. Nicaragua is a threat to no one, except the threat of inspiration, in that many other people in Latin America admire what Nicaragua has achieved and will continue to achieve.
In the face of United States' policy of aggression and military escalation in Central America, we have searched responsibly for peaceful solutions and dignified paths for dialogue; at the same time we have unwaveringly defended our national sovereignty
and territorial integrity. The Sandinista Front pledges to continue to develop a dignified foreign policy of nonalignment that responds, above all, to the interests of Nicaragua and the Nicaraguan people, without encroaching on the rights of other nations.
That clearly states its long-term aims and policies. Nicaragua wishes to be a free and independent country. It wishes to be non-aligned. The United States Government wish to perpetuate the Monroe doctrine of control of the Caribbean and central America for their own interests. Given the seriousness of events in Nicaragua, the British Government should even now seriously join with other European governments in giving practical and intelligent support for the Contadora process, in resuming aid to Nicaragua and proper relations with Nicaragua instead of standing idly by and watching the militarisation of region continue, watching Honduras become the military base for the United States in the region and allowing the American exercises there to continue.
The situation in central America is desperately serious and extremely dangerous. The British Government have a role to play in supporting other European Governments that have condemned American military manoeuvres and militarisation of the region. They have a role to play in promoting trade and aid with Nicaragua rather than continuing the sales of military equipment to Honduras and their close relationship with the militarisation of Honduras.
There has been a desperate effort by the people of Nicaragua to remove themselves from the grinding cycle of poverty and debt into which so many Third world countries are forced by the policies of the United States and other great powers.
Many of those who have been to Nicaragua have admired what they saw. They admire the progress that has been made and the democracy that has gone with it. It is said that the British Government should stand by. In answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) on 29 October, a Foreign Office Minister replied that the Foreign Office had attended the meeting at San Jose in Costa Rica on 28–29 September but was not able to give the figures on expenditure on aid. It added that the matter was being considered by the European Community.
We need a change of direction and heart from the British Government so that we resume aid, support and supplies to Nicaragua. If we do not see that change of heart and if we do not join other Governments in supporting Nicaragua's right to self-determination and independence, we might well be on the brink of witnessing another Vietnam war.
Will American troops march into Nicaragua and attempt to destroy the democracy and freedom of that country and embroil themselves in a conflict in which hundreds of thousands will eventually die? This is a critical time, and I hope that the House will at least express the view that it wishes to see peace in central America. We shall see peace in the region only by respecting the borders and integrity of Nicaragua. The people of Nicaragua have had enough of destabilisation, bombing raids and blandishments from the United States. They are searching desperately for peace so that they may continue with their social and economic progress. The House must make its view clear. If it does not, it will be ignoring an extremely dangerous situation.
There is much else that I could say, but I shall conclude by saying that we shall return again and again to the situation in central America. So long as the Government align themselves so closely with United States foreign policy in that region and its domination in the region, we shall for ever be on the wrong side of the poorest people in central America.
My comments will have to be extremely brief because of the shortage of time, but I shall record my view about an important subject that has not yet been touched upon in the debate. The Gracious Speech contains a reference to the Government working
for the early conclusion of the negotiations to enable Spain and Portugal to join the Community.
I regret that the reference is cast in that way instead of "satisfactory negotiations on acceptable terms".
It is remarkable that never have the Government set out comprehensively or in detail their case for the enlargement of the Community. The only recent reference that I could find was in a written answer. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office—my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind)—stated:
The benefits which the Community will derive
from the enlargement of the Community
are above all political—the consolidation of democracy and political stability in Europe. It is impossible to quantify precisely the economic consequences."—[Official Report, 19 March 1984; Vol. 56, c. 342.]
I do not believe that it is self-evident and obvious that the enlargement of the Community will be politically beneficial. Ireland is neutral and outside NATO, although in the Community; France has remained formally outside NATO, although it is a member of the Community; and Spain will hold a referendum on its membership of NATO independent of whether it becomes a member of the Community.
The costs of the agricultural policy relating to olive oil and wine are substantial. We must consider also the costs that will be incurred in the budget, which have already been admitted, with the net transfer of assets from this country to Spain. We cannot quantify the potential costs of the reorientation of the Community towards the south that will result from bringing in Spain and Portugal, and from a potential alignment with Greece, and Italy. There is also the possibility that France, when it makes a decision, will alter the direction of policy-making in the Community. Those aspects have not been considered sufficiently. We have been asked repeatedly to accept as self-evident the case for enlargement of the Community. I hope that the Government are not committed to enlargement of the Community willy-nilly, but will always bring before us the case for that enlargement. I hope that, if the case for Gibraltar is not made sufficiently well and if the extradition agreements with Spain are not sufficient, we shall be unable to support the enlargement of the Community.
We have had a useful and well-informed debate. The debate was not as well attended today, a Friday, as it might have been on another day, but it was of general interest to both sides of the House. I stress especially the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) on UNESCO. His theme was not taken up by other hon. Members; none the less, it was of great importance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) drew our attention exhaustively to the problems of St. Helena. I think that several hon. Members are well aware that there is increasing concern that St. Helena will be neglected and forgotten—much as one of its former inmates felt when he was there.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Johnston) spoke of the importance of the Government following their words with deeds in Ethiopia. The hon. Gentleman spoke also of the arguments about food surpluses.
The hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) have both been in Nicaragua and seen with their own eyes the problems faced by that country.
I hope that the Minister for Overseas Development will reply to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) on whether he will release what would have been our IDA contribution for allocation to the international fund for agricultural development.
The position in Ethiopia and in Nicaragua has been reflected by most hon. Members in this debate. Over Easter, I was in Eritrea in the northern part of what is presently Ethiopia and saw on the ground the practical way in which the distribution of food aid can be tackled. It is clear that the real issue in Ethiopia is not the total quantity of aid—there may be as much as 200,000 tonnes of food in Addis Ababa—but whether it can be distributed. The Dergue Government in Addis Ababa do not control between 75 and 85 per cent. of the areas most affected by drought. In practice, those areas are Tigré, with a population of 4·5 million, where the Relief Society of Tigré can and does play a very active role, and Eritrea, with a population of 3·5 million, where the Eritrean Relief Association can play an active role. There are also Wollo and Gondar, with populations of 2·5 million each. At present, 30 times more food aid has gone to the Government in Addis Ababa than to the Relief Society of Tigré or the Eritrean Relief Association.
There has been a remarkable response by the British public in making voluntary contributions to aid. At one stage, it exceeded the contributions made by the Government. It is the responsibility of the House to ensure that the Government are doing everything within their power to enable that aid to reach quickly the areas most in need.
Can the Minister say whether the Dergue Government will respond to the initiative taken by the Tigréan and Eritrean Liberation Fronts, which have offered to accept a ceasefire and allow safe passage of food aid into the areas which are in their control rather than the Government's control?
The Minister has already allocated two Hercules and two other aircraft to distribute food aid within Ethiopia. I should be glad to have his confirmation that they are now in Djibouti rather than at Makele. Unless they are at Mekele and unless it is possible in the coming weeks to use the food aid coming from the port of Massawa, it will be very difficult to distribute food aid into the worst affected areas.
If we are to move beyond the flying in of emergency relief in the very short term to the road transport of food aid, and if the port of Massawa is to be used—it is nearer than Assab, which has been choked by other traffic — there is a specific route available. It is not via Asmara; it is a route not under the control of the Government in Addis Ababa. It runs from Massawa to Adi Caieh and through to Makele. It is in those areas that children are dying; it is there that thousands, if not tens of thousands, of deaths could be prevented. Are the Government prepared to talk to the Relief Society of Tigré and the Eritrean Relief Association about those problems?
I went into Eritrea at Easter from Port Sudan. The Sudanese authorities are glad to have the co-operation of the Eritrean Relief Association in aiding that food distribution. Port Sudan has an international airport and is easily reached. South of Port Sudan there is a base which is being used by the Eritrean Relief Association at Suakin. It takes about eight hours by passenger transport and about 12 hours by lorry to move from Suakin into Eritrea.
The Eritrean Relief Association has about 100 trucks available to carry food aid. They will not be sufficient over the longer term to cope with the fundamental problem of food aid relief, but they are sufficient to move considerable resources into Eritrea and, if necessary—if the other routes cannot be opened—into Tigré.
The famine will last until October next year. It is clear—the Minister has admitted this outside the House—that the long-term development problems of the region must be faced. Perhaps he will tell us now what action he will take to ensure that such problems will be faced.
I found it depressing, having earlier visited drought areas in the Sahel Chad, Niger and Upper Volta to see the way in which the cycle there as in Ethiopia recurs because of the inadequacy of programmes to develop, for example, water drilling and other kinds of irrigation schemes to help agricultural production.
In the short term, transport is the key. Will the Government provide, as my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West said, or seek to secure, sufficient Leyland trucks to ensure that we can reach those areas? Ideally, they should be 10-tonne trucks. It would be feasible for the Government to acquire an additional 200 to 300 trucks. They will be critical for food aid distribution. Or does the Minister feel that he cannot grasp the nettle of dealing with the relief agencies of the liberation fronts? That is the political issue. It is a key issue for the British public who have raised so much and want to see it distributed quickly to those who are most desperately in need.
The main enemies of Ethiopia are drought, disaster, deprivation and death, not the Dergue Government in Addis Ababa or the liberation fronts. If there is to be any practical change for the 85 per cent. of the population in the afflicted areas who suffer so much, the Government must act now.
Will the Government take the initiative to try to reach agreement with the Ethiopian authorities—on what has already been offered by the Eritrean and Tigrean Liberation Fronts — to allow safe passage, without troops, for food aid into Eritrea, Tigré and Wollo? If safe passage is negotiated, can the Government allocate more aircraft immediately to help with the food aid?
Has the EEC Council of Ministers endorsed all the Commission's proposals for its latest aid package —£19·3 million plus £1·8 million for emergency aid and the extra £15 million for extra food aid? What additional resources will be committed by the United Kingdom Government beyond what was already in the overseas aid budget? What share of the budget is being taken by the Hercules programme?
The links between Ethiopia and Nicaragua are greater than a drought disaster in one country and a threatened disaster in another. They raise issues of alignment and non-alignment. The policies of non-alignment sought by the Eritrean and Tigrean Liberation Fronts are directly relevant to Ethiopia and Nicaragua, given the Soviet Union's backing of the Dergue Government, and the Nicaraguan authorities' commitment to non-alignment. This is not being taken seriously by the United States, and it should be.
There is then the problem of the MiGs, which is clearly preoccupying attention in Nicaragua. It is important to stress that the first reference to the MiGs—I grant that they generate a nervous reaction—occurred in a press interview that President-elect Daniel Ortega had some weeks ago. He was asked by a journalist how Nicaragua could defend itself against American attack when it does not have a modern air force. The hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West will confirm that what we saw of the air force in Nicaragua might be traded in for its cash value to a war museum. There were biplanes and push-me-pull-you planes, inherited from the Somoza era. We both thought that the subsonic jet that we saw taking off was a Gloster Meteor, which is just about the first jet aircraft ever built, about the end of the war.
The Nicaraguans do not have supersonic jet aircraft. The Honduran air force does. The Nicaraguans do not have ground attack fighters, nor jet bombers. The Honduran air force does. We hear about the military arms build up in Nicaragua, but the army is not the dominant factor in quantitative terms—it is the militia and the volunteers that give the higher total. We should bear in mind the fact that, in modern warfare, the crucial role is played by aircraft, not the army.
When Mr. Ortega was asked if he would buy supersonic aircraft from abroad, and, if so, whether they would he MiGs, he replied that Nicaragua is a sovereign state and as such is entitled to purchase aircraft anywhere in the world, whether they are Soviet MiGs or French Mirages. The United States has argued that there is evidence that there are MiGs in Nicaragua, but there is no such evidence.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that at the moment there does not appear to be any airfield capable of taking MiGs in Nicaragua? The civil airfield might just take some, but that would be obvious to everyone, and, as far as one can see, the military airfield is not yet ready for aircraft.
The airfield on the other side of Lake Managua is not yet ready. The presence of MiGs is not seriously at issue, as the United States is already accepting the assurance that they are not on the way.
However, allegations about MiGs have been made and may provide a pretext for what President Reagan has described as severe consequences for central America. But in earlier allegations about the supply of arms from Nicaragua to El Salvador, the United States Administration have not been able to provide any evidence. In the exchanges on this the US ambassador in Managua, Mr. Bergold claimed that arms had been delivered on an El Salvador beach. I asked him last week whether they were uncrated, and the arms seen. No, he replied, the arms were not uncrated and remained in their boxes. I asked him how he could tell that the box carried arms, and tried to help him. I suggested that perhaps the smaller boxes contained arms as they were heavier. "Yes, that's it," he said.
I had the same impression that I get when I ask my daughter where half the bar of fruit and nut in the kitchen has gone to. I felt that the sheer invention in some of the explanations given by the United States was remarkable. It is incumbent on a major power to be sure of its allegations if they are not to be seen simply as a pretext.
Like the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West I was in Nicaragua for the elections. I went to Chinandega, Corinto Leon and Managua itself during the elections and I confirm his judgment that the elections were well-run. Indeed, in the view of Norwegian observers the elections were impeccably held, better even than those in Norway. So that is not the issue.
The issue is the context of the elections and whether there was an overwhelming advantage to the Sandanistas during the run-up period. Certainly there were abstentions, just as there were abstentions of some 45 per cent. in the United States election. In Nicaragua, timing has also been an issue. Some say that the elections were held too soon, others that they were held too late. Some, like Mr. George Shultz, maintain that there were both too soon and too late. In fact, they were called in February for a date in November—4 November—on which they were indeed held, and during the several weeks of the election campaign press censorship was lifted.
Having been to Nicaragua three times in the past 12 months, I have pursued the issue of press censorship very carefully. It is clear that 85 per cent. of the material censored is military material or material affecting the incursions of the Contras into Nicaragua. I should make it clear that in our view there is no case for press censorship in any society at peace. But Nicaragua is not at peace. It has to face the devastating consequences of 8,000 to 9,000 armed troops aided and abetted, overtly or covertly, by the United States. Again, I asked Ambassador Bergold in Managua last week whether there was any denial that the Contra troops in Nicaragua were being supplied by air from United States-built bases in Honduras. He said that it was not in contention.
Sovereignty also is an issue. Earlier today, the Foreign Secretary referred to the right of the Falkland islanders
to live peacefully under a Government of their own choosing.
Do the Government accept that the Nicaraguans have the same right? Is the Minister or the Foreign Secretary prepared to make that commitment? The Nicaraguan Government are committed to a policy of non-alignment, political pluralism and a mixed economy in basic needs. The economic effects of the war may have cost Nicaragua $550 million while the British Government are giving it
only a few thousand pounds per year. The Nicaraguan Government have committed themselves to the Contadora process and to the elections, but as soon as they make those commitments the American Administration move the goal posts, change the terms and put the Nicaraguans in an impossible position. A responsible super-power leads by example rather than by force, by care rather than coercion. The United States is not doing that. When does the Foreign Secretary intend to bring pressure to bear on the United States Administration on these issues?
Finally, will the Minister for Overseas Development now tell the House whether indeed there are to be cuts in aid budget and whether the cuts will amount to £150 million, bringing the total down to 0·28 per cent. of gross national product?
What I can tell the House will be severely limited by the time left to me to tell it.
I agree with the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) that we have had a useful and well-informed debate. Many points from both sides of the House were well worth listening to. In the limited time available, I wish first to pick up briefly some of the general points raised by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and others and then to deal with the aid programme and Ethiopia which are my special concern. I shall comply with the request of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Johnston) and try to answer by letter the points that it is not possible to deal with in my reply.
There have been many perceptive speeches. I should have liked to refer to those of my hon. Friends the Members for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) and for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), for example, but I am afraid that I shall have to leave them for the record. I hope that they will be well studied.
In opening the debate, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary made it clear that he sees the East-West relationship as the centrepiece of our foreign policy and the problems that we face. I think that it would be fair to say that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East did not dissent from that. He put one or two specific points to me, and I shall answer them briefly. We welcome the tone of Mr. Chernenko's interview with the Washington Post, as do the Americans. There are no new points of substance in it, but it seems to us that it is something that is, as it were, designed to help a bit in creating the right climate.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the so-called "star wars", the strategic defence initiative. We are studying that carefully. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as anybody that the implications are far-reaching, but the United States' programme is long-term and limited to research. Decisions on whether to deploy defences against ballistic missiles would be several years away. We heartily endorse the United States' willingness to discuss with the Soviet Union research programmes on strategic defence. SDI relates to research in that area, as do the long-established Soviet programmes.
With regard to whether we shall sign the test ban treaties, we continue to pursue a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing, but first we have to resolve the substantial problems associated with detecting and identifying underground explosions. The Soviet approach would sidestep that issue and ignore peaceful nuclear explosions. Therefore, we continue to work actively on those problems in the conference on disarmament.
With regard to whether the British system should be included in the INF START negotiations, I remember answering the same question by the right hon. Gentleman when I wound up the foreign affairs debate the best part of a year ago. We have a strategic nuclear force. It represents less than 3 per cent. of the strategic nuclear forces of the Soviet Union. It would be absurd, as things stand, for us to seek to trade reductions with a super-power, but we have never said "Never". If the Soviet and United States strategic arsenals were to be substantially reduced, and if no significant changes had occured in Soviet defence capabilities, Britain would want to review her position and consider how best she could contribute to arms control in the light of the reduced threat.
One or two hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber, mentioned the Iran-Iraq war. One horrifying aspect of the conflict is the use of chemical weapons. The House will therefore wish to know that, in order to ensure that chemicals that can be misused to make such weapons do not reach the combatants in the Gulf conflict from the United Kingdom, the Government have decided that the existing export controls imposed in the light of the United Nations report earlier this year should remain in force indefinitely. The permanent solution lies in early agreement at the Geneva negotiations on a total worldwide ban on the use of such weapons.
The House has also discussed Nicaragua. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary gave in his speech our view on the elections. We heard the careful report from my hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby). I must underline the fact that, however fair the administrative arrangements for polling were on the day, the campaign conditions left much to be desired. Opposition leaders were harrassed and there was continuing censorship. We must bear those factors in mind.
With regard to the CIA manual, the United States Government, as President Reagan made clear, disapproved of the contents of the manual. This is particularly important. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary made it clear that, in the general situation, Her Majesty's Government believe that there is a great need for restraint on all sides in the area.
I was asked about Lomé. The negotiations are on the right track. They are near completion, but one or two questions connected with human rights have not yet been negotiated. We have taken the view that the correct sum for the next Lomé is 7 billion ecu. That remains our position. It was agreed by the Community, and we believe that it is right.
I was asked by a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James), about the position of the aid programme in the public expenditure discussions which have been taking place. As the House knows, I cannot anticipate the public expenditure statements which are about to be made.
On many occasions when I was Chancellor of the Exchequer we announced certain expenditure decisions in advance of a mini-Budget. There is not the slightest reason, as we are debating this matter today, why the right hon. Gentleman should not have sought and received authority to make a satement about it.
I can easily imagine what the right hon. Gentleman would have said as Chancellor of the Exchequer if one of his colleagues had anticipated his statement in that way. I do not propose to do so.
Our aid figure last year was in line with the average for OECD countries. It was 0·35 per cent. as opposed to 0·36 per cent. for OECD. The characteristic of our aid programme is the bias towards the poorest countries, and it is to the poorest countries we give grants and not loans. In a world where debt is a major problem, that is of enormous value. It is one of the most positive aspects of our aid programme.
The famine in Ethiopia has moved us all. Television has brought it into everyone's home in a way never perhaps seen before. Even those whose job it is to know and to act in aid matters have had what is happening brought home to them with a vividness and intensity that reports on paper cannot match.
Aid is an area where ordinary people can respond to events, and they have done so by giving with great generousity. The voluntary agencies have risen to the occasion, as have Her Majesty's Government, other donor Governments, the international organisations, the Ethiopian Government and the other Governments of the countries concerned. The charge is made of its being too little and too late. When we discuss a catastrophe as grave as the one we see, that in itself is a very serious charge and it has to be answered.
I, too, have seen the films and I intend shortly to go to Ethiopia to see what is happening on the ground. I do not say that everything has been done by everyone in all circumstances. I cannot say that all has been done for the best of all possible worlds. We have a very important job of analysis. It is a vital job. We have to look at what has happened and what is happening and come up with the right answers. Some of them must be immediate answers to the immediate problems. Some of them mean standing back and reflecting about the longer term—for example, about development strategies and so on.
I must make some facts clear. It is simply not true to say that we have done nothing about providing food until the last few weeks. We and the other donors have of course known for a long time that Ethiopia was at serious risk, even though it may be true that the full gravity of the situation has become clear only recently. What is more, we are not talking only about Ethiopia.
We have been providing food aid on an appreciable scale. In 1982 the United Kingdom provided £5·2 million worth of food aid to Ethiopia. In 1983 our bilateral food aid to Ethiopia constituted 19,000 tonnes of cereals. In 1984 the figure has been 26,500 tonnes of cereals, and we made an announcement a few days ago.
Even more important in terms of food aid than our national contribution is our share in the food aid of the European Community. We all know that food aid is a vexed subject. It has weaknesses in developmental terms, and no one is happy about the mountains except perhaps some farmers. But in famine conditions food aid is crucially important, and the mountains are reserves which can be and are drawn on very quickly, although they have to be paid for, as delivery has to be paid for, and that can be a very costly business.
Overall, the Community is providing more than 1 million tonnes of cereal food aid a year. In the past 12 months 117,000 tonnes of grain have been given to Ethiopia by the Community. The development committee which I attended on Tuesday confirmed food aid worth another 25 million ecu, and it is expected that the remainder of the 1984 programme will go to meet emergency needs in Africa—not just in Ethiopia.
That is all substantial action, but at the Development Council meeting this week I stressed the need to do two things. First, we need to decide that the Community's food aid should be concentrated on the areas of real emergency rather than on lower priority schemes elsewhere, as sometimes happens at present. Secondly, we must take decisions as soon as possible about the allocation of the 1985 food programme.
If the right hon. Gentleman recognises that there is an emergency and that it is particularly bad in Tigré, how is the food aid to be distributed, and how will the Government contribute to that?
The hon. Gentleman is right about Eritrea and Tigré, where there is a great deal of starvation. Our view is that we can best provide aid there through the reputable British and international agencies. The experience of such agencies is that they can work effectively there. What concerns us is whether it is right that there should be highly publicised agreements with the representatives of the liberation movements. Will that make any easier the task of getting the food through?
I am advised that the voluntary agencies do not want to see any spectacular political changes at a high level. They just want the job to be done. We are making sure that the aid that goes to Ethiopia is reaching those in need. I do not want to have to try to do that in a hyped-up political context.
I am sorry, I have three minutes left.
The other decision which I have pressed on the Community is that we should allocate the 1985 food aid programme. It is necessary that those who are providing food aid—and there has been a good response across the world—should be able to do so in a co-ordinated manner.
On the the overall question of donor cooperation, something valuable has happened. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recently made it clear to the Secretary-General of the United Nations that we needed a better system. The Secretary-General has now appointed an experienced representative, Mr. Jansson, to co-ordinate the operation in Addis Ababa and we shall work closely with him. We have an excellent ambassador in Addis Ababa and a good team here at home. A machine is being constructed. It will of course encounter difficulties in operating in such a country, but I believe that we are doing an effective job in conjunction with our partners.
We have provided all sorts of supplies which are desperately needed. I have had two talks with the commissioner of the Ethiopian relief and rehabilitation committee, and we have agreed that the transport problems must be given a high priority.
The Royal Air Force's Hercules aircraft have been operating to good effect ferrying supplies back and forward. They will remain in Ethiopia initially for three months, and during that period their costs will not fall on the aid budget.
The long-term problem remains. We are concerned with getting food and medicines through as quickly as possible. We and our partners are doing a good job, and the Communist bloc has at last been shamed into doing something, too. However, the vital matter is long-term development. There are great difficulties associated with development work in Ethiopia. We have largely withdrawn from development work there because conditions are difficult and the political and governmental climate is a difficult one in which to work. The Community has run a development programme. Indeed, Ethiopia is the largest recipient under the Lomé convention. We must now ask whether we can get from the Ethiopian Government a change of heart in regard to long-term development that will make it possible to operate effectively in the future. Those are the important long-term issues that must be faced. Our work is important and valuable and it is appreciated by the Ethiopian Government. The European Community's role is of the greatest importance and—