It is five months since we last had a full foreign affairs debate, and it is clear that the main event for United Kingdom foreign policy during that period was the visit last week by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and myself to Moscow. It was the high point—to be precise, the high point so far—of this Government's sustained determination to achieve practical improvements in East-West relations. That has long been a central foreign policy objective of the Government. The House may recall that, in the corresponding debate in March 1984, I emphasised that we should try to break down years of mutual mistrust by talking to the Russians from a position of strength and confidence, but I warned them that we should be ready for the long haul. This is in no sense a short-term policy, and, as last week 's visit showed, it produces results.
The House has already heard from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister a full account of her talks. I am not today proposing to go over the same ground. Nor can I anticipate all the issues that hon. Members may raise later in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton), the Minister of State, will try to deal with some of them when winding up. However, few aspects of international affairs are not affected in one way or another by the East-West relationship, and I propose for the most part to consider matters in that context.
I begin by recording my view that Mr. Gorbachev's arrival at the top of the Soviet leadership has been a major event of real and lasting significance, nationally and internationally. Already, his presence in the Kremlin is having a manifest impact on life and government in the Soviet Union. The new Soviet leadership has brought to its system a long-overdue dose of energy and imagination, fuelled by an increasingly clear realisation that its system has been stagnating.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I made plain both during and after our stay in the Soviet Union that we warmly welcome the attempt by Mr. Gorbachev to reform the Soviet system. Mr. Gorbachev sees the need for that, but inevitably he sees the causes of his country's problems differently. It hardly needs saying that he is no Social Democrat. Probably the authority whom he cites most often is Lenin. He certainly does not intend to abandon the Communist system. On the contrary, he believes that it can and must be made to work better.
Characteristically, Mr. Gorbachev opened his speech at the Kremlin banquet with a rosy account of the superiority of the Socialist system, so we should not make any mistake on that account. That is what he sincerely believes. However, the need for reform is obvious. Some 70 years after the revolution, Muscovites are still obliged to stand queueing not for luxuries but for basic foodstuffs, household goods and other things, the availability of which we have long taken for granted.
I am grateful for the opportunity to pay tribute to the success of the visit. Is there not a danger, in trying to persuade the Soviet Union to move in certain important directions on human rights and other similar matters by too close a linkage with disarmament, that that linkage will be the death of international diplomacy?
My hon. Friend raises an important point to which I shall refer at a number of stages in my speech. I emphasise that only one linkage is inescapable and that is the extent to which a Government such as that of the Soviet Union fulfil their obligations—to their own people or internationally—in respect of such matters as human rights. That is bound to fortify—or not, as the case may be—confidence in their reliability in other respects. One cannot escape that, and what is true of an individual is true of a Government also.
The features of the Soviet Union to which I referred—chronic inefficiency and bad management—are not confined to that country. Other countries in the COMECON group are in a similar plight. The people of Poland and Romania, for example, are suffering real hardship. Hungary has managed its affairs a good deal more efficiently. I was able to see that for myself on a recent visit. But even they now face a serious foreign debt problem. They are understandably keen to expand their trade with Western Europe, and I hope that the European Community will shortly be able to finalise its mandate for negotiating a trade and co-operation agreement with Hungary.
After a series of journeys to the countries of the Socialist bloc—it is not for me to deny them that description—one must be struck by their utter failure to bring prosperity to their people. The contrast with Western Europe could hardly be greater. The Communist countries face the difficulties of managing failure, while we face, essentially, the difficulties of managing success. If Opposition Members wish to challenge that general proposition, they are welcome to change places with Soviet citizens whenever they wish.
The framework provided by the European Community has brought to Western Europe a period of unprecedented peace and unprecedented prosperity. We ended our period of presidency of the Community in December with the Community making good progress towards the vital objective of a single market in which goods, services and people move about freely. We are continuing to give priority to the liberalisation of the key transport sector—the removal of restrictions on movement by air, sea and land. Our presidency also saw the largest step so far towards curbing the excesses of the common agricultural policy.
Beyond the Community, the world's trading system as a whole certainly faces real problems. As the House knows, protectionist pressures have been gaining ground in response to persistent imbalances between the economies of the major countries. One of the most serious imbalances is with Japan. It must be said again that the Japanese cannot continue to enjoy a free run in Europe without themselves allowing in return free access to their own markets. The Community has set in hand an action programme for particular sectors : the House knows what they are. When I met my European colleagues last weekend, I informed them of the powers that we are taking under the new Financial Services Act, and they readily agreed to my proposal that we should ask Community trade experts to consider, as a matter of urgency, further specific measures.
In regard to Cable and Wireless, the Japanese Government have been left in no doubt of the strength of British views. The company is still in negotiation with the Japanese authorities, and no decisions have yet been made.
Our objective is not to mount a trade war, still less to close markets. It is to secure the opening of those markets. The Japanese share with the rest of the world a responsibility for promoting those objectives.
The issues of free trade and technology have taken us some way from Mr. Gorbachev. Yet, curiously, the improvements that he wants to introduce in the Soviet Union echo—consciously or unconsciously—the basic themes of economic life in the West : personal incentives and responsibility, new scope for small-scale entrepreneurial activity, more freedom for individual farmers, increased reliance on market forces, and so forth. Those are the messages that are coming through from the Soviet system, based on the example of the West.
My hon. Friend puts his point with characteristic lucidity and compactness.
It can be seen that Mr. Gorbachev's attempts to glean the practical benefits of restructuring and openness within the Soviet Union have political as well as economic implications, and those implications are international as well. We must ask, in that broader context, whether glasnost—openness—is welcome to the West, and I believe that the answer must be yes. I believe that a Soviet Union that is internally more open and flexible should be an easier and more trustworthy international partner. Certainly, we are ready to put the sincerity of the Soviet leadership to the test in different contexts. There is room for modest encouragement in the fact that the Soviet Union appears to be re-examining its approach to many international issues. Of course, the defence and advancement of Soviet interests remains the overriding priority, but there are some signs that the Russians may now be becoming more objective in their approach to at least some major issues.
I welcome the changes in Russia. I also appreciate the great personal freedoms and liberties that we have in this country, which do not exist in the Soviet Union. But when the Prime Minister was talking to the Soviet leader and lecturing him about human rights, did not Mr. Gorbachev take the opportunity to ask a question that I should have thought was very appropriate—whether the Prime Minister had lectured the King of Saudi Arabia, when he was here a week earlier, about human rights in his country? Should not human rights apply everywhere? We should not simply lecture the Soviets about them.
I think that the whole House would strive to see the achievement of human rights as widely as possible. However, none of that can allow us to escape from the central proposition that this is a question of fundamental importance in our relations with the Soviet Union, and to the relations of many people who wish for freedom to leave that country.
The world is full of a wide range of standards in the matter, but it is the Soviet Union that I am discussing now. The Soviet Union is one country that has fallen far behind the standards that it has set for itself.
If the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) can stand it, I shall move on to a less tendentious point on a different topic. Mr. Shevardnadze and I found a great deal in common when we analysed the implications of the disastrous war between Iran and Iraq. We agreed that it was in everyone's interests for the senseless carnage involved in that conflict to be brought to an end. Sadly, however, neither of us saw any great prospect of that happening soon. As permanent members of the Security Council, we both undertook to encourage and sustain the United Nations Secretary-General's efforts to end the conflict, and we agreed to exchange information on the situation in the Gulf of Hormuz.
British policy is clear. We shall continue to stand for freedom of navigation in the gulf. The House knows that there has been an increase in the time that the ships of the Armilla patrol spend there. That is welcome to our friends in the area, including King Fand, who we were glad to welcome on a highly successful state visit here two weeks ago.
In my talks in Moscow, there was also a measure of agreement on the central Arab-Israel question. We agreed that progress towards negotiations was urgently needed, and that an international conference could be helpful. But more preparatory work is needed, and we shall look forward to discussing that, among other matters, with King Hussein this week. I was encouraged by Mr. Shevardnadze's acknowledgement that contacts between the Soviet Union and Israel could have a role to play : the easing of restrictions on the emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union—a central question of human rights—would help. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I pressed them to speed up that process.
The tragic consequences of 40 years of hostility between Israel and the Arab states are all too visible. There is widespread concern in the House about the appalling conditions now experienced by those still trapped in the Palestinian camps in Beirut. We have just made available over £500,000 to the International Red Cross and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for relief work in Lebanon. I explained to Mr. Shevardnadze our strong support for UNIFIL as a force for stability in southern Lebanon. I welcome the fact that the Russians now support it, and pressed them to demonstrate that support by paying their arrears of contributions.
May I ask the Foreign Secretary two questions? First, is he aware that a personal threat has been made against the life of Dr. Pauline Cutting by the Amal forces in Beirut? What efforts are the British Government making to ensure that Dr. Cutting will be able to leave Bourj-al-Barajneh when she wishes to? Secondly, given that the EEC Foreign Ministers, back in May 1980, identified the West Bank as a central problem, and also identified the need for the Palestinians and the Israelis to accept each other's rights to exist, will the Foreign Secretary tell us what form he envisages the Palestinian delegation in any international conference taking? Will it be a PLO delegation, a delegation of Palestinian personalities approved by the PLO, or an Arab delegation containing representatives of the PLO?
The hon. Gentleman raises two points. I am not aware of the specific threat to which he referred in his first point. However, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office will look into the matter further before he winds up the debate. The hon. Gentleman's second point is at the heart of how to find a solution to the Arab-Israeli dispute, and the question is under discussion yet again in a number of places. It formed the background to our talks in Belgium at the weekend, and it is sustaining our support for progress towards the holding of a conference and our support for the extremely careful work that will be necessary to try to identify the right composition of the delegation. The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to give a compact answer to the most difficult question of all in this most difficult area.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman, for whom I have great regard for his many successes in a Government who have not always understood some of the problems, must be aware that there is a strategic alliance between Israel and America that puts America out of court to dictate the terms of the composition of any delegation, or about which proposals may be made. Is it not entirely unreasonable that Israel, very much a party to this dispute, and America, with that highly effective political lobby, should be able to lay down regulations as to whom the Palestinian delegation should consist of? There is general acceptance throughout the world that the PLO is the representative of the Palestinians. Why do the British Government not have the guts and the gumption to say so?
I am most grateful for that. The fact is that no participant or principally interested party can claim to dictate the composition of the final deputation. There are many different moves and decisions to be taken, and many factions could shift their position which would lead to a conclusion that rendered further progress impossible. For example, the Palestine National Council is meeting later this month. If it were to take a decision that was exclusive in a certain direction, that would make it extremely difficult to put together the deputation that in the end would be necessary.
The position that we adopt when we talk to the Soviet Union, the Palestinians, Israel or the United States is that we must endeavour to move towards common ground in the composition of that deputation rather than the reverse. The hon. Member for Warley" East (Mr. Faulds) could detain the House for many hours on this fascinating subject, but I want to say just one thing more about the Lebanon.
I cannot leave that question without saying a word about the British citizens who are held there. We are continuing to do all that we can to help to secure the release of Mr. Terry Waite and the others. I am afraid that I have no fresh news to give to the House about these matters. We are in close contact with all their families, as well as with the Archbishop of Canterbury and his staff.
Our policy remains firm. We shall certainly not make substantive concessions to terrorists and hostage-takers. It remains true that to do so would simply fuel their malevolent ambitions. The middle east will remain on our agenda for talks with the Russians. It has featured in all my four meetings with Mr. Shevardnadze in the last nine months. I have accepted another invitation to meet him in Moscow again later this year.
There are many issues on which we do not agree. One is Afghanistan. The Prime Minister and I stressed last week that positive Soviet moves to end the occupation would change the way that the world assesses Soviet intentions in other areas. The Russians should respect world opinion, withdraw their troops and allow the Afghan people to determine their own future in freedom. As part of any settlement, more than 4 million refugees must be allowed to return to their own country.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said last week in the House, the Russians would clearly like to withdraw from Afghanistan but do not know how best to go about it. Be that as it may, so long as Soviet troops remain on Afghan soil we must all draw our own conclusions about Soviet claims to be uniquely motivated by the search for peace
The Prime Minister and I have been glad of the chance to discuss this and other issues with our friends from Pakistan on their visit to Britain this week. The whole House has welcomed the progress that has been made in restoring democratic government to Pakistan. We welcome Prime Minister Junejo as well as my distinguished colleague, Yaqub Khan. We applaud their determination to shoulder the burden that the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan has placed on their country, and we extend our sympathy to those who have suffered death and injury in recent air attacks on Pakistan.
The House also knows that we have been discussing with the Government of India the improvement of extradition arrangements, with special provision for crimes of terrorism. I understand the concerns of some constituents of hon. Members, including those in the Sikh community in this country. I assure them that the proposed new arrangements will, of course, retain the usual humanitarian safeguards, but they will also reflect the joint determination of Britain and India to stand firm against terrorism. The Indian Government have themselves suffered grievously from this scourge. They need be in no doubt about the firmness of Her Majesty's Government's commitment to the unity and territorial integrity of India.
Is it my hon. and learned Friend's impression that the Government of India remain the only obstacle to the return, which we would welcome, of Pakistan to the Commonwealth?
That raises a much wider question. I should certainly not form the view that my hon. Friend has offered. The question of Pakistan's return to the Commonwealth would he a matter for the members of the Commonwealth as a whole, and it would have to be discussed on that basis. My hon. Friend should certainly not keep to the conclusion that he has offered on that question.
To return to my central theme of East-West relations, Mr. Gorbachev has made very clear his belief that it is in the interests of the Soviet Union that the military arsenals of both East and West should be significantly reduced. Certainly he appears to realise the enormous strain that ever-increasing Soviet military expenditure places on the Soviet economy, and he is worried about the potential military applications of the West's technological ability. He offers plain views on the best way to bring about cuts in nuclear and other weapons. Nobody should be surprised that our views are not identical, but that did not stop us last week from tackling head-on the key questions : can we negotiate arms reductions on terms that both sides accept, and how should we set about achieving those reductions? Once both sides see that their vital interests can be furthered by agreement in these areas, I believe that patient negotiation can and will bring results. That analysis has been the basis of this Government's long term policy for East-West relations.
If the Zircon satellite were of such vital technological interest, why was it that, when it was told, the Foreign Office did not act on the information of Professor Sir Ronald Mason and Sir Frank Cooper? Will the Foreign Secretary clear up why the Foreign Office did not do that straight away? Was it not a dereliction of duty not to do so?
It is always fascinating to have an insight into the way in which the hon. Gentleman's mind works and to notice that a reference to a vital technological interest in this much broader context immediately presses the button marked "Zircon". The hon. Gentleman can no doubt seek an answer to that question if he catches your eye during the debate, Mr. Speaker. I do not propose to be distracted and to go down that path at the moment.
I was saying that the Stockholm agreement was and should be noted as the first major East-West agreement on security issues for years. In other words, the policy that I have outlined is a policy that has been shown to work—a policy that involves proceedings step by step, cautiously but hopefully. I believe that we can now hope for progress. In particular, we wish to see the total elimination of longer-range intermediate nuclear forces in Europe.
The zero-zero option was a NATO proposal. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear in Moscow, we are fully committed to allowing an INF agreement on that basis. Mr. Gorbachev has finally accepted it but, as NATO has always recognised, it would be senseless to remove one whole category of devastating weapons while handing to the Russians a blank cheque for others. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and Mr. Gorbachev agreed in Moscow on three things : strict verification, constraints on shorter-range missiles and immediate follow-on negotiations to deal with such systems more fully.
One area in which there remains a potentially serious disagreement is that of the right to match Soviet shorter-range intermediate nuclear force deployments. We see no reason why the West should accept a Soviet monopoly. But we are moving forward and if we are able to reach a satisfactory INF agreement that should enhance the prospects of progress in three other important areas: a 50 per cent. cut in strategic weapons, total worldwide elimination of chemical weapons, and negotiations to reduce conventional forces.
Our visit to Moscow has shown the truth of what everybody sensible has known all along, that straight talking does produce dividends. Never before has any Soviet leader heard such a detailed account of Western positions on arms control issues and of where we see scope for progress. Never before have a Western and a Soviet leader had such a long and frank exchange on the rights and wrongs of their respective political systems.
This offers an astonishing contrast to the performance of the Labour party. The Prime Minister and I went to Moscow seeking to establish with the Soviet Union an effective, honest working relationship. The Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) went to Washington in search of a cover-up for their defence policy. Before he left for Washington the right hon. Member for Leeds, East proclaimed :
Our policies are much the same as President Reagan's.
It would be extremely interesting to know whether that came as more of a surprise to members of the Opposition than it must have to President Reagan. Yet after the meeting in Washington the Leader of the Opposition was at pains to deny that he had even mentioned to President Reagan two of the central planks of Labour defence policy : unilateral nuclear disarmament and the removal of United States nuclear forces from Britain. It must be said in his favour that perhaps he did not have the time to do so.
Far from going to the White House to explain Labour policies, the right hon. Gentlemen hoped that their visit would serve to conceal them. Theirs was an enterprise which did not succeed and which did not deserve to succeed. I noticed that on his return the right hon. Member for Leeds, East said rather plaintively on television that
Mr. Gorbachev was more critical of Mrs. Thatcher than Mr. Reagan had been of Labour.
I see that the right hon. Gentleman endorses those words. I am not sure whether he was complaining or boasting, but the fact that he was able to make an observation of such manifest confusion demonstrates more clearly than anything else the total confusion in the minds of leaders of the Opposition as to whose side they are really meant to be on. This climax of confusion coincided with the drafting in, as I understand it, of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East to organise a foreign policy success for the Leader of the Opposition. It must be said that that is not a very easy task.
There is a serious side to all this. Only a couple of weeks ago the Labour party issued a glossy policy pamphlet called "Europe: the new detente". It is a document riddled with anti-Americanism which proposes breaking up the common Western approach to the Helsinki agreement. It advocates greater tolerance of totalitarian systems and amounts to a charter for the break-up of NATO and a blueprint for a neutral Europe.
By contrast with that, we have not compromised vital national interests. We have not swallowed alluring proposals that would have weakened our security and the security of the West as a whole. We have shown the world that confident and determined diplomacy gets results. We and the Western Alliance can take satisfaction in having stuck to policies to which Mr. Gorbachev now finds it possible to respond.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House last week, our stay in Moscow gave a welcome boost to Anglo-Soviet trade. It enabled us to bring to a conclusion bilateral work which has been going on for many months on three intergovernmental agreements and a memorandum of understanding. The documents that I signed dealt with such matters as co-operation on space research, upgrading the hotline between London and Moscow, the siting of new embassies here and in Moscow, school exchanges, an end to jamming of broadcasts and more exchanges of journalists and television programmes.
We made it clear in Moscow that the Soviet Union's readiness to live up to its Helsinki commitments, particularly those on human rights—and this is the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend)—inevitably affected Western readiness to trust the Soviet Union in other areas.
We raised well over 100 individual human rights cases with the Soviet leadership. It undertook to look into those cases. There has been some progress in this area, which we should acknowledge, but it is still far from enough. The changes that are taking place are exemplified by the fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I were able to meet at the British embassy such people as Dr. Sakharov and his wife, and Mr. and Mrs. Begun. I found those occasions very poignant. Here I was meeting people in Moscow whose names I had myself raised time and time again with the Soviet leadership. Now they were free at last, after years of persecution, persecution simply because they believe in the rights and freedoms which we enjoy and take for granted. [Interruption.] I am sorry that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) is not able to join the whole House in concluding that it is changes of this kind that publicly remind Governments that East-West relations are about much more than the acronyms of arms control and that the human dimension—people and their lives and liberty—remains absolutely central.
So, too, is the continuing wider mistrust, which we are only just commencing to break down. So, too, is the huge armoury of weapons, chemical and conventional as well as nuclear, which the Soviet Union and its allies continue to deploy in offensive formation against the peoples of western Europe. We do not say that those weapons prove an intention to attack, but they represent a clear threat; they demonstrate continuing suspicion and hostility towards the outside world.
If Mr. Gorbachev, with his insight and his leadership, can at long last help us to start breaking down these barriers he will indeed have made a mark on history. It must be said that the visit of my right hon. Friend to Moscow was in itself a significant step forward. It is greater understanding between the super-powers that will bring greater security to the world, and my right hon. Friend has made a historic contribution to this.
I notice that my right hon. and learned Friend is coming to the end of his statement and I want to deflect him for one moment from his central theme to NATO and relations between Greece and Turkey. He was in Moscow during the dispute in the Aegean. Did he raise with Mr. Shevardnadze whether the Soviet Union accepts the Aegean as international waters? On a broader point, how does he see present relations between Greece and Turkey affecting NATO and what initiatives can and should Her Majesty's Government consider for bringing those two countries closer together?
That is the kind of point that I expect from my hon. Friend. I know that it is a matter in which he takes a serious interest. It may be a trailer of the speech that I hope he will be making, but if not my hon. Friend will have an opportunity of dealing with it later on.
Throughout all these contacts we have kept out allies closely informed. Over the weekend, as the House knows, I had the opportunity of a full discussion with Community colleagues in Belgium. On Thursday of this week I shall go to Washington for another of my regular meetings with Secretary of State George Shultz, whom I last met in January. I shall take the opportunity to brief him fully on our talks in Moscow prior to his own visit there next week.
We shall also, of course, discuss the full range of disarmament and regional questions. I shall make it clear that we should like to see his talks in Moscow make progress and that he goes with our good wishes, but that we, like the United States and the rest of our allies, are clear that it must be on a basis which does not compromise the security of the West.
International events as they unfold underline more and more the relevance and effectiveness of this Government's policies on arms control and East-West affairs. Nothing has highlighted the irrelevance and ineffectiveness of the polices of the Opposition quite so starkly as the events of the last week. The unilateralist party finds itself like a dinosaur, stranded in a changed world, stranded without a future, but still, I fear, with a considerable capacity for wreaking havoc. For years now the Opposition have attempted to portray Her Majesty's Government as aggressive, inflexible and a threat to peace. But in this, as in so many other respects, they have been proved totally and absolutely wrong.
We welcome the changes that Mr. Gorbachev is trying to introduce, but it is idle to expect the iron curtain to melt away overnight. The Soviet Union represents a powerful challenge to the West, determined to uphold the Communist system at home and to advance its influence abroad. We can do business with the Soviet Union, but only if the West stays united and only if we have serious policies, pursued in a serious way by serious leaders. That is what the Government have offered for the last eight years, and intend to continue to offer for a number of years to come.
First, let me say that we on this 'side of the House welcome greatly this debate, delayed as it has been, and delayed even further this afternoon. I regret that I shall have to leave for a visit to the far east before it is concluded—[Interruption.] I shall be working for Britain.
Let me start by offering the Foreign Secretary sympathy. He was ignored in Russia and he was snubbed in Europe, but I think that he was right to give a jaunty welcome to the miracle of Moscow, by which I mean the conversion of the Prime Minister to a rational view of the Soviet Union which the Foreign Secretary has been urging on her, his briefers tell us, at least since 1983. For that achievement I forgive him for allowing his electoral preoccupations to entangle him in a web of metaphor at the end of his speech, which left us perplexed about what he was trying to get at.
The Foreign Secretary was right, as was the Prime Minister last week, in telling us that East-West relations are the key to the stability and peace of the world. He was right to endorse the Prime Minister's view that we now stand at a historic turning point in East-West affairs and that, provided we are patient and deal with the problems step by step, we may make quite rapid progress towards improving the position.
I am bound to remind the House that the biggest obstacle to progress over the last eight years has been the Prime Minister's personal hatred of the Soviet Union. The Foreign Secretary will recall the outburst of megaphone diplomacy, as his predecessor described it, by the Prime Minister in October 1983 when she described the Soviet system as
a modern version of the early tyrannies of history—its creed barren of conscience, immune to promptings of good and evil.
Only a few weeks ago her parliamentary private secretary told a doubting electorate somewhere in Yorkshire that if Britain cancelled the Trident programme it would be transformed into a nightmare society, an East European style people's democracy with Soviet bases targeting missiles at the United States of America.
Mr. David Watt, whose recent tragic death all of us on both sides of the House deplore, reported recently in The Times that the Prime Minister had held a seminar at Chequers on change in the Soviet Union. After she had been told by experts from the United States and Britain of the nature of the changes under way, she permitted herself an astonishing outburst in which she shrieked :
Socialism is an unmitigated evil. They never change.
The Prime Minister produced a trailer for her visit to Moscow in that hair-raising speech at Torquay which was fiercely criticised by her Soviet hosts. Even as her aircraft was landing at Moscow airport she told the journalists aboard that Russia could not be trusted to keep any disarmament agreement if it put people in prison for their religious or political views. She said that as long as it did so it would be a danger to other countries. That remark came from the main protector in the world of the apartheid regime in South Africa who had just spent a week in London paying obsequious court to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia.
The Prime Minister stuck to the same line in her speech at the Kremlin banquet and was rapped over the knuckles by Mr. Gorbachev for her pains. We remember the headlines—"Icy Gorbachev flays Thatcher". No, I am sorry; such a headline is applied only to what the Leader of the Opposition does not do in Washington and not to what the Prime Minister does in Moscow. Yet 24 hours after making that speech, for which she was immediately castigated by the Soviet leader, everything had changed. I watched the interview she had with Mr. Wheeler. She was melting and dewy-eyed. She praised Gorbachev to the skies as a man of "fantastic courage", "utterly outstanding and reasonable", who could be trusted implicitly to carry out any promise he made.
I have been wondering ever since what produced this miraculous conversion. Was it those 12 hours of philosophical debate? The discussion lasted for 12 hours because every now and then Mr. Gorbachev actually succeeded in getting a word in, and there are signs that at some stages she actually listened to what he said. Later, the Soviet spokesman, Mr. Gerasimov, talked of a chemistry between them. If the press reports are right, I suspect that the chemistry was a love potion.
A Daily Mail reporter wrote while she was there:
It is possible that only a woman, and perhaps only this woman, would have the effrontery or audacity to use her sex as a weapon quite ruthlessly. But she turned it on like an old time Hollywood film star—and they loved it.
Let me quote from another great national newspaper :.
The Spring-like pictures also show why Mrs. Thatcher refused to let her husband Denis accompany her on this historic visit. For photographer Ken George and I witnessed the Prime Minister strolling arm-in-arm with Mr. Gorbachev, pausing to kiss and cuddle him—and even tickle him under the chin like some flirty schoolgirl. Romance, April-style, was clearly in the air.
One touch of Venus transformed the iron lady into Lola Montez.
The right hon. Gentleman is like a small boy at a fair with a bran tub, putting his hand into the bran to see what little parcelled insult he can bring out. He knows very well that the words he has just quoted about tickling under the chin and all that come from a Daily Mirror April fools day joke. He knows that is true and he should have the decency to tell the House that.
I am surprised that the Minister has the brass to show his face; after all, he told us only yesterday that the Prime Minister should go for a general election today. His disgraceful comments after a recent visit to Moscow led the Soviet official spokesman to describe him as guilty of self-advertisement for election purposes. The House is familiar with his record.
The question we have to ask ourselves is, in this love tryst, as it was described by The Sunday Times, who seduced whom? The fact is that Mr. Gorbachev won hands down. He converted her lock, stock and barrel. As Julius Caesar nearly wrote—she came, she saw, he conquered. The Prime Minister got nothing concrete whatever out of her visit—a verdict that was given by The Sunday Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Financial Times, The Independent and even The Times itself. She got nothing for Britain but she got something for her party, because her royal progress—in which she found it impossible to use the singular person pronoun and scattered the word "We" like confetti when referring to her own royal personage—was carefully orchestrated by her Potemkin, Mr. Bernard Ingham, as useful pre-election propaganda. This is how the outside world—United States, Germany, France and Italy—saw the visit.
The psychological transformation that the Prime Minister seems to have undergone has some relevance and will be useful if it lasts. Let me list some of the changes in her position by the end of her visit compared with her position before she left. Only a month ago she said that we could not accept the zero option for medium range missiles without simultaneous cuts in shorter range intermediate missiles. Now she says—and the Foreign Secretary repeated it—that all she is asking for is a freeze pending immediate negotitations.
She distanced herself from President Reagan on three issues. She rejected the idea in her Kremlin speech that the strategic defence initiative could ever provide a complete defence against nuclear weapons. She put forward her own independent proposal for how to deal with the ABM treaty and the strategic defence initiative so as to clear the way for 50 per cent. cuts in strategic nuclear weapons. The American Administration immediately rejected the proposals that she had made. She also put forward proposals for verifying a ban on chemical weapons, which Mr. Gorbachev accepted and the United States so far has rejected. All these are useful and important contributions to East-West relations on which I congratulate the Government and the Foreign Secretary, who has worked so hard for what Mr. Gorbachev achieved so fast.
Educating Rita, indeed, as my hon. Friend suggests.
The Prime Minister made one point that the Russians must think about much more carefully. So far they have refused to agree on any cuts in strategic nuclear forces unless the United States abandons the strategic defence programme. But, as she pointed out in Moscow, there is no chance of that programme achieving the objectives that President Reagan originally set for it and still believes it can achieve. There is no chance of the American Congress funding it at the level that the President wants, and still less of funding it if it is an obstacle to a strategic nuclear weapons agreement. It is almost certain that the next American President will revise or abandon it as soon as he takes office.
For those reasons, the Soviet Union would be wise to get on now with drafting an agreement for a 50 per cent. cut in strategic nuclear weapons and leave aside the question of SDI for the moment. I know that Mr. Sakharov—and I am delighted that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary were able to see him—has argued a similar case both in the Moscow forum and in a recent interview in Newsweek.
The only thing I wish the Prime Minister would do—if she is serious about this shift in her policy—is to join the German Chancellor Herr Kohl in clearly rejecting President Reagan's current attempts to broaden the ABM treaty and to begin a programme of tests in space which would certainly violate it. I hope that she will be emboldened to do so because only last week the joint chiefs in the United States and the head of the Livermore laboratory, which is responsible for conducting the star wars research, both said that such a broadening and such tests in space were unnecessary.
Having given a fair tribute to the Prime Minister's important changes in position, one thing still sticks out like a sore thumb—what the Russians call her nuclearphilia, her obsessive belief that nuclear weapons are both necessary and good. Here, as Mr. Arbatov, the Soviet foreign affairs spokesman, said, she was a good deal less forward looking than President Reagan, who believes that nuclear weapons are immoral and uncivilised and only yesterday described them as "agents of annihilation", and who wants to eliminate them and simultaneously to reduce the gap between the two sides in conventional weapons.
There is one point upon which I hope the Minister will, in reply, comment. The Prime Minister on Thursday, in her statement to the House, said that she thought that President Reagan had dropped his objective of abolishing all strategic nuclear missiles in the next 10 years. Two days after the Prime Minister met President Reagan, Mr. Shultz made a long and impressive speech on American defence and disarmament policy in which he strongly argued in favour of the President's proposal to abolish all strategic nuclear missiles and explained precisely why he was in favour of that.
I see from the frantic colloquy between the great men on the Government Front Bench that they are quite disturbed that she should have said that, but they missed it during the helter-skelter rambling to which we were treated at Question Time on Thursday.
The right hon. Gentleman is contemplating a world where certain nuclear weapons have been removed and he is contemplating the size of conventional forces. Does he believe that any money that is saved from the abolition of the Trident system should be spent on improving our conventional forces, or is he also contemplating a reduction in expenditure on conventional forces?
I am grateful for that intervention. My right hon. Friend and I have made clear for many months that we plan to spend all the money saved on Trident and Polaris—which we estimate, after cancellation costs, at about £8,000 million—on strengthening our conventional forces, whom the present Prime Minister is robbing of 30 per cent. of the equipment promised to them over the next few years in order to pay for the Trident programme. I hope that when we come to vote on these matters, perhaps in the Defence Estimates, we can guarantee that we shall have the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) in the Lobby with us.
We must move on the question of the Prime Minister's attachment to nuclear weapons if we are to have any success in the negotiations on the shorter range nuclear missiles, to which the Foreign Secretary referred in his speech. The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister claim that the Soviets have a superiority of 9:1 in these missiles—a characteristic inflation of the NATO estimate, which is only 6:1 and which has been repeated several times in the past week.
The question I put to the Foreign Secretary is: if it makes sense to eliminate a 3:1 superiority in Soviet medium range nuclear weapons, and if it makes sense—and I agree with the Foreign Secretary that it does—to aim at a global zero option because it is much easier to verify the elimination of all weapons of this category than to verify that only 100 are left on each side, surely the right way to deal with the shorter range nuclear weapons is to aim at a zero option there as well.
I find it difficult to understand why the Prime Minister is aiming to freeze a 9: 1 Soviet superiority rather than getting rid of the lot. It is true, as the Foreign Secretary said, that he would like the right for America to match the number of Soviet shorter range missiles. However, the United States has already made it clear that if it matches the Soviets, it is not prepared to pay. The Europeans would have to pay. The German Government have made it clear that they are not prepared to receive an increased number of those missiles at the very moment when medium range missiles are being withdrawn. It is difficult to explain any reasoning behind the Government's attachment to keeping shorter range missiles in Europe where they admit the Russians have an enormous superiority. The only explanation is nuclearphilia. That is a psychological disorder that has been described at some length by Soviet spokesmen since they were exposed to its consequences during the Prime Minister's visit.
In so far as the Government ever attempt a reason for not agreeing to the zero option on shorter range forces, it is the inferiority of the West in conventional weapons. However, the Prime Minister regularly and grossly exaggerates the Soviet superiority. There was an example of that only the other day when the American ambassador told us that the Soviet tank superiority in Europe was 2: 1. The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister keep telling us that it is 3: 1. The truth is that on this matter—as in the laughable attempts of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to cost Labour's spending programmes—the Government first think of a number and then double it.
According to the Americans' estimate in terms of armoured division equivalents, the Soviet Warsaw pact superiority to NATO is only 1·2:1. According to NATO, between 10 per cent. and 15 per cent. of Soviet forces in Eastern Europe are intended to garrison the East European countries rather than to take part in any operations against Western Europe.
The most astonishing feature of the Government's position is that they claim that there is a Soviet superiority in conventional weapons and that that is why we need nuclear weapons, but they plan a 30 per cent. cut in the new conventional weapons for the British Army, Navy and Air Force. A tank commander has already resigned his commission because his tanks do not have enough spares even to conduct an exercise, never mind to fight a battle. Similar remarks were made by the recently retired Chief of the Defence Staff, Field Marshal Lord Bramall, in another place the other day.
The best way to match Soviet superiority is not for us to build up—although I told the hon. Member for Bexleyheath that the Labour party plans to build up with the money that we would save on nuclear weapons—but for both sides to build down. In its communique following the meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Warsaw pact in Moscow a fortnight ago, the Warsaw pact offered a cut of 25 per cent. in the forces on both sides over the next three years and, most importantly, suggested that there should be additional cuts in areas where one side or the other currently has a superiority. We heard nothing from the Foreign Secretary this afternoon about the Government's approach to the negotiations of reductions and achieving equivalents by negotiation in conventional forces in Europe. Indeed, as I understand it, NATO has been wrestling with how to deal with that problem for nearly a year and so far has completely failed to reach agreement within the Alliance.
I predict with a little more confidence than the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), the leader of the Social Democratic party—where is he, by the way?—that it is very likely that Mr. Gorbachev during his visit to Czechoslovakia at the end of this week will announce new Soviet proposals in those areas.
It is common ground between the Foreign Secretary and myself that the advent of Mr. Gorbachev, Glasnost Perestroika and the other new developments in the Soviet Union, present the world with a golden opportunity to make progress on the issues which, for so long, have divided East and West. Indeed, the Prime Minister in an uncharacteristic burst of poetry said in Moscow :
There is a tide in the affairs of men".
It is amazing what that little touch of Mikhail in the night did for her. The German Foreign Minister rightly said that it would be a crime against history if the West was to reject this opportunity. It would be a tragedy for Britain if our Prime Minister was to reject the opportunity for the sake of buying a new nuclear missile system that Britain cannot afford, which the United States may not provide and which certainly no British Government would ever use.
The Foreign Secretary referred in his opening remarks to the important disagreement between Britain and Japan. He would agree with me that the threat of an incredible act is not a credible deterrent. We had a small example of that when we threatened to shoot our left foot off if we did not get what we wanted from the Japanese by forcing those Japanese firms that we enticed into London at great expense to set up shop in Paris or Frankfurt. The threat to start a nuclear war is a much less credible threat. The threat of suicide is not credible. However, the Prime Minister is not threatening suicide; she is threatening the destruction of civilisation and maybe of mankind. I hope that the wonderful things that we have seen happening to the Prime Minister in Moscow can be carried that little bit further and that she will reflect again on the obstacles that she is placing in the way of the kind of agreement that is now possible with the Soviet Union. I hope that she will join the great majority of mankind who want to get rid of nuclear weapons and establish a new system of security for the whole world.
What an unworthy speech we have just heard. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) fancies himself as an expert on foreign affairs, but through much of his speech he trivialised matters of the utmost concern to millions of people. He showed, if I may say so, that the time has come for him to make way for a more serious figure.
One of the misfortunes of contemporary British politics is the absence of a broad all-party approach to foreign affairs and defence. The absence of that weakens the British position and the West as a whole. Of course, both sides of the House have different versions of that misfortune. However, happily the people will be asked very soon to make their choice. I do not believe that they will find that choice too difficult. In the meantime, I have nothing but contempt for the partisan deviations from common sense in which the Opposition indulge in their contortions. That damages our security and does them no good.
The visit of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to Moscow was of exceptional importance for two reasons. First, if I may put it this way, it was the laying of the foundation stone of the structure to create a broad dialogue with the Soviet Union. Such a dialogue has always been a prerequisite for reaching negotiated agreements. Of course, there are others such as adequate strengths, resolution and so forth. Whatever our differences, there must be some framework for a practical coexistence and that need has been given a fresh impetus by my right hon. Friend's visit. How that will develop remains to be seen, but at any rate it has provided a powerful boost.
The second reason for the importance of the visit is its bearing on the reforms now being undertaken in the Soviet Union—whatever they may turn out to be. The visit has dramatically demonstrated the enormous importance that we in the West attach to these reforms, and no one could have conveyed that message as well as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
My approach to the whole question of East-West relations starts from an assessment of the balance of strength. That balance is heavily in favour of the West in terms of human and physical resources, philosophy and ideals, technological skills and economic attainments. In only two areas has the Soviet Union an advantage. Its first advantage is in the military field, where it has superiority in conventional, chemical and nuclear capabilities. It is this superiority that is the reason for the Soviet Union's superpower status.
The Soviet Union's second advantage is its propaganda capability. I have never doubted that the people of the Soviet Union want peace just as much as we do, but there is no way of reaching them. They hear only what the Kremlin decides to tell them, except on this occasion when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was enabled to break through. The Soviet Union's total control of the media is in stark contrast to the position in the West, where at times there seems to be equal time for Soviet views as for our own.
The balance overall is strongly in our favour and that is one reason why the outlook from Moscow is so chilling. In that case, the best way to deal with the situation is, first, to ensure that our deterrent is at all times effective and in good shape. That is our shield which will deter attack and maintain peace. We must make whatever progress we can in negotiations and then get on with our business calmly and patiently while waiting for the inexorable movement of events and the rise of new generations in the Soviet Union which will cause changes in their system to occur.
I have always thought it a mistake to hurl abusive and futile rhetoric across the world. What had to be achieved was some co-existence with the Soviet Union, not accepting any of its ideals that are abhorrent to us but establishing a relationship which, in so far as it might have any effect in the Soviet Union, would encourage change. In essence, that was what the policy of containment was intended to achieve but it has had virtually no success so far. Now there are signs of change, but it is much too soon to assess them.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, East talked about a historic turning point. That may or may not turn out to be the case. There is no change in the basic aims of the Soviet Union. It will not suddenly become a democracy or abandon its objectives. There is as yet no shred of evidence for that. It has released some detainees, but there is no suggestion from the Soviet Union that detention was wrong in the first place. The gap in defence capability continues to widen in favour of the Soviet Union, contrary to what many people wish to think. However, there is a change in style, which the Prime Minister's visit proved, and in due course that change can be judged.
Another change is also possible, and it is an improvement in the Soviet economy. Clearly, Mr. Gorbachev understands what has to be changed and is making a major effort to change it. There must still be some doubt about how successful he will be. He faces considerable internal opposition, and there is no change so far in the existing highly bureaucratic system, and no inducement for individual enterprise. Some commentators give him only a 50:50 chance. We shall see. If he could bring about a significant improvement in the economy he would achieve a notable change in the balance of strength between East and West. Perhaps it would not turn the tables, but nothing else would bring about so great a change in the Soviet Union.
I suspect that Mr. Gorbachev has another policy objective and it is to withdraw from Afghanistan. I think that has been confirmed by what my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said in his speech. That objective is not for ideological reasons but because Mr. Gorbachev is not winning the war. It was, of course, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan that turned world opinion so strongly against Russia. Whether there will be a withdrawal is an open question, but until there is a very large blot stains the Soviet record, as does the Berlin wall and many other things.
If the Soviet Union succeeds in sustaining openness, improving the economy and withdrawing from Afghanistan, there will be a big impact on the international scene and on people's attitude to the Soviet Union. In that event we would be entering a new phase in world affairs. That would be even more the case if the Soviet Union took a new and more relaxed attitude to eastern Europe. I have always believed that one of our major strategic objectives is to keep hope alive in the countries of eastern Europe, the hope that one day they will regain their right to decide their future for themselves. The division in Europe is a violence to our cultural and historical tradition which in the long run cannot endure. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary on his attention to eastern Europe. I had planned to make those trips myself and I am delighted that he has taken such a great deal of trouble about it.
Already we are facing a time when the Soviet Union is projecting itself quite differently and is likely to be perceived quite differently. We must be prepared for that and understand the implications, because such a change has important policy implications and I should like to mention a few. The first of those, which I have already mentioned, is that until we see the actual strength and significance of the change we must remain hopeful but sceptical. Proof or lack of it will come soon enough and we must be realistic about it. Secondly, there must be consistency of policy throughout the West as a whole. That comes from a sustained purpose backed by the necessary means to carry it out. Of course, the Soviet Union can do this quite easily, because its purpose is pursued with the ruthlessness that is characteristic of its whole system. The West has an equally clear purpose.
The right hon. Gentleman says he wants to see actions. Is he thinking in terms of actions coming from only one side, or does he mean actions from, perhaps, the United States on, for instance, star wars?
I am speaking particularly about the changes that we see taking place in the Soviet Union. The West has an equally clear purpose. It is to prevent the spread of Communism and to convince the Third world of the superiority in every way of our system, the essence of which is the freedom of the individual. We must convince them that in our parliamentary democracies all views count. Of course, that makes it a more difficult system to manage, but it is a far stronger hand to play.
Consistency of policy requires better co-ordination of national views. That can be difficult when national interests conflict or when domestic political interests conflict with international needs. Of course the national interest is of paramount importance to every Government, but so is the international interest, which can sometimes become subsumed by domestic political pressure. A dangerous contemporary example that was mentioned by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary is the threat of protectionism, which is a form of nationalism. The politics of protectionism may be understandable and its emotion is very human, but any lapse into the trap of protectionism can only lead to impoverishment and the undermining of security.
The world is interdependent, and internationalism must be nurtured in every democracy. The work done today by major international bodies such as GATT, the IMF, the European Community and many more is indispensable and has been made possible only by the confidence in international solutions that was shown after the war. Our task is to carry that forward and build on it.
The next aspect of policy with which I should like to deal is the allocation of resources. Every country is experiencing the enormous cost of defence, the Soviet Union no less than the rest of us. The total defence of the West could be bought at a lower cost if the political constraints against rationalisation and integration could be overcome. Even if they were, the allocation of resources would remain a key issue.
We need to reconsider whether collectively we commit enough resources to preventive action to reduce the risks of subversions and regional conflict. The Soviet Union continues to pursue its nefarious aims around the world with considerable skill. The question arises as to what extent countries such as Nicaragua and Cuba are tools of the Soviet Union or to what extent they are free agents. They are not free, in the sense that they need a great deal of aid, which can only come from Communist sources. The revolutionary zeal that they exhibit cannot be manufactured by Moscow; there is an indigenous element. The idea that all subversion is being done by surrogates is misleading because it obscures the fact that a movement for revolution must already exist in such countries. It would be more realistic to say that such conflicts are not only aspects of East-West competition, but that they also have indigenous causes and consequences.
The policy objective, therefore, is to deny the Soviet Union the opportunity to make such trouble, which is, to say the least, a formidable task and one that encompasses all aspects of international relations.
I shall take one example, which was mentioned by my right hon and learned Friend—the debt crisis. To leave that unresolved is sure to lead to disruption of some kind. It is contrary to the policy objective. We know that efforts are being made at the moment by the Group of Five to solve this problem, but it is nowhere near to solving it yet. Finance and loans have been provided on a massive scale without foreseeing the consequences, such as that most of those countries have little or, in some cases, virtually no means of repayment, and also the unforeseen consequence of the rise in population. Mexico, Kenya and many other countries are such examples.
What has been our response? It has been an insistence on sterner economic discipline. That is fine as far as it goes, but there are obvious political limits to this, which have already been reached in some countries. The only way to obtain more economic discipline is to accompany it with more help. I am glad that the Government are now providing that help, but few others are. I do not see how else the West can create an environment which reduces the opportunities for subversion. I should like to see the annual summit of the seven industrialised nations address this question far more directly and comprehensively than it has thus far because it has a profound bearing on the security of the West.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the all-party committee on overseas development is issuing a pamphlet on the subject of debt, which is to be published on 5 May, and which puts forward some serious suggestions from which the British Government can take initiatives to try to produce a solution to the indebtedness of the poorest and Latin American countries?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. The Foreign Secretary is doing all that he can. However, it is a major international question. What concerned me for a long time, including when I was Foreign Secretary, was that the issue did not receive the degree of attention that it required.
My final point concerns the supreme importance of keeping our electorate fully informed on East-West relations and of maintaining its expectations at whatever level the circumstances justify. Public opinion is of crucial importance. It is the bottom line of our defence, which is why the lack of all-party agreement on this matter is so dangerous.
If the Sovet Union is beginning to appreciate the deep significance of public opinion, that is a huge advance. Even if it is, the process will take decades to develop. The changes that we are beginning to see must not be exaggerated; they must be encouraged and we must be patient and see how they develop.
The sheer complexity of arms control negotiations must constantly be brought home to people, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have done, otherwise too much will be expected too soon, which will lead to disappointment and frustration. That must be avoided at all costs.
What is required is the utmost dedication to the negotiations in Geneva, Vienna and every other forum until agreements which are acceptable and verifiable to both sides are achieved, however long or short a time that takes.
In the meantime, we must maintain our deterrent in full working order at all times and at whatever level the circumstances of the time require. We must build with enthusiasm and imagination the best working relationship that we can with the Soviet Union and hope that it will be reciprocated.
These are just some of the main considerations for the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister to keep in mind in the immediate future. There is no doubt in my mind that the world is entering a phase when the challenges and opportunities are enormous. It is a huge test of statesmanship to ensure that those challenges are met and that those opportunities are taken.
During the exchanges which took place last Thursday after the Prime Minister had reported on her visit to Russia I observed that a radical transformation in the defence and foreign policies of this country was in progress. I had the impression, after I had said that, that a number of hon. Members were puzzled as to what I was referring to, but that the Prime Minister was not one of those who were in any difficulty. In the recent past, I will not say that she helped to bring about that transformation, but her actions and words have illustrated and strikingly underlined it.
For the past 30 years the defence and therefore the foreign policy of this country have been based on the nuclear hypothesis, which is otherwise known as the concept of the nuclear deterrent. It asserts that the superiority in conventional armaments of Russia and her allies over ourselves and our allies is so great that the Soviet Union is now and has been during the last generation prevented from engulfing western Europe in war only by the certainty that the United States, in such an event, would resort to the use of its nuclear arsenal.
The nuclear hypothesis has gone though a number of phases, in each of which it has endeavoured to cope with its main difficulty, which is that of its sheer incredibility. Its earliest phase was that of the tripwire, which was the simplest form of the nuclear hypothesis—the first toecap of a Russian soldier which crosses the line dividing Europe will be the signal for the nuclear holocaust to be unchained by the United States. That was incredible in itself because of the lack of balance between the nature of a perceived event and the response to it, as well as the difficulty of assuming that the United States would so closely identify itself with a certain state of affairs in western Europe as to be prepared, and at all stages visibly ready, to take that step for the sake of it.
Progressively the tripwire had to be modified. The two days' interval was lengthened to five days. Then, it was thought to be quite a good idea for us to have a battle or two and see how we would get on following a Russian invasion. An American SACEUR even had the thought that it would be a good plan, in the throes of a Russian invasion, to counter-attack the country from which that invasion had been launched.
But the biggest development which took place in the theory of the nuclear deterrent, however it originally came about, was the introduction of the intermediate range ballistic missile.
The beauty of the intermediate range ballistic missile was that whereas previously the Soviet Union and the United States, facing one another across the infernal chessboard, had been equally at risk by any move which they made upon it. By means of the intermediate range ballistic missile it was possible to suppose that they could make at any rate gambits in the deadly game without involving their own existence and safety or the survival of the populations which they represented. So, thanks not least to the intermediate range ballistic missile, we lived, until recently, with reasonable contentment under the umbrella, not of the nuclear deterrent, but of the nuclear hypothesis. It is, incidentally, a hypothesis of extreme convenience and, for Treasury Ministers, of extreme advantage, in that if one can believe that one's enemy is kept at bay by the threat of someone else using nuclear armaments that is about the cheapest defence policy available.
This delightful state of affairs has in recent years been disturbed by two events. The first is star wars. Star wars raised the terrible prospect that there might be an effective means of neutralising the inter-continental ballistic missile, whereby the two great giants who held what had become to be seen as the balance of terror would contract out of the game altogether : the deterrent would be switched off by the invulnerability of the two providers of the mutual terror.
Thus, it was with great difficulty and not without the inducement of a number of valuable research and development contracts that the United States European allies were brought along to acquiesce in the United States engaging in the rational activity of discovering whether there was after all some defence against nuclear attack. Even so, they were only quieted by the apparent assurance obtained from the United States that it was only engaged in experiment and research, and that, if there were any danger of effective protection being devised, of course the United States would not avail itself of that protection without the agreement of its European allies. That was the first recent event which shook to its foundations the nuclear deterrent with which we had lived these last 30 years.
The second and more recent event was the threat to the intermediate ballistic missile itself. This was sprung upon us by our old friend Gorbachev with his suggestion to the United States, "Let's both scrap them, old boy; let's have the zero option"—I do not know why it is called the zero option but it is fashionable to call it that. "Let's get rid of the intermediate range ballistic missile altogether." Terror then spread through the ranks of the European end of the NATO Alliance. What were they to do with their nuclear deterrent because they would lose the possibility of a credible nuclear gambit sufficient to provide for their defence and would be back again staring in the face the basic inconceivability of United States suicide as the response to Russian aggression.
The negotiations and observations of the Prime Minister on that subject in the last few weeks, and particularly during and subsequent to her visit to Russia, have been particularly revealing. The Prime Minister was reluctant to see what was called the zero option. Logically—given her assumptions—she wanted something considerably less far-reaching. She therefore said, "If we are to lose the intermediate range ballistic missile, we cannot stop there; as soon as possible, and preferably within any such negotiation, we must do something about short range ballistic missiles." But the most significant point was when she went on to say that we must aim at a conventional forces balance. So, after all our journeys of the last 30 or 40 years, the disappearance of the intermediate range ballistic missile revived the old question of the supposed conventional imbalance between the Russian alliance and the North Atlantic Alliance. The rabbit had gone back down the hole from which it originally emerged.
The right hon. Gentleman's premises are interesting, but they are not quite up to date. The spectrum of deterrence will not be dramatically altered by the zero option if we take into account that submarine-launched ballistic missiles and air-launched missile systems will remain. The right hon. Gentleman says that if intermediate range ballistic missiles go we shall not be able to inflict massive destruction on centres of population in the Soviet Union. That is not so, since strategic deterrents will remain and many medium-range systems of other types will remain.
I was obviously not clear. My point was that with the disappearance of the intermediate range ballistic missiles from the picture we should be back again with the strategic exchange—that very exchange between the heartlands of the two nuclear giants which underlay the inherent incredibility of the whole nuclear hypothesis.
The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), however, is in line with the Prime Minister—I make no complaint about that—for the Prime Minister arrived at a remarkable conclusion. She said :
we simply will not stand for the denuclearisation of Europe."—[Official Report, 2 April 1987: Vol. 113, c. 1229.]
What a remarkable conclusion. After all these endeavours at disarmament as a detente, the Prime Minister is forced by the inherent implications of British defence policy into a declared assertion that she
will not stand for the denuclearisation of Europe".
The reason is obvious. It is because she is confronting the collapse, or evaporation into the upper air, of the nuclear hypothesis itself. That hypothesis never had a realistic basis. It never was a rational assumption. It is not entirely accidental that closer contact between this country and the Soviet Union has helped to mature that perception.
The Prime Minister constantly asserts that the nuclear weapon has kept the peace in Europe for the last 40 years. It is an article of faith repeated by her in a manner that shows how conscious she is of the weakening foundations upon which it now rests, not only in people's minds generally, but in her own perception. After all, she has, for the first time, formed some conception of the nature of that extraordinary people, the Russian nation, whom our difficulty in understanding is exceeded only by their difficulty in understanding us.
Let us make a test. Let us go back to the middle 1950s or to the end of the 1940s, and let us suppose that nuclear power had never been invented, that no such advance had taken place in science or technology, but that everything else was the same. I assert that in those circumstances there would still not have been a Russian invasion of western Europe. What has prevented that from happening was not the nuclear hypothesis, not the incredible threat of an incredible act—I use words already used this afternoon by the Opposition spokesman—but the fact that the Soviet Union knew the consequences of such a move, consequences which would have followed whether or not there were 300,000 American troops stationed in Europe.
The Soviet Union knew that such an action on its part would have led to a third world war—a long war, bitterly fought, a war which in the end the Soviet Union would have been likely to lose on the same basis and in the same way as the corresponding war was lost by Napoleon, by the Emperor Wilhelm and by Adolf Hitler.
It was that fear, that caution, that understanding, that perception on the part of Russia and its leaders that was the real deterrent against Russia committing the utterly irrational and suicidal act of plunging into a third world war in which the Soviet Union would be likely to find itself confronting a combination of the greatest industrial and economic powers in the world.
There is no particular mystery about the fact that peace has existed in Europe over the past 40 years. It is due to the fact that the Soviet Union, and indeed the Soviet Union's enemies, have not intended to face the consequences of a third world war waged between the major powers on earth. In the minds of the Russians the inevitable commitment of the United States in such a war would have come not directly or necessarily from the stationing of American marines in Germany, but, as it came in the previous two struggles, from the ultimate involvement of the United States in any war determining the future of Europe.
There never has been a rational basis for that upon which we have founded the defence policy of this country for the past 35 years, and the defence policy of this country is necessarily linked ultimately to its foreign policy. For of course a logically irresistible conclusion followed from the creed that our safety depended upon the nuclear capability of the United States and its willingness to commit that capability in certain events. If that was so—and we assured ourselves for 40 years that it was—the guiding principle of the foreign policy of the United Kingdom had to be that, in no circumstances, must it depart from the basic insights of the United States and that any demand placed in the name of defence upon the United Kingdom by the United States was a demand that could not be resisted. Such was the rigorous logic of the nuclear deterrent, a logic under which not merely the defence, but the foreign policy of this country has lived for more than a generation.
It was in obedience to it—we are indebted again to the Prime Minister for her candour; sometimes it is the candour of the Prime Minister which is most revealing as well as her choice of words—that the Prime Minister said, in the context of the use of American bases in Britain to launch an aggressive attack on Libya, that it was "inconceivable" that we could have refused a demand placed upon this country by the United States. The Prime Minister supplied the reason why : she said it was because we depend for our liberty and freedom upon the United States. Once let the nuclear hypothesis be questioned or destroyed, once allow it to break down, and from that moment the American imperative in this country's policies disappears with it.
A few days ago I was reminded, when reading a new biography of Richard Cobden, that he once addressed a terrible sentence of four words to this House of Commons. He said to hon. Members : "You have been Englishmen." The strength of those words lies in the perfect tense, with the implication that they were so no longer but had within themselves the power to be so again.
I believe that we now have the opportunity, with the dissolution of the nightmare of the nuclear theory, for this country once again to have a defence policy that accords with the needs of this country as an island nation, and to have a foreign policy which rests upon a true, undistorted view of the outside world. Above all, we have the opportunity to have a foreign policy that is not dictated from outside to this country, but willed by its people. That day is coming. It may be delayed, but it will come.
I hope that the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) will forgive me if I do not follow his line of argument, because I am on a slightly different tack. I think that this afternoon is an opportunity to try to look at some of the origins of the problems that we face today in foreign affairs. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said that, in common with the Russians, we should think long, and I believe that we should think longer than we usually do. Therefore, I make no apology for going back in time to consider some of the problems.
First, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary on their extremely successful visit to Moscow. There has been a great change of atmosphere between ourselves and the Soviet Union, indeed between the West and the Soviet Union, and that change has been greatly enhanced by this recent visit. I believe that we are witnessing the biggest change in atmosphere in the postwar period. I can think of no other period when we were involved in such dialogue with Russia other than the year of 1944 when we were allies with the Soviet Union, and the Germans and their collaborators were our enemies.
Of course, things changed in 1945 when we began to see the true nature of the Russian bear. We learnt this at the Yalta conference when we were trying to deal with the intractable problems of the reoccupation of Germany by the allied powers, free elections in Poland and the repatriation of our prisoners, both Russian and British. I wish to dwell on the problem of repatriation for a few moments because that problem has not gone away.
The reasons why it was so important for us to come to an agreement at Yalta were, above all, that we had 50,000 allied prisoners in Russian hands. We also had a continuing war with Japan, which looked likely to continue for another two years—it was important to have the Russians on our side—and there were vast problems in Germany and the occupied territories. There were millions of emaciated people in Germany and Austria whom we were trying to feed as well as vast numbers of refugees and large numbers of displaced persons—Poles, Hungarians and so on.
Then, the urgent problem was to repatriate the people hack to their homelands while we had enough food for them. I had experience of this because I was with the northern armies and was liaison officer to Montgomery. I was working on those problems, visiting the camps and trying to report on how we would repatriate all the people. It was an immense problem.
In the north there were 20 million Germans and displaced people to look after and to feed. Housing had been destroyed and the standard of health was low. There were 2·5 million German prisoners of war and 1 million displaced persons—Russians, Poles, Hungarians and so on. In West Berlin alone there were 3 million people whom we had to feed, not from the hinterland, but from the western zone of Germany. There was one policy alone—everyone must go home. It was the same in Austria.
In addition to such problems, we were faced by the frightening attitude adopted by the Soviet Union under the leadership of Stalin. At that time our future was indeed precarious. In the biography of Eden written by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) Churchill is reported as saying that the situation was more dangerous in 1945 than it was in 1939.
By far the most important factor in our discussions was, of course, the prisoners—the return of our prisoners to us and vice versa in the case of the Russians. My noble Friend Lord Barber wrote an interesting letter. He was a prisoner of war in Russian hands in East Germany, overrun by the Russians. He made an important point which was reported in a debate in the House of Lords in 1976. He was a member of an air crew which had been captured. His letter said:
We realised at the time that we were being kept as hostages until the return of the Russians, who had been liberated by the British. If the Government had refused to return the Russians, I do not doubt that most of us would have accepted our unhappy lot as being a necessary consequence of the aftermath of war!
That was a noble sentiment, but it did not wash at home. It would not have been in accordance with British public opinion at the time when the main desire was to get everyone back home. That is the background to events in Austria in 1945.
My first contact in Normandy after we landed on D plus one was, strangely enough, with a Cossack unit. They were among the first German troops that I met. I was having my breakfast. They were more surprised at seeing me than I was at seeing them. Those were the people with whom we were faced in many of the German units.
Under the Yalta agreement we repatriated about 45,000 Wehrmacht Cossacks to the Soviet Union. Inevitably, White Russians were included in those numbers. If we had not maintained the Yalta agreement we would have been in dire trouble. At the same time, major units of Russians and Ukranians were spirited away—the Ukranian division of some 10,000 men and the White Russians Schutz Corps of some 4,500 men.
That has been the subject of two books by Mr. Nicholas Tolstoi which contain some pathetic stories. But untold so far have been the successful efforts by anonymous pimpernels to thwart the Soviet intentions and free those people to the West. I have no personal axe to grind in this, but I should like to see historical justice done. Tolstoi, in his book, "Minister and the Massacres", accuses the then Minister resident in those parts, Harold Macmillan, of conspiring to send those people to their deaths. That is the clear implication of what he said.
There is plenty of opinion by the author in that book, but very little hard fact. It casts a slur on the War Cabinet of those days and on the commanders and staff in the field as well as on our allies who were in full agreement with the policy. I utterly reject the theory that the late Lord Stockton was involved in a devious plot.
What was the outcome? Stalin insisted upon his pound of flesh and we had to send the Soviet citizens back. Many of them were shot or perished in the gulags. There were no free elections in Poland, as we had agreed, and many of the smaller old European countries were swallowed up by Stalin.
But this last outcome, in particular, could have been avoided. Unfortunately, there was a dispute between the British and the Americans about our policy in the final stages of advance. The Americans favoured a broad front advance and we favoured a narrow one, as advocated by Montgomery. I am convinced that we could have been in Berlin by Christmas 1944 if we had adhered to the narrow front strategy. As it was, we halted and waited for the Russians to move up. We could also have occupied Czechoslovakia. I remember being sent to Czechoslovakia in 1946 by Montgomery to see the commander there. I talked to the people and I remember how fearful they were of being swallowed up by the Russians, as, indeed, they were. If we had continued with our advance, Europe would have been a different place today.
There are two more cautionary tales that I would like to tell and they concern the middle east. The Attlee Government ordered the evacuation of Palestine in October 1947. It was to be evacuated by May the following year. I and my chums who were there were told to pack up and go home. We had been keeping the peace there and we were astounded by that drastic and ill-considered decision.
As it turned out, the Arabs did not see off the Jews. The Jews were trained for war because they had been fighting us, and the Arabs, unfortunately, were seen off and lost their lands. That has set off a kind of political Chernobyl, whose noxious fumes are still poisoning the world today. We have only to look at worldwide terrorism, events in the Lebanon and the rising of the Arab Jihad to see what a pot we stirred up in those days.
My final tale concerns the events in the Persian gulf a few years ago. When the Conservative Government came to power in 1970 it was virtually a fait accompli that we had to leave the Persian gulf. That had been decided by the previous Labour Government. I want to ask some rhetorical questions to which there are no answers, but they should still be considered.
If we had retained our presence in the Persian gulf and had been in communion with the Arab rulers who were friendly towards us, would the oil crisis have taken quite the same form that it took? Would OPEC have arisen in the form that it did? Would the Shah have fallen if we had been there to hold his hand? Would the American hostages have been taken by the following Government? Would, indeed, the Iran-Iraq war have taken place?
I hope that recounting those experiences gives some clues to the problems that we are facing today. This is, in a way, my maiden speech, but, in case it is also my valedictory one, I wanted to put that on the record.
It will be a pity if the hon. Member for Esher (Sir C. Mather) has, indeed, just made his valedictory speech because he spoke from personal experience on matters which I hope the House will some day debate at greater length. This is not the opportunity to go into them, but it would be instructive if the House were to debate that period and some of the things that happened.
That period teaches us something about what can go wrong in Government in such circumstances. It cannot have been right that the Government's policies should have been so distorted in the event that people, many of whom were not even citizens of the Soviet Union, were sent back there to certain death or to long periods of imprisonment in camps in which they eventually died. It is also instructive because it tells us something about what the Soviet system is like when used in the malevolent way in which Stalin used it. It tells us a great deal about the evils of that system. but that is a matter for another occasion.
I said last week that there would be a general and genuine welcome for the outcome of the Prime Minister's visit to Moscow, and that has proved to be the case. I do not believe, as she said, that the world is significantly safer as a result of the visit, although it could become so if the right steps now follow from it. It certainly changed the Prime Minister's perception of the Soviet Union. It was remarkable to hear some of the things that she said when she returned.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) was obviously struck by that and made much of it, although, having made his speech, he fled instantly from the scene to visit the far east. When he made so much of the Prime Minister's conversion, I had some sympathy with what he was saying, but he did nothing to indicate whether some similar process or a different process explained his conversion from the belief that a nuclear deterrent had to be stationed on British soil to the view that there should be no such thing and that all nuclear weapons should be removed from Britain. At some point he may explain how that came about. Perhaps it will lead us to be more sympathetic to the view advanced by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell). The right hon. Member for Leeds, East owes it to us to explain how that conversion took place—whether it was through talking to a foreign leader, or at a Labour party back room discussion, I do not know.
The Prime Minister said that we should support Mr. Gorbachev in his great endeavour. That was a remarkable phrase for her to use after the years of megaphone diplomacy. She also said that if he gave her his word she would trust him. I think that that was a rather naive phrase. It is an understandable reaction to Mr. Gorbachev, whom I met, in company with the right hon. Member for Leeds, East and Lord Whitelaw, a year ago, in what turned out to be a dress rehearsal for Mrs. Thatcher's visit. We were taken round the same places on the standard tour. It is a naive remark because it underestimates the extent to which Mr. Gorbachev is part of a system. He is attempting in certain ways to change that system, but we do not know how far he is able or willing to change it. Most of us admire what he is trying to do and what he has achieved so far, but we must be a little cautious about the type of deals that we do with him; the best basis on which to form agreements is one on which there is realism on both sides. Both sides must accept that an agreement that has been reached safeguards their interests, and that sacrifices must be made by both sides. It is on that basis, and not on the trust of words alone, that matters must proceed.
So far as I can glean from what the Prime Minister said, and from her reported remarks, I believe that she got it about right on some of the major issues, including that of intermediate nuclear forces. I was genuinely worried about what she said before she went to Moscow, when she seemed to be ruling out an intermediate nuclear forces deal that was not directly linked with short-range missiles or human rights issues.
I am glad that the Prime Minister raised human rights issues in Moscow—the position of Jews wanting to emigrate, the position of Christians, and issues of general political rights. By raising those issues, the Prime Minister did us a service.
It was also sensible for her to raise our concerns about short-range missiles. However, to link either of those issues with the achievement of an agreement on intermediate nuclear forces would be to condemn the deal. There is no way in which progress on them could objectively be ascertained. One cannot ascertain objectively whether sufficient progress on human rights has been made to allow a deal on intermediate nuclear forces. The linkage is not even a logical one. Still less was it any part of the West's original insistence on the zero-zero option. The Prime Minister's remarks about verification, about follow-on talks on short-range missiles and about allowing the West to match—if it wanted to—the East's numbers were all within the terms of reference of the Soviet leadership's acceptance of the zero-zero option. It is, by the way, curious at this stage to raise the idea of the West matching the short-range missiles, when we have not attempted to do that in all the years during which we have not been prevented from doing so. So that is a false hare to raise now.
I hope and pray that we shall obtain a deal on intermediate nuclear forces that will help to make the world a safer place. However, I do not agree with all that the Prime Minister said in Moscow. Naturally, we profoundly disagree with her line on star wars—as would Dr. Andrei Sakharov. If that was one of the subjects that she discussed with him, she will have found him a critic of it. It is helpful that the Soviet Union has set aside for a moment its preoccupation with the star wars issue in order to make progress in other areas, but it remains a matter of real concern that the British Government should fuel President Reagan's commitment to the project, which is the subject of so many doubts and criticisms inside the United States.
What a contrast there was between the two visits that were made, respectively, by the leader of the Labour party and the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman's visit was doomed to failure from the start—by its very nature, it could not succeed. It involved trying to persuade the United States that NATO can continue without its bases in the United Kingdom. For the Prime Minister's visit to fail, however, would have been both difficult and foolish. However, she took her opportunity well, and succeeded.
The two leaders are alike in one respect : they are both, in one sense at least, unilateralists. The one believes that Britain can achieve general disarmament by acting alone: the other believes that British nuclear weapons should for ever be excluded, even from multilateral negotiations. The Labour party believes that we can act as if we had neither allies nor enemies, and abandon every category of nuclear weapons in the United Kingdom without first having negotiated to make the world safer. The Prime Minister said that she could not conceive of a position in which British or European nuclear weapons would be negotiated away, even if the superpowers negotiated away all their nuclear weapons. Both Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev have explicitly stated that that is their aim.
The Prime Minister told the leader of the Labour party that one could not build one's defence policies on dreams, and most of us would agree with that. The leader of the Labour party was wrong, not in having dreams, but in building his defence policy on the assumption that they had already been realised. To have no dreams, vision or ambitions, as the Prime Minister's remark suggested, is to throw away any prospect of' achieving great things—
where there is no vision, the people perish".
Without dreams there would have been no desegregation in the United States, no United Nations, and no abolition of slavery. All those were achieved because of vision and ambition. The mistake is to assume that one has achieved one's dream before one has done so. Of course, we should have a vision of a world without nuclear weapons. It should drive us on the step-by-step route to negotiated disarmament.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs mentioned the issue of Afghanistan, which has also, doubtless, been the subject of discussion between the Government and the Prime Minister of Pakistan. I and other hon. Members also had discussions on the issue with him during his visit. There is a sense of optimism abroad. From Pakistan there are suggestions of a real prospect of movement. From Moscow, one senses that Mr. Gorbachev is serious about getting out of Afghanistan. He suggested as much to us last summer. I believe that to be true for the reasons that the Foreign Secretary advanced. The whole exercise has been a disaster for the Soviet Union from every point of view. It has cost it a great many lives and a great deal of repute in parts of the world in which it hoped to win friends.
The Soviet Union has not yet found terms that it considers would be acceptable for leaving Afghanistan. The attempt to move to a position in which the people of Afghanistan can have a say in their own future and the vast numbers of refugees in Pakistan can return to their country should be a major objective of all the nations that are involved. I hope that the British Government are doing what they can in that direction.
Central America is another area of conflict that we must examine. The American-supported Contra attacks on Nicaragua continue, and unrest persists in a number of neighbouring countries. It is time the Government clarified their position. They have frequently said that their policy is to seek a peaceful solution. As a logical consequence of that, they must be opposed to the arming of groups that are seeking to overthrow the Government of Nicaragua. Why cannot the Government state that? Is it because of their inability to give candid advice to the President of the United States, while so many of his own countrymen are doing precisely that—including most of Congress? The Government should change their stance on the issue.
It is important to argue for human rights in Nicaragua and in many other countries. It is impossible, however, to justify the Contra attacks on the ground that Nicaragua has a distinctively bad record on human rights, as compared with other countries in south and central America. There is no reason why the Government should not argue for more human rights there, but they cannot defend such attacks on that basis.
In the context of human rights, I hope that the Government will examine the proposals that have been put forward by the representatives of three Nicaraguan Opposition parties who are in the United Kingdom now. Senor Godoy of the Independent Liberal party and representatives of other parties have made proposals for an internal political settlement that would make a major difference in Nicaragua and in the attitude to Nicaragua of neighbouring countries. It has common features with the Arias plan, and I hope that the British Government will consider that seriously. There will be hon. Members from all parties in Managua to attend the Inter-Parliamentary Union congress and I have no doubt that the arguments to which I have referred will continue then.
Another major area of conflict that concerns us all is the middle east. The Foreign Secretary said a little about the prospects for a middle east peace conference, which were somewhat advanced by the discussions of the Council of Ministers. Perhaps the Minister of State will say more about that when he replies. I hope that he will tell us what is envisaged and the sort of time scale that will apply. It would be foolish to get down to discussing in this debate the formulae for the representation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and the Foreign Secretary was rightly cautious about that. It is clear, however, that the voice of the people of Palestine must be heard at the conference, and the PLO has an honoured record of representing that voice over a long period.
We are dealing with a rapidly changing situation. Who would have imagined a time when Israel could be so relaxed about Syria moving into Beirut? Who would have imagined the main opponent of the PLO would not be Israel but an Arab grouping of fanatical ruthlessness? It is a fanatical and ruthless grouping which claims to be pursuing the same cause as the unfortunate Palestinians who are trapped in camps, and it has subjected them to the most awful privations in the process. It is not Israel that has done that.
It is perhaps surprising that after the arguments that we had about Syria last year we can welcome at least some moves on its part. This prompts the question whether Syria will come in from the cold and what steps we shall take to encourage that to happen. I argued strongly over a considerable period that Britain should end its diplomatic relations with Syria in the light of evidence of Syria sponsoring terrorist activity in Britain, but some of those who were involved in that activity are no longer in positions of power in Syria, and Syria is beginning to show signs of a different approach. When I questioned the Prime Minister on these matters, she seemed appalled by the suggestion that we might in future try to restore good relations with Syria. We must recognise that it is an important player on the middle east scene and exercises a great deal of power. We shall have to consider seriously
what Syria's role will be.
In a general foreign affairs debate we must make some reference to South Africa, where elections among the white electorate alone are shortly to take place. There is surely a need for a clearer signal than has yet been given by the British Government and other European Governments, and I believe that it can be given only by applying sanctions against South Africa.
We are engaged in a series of measures against South Africa but it is not polite to call them sanctions. A much clearer signal needs to be given to the white electorate that Britain cannot be described, as the right hon. Member for Leeds, East described the present Government, as the last friend of the apartheid regime. I do not believe that to be the intentional position of the British Government, but I think that they should take clearer measures to ensure that it is not. The situation in some of the neighbouring countries should be exciting the Foreign Secretary's concern as well, not least Angola and Mozambique.
The Philippines, although not the scene of international conflict, are nevertheless an area of real concern. Everyone in the West was relieved to see a transfer of power to a Government with democratic objectives and high ideals for the people of that country, who suffered so much from a corrupt regime. There is a legitimate European interest in the Philippines that is reflected in major aid projects. There are a number of causes for anxiety, and one of them has been expressed by those who are working in the area of development who say that European aid is not taking sufficient account of the non-governmental voluntary organisations and their expertise in the country. If that is the position, I hope that it can be corrected. I hope also that the British Government will make it clear that they are prepared to play their part in relieving the Philippine Government's serious debt problem. There are various devices and methods that can be used. It is part of the wider international problem and we have a part to play in resolving it.
There are many other subjects that I should like to raise in this general foreign affairs debate. Unfortunately, I cannot do so because many other right hon. and hon. Members wish to participate in it. If the world is to be made a safer place, painstaking work will have to be done at many levels. Apart from bilateral discussions, work will have to be done in the United Nations, including in its peacekeeping role, in the Commonwealth, in the Community and in the international financial community. Britain's interests are in a fairer world, and only a fairer world will be a safer world.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), the shadow Foreign Secretary, saw fit to criticise the leaders of the Liberal and Social Democratic parties for not being present for this debate. I think that he was right to do so. It is unfortunate that they are not present in this increasingly county-council like Chamber in which foreign affairs are not often discussed. I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman did not have the courtesy to listen to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym), who was called to speak immediately after the right hon. Member for Leeds, East had resumed his seat.
May I repeat what my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said? He explained that he would have liked to stay but that he had arranged earlier to go to Japan and that he had to leave. If the debate had started earlier, my right hon. Friend would have been here. His departure from the Chamber was meant as no discourtesy to the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym), a former Foreign Secretary.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that correction. I should have liked the right hon. Gentleman to he present to hear a shameful admission that I am about to make. Not long ago some of us went over to the north of France to celebrate the landings there. A distinguished Minister of a foreign country approached me with his wife and said to her, "I want to introduce you to Mr. Denis Healey." I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman or the ambassador in Washington should be more worried. Personally, I take it on the jaw.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, I think rightly, that her visit might be a turning point in East-West relations. I think that it has underlined three things. The Soviets have reached a point at which they must put first priority on restructuring their system, which has failed to deliver the goods. Whether austerity in the supply of vodka and other goods will do the trick, I cannot tell. That is a matter for them. I think that they will succeed only if they can get the central European economy, the German economy, to work for them.
It was made clear during the visit of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that the Soviets attach great importance to arms control. That is not from any dislike of weapons but because it has become clear, especially since the American commitment to the strategic defence initiative, that there is no way in which they can compete with the United States in an arms race and a technological race.
Finally, it has become clear that Mr. Brezhnev's conquests of Angola, Mozambique and finally Afghanistan have failed in the sense that they have been unable in nearly 10 years to consolidate the ground that they took.
We may be on the edge of something similar to the time in the 1920s when Stalin gave up the idea of international revolution and decided to build "Socialism in one country." That did not do the Russian people much good, but it relieved the pressure on the West. Against this background, I think that the phrase "the turning point" may be right.
The opening gambit of the new era of dialogue is the zero-zero option. My impression from talks in Washington are that America would like to see this go ahead. It was their idea originally and the President would like to have an arms agreement if he can get it.
From a European point of view, there is not much in it for us. The arms burden will not be relieved to any extent. It is true that the SS20s will be withdrawn. But even if the agreement is followed by an agreement on shorter range weapons, the fact remains—and I felt that the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) had not taken this fully into account—that the intercontinental missiles of the Soviet Union can perfectly well be trained on European targets without involving the United States.
That brings us back to the situation about which Chancellor Helmut Schmidt was concerned when he asked for the Pershing and cruise missiles to be sent. He said then that if one eliminates the American ability to retaliate from Europe, one will magnify European concern that the Americans might not respond to a Soviet attack on Europe whether nuclear or conventional. And this would give momentum to what has always been an underlying Soviet strategy of decoupling western Europe at best and Germany at least from the United States.
It is possible that we are now facing a new situation of which we should take account.. Let us put ourselves in the shoes of a patriotic German. There would be two options open to him. One is to back away from NATO, not too quickly but gently, and let German finance and industry through joint ventures and so on embark on a policy of helping to restructure eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. He would seek as his aim the reunion of the two Germanies. That would be a respectable aim and in itself—taking the example of Finland where a Conservative Government is about to take office—need not necessarily imply a change in the German constitution.
The alternative would be for West Germany to seek to have its own nuclear weapons. I have friends in Germany in quite high places who would take that view and would argue that 40 years after the war when Germany is making the greatest contributions to the defence of the West in conventional terms—the terms on which the Leader of the Opposition is so keen—it is ridiculous to deny it weapons that another half a dozen countries have already. That is not an immediate issue but it will develop in time.
In putting back to us—it was our proposal originally—the zero-zero option Mr. Gorbachev is reopening the German question and with it the whole question of the peace treaty that has never been concluded. He is opening a Pandora's box. I am not sure what will come out of the box, but the implications for Europe are serious.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that a third option for a patriotic responsible German might be to enhance Franco-German strategic and military cooperation and to ensure that the French force de frappe was more readily available to provide a nuclear response to any Warsaw pact aggression against the Federal Republic? Are not the exercises due to take place in the autumn and the fact that the Force d'Action Rapide is available to deploy in the Federal Republic signals that that option is being explored seriously within the Federal Republic as well as in Paris?
My hon. Friend is on to the crucial point. We have to ask ourselves how far the Germans would accept a French or Anglo-French nuclear cover.
There are two lessons we have to draw, not immediately but we must think about it, from the reopening of the German question which the zero-zero option implies. The first is that we and the French must strengthen our own nuclear power along with the French as much as possible and if there is no superpower agreement on short range nuclear weapons we must go ahead and make our own. That is a difficult problem, and we do not yet know the answer to it.
Here I want to say a word to the empty alliance Benches. It is all very well for the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and the leader of the Liberal party to say that they want a minimum deterrent. They said that they did not think that Trident was necessary because it was too powerful. That is a sort of strategic inverted snobbery. If one is going to think in terms of decoupling Germany, let alone western Europe, from the United States surely one wants the best weapon one can get. One will not get anything cheaper than Trident, so one might as well go for the best.
If the right hon. Gentleman is thinking of decoupling, how is it effective decoupling to have a system which is wholly dependent on the continued support of the United States for its supply?
It is conceivable that in the process of decoupling the United States would go on supplying us with Trident, just as it is conceivable—the hon. Gentleman should not forget this—that it would supply the Germans with nuclear weapons under their own control as the price for letting its troops go. I hope that we are moving gradually into a rather different era.
The other implication we must consider—here I meet the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson)—is that we must strengthen the Western European Union and make it into an effective defence organisation and ensure that Germany plays a more important role in it. I see no conflict between NATO and the WEU. It so happens that I wrote the memorandum that persuaded Sir Anthony Eden to accept WEU. In it I said that NATO is a box to keep the Russians out of Europe and that we need to have a box to keep the Germans in Europe. That is really the effective programme. I put it crudely, but these things had better be said crudely if they are to be followed.
The Soviet Union is clearly keen on arms control and that provides an opportunity that we should press to resolve the regional problems that separate us. The arms race, which had come to a halt in what one might call the Nixon-Brezhnev period, started up again with the Soviet invasion through surrogates in Angola. Mozambique and Ethiopia, the takeover of Aden, increasing influence in Vietnam and finally the invasion of Afghanistan.
In none of those places has the Soviet Union succeeded in consolidating Communist rule. The Soviets can supply arms, and they do, but they cannot supply development aid. Mozambique has become a caricature from that point of view. It is nominally a Marxist-Socialist country, but it is helped, as far as I can make out, by South Africa, Britain and the United States and help is going, in some cases, to both sides in their civil war.
To abandon any of those countries, particularly Afghanistan, involves a denial of the Brezhnev doctrine that one can never let down a Socialist state. However, some interesting exercises in semantics are going on. Dr. Kissinger claims that he was told at a seminar in Moscow the other day that Afghanistan is not really a Communist country or even really Socialist. Therefore, perhaps the Soviets are prepared to seek a way out.
It looks to me as if the West should stress the importance of the withdrawal of Soviet influence from the countries it has, to use Mr. Gladstone's phrase, "desecrated and despoiled" since 1974. Regional settlements must go hand in hand with arms control. I am not saying that they should be an integral part of arms negotiations, but I am saying that there should be linkage between them. If the Soviet attitudes are changing, and if we are up against a new era, this will be a test, and if it is proved, it is more than welcome.
However, let us be sure in our own minds that the Soviets have come to this point from the failure in their system at home, in competition with the West, and in consolidating their own empire. So that there is no need for us to pay for what they want to buy.
One of the interesting characteristics of this debate is that, although many references have been made to changes in the Soviet Union, and they have been interpreted by some speakers, few have spoken about the changes occurring in Britain. I believe that a profound change has occurred in this country, and that of the two visits—one by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to Washington and one by the Prime Minister to Moscow—the former was as significant as the latter. Both visits threw a light on the reality of the situation.
Strangely, as I entered the House, I opened a package containing the latest Gallup poll. I do not agree with polls much when it comes to election forecasts. However, before the Prime Minister's visit to Moscow, this poll asked the following question :
Who do you think has done the most to try to reach agreements about controlling nuclear weapons—President Reagan or Mr. Gorbachev?
The result was that 12 per cent. thought that President Reagan had done the most and 56 per cent. thought that Mr. Gorbachev had. As we are the British House of Commons, it might be worth spending a moment on these figures, which have been building up for some time, and examining the significance of the two visits at what is undoubtedly a turning point in terms of the way that the British people are assessing what is happening.
Since the end of the war, or shortly thereafter, there have been in British foreign and defence policy three basic assumptions, which I can easily rehearse. One was that the
Soviet Union would, if it had a chance, invade Western Europe, occupy West Germany, Italy, France, Norway and Sweden and come to Britain, except that we had the bomb, so it dared not do it. That assumption has appeared time and again. Indeed, somebody sent me the other day a letter that he had received from the Secretary of State for the Environment, which said :
Thank you for your letter … I am certain that the Russians would have been here already if it wasn't for the West's nuclear deterrent.
That assumption is absolutely fundamental to the policy of the present Government and of successive Governments since the war.
The second argument is that the United States stands for peace, democracy and human rights all over the world. The third assumption is that the very existence of nuclear weapons is our security. The American nuclear umbrella keeps the Russians out, and our own nuclear weapons provide us with an ultimate safeguard. I put it to the House that none of those assumptions is true, and that the public is beginning to come to that conclusion.
Let us examine what price we are paying for those assumptions before I go into them in any detail. First, we carry a massive arms burden in Britain—far higher as a proportion of national income than any other European member of NATO. When I compare that with the burden that the Japanese carry, it does not surprise me that the Japanese can sell videos, cars, televisions and telephone equipment all over the world. Only 1·5 per cent. of their much bigger national income goes on defence, whereas in Britain it is about 6 per cent. of a smaller national income.
The arms burden has also cost many lives in other parts of the world. I did not believe the figures that I am about to quote when I first saw them. Every week, 250,000 babies die in the world from preventable diseases, while we waste masses of our resources, on both sides of the world, on these huge budgets, of which star wars is the most criminally wasteful.
The second price that we pay is that we accept in Britain the United States bases that can be used without the consent of the British Parliament. I am an old parliamentary historian, and I believe that we should not have a standing army. Every year, when we pass the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order, I regard it as a real order, which allows us to prevent, as the 17th century Parliament resolved to prevent, a standing army from remaining on our territory. However, we have a standing army of 30,000 American troops in 125 installations and, in the event of conflict, whole areas of our country would be handed over to American control. Short of a nuclear war, President Reagan felt able to use our bases for the Libyan bombing raid, primarily to show that there was some international support for his action.
There is something else that the people should know. We do not have an independent nuclear weapon. One of the reasons why the Zircon film aroused security questions was that in it a former senior civil servant in the Ministry of Defence made it clear that our so-called independent deterrent is not only American-built but requires the American satellite system to be used. We discovered that in 1964, when we came to power at the time that Polaris was about to come into service.
The third price that we pay for these three assumptions is the loss of the right to negotiate. I heard time and time again in the statements made about the Prime Minister's visit to Moscow that she was not negotiating, but that is because she is not allowed to do so. The only negotiations that take place between Britain and Russia go through Gorbachev and Reagan. Recently a German Member of Parliament from the Green party asked me how many people realised that the bloc system in Europe makes countries that have never had any clash of interest, such as Poland and Portugal, into enemies. Poland and Portugal can talk to each other only through Reagan and Gorbachev. I have heard it argued that our possession of weapons gives us a seat at the high table, but it does not, because our allegedly independent nuclear weapons do not give us the right to sit in when Reagan negotiates on our behalf.
The final and heaviest price that we pay is that we have lived under fear for 40 years. That fear has corrupted a great deal of our thinking about the future. When I listen to the cold war propaganda, which goes out all the time, I wonder how big a factor that is in the development of our domestic politics.
That fear is spread by untrue statements. I have never forgotten one occasion in Cabinet, when a defence White Paper was brought to us, which showed a massive superiority of Soviet conventional forces. One of my colleagues in the Cabinet asked, "Where are the French?" They had not been included in the balance of forces as if, in the event of war, one was not quite sure whether France would be on the side of Russia because it is not a military member of NATO. The BBC and the media pump out false figures about military balance because they want to keep people in the thrall of fear.
If those three assumptions are questioned, one opens up a new range of options. I believe that the Russians have not attacked Western Europe because, having lost 20 million people in the last war, they have no desire to do so. I have been to the Soviet Union on ministerial visits on many occasions and I have been to Leningrad and seen a city where as many people died as died in the entire British and American armies put together. One hears Russians speak about the war in a way that nobody who lived in an island that was only bombed but never occupied could, and that makes one realise that the need for peace in the Soviet Union is great.
That need for peace is not because the Soviet economy is breaking down. Actually, our economy is not all that successful, with 4 million rotting on the dole when there are so many needs to be met. Do not let us be so very superior about the success of our system of market forces.
Let us look back. The British sent an army to Russia to destroy the revolution. That is never mentioned on the radio. The forgery of the Zinoviev letter, and the Arcos raid are never mentioned either. And those who wish to be reminded of a bit of history, I shall read what Harry Truman was reported as having said in the New York Times in 1941 :
If we see that Germany is winning the war we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany and in that way let them kill as many as possible.
That was said by the architect of NATO when a United States senator. The Russians do not forget that, and they do have anxieties about security. Any policy towards them must be based on that recognition.
I do not need to say in the House—I argued about it with the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) at the time of Suez—that when I was born we were an empire. I checked it out the other day. One fifth of the land space and population of the world was governed from this Chamber on the day that I was born. If we cannot recognise a new empire when it looms out of the mist, we must have forgotten our history. The Americans are an empire, and empires pursue policies—as our empire did—in support of its own economic interests.
The idea that the United States is in favour of human rights in Chile is an outrage. It toppled an elected Government and put Pinochet there to protect its economic investment. We did the same. When we were an empire, I remember, as a little boy, being taken to meet Mr. Gandhi when he came to London in 1931 for the round table conference. No Conservative Members talked about human rights in India then, because we were running India. When Mr. Gandhi was asked what he thought of civilisation in Britain, he replied "I think that it would be a very good idea." That was an accurate reflection of the way in which the Indians saw us.
The Americans went into Grenada; they support Botha; they back Turkey. They have no regard for human rights if they conflict with their interests. We were the same. The Russians, as a very powerful country, invaded and intervened in Hungary. As a Member of Parliament, I raised that in a letter toPravda. I went with others, leading the Labour delegation at the time of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. It cannot be said that Britain's record on human rights, either present or historical, entitles us to say that "We will not talk to you until you recognise it."
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. His reputation on human rights is well known in all parts of the world. Is he aware that on 28 November 1973, when the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) was a junior Foreign Office Minister, he condoned what was happening in Chile after the coup, and said that Britain had no right to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries? Where can it be said that Tory Members are concerned about human rights outside the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe?
I think that every major country must be very careful. When I was interviewed by the Moscow newspaper that was quoted against me, I said in respect of human rights:
Frankly, I don't think any government in the world can be credited with outstanding achievements in this sphere.
That led to the Prime Minister beginning to draft a deportation order for me, as far as I could make out, but I made a true point. Those who believe in human rights do not have a double standard. They favour them wherever people in the so-called free world are threatened.
Other options are open. One that has been mentioned is the possibility of a Franco-German force de frappe. I have long been of the opinion that the Germans have the capacity to build nuclear weapons because of their high degree of skill. Ten years ago, as Energy Secretary, I stopped in Frankfurt on my way to Saudi Arabia and had lunch with the chairman of Nu-Kem, the German BNFL. He said that only 50 people would have to know if nuclear facilities were diverted from peace to war. With their arrangements with the Brazilians and others, I think that it is highly unlikely that the West Germans have no capacity to have the bomb anyway.
The question is, what should our policy be? I share the view of my right hon. Friends—expressed to a President who was exceedingly discourteous to them—that the policy they put forward is the right one. But, at the same time, we should look a little beyond that. I want to look as far ahead as I can. We still live under the legacy of Hitler, who divided Europe and left us with a divided Europe. Are we really to say that, into the 21st century, we are content to be lined up in blocs?
I went back to the treaty of friendship that we signed with the Russians in 1942. It was signed by Mr. Anthony Eden, who was later Prime Minister, and, on the other side, by Molotov. It dealt with wartime collaboration in the war against Hitler, and also with the post-war period. The words that I am going to read were signed by Eden and remained in force after we joined NATO:
The High Contracting Parties: Desiring to contribute to the maintenance of Peace … to give expression to the intention to collaborate … in adopting proposals for common action to preserve Peace, and resist aggression, having regard to the interests of the security of each of them, agree to work together in close and friendly collaboration, for the organization of security and economic prosperity in Europe … will act in accordance with the two principles of not seeking territorial aggrandisement for themselves and of non-interference in the intended affairs of other States"——
At least most of the people responsible for the Soviet intervention in Hungary are dead, whereas one of the arch-aggressors of the Suez invasion is still sitting on the Woolsack. Let us not lecture people about that.
The treaty continues:
to render one another all possible economic assistance … undertakes not to conclude any alliance and not to take part in any coalition directed against the other High Contracting Party.
We should now build on the Moscow visit. I am not one of those who mock it, although it may not have had the intended effect. We should build on the visit by trying to renew the treaty of friendship signed by Eden, or by Winston Churchill, with the Soviet Union during the war. In place of the ghastly bloc system, in which I have no confidence, we should start to build bilaterals in Europe. Mr. Papandreou has gone to Bulgaria—one party from NATO, the other from the Warsaw pact—and signed an agreement with Zhivkov. The West Germans and the East Germans are now working together. I should like us to move out of the bloc system towards a European security that recognises the specific and distinct interests of every European country. Such a treaty could be signed on a much more multilateral basis by an assertion of bilateral agreement. If we did that, we could reallocate resources to meet the real threat to the survival of humanity—the threat posed by starvation in the Third world—and reduce arms expenditure.
I do not agree, and nor did the Labour party conference, with the view that every penny to be saved from nuclear weapons should be spent on conventional weapons. The motion for transferring resources was carried at the conference by 5 million votes to one. The policy that was put forward at conference is the correct one.
The right hon. Gentleman read to us the terms of the Anglo-Soviet agreement, and there would be much to be said for it if it was honoured and respected. He took as one example the Soviet intervention in Hungary, and brushed it aside by talking about what we did at Suez. However, he said nothing about the defenestration of Mr. Masaryk in Prague. The right hon. Gentleman said nothing about the events in Poland, or about the invasion of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. The Russians cannot be said to have respected the terms of any agreement. That is why the bloc system has come into being.
I quoted the report of my interview in the Moscow paper, in which I said that no great power has a very good human rights record. I did not know whether the question would be raised, but I looked up the letter that five or six of us wrote toPravda at the time of the invasion of Hungary. We said :
We protest against Soviet intervention in Hungary, because we think it wrong for any great power to impose its will on a small country for strategic or any other reasons. For this very reason we condemned the Anglo-French attack on Egypt.
The Prime Minister has done so much to undermine human rights and civil liberties in Britain. She said that the Russians have agreed to stop jamming the BBC, but the Government have been jamming the BBC by sending in the security services. When the Russians stopped jamming the BBC the Prime Minister started jamming it. Human rights cannot be used as an argument for deferring progress on disarmament.
The assumptions upon which Britain's post-war foreign and defence policies have rested are no longer true: that the Russians have ever wanted to invade, that the Americans are the defenders of freedom and that nuclear weapons—particularly after Chernobyl—provided an element of stability in the world. The time is coming—it may come after the next general election, but I am also looking towards the 21st century—when we shall have to replace the bloc system and the arms race, including the nuclear arms race, with a British policy that is designed to bridge the gap between East and West and to narrow the gap between the north and the south that is caused by poverty. Apart from the injustice that it creates, that, too, in the end could be the ultimate cause of a war that would destroy humanity.
I hope that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) will forgive me if I do not follow him down all the paths that he has travelled, some of which were very esoteric. However, I do not disagree with him that the last war left a scar on the Soviet Union that has not yet healed.
Several of my hon. Friends have rightly paid tribute to the remarkable and highly successful visit to the Soviet Union by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. They were not joined by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). I have considerable respect and, indeed, affection for him, although I do not approve of his present posture on defence. In his knockabouts he can be excellent and extremely funny, but today he was not up to his usual standard.
It is not unreasonable to hope that, as a result of the visit and the long and wide ranging talks, progress will follow on a number of important issues. My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the talks held in Moscow about the middle east. Progress towards peace in the middle east would be as important an achievement as any. It is an area of continuing and acute tension and a major international conflict could still be triggered off there. Advance to a settlement has been lamentably slow, and one significant cause for the paralysis has been the determination of the United States Administration to exclude the Soviet Union from the peace process. This has been an attitude lacking in statesmanship and vision, because the Soviet Union could make a valuable contribution to progress and, just as easily, could impede the peace process. Of course, that is not the only or the most important aspect of American foreign policy in the middle east that has continued to demoralise not only those of us who are anxious to see progress towards peace but also those of us who wish to see Western influence in the area preserved and strengthened.
The main cause of the failure of American policy has been its incapacity to provide any semblance of an evenhanded approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Its bind support for Israel, irrespective of the circumstances, has lost it both credibility and influence. There are, however, some new factors and some recent developments that are perhaps worth looking at. It is, for instance, conceivable that Irangate and the Pollard affair may have just begun to shake the stranglehold that the Zionist lobby in Washington has held for so long. In Irangate, for instance, it became increasingly clear, as the story emerged, that Israel played a major and invidious role in it.
What is particularly striking about this—as the late David Watt, who will be sadly missed, wrote in one of his last articles inThe Times—was the ease with which the Israelis were able to play on the United States Administration's weaknesses for their own ends. Equally remarkable, he pointed out, was the kid-gloved caution' with which most of the American media treated this aspect of the affair. He concluded that anybody who has worked in Washington or New York knows the reasons: the Israeli lobby has established an unrivalled position of power over the years. The question we should now be asking ourselves is whether this lobby has been undermined. Just conceivably it has been, and that would be a hopeful development. It is at least worth trying to find out.
I have often argued in the past few years that the only way in which progress could start to be made towards a middle east settlement would be through an international conference and that the participation of the Soviet Union in such a conference was essential. That it will now come about seems far more likely. A real opportunity has opened up, whereby my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, before or after the general election, might be able to persuade President Reagan to support such an endeavour. But an international conference would make progress only if serious preparatory work were carried out in advance. Here again, Britain and the EEC have a significant role to play.
The most recent EEC communique on the middle east was realistic and positive, addressing itself—as it did—to the fundamental issues that needed to be resolved. It is encouraging that Mr. Tindemans is shortly to embark on a fact-finding tour of the area. He should, however, add Syria to his itinerary if he wants to understand and influence the Arab side.
If it proved possible to establish a shared Arab negotiating position, an important step towards a successful conference would have been taken. The essential people in formulating such an accord, who would also be key participants, would be King Hussein, President Assad and of course the Palestinians.
Even more important and much more difficult is to persuade Israel to make the territorial concessions necessary for a successful peace settlement. Only the United States has the leverage which could make Israel move. The question is, will it exercise such leverage? There is no doubt that territory in exchange for peace remains the only realistic basis for successful negotiations. After 20 years, the implementation of resolution 242 still is at the heart of the solution. An international consensus on this point exists and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister might be able to convince President Reagan and his advisers that one state should not be allowed to veto a settlement. Here lies the key to peace in the middle east.
Shortage of time prevents me from touching on the Iran-Iraq war except to say that, although separate, it is part of the same malady which pervades the whole area. The resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict would have a decisive influence on the war and greatly weaken the threat of expanding and aggressive Islamic fundamentalism.
The outlook for a settlement since 1982, the year of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, has been exceedingly bleak. There are now some windows which show signs that they may conceivably be prised open. The EEC and Britain in particular are in a unique position to assist in doing so.
Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the tragic ending of the British mandate in Palestine, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Sir C. Mather) referred. It would be wholly right and appropriate if by then British and European diplomatic action had succeeded in establishing a process of negotiation which was making progress. Thereby we could redeem at least part of our failure in Palestine and go some way towards fulfilling our mandatory obligations to the Palestinian people.
The response of the Prime Minister to her recent visit to the Soviet Union was perhaps the most interesting aspect of it. Of course, she planned the visit and the programme with an eye to impressing the British electorate and she returned flushed with her success, as she saw it, in that respect, because she had enormous television coverage and the impression she wished to convey—that of a world statesman—perhaps came over to the public. But I think that that could be quite short-lived.
What interests me more is the feeling the right hon. Lady gained from her visit. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) mentioned the Inter-Parliamentary Union trip in May and June last year under the leadership of the deputy Prime Minister which followed the same pattern almost as the Prime Minister's visit. That was not my first visit to the Soviet Union either. My own experience and feelings stem from visits beginning as long ago as 1960 when I was a trade unionist.
No one can visit the Soviet Union without being impressed by the desire of the ordinary people for peace and friendship with the world and in particular with the West. There is no anti-American or anti-British feeling there. Their concern for peace stems from the suffering which they went through in what they refer to as the great patriotic war and the struggle that they have had to rebuild their country since 1945. They do not want to go through all that again. They do not want to launch any war against the West. They are very anxious to build bridges. I hope that the Prime Minister at least gained that impression from her visit to the Soviet Union.
The Prime Minister did not quite follow the complete pattern of the IPU visit because we went to Leningrad. A visit to Leningrad is a valuable experience in the education of anyone from the West because we do not realise the struggle that the people of that city went through in the 900-day siege during the last war: the starvation in the city, the pitifully small rations, the deaths. No one who has visited the mass graves, as the IPU delegation did, could fail to be impressed by the fact that more than 600,000 people were buried in that cemetery in huge mass graves. That is just about half the number who lost their lives in Leningrad.
I was there with a young woman of perhaps 30 years of age who was visiting the memorial. A film was shown of what happened during the siege and that girl was in tears. As far as I know, she was not Left wing in her political views. I have no reason to think that she was anything other than what an Oxford graduate might be expected to be—perhaps at least moderate in her views. She said that what struck her most of all was that, although she had been given perhaps as good an education as it is possible to get in this country, she knew nothing of the sufferings, the struggle and the tremendous resistance of the people not only in Leningrad but in dozens, perhaps hundreds, of towns and cities similarly placed throughout the Soviet Union.
One has to understand that background when one goes to the Soviet Union and tries to talk to its leader. This desire for peace did not begin with the arrival of General Secretary Gorbachev at the top of the political tree in the Societ Union. It has been there certainly as long as I have been visiting that country, and it is very deep-rooted and sincere.
Mr. Gorbachev has put proposals on the table in a very imaginative way in an attempt to achieve some movement in the West towards agreement. There was the moratorium on nuclear tests, for instance, which went on for over 18 months, without the slightest sign of response from the United States or Britain, and was broken only when the United States began its new series of tests. Then there were the proposals Mr. Gorbachev made in January of last year and those he made at Reykjavik when he met President Reagan. None of them was responded to as it should have been.
Now we have our Prime Minister going to the Soviet Union, and that is where her dilemma arose. She was perhaps satisfied that she had had a lot of television coverage and that the impression was given that something had been achieved. But the poverty of the achievements was revealed today when we heard the Foreign Secretary again try to outline what they were. There was the initialling of agreements on trade. Of course we welcome that, but there is much room for improvement in our trading position with the Soviet Union. We need only to discuss it with the British Soviet Chamber of Commerce to understand that our share of the market has been dwindling over the years and that our place has been taken by other western European countries.
There is a suggestion that there will be new embassies. That is welcome, of course. I hope that when the new embassy for the Soviet Union is built we do not have the absurd hullabaloo that there was in Kensington last time. These are small matters internationally. The fact that they have to be emphasised as achievements of the visit drew attention to what had not been achieved.
What has happened once again is that the Prime Minister has come back determined to emphasise that she, if no one else, believes that nuclear weapons are a good thing. When she said that on Soviet television, I am sure that the people could not believe their ears. That is the same as saying that the future of humanity does not matter. The Prime Minister has made that clear even on her return from the Soviet Union. The Prime Minister put all sorts of obstacles in the way of achieving the elimination of nuclear weapons by the year 2000.
She mentioned human rights. Of course we are all concerned about human rights. I suppose that every hon. Member has received letters about the treatment not just of Jews in the Soviet Union but of others. If other hon. Members are like me, they have taken up the matters in the appropriate place and tried to help. But to suggest that it is impossible to reach agreement on nuclear weapons and disarmament with a country which has people whom we think of as political prisoners is nonsense.
The Government, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary achieved an excellent agreement with the Chinese People's Republic about the future of Hong Kong and the 4·5 million who live there, irrespective of the fact that they were dealing in the Chinese People's Republic with a Government who certainly have political prisoners and certainly have abused human rights. Yet, despite our disagreement with them, agreement was possible on Hong Kong. If we are not to negotiate with any country that has political prisoners, we will cut down sharply on the number of countries with which we can negotiate.
The Government say that the Russians must come out of Afghanistan before it is possible to believe that they will keep their word. It has suddenly been discovered that the Russians would like to come out of Afghanistan. I invite hon. Members to read the debate which took place at the time of the Soviet Union intervention in Afghanistan. The Soviet Union never wanted to go there in the first place. It was not an invasion. The Russians had lived in peace and harmony with Afghanistan for more than 50 years. It was the first country with which they have signed a pact of friendship.
Those who think that Afghanistan was a heaven on earth before 1978 have never been there, as I have. I was there before the Russian intervention when the country was under the dictatorship of Daud. It was one of the most backward countries in the world with its illiteracy, its treatment of women and its record on human rights. Hon. Members should examine the record of the Daud Administration. Let us set that aside. There are hon. Members who know very well that the Soviet Union was asked on at least three occasions to intervene in Afghanistan. When I was speaking in the debate at that time, I was told by some hon. Members that the Russians had been asked many more times to intervene before they were finally persuaded to help the Afghanistan Government.
The Russians want to get out as soon as foreign intervention in Afghanistan ceases. By that I mean, of course, the assistance given by the dollars that are sent to the Afghan rebels through Pakistan. All that is open now, although there was an attempt in 1979 to suggest that there was no such intervention.
In any case, what has all that to do with us reaching agreement with the Russians? It has been mentioned in the debate that there was a lull in the arms race at the time of Nixon. The Soviet Union was prepared to deal with President Nixon despite the fact that the Americans had troops in Vietnam to whom the Soviet Union had as much objection as we have to the Russian troops in Afghanistan, but they did not let that stand in the way of negotiations with Nixon. They realised that world disarmament and the survival of the human race stand above such differences.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has already said a great deal of what I intended to say. I agree wholeheartedly with the point he made about the need to use any money we can save from the arms race for constructive purposes, particularly in the Third world. We speak so smugly about 40 years of peace in Europe having been achieved by this tremendous expenditure on nuclear weapons, but that peace has not been achieved without deaths being caused in the Third world. The Russians are just as much at fault as we are. Of world expenditure on arms, 80 per cent. was and is made by the nations who signed the Helsinki final act in 1975. There has been no improvement in 12 years. Those who suffer in the arms race are the millions who go to bed hungry, who have no proper health provision and who have no proper water supply, and the children who die in thousands every day because of the lack of proper facilities, all of which could be provided easily out of the unnecessary expenditure on arms by the Americans, the Soviet Union and ourselves.
Government supporters may think that that is an amusing and idealistic view; they may say that my feet are not on the ground because there will always be an arms race in the real world. We must speak out against it. We must make it clear that we do not accept the inevitability of the arms race and that we can help the Third world. Our foreign policy should be based firmly on that. The big arms manufacturers in the United Slates and here must have an enemy so as to frighten the people of this country and the United States into providing the money for the profits that they make from the arms race.
If the Soviet Union disappeared as an enemy and there was subsequent pressure on the United States, Britain and other countries to reduce the amount spent on defence, a fresh enemy would have to be found. In the next century perhaps that enemy will be pinpointed as the Third world. The poor and the have-nots who make up 80 per cent. of the world will ask why the other 20 per cent. should consume 80 per cent. of the world's provisions. They will then be shown to be the enemy and we will have to arm to the teeth to guard against them. If that is the future, it is very bleak. This is a turning point and an opportunity to cut arms expenditure and use it for far better purposes.
The hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond) referred to the desire for peace of the ordinary people of the Soviet Union. I hope that they will soon be able to express their views on peace because until now they have not had that opportunity. In contrast to what I understood to be the impression of the hon. Member of the consequences of the Prime Minister's interview with the three Soviet journalists, I believe that that remarkable interview helped to get across to the Soviet people and their leaders our desire in the West for peace. The Soviets have not had the opportunity yet to hear that point of view. That is a breakthrough. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and other western leaders will be able to express their views on Soviet television again.
It has been observed that we may be at a favourable turning point in East-West relations. That may well be so. There are indications that the Soviet Union and the West now simultaneously have a desire to negotiate on the same subjects. There is evidence that Mr. Gorbachev sincerely wants to achieve radical changes in the economy and political scene in the Soviet Union and also to make advances—modest though they are so far—in human rights.
I assume for the purpose of my argument that the speech that was made by Mr. Gorbachev last spring at the 27th Soviet Communist Congress may indicate that he is beginning to come to the conclusion that the positive, forward-thrusting attitude of the Soviet Communist party until now towards the rest of the world, its assumption that the destiny of Soviet Communism is to supplant eventually the systems in the free countries and the dogma that has existed ever since the Russian revolution of 1917, can be the cause of world friction. Let us hope that Mr. Gorbachev may be realising that circumstances in the world are changing in such a way that it is time that that dogma should be abandoned. If that were to happen, it would be a breakthrough of enormous significance.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) in his interesting speech said that our task is to survive in unity and freedom until the Soviet rulers come to this conclusion. Assuming that there are these favourable developments in the Soviet Union and in the international scene, we should ask what factors have led to these better East-West relations. I refer to three factors. The first has been the firmness and unity of the West. The Soviet strategy has been and is now to divide the West.
I have taken part in negotiations for some years with the Soviet Union on arms limitation. Its strategy in those negotiations and in other negotiations that I have observed has been to see whether it can divide the Western countries from one another. Only when they fail in that effort do they get down to serious negotiation. The greatest danger to the West and to Western Europe is not that of war, as long as we are reasonably sensible in maintaining our defences and our resolution. The greatest danger is political division between Western countries. If that occurred, the Soviet Union would end up by dominating Western Europe as it has for so many years dominated Eastern Europe.
The unity of the West in relation to the introduction of cruise and Pershing missiles has been very important. If we had succumbed to the threats of the Soviet Union about the dire consequences of persisting in our policies of bringing in those missiles to match the existing SS20s on the Soviet sites, there would have been a profound loss of confidence and division between the NATO countries, and there would have been no negotiations on independent nuclear forces in Europe. The Soviet Union would not have needed to negotiate. It could have kept its SS20s and other missiles without the need for any negotiation at all.
The second factor for this more favourable situation is the economic failure of the Soviet Union. Nowhere in the world is there a Socialist economic system that works. The Soviet Union, China, Eastern Europe, France in the first years of the Mitterrand Administration, Tanzania and others—all those countries are realising that Socialism is a flop and they have to seek better systems based on human incentives. Mr. Gorbachev sees the need to invigorate the Soviet system by moving in that direction. I hope that he also sees a need for a reduction in the massive Soviet spending on arms of between 13 and 15 per cent. of Soviet GDP.
The right hon. Member has spoken of Socialist systems. I agree that an overcentralised and largely bureaucratic economic system is not likely to work, but does the right hon. Member not accept that under the capitalist system, leaving aside what happened before the second world war, there remains in the advanced capitalist countries—certainly in Britain and the United States—great poverty, deprivation and misery, and also in many Third world countries that are far from Marxist?
There is an analogy with what Sir Winston Churchill said—that the system of democracy has many disadvantages but there is no system that is not even worse. Capitalism may have many problems and disadvantages but there is no better system; every other system is worse.
The third factor that has helped to created better East-West relations is the role of Her Majesty's Government—especially relevant during a time when the United States Government has had more than its share of problems in its international policy. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary on his role in giving greater emphasis since 1983 to dialogue with the Soviet Union. The former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East, said that he had planned to visit the countries of Eastern Europe. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has visited every country in Eastern Europe. He has had 12 meetings with successive Soviet Foreign Ministers and has not spared himself in the cause of promoting dialogue with the Soviet Union.
The Prime Minister's trip to Moscow must be seen as the culmination of a process that has been continuing ever since the beginning of this Parliament. One of the main features of the Prime Minister's visit to Moscow will prove to be the particular relationship—I use the word "particular" rather than "special" because I might cause confusion if I applied that word to this relationship—that has developed between her and Mr. Gorbachev. They are able to discuss without rancour matters on which they differ profoundly. That is a unique relationship to develop between a Western leader and a leader of the Soviet Union. I can think of no other relationship of that sort. The relationship potentially has very great importance for East-West relations and for peace over the years ahead.
One component of that remarkable relationship is the recognition by Mr. Gorbachev of the Prime Minister's ability—which has been demonstrated on a number of occasions—to persuade President Reagan to adopt practical, sensible and workable policies on matters of importance in the context of East-West relations. I am particularly thinking of the two Camp David meetings that the Prime Minister had with President Reagan, one of which was about SDI in December 1984 and the other after the Reykjavik summit in 1986.
What a contrast we have seen between the successful policies of Her Majesty's Government in the context of East-West relations, defence and disarmament and the chaos on the Opposition Benches. The Leader of the Opposition endorses NATO, but rejects its policies. He accepts the protection of the United States, but only if the United States protects us in the way that he wants. So far as I can make sense of his policies, they involve depriving our forces in Germany of the protection of nuclear weapons while neighbouring allied troops have those nuclear weapons. In one of his most recent statements, the Leader of the Opposition said that a Labour Government would not insist on American nuclear forces being withdrawn from this country so long as negotiations between East and West were continuing. That reveals the fundamental weakness of the Labour party's position. I do not believe that this point has been made yet—if it has been made, it has not been made firmly enough and should be repeated regularly. If we had a Labour Government with basic policies of ejecting American nuclear forces from this country and throwing away our own nuclear defences, the Soviet Union—if it was then engaged in negotiations—would only have to terminate negotiations with the United States to achieve its objective. It would not need to negotiate to get what it wanted. It could get that through no effort on its part. There would be no incentive for the Soviet Union to continue negotiations. The reality of the Labour party position is that it wants to eject all nuclear weapons from this country as fast as possible.
The pretence in the Labour party position that a Labour Government would so increase our conventional forces that nuclear deterrents would become irrelevant is wholly fraudulent. That simply cannot be achieved within our budget even if—contrary to the wishes of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) as expressed this afternoon—the Labour Government saved the money to be spent on Trident and put it to building up our conventional forces. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) knows that the Labour policy is nonsense. When addressing audiences in the United States he tries to pretend that Labour's policies are different from what they really are, but that only makes the confusion worse.
I am sorry that no representative of the Liberal party or the Social Democratic party is present in the Chamber. This debate has been marked by a total absence of any SDP Member apart from a rapid visit by the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) who came in for about five minutes son-le two and a half hours after the beginning of the debate, but was whisked away by the leader of the Liberal party to some destination, we know not where. One member of the Liberal party was present. I reflected while the spokesman on foreign affairs, the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), was speaking on defence and disarmament negotiations that it was a pity that he did not have some of his Liberal colleagues with him in the Chamber so that we could hear about their policies and learn how they differed from the policies of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. That would have been an interesting debate. It would have been even more interesting if the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) had been present to add his version which, of course, is wholly different from that of any member of the Liberal party. I can sum up the position of the Liberal and Social Democrat parties—so far as the Liberals have a coherent position at all—by saying that the Liberal party is against nuclear deterrence and the SDP is in favour of it. Therefore, they compromise on the basis of two words: "don't know". It is certain that after the election, whatever the result may be, the first thing that will happen will be civil war between the two different parties in the alliance.
If the Labour party or the alliance had been in power for the past seven or eight years, would we now be in this favourable international position in the context of East-West relations? I believe that the confusion and disarray that would very likely have existed in that period would have meant that the Soviet Union would have felt it unnecessary to make any concessions. It would not have felt impelled towards the fruitful developments we have seen in the Soviet Union in recent times.
Would Mr. Gorbachev have seen the necessity to reform Soviet society if NATO had been in disarray? Would he not have waited to see what happened on the Western side? The answer it perfectly clear. NATO's firmness and unity have helped to bring the Soviet Union to negotiations as Conservative Members forecast in the years 1979 to 1983. Mr. Gorbachev has given the conclusive answer to the women of Greenham common.
I was delighted to hear the Foreign Secretary say that his recent visit with the Prime Minister to the USSR was
certainly an important opportunity to bring our two countries and our peoples together".
I was also delighted to learn that the Prime Minister said that she was
struck by the spontaneous warmth and friendliness of my reception by the people of the Soviet Union".—[Official Report, 2 April 1987; Vol. 113, c. 1225.]
That is a good start to warmer relations and a better understanding of the Soviet Union and her people.
Had the Prime Minister had an open mind about the Soviet Union, she need not have been so struck, for she would have known that already. My visits to the Soviet Union extend over many years from the late 1950s arid early 1960s and they have shown me how warm-hearted the Soviet people are. Last June, during the visit of the Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation of which I had the privilege to be a member—a delegation led by Lord Whitelaw—we saw again the spontaneous friendship and goodwill towards us.
The Soviet people, of course, have poignant memories of the sacrifices that they made in defending their country against facism and they are ever grateful to us for the help that we were able to give. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond) referred to the destruction and appalling loss of life suffered by the Soviet people followed by many long years of sacrifice in order to build up their country again. We should be ever mindful of their sacrifice. They are grateful for the help that we were able to give in defeating Hitler's evil regime. We should always remember the comradeship that bound us together over those years during the war and in the years afterwards.
When she came back from Moscow, the Prime Minister stressed the Helsinki agreement and of course we support that agreement. In June, when we talked to him about those matters, Mr. Gorbachev gave us the same reply that he gave to the Prime Minister. Since then a number of so-called dissidents have been released and reunited with their families and some Soviet husbands have been reunited with their British wives. We hope that this process will continue and I have every confidence that it will.
Before I went to Moscow many cases were raised with me by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. These cases were raised with Mr. Gorbachev and we drew attention to the plight of Soviet psychiatrists and others being held against their will, clearly for no other reason than that they held unconventional political views. As a result of our representations a number of Jews were released and given exit permits. This process must continue. All these changes will make for better relations with the Soviet Union, and I am confident that with Mr. Gorbachev in power this lessening of tension and the release of people from prison will continue.
I am rather disturbed that the Prime Minister made no reference to British-Soviet co-operation in the general disciplines of science and technology. This is a very important way of building bonds and links between the two countries, and Soviet scientists are very keen to see those links developed. We were told this when we met Soviet scientists at various meetings. They are anxious to co-operate and work with our scientists, but that requires resources to enable Soviet scientists to come and work here. This ought to be part of our programme. There is no doubt that collaboration and contacts in these fields have been reduced since 1979, largely as a result of the negative attitude of the British Government.
I know a good deal about the construction industry. It is trying to produce a new system of Euro codes through co-operation with member states of the European Community. The Soviet Union is involved in this development of Euro codes and has taken part in the Commit& Europôen du Beton. The new Euro codes are based on the scientific work of international and professional organisations of which the Soviet Union and most other Socialist countries in Europe are members, together with our representatives and those of other Common Market countries.
What is the Prime Minister and the Government doing to reactivate scientific contacts with the Soviet Union? I hope that the Government will regard these as important ways of developing more bonds between our practical scientists and our technologists in ways that will benefit both our peoples. Until recently, student exchanges between us and the USSR were hampered by inadequate financial support from the Government. The sum of £1,906 per annum per student was allowed. That was about £400 less than the amount assessed by university departments as being necessary to maintain students here and allow them to take part in journeys in Britain to visit cultural establishments, theatres and so on. However, I am glad to hear that this amount is to be increased to £2,246 from next September. I hope that this will enable many more students from the Soviet Union to spend some time here.
Contacts between young people are among the best ways of pursuing a fruitful and friendly policy towards other countries. The British Council has played an important part in enabling young people to go to the Soviet Union to study, but the council's resources have been reduced by the Government. I hope that we can persuade the Government to look again at the resources made available to the British Council.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister about an increase in Government financial help towards the £500,000 that is the cost of exchange between the National theatre and the Mayakovsky theatre in Moscow. This is chickenfeed, a tiny amount of money. The Government have offered the miserable sum of £12,500. In view of the Chancellor's recent £6 billion bribe to the electorate, surely the Government can do better than that miserable amount. I hope that the matter will be looked at again so that an additional amount can be made available to allow this exchange to take place. It will be an exciting, stimulating and fruitful exchange between two nationally famous and internationally regarded theatres.
Cultural agreements are very important, especially for improving our relations and furthering a positive foreign policy. However, such agreements are pointless unless they are backed with resources that will make them effective. Cultural contacts with the Soviet Union have largely been conducted by voluntary organisations such as the British-Soviet Friendship Society, of which I am vice-president, and the Society for Cultural Relations. To be effective both rely on the goodwill of their members. The Foreign Office was and is indifferent to such efforts.
Another organisation in which many of us are interested is the Great Britain-USSR trade delegation. Representatives of our best industries are keen to develop trade, and that is valuable for both sides. I hope that the Government will provide more resources to enable that organisation to be more effective. I take issue with the statement made by the Prime Minister that it had taken her quite a time
to turn Britain round from Socialism to a country with a high standard of living, …strong defence … Therefore, it will take much longer to turn round the Soviet system."—[Official Report, 2 April 1987; Vol. 113, c. 1237.]
She has got a hope coming, because she will not turn round the Soviet system and I doubt whether anybody else will. I do not think that Mr. Gorbachev is unaware of the prominence of this country. Have we a high standard of living, a strong defence? I think that he knows better than that, just as we do. I doubt whether he would be any more pleased than we are at her interpretation of Britain after years of her Government. There are nearly 4 million people unemployed. There are threats to reduce benefit to young people and others, we have a depleted Navy and merchant marine, and a huge gap between the well-off and the poor in respect of health, housing and jobs.
The Prime Minister's talk of turning round the Soviet system is not exactly a good foundation on which to build better relations and a more constructive foreign policy towards the Soviet Union. One hopes that she will learn sense before too long. For the peace of the world a constructive foreign policy that recognises the positive aspects of the new leadership in the Soviet Union is essential and could bring enormous benefit to all of us. That is what we all must build on.
It is always a pleasure to follow a speech by the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short). She and I, together with my noble Friend Lord Whitelaw, went on the IPU delegation to the Soviet Union. We all came back with an intimate, if not privileged, impression of the amount of change that was going on there and the degree of opportunity for progress in disarmament that now exists between East and West. In the main, the hon. Lady made a constructive contribution to this debate. We are well aware of the good work that she does for Anglo-Soviet relations which she has been doing for many years.
I do not wish to take up much time, because many of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members wish to contribute to the debate. I shall headline points and not embellish them to too great an extent. As I have said, the present situation is extremely promising and there is virtually a unique opportunity for progress. However, to my mind, the present situation is more than a little dangerous, not in terms of simple danger but because of the real possibility that between us all we could fail to take one of the greatest historical opportunities to make progress in disarmament that has existed in my lifetime.
That great opportunity has been there for some years. It has not just sprung up but has even been reflected in my speeches in the House in successive foreign affairs debates since 1984. It precedes Mr. Gorbachev and, apart from defence policy, the reason for it is simple and has been developing within the Soviet Union. Basically, it is that the economy of the Soviet Union is not working and the cost of the arms race is increasing, not only in terms of nuclear potential but because of the enormously increasing cost of conventional armaments. Mr. Gorbachev is introducing many dramatic suggestions. It was his mentor, Mr. Andropov, who, for a brief period, represented the beginning of this current opportunity which exists in East-West relations.
As to the West, while I agree with many of the points that my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) made about the need for the unity of the West, the question which must be posed is whether the strain of maintaining that unity will cause us to lose out on the existing opportunity. The West has not got its act together in that regard to the extent that I should like. I shall draw attention to certain specifics of which the strategic defence initiative is paramount. That is utterly wrong because it threatens the progress of negotiations. It is a new chapter in the arms race, as I have said before in some detail. There are grave European misgivings about it which go far beyond the officially spoken word of many western European and NATO countries.
As to the ABM treaty, the broad interpretation to many of us appears to be illegal and certainly against its spirit. The reason for my saying that is that progress on strategic arms, which must be at the pinnacle of disarmament, is in doubt while we have the strategic defence initiative in its present form, because the Soviet Union will rely, in default of technological advantage in this sector, on a policy of saturation. Therefore, the programme will be put out of sequence. With a strategic stalemate we start to look desperately for progress in any area.
I would go along with any suggestion that represented progress, but I should like to make it clear to the House—here I may appear to be speaking against the INF agreement—that I am a package man. The negotiations should be conducted as a package—these remarks are addressed to Capitol Hill and the White House as much as they are to hon. Members. We should be negotiating strategic arms and the strategic defence initiative at the pinnacle. We should also be negotiating on short-range missiles, chemical warfare and other aspects which have been mentioned by hon. Members.
That brings me to the Soviet INF offer. Here I would accept and advocate progress. I do not want hon. Members to get wrong what I am about to say. I would take the risk and have the progress, but we must remind ourselves—this point has not been made as much as it should be—that taken alone the INF offer represents, from the Soviet point of view, a brilliantly timed offer. It hits at the soft underbelly of the West's desperate desire for progress, which is often frustrated, in European eyes, by its differences with Washington. Europe is looking for progress and the United States, because of Irangate, is desperately looking for progress, not least for presidential credibility. Taken separately, it must be to the Soviet advantage.
The INF proposal detaches the United States from Europe. We all remember the battles to install these weapons in the first place. A major Soviet fear is removed of the presence with a nuclear capability of the United States on non-American soil. An American missile five minutes from Moscow was always the major fear of the Soviet Union in this regard. It was in the context of encirclement, and anybody who has been there will know what I am talking about. An intermediate range missile operated by the United States is what the Soviet Union would term as a free shot within Europe. The Soviet Union regard that as an unfair advantage.
The INF offer leaves the Soviets with an advantage as to short range superiority, unless negotiations rapidly follow. In view of the general situation, and in spite of that, I would still like to make every possible progress on the INF offer. But once one gets out of the proper sequence of disarmament, and because it is not within our power in this House to control that sequence, we may be asking for more trouble than some of us bargain for.
The Soviet Union wants to progress in these negotiations. The scale of change in the Soviet Union over the last two years is staggering to behold. I refer to the policies of openness and reconstruction, the massive dismissals, and the massive political and commercial changes. In his speech at the last party congress the Soviet leader actually denounced the system for not working and referred to such matters as corruption. He announced matters which none of us imagined would have been announced so quickly—multi-candidate elections within the party and the republics. The pilots to those elections have been announced. The point of this is not to sing the praises of what is happening so quickly, but to say that by any standards it is formidable if not fantastic in our conceptions of the Soviet Union and its system. It has created many problems in the Soviet Union, and anyone with any knowledge or feeling of that system must realise that any leader who introduces such matters so quickly needs to make progress. In the introduction of them he has made many enemies within one of the most conservative systems in the world.
If the West ignores the need within the Soviet Union to make international progress, and ignores the degree to which the proverbial neck has been stuck out, it does so at its peril. There is nothing permanent about the offer, and while we may be arguing about the minutiae among ourselves in an effort to get a united approach against something which on this side of the Atlantic, let alone on the other side, sounds rather strange—with this mass of offers—if we delay too long those offers may not be there.
I want to address myself to the United Kingdom role in all of this and to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on her visit. Personal relations are important in foreign affairs and she obviously has a formidable relationship with Mr. Gorbachev.
Internationally, with regard to the British role, we must make vigorous representations to Washington and, dare I say it, I should like to see my right hon. Friend putting in nine, 10 or 11 hours with President Reagan as much as I would with Mr. Gorbachev—or rather I should say President Reagan and his advisers.
As to Europe, there is an undoubted need for greater defence co-operation. I welcome the speech that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary made in that regard in the last fortnight. What I am saying mirrors certain feelings that the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) expressed in his speech. I would differ from him by saying that for such a contribution to be effective it must be a European rather than a British contribution, even in a multilateral context. If NATO is to survive as an Alliance, it must become more equal, and that means that we must have a more vigorous European defence policy.
There are enormous trade opportunities in our bilateral relations with the Soviet Union. We should trade with the Soviet Union, even if the result of that trade is that it becomes stronger in the sense that it becomes our commercial rather than military competitor.
We must continue to press on matters of human rights, but we must recognise what has already been done and allow time for changes within the Soviet system to take effect. We must press but we must not overdo it.
One of the best gestures that the Soviet Union made before the Prime Minister's visit—which it substantiated afterwards—was that there should be no jamming of the BBC Russian service. That was a formidable gesture.
I gave notice to my hon. Friend the Minister of State that I would mention the BBC external service and satellite television services. Early-day motion 846, an all-Conservative motion, had attracted 108 signatures by this morning and has gathered more. It reflects concern that the United Kingdom should not lose out by delaying a decision, bearing in mind that other countries are rapidly expanding their satellite television news services. We seem to be delaying the decision. Early-day motion 852, an all-party motion with widespread support, had attracted 157 signatures this morning and has since gathered more. That states that the BBC, through its outstanding record and international credibility, is by far the best instrument to put Britain's case abroad. Of my hon. Friends who signed the general motion I am pleased to say that 75 per cent. also signed the all-party, BBC-oriented motion. I invite the Minister of State to refer to that in his reply.
I have been as brief as I can and I end where I began. We must make progress. The opportunity is there, and history will judge the western Alliance harshly if we do not take advantage of it.
As day succeeds day the faces of the hostages in the Lebanon fade from our memory. As week succeeds week their names also fade. The name that most people remember is that of Terry Waite. Many of the hostages are as much hostages of American policy as they are of the groups that hold them. Apparently, while claiming to oppose terrorism, the Americans were prepared to treat with terrorists behind the scenes when that served their own selfish interests. The Americans are no strangers to dealing with terrorists as they showed by their sleazy deals with the Contras.
It is not surprising that small terrorist groups in the Lebanon saw their opportunity and that the more cash and guns were handed out by the Americans, the more the currency in hostages increased and continued. I am not anti-American, but I am a little careful about the present occupant of the presidency. Providing that he is not impeached, he will retain that post for another two years. However I think that he is impervious to the reactions of the middle east. That is illustrated by his bombing of Libya, which was endorsed and underwritten, I am sad to say, by the United Kingdom Government.
If the United States President was after those guilty of the La Belle nightclub bombing in Berlin, where many Americans died, evidence shows that he got the wrong country. If the object was military targets, a recent television film shows clearly how indiscriminate that targeting was. Women, children and other civilians paid with their lives for an American action endorsed and supported by the British Government.
That was an act of vengeance. It did not deal with terrorism. I can imagine the outcry in the House if we released Fl11s to deal with terrorists in Northern Ireland. The Americans' blunt instrument turned many Arabs away, not only from the United States but from the United Kingdom. It is sad that we are being dragged along to be regarded by many in the Arab community not as people to whom they can turn for justice but as potential enemies.
No country has suffered more in the middle east than the Lebanon. During the civil war about 10 per cent. of the people have become casualties, being seriously wounded or killed. There will be no solution to the Lebanon problem until all foreign troops, be they Syrian or Israeli, are removed from that country. Only then can we hope to achieve stability.
The greatest casualties in the Lebanon tragedy are the refugees in the Palestinian refugee camps of Bourj-albarajneh, Chatila and Rashideyeh. The camps have been under siege since last October or November. Medical teams report that the blockade causes a complete lack of food and medical supplies.
One camp houses 12,000 and another, 5,000. The estimated casualties in the camps amount to almost 5,000. So severe is malnutrition and starvation that medical teams say that many mothers cannot produce milk for their infant children. But there is no replacement for such milk. British people serve on those medical teams and the House will want to pay tribute to all those who work under such difficult and dangerous conditions to preserve life. The medical teams report that mothers and children are shot if they try to leave the camps to find food. In Chatila camp, for example, no anaesthetics or antibiotics are available.
Hospitals, like the camps, have been subject to intense artillery bombardment. In one camp it is estimated that there have been about 200 direct hits from artillery on the hospital. The hospital at the Chatila camp has been reduced from four to two storeys. The camps are short not only of food and medical supplies but of clean water.
The crucial shortage in those camps is fuel. Without fuel they not only cannot cook, but they cannot work the pumps that raise clean water. In effect the people are literally drinking their own sewage. That is the position for thousands and thousands of people. To start with, they were refugees and were deprived of human dignity. Now they are existing—that is the only word to describe their lives—from day to day.
When we talk in the Chamber today about human rights we must think of the human rights of the men, women and children in those Palestinian refugee camps in the Lebanon. Hunger strikes there mean that members of the family give up eating to try to preserve the lives of others. They face escalating casualties and the fact that almost 95 per cent. of some of the camps have been destroyed.
I am aware that grants of money have been given to help the refugees, but what we need more than anything else is an international solution of the problem. There will be no peace in the middle east until a solution is fund to the Palestine question. That solution will not solve every problem in the middle east, but it will be a giant step forward. It is no good talking of maintaining human rights, removing terrorism, or peace in the middle east—escalating conflict in the middle east could be a major factor in an international war—unless the countries of the West, including Britain, realise that they must back the resolution of this problem. We can no longer be prepared for the United States, which is a prisoner of Israel, time after time to block a solution. We need a resolution of this key question. Without it we shall see no peace in our time in the middle east.
Praise has rightly been heaped upon my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for her brillantly successful Soviet visit. I would like to add a word of warm praise for my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, whose patient work over the years helped to prepare for the recent visit. Successes such as the Soviet visit by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister do not happen out of the blue. That visit was the result of an immense amount of work by my right hon. and learned Friend and we should recognise that. I should also like to pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend for the way in which he has opened our eyes to what is going on in eastern and central Europe in recent years. My right hon. and learned Friend has paid many visits to that area. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) mentioned those visits.
There is no doubt that the mood in eastern Europe has changed as those countries have begun to come out of the extraordinary time warp in which they existed and consumers have begun to raise their sights, look westwards and want more. It is questionable whether those countries can cross the Rubicon of political reform into a genuine capitalist system without bringing the Soviets straight down on their backs.
On a recent visit to Budapest my impression was that the country was full of people good at enterprise, who wish to develop an enterprise system, but who live in intense fear that if they move too quickly and go too far the iron heel will be down on them immediately. I heard the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) talk about empires, but there can be no more vivid example of living under the imperial yoke than the atmosphere that pervades a country such as Hungary. That country is looking increasingly to the West. It has a tradition of enterprise and capitalism, but it dare not move for fear of bringing the iron heel down upon it.
I should also like warmly to associate myself with the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Leed, East (Mr. Healey) concerning the late David Watt. He was a good friend of mine and it was a horrifying and miserable thing to hear of his death. Although I did not agree with him on every issue, nevertheless he was a stimulating, fair-minded person and it is a tragedy that he has gone.
Obviously, after the Soviet visit, the focus of the debate has been on east-west relations and a balance of forces in Europe and the Atlantic area. I suggest to my hon. Friends and hon. Members that it is as well to remember that the world's second richest and third most powerful nation—the third super power of the late 1980s—lies outside that area. I refer to Japan. It is the Japanese dimension to our affairs and our overseas policies on which I wish to dwell for a few moments. I do not believe that it is wholly unrelated to our narrower discussions of the world within Europe and the possibilities now open to us by Soviet disarmament proposals.
I was glad to hear my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary say that, when it comes to relations with Japan, the aim is to increase market access. Apparently our policy is a liberalising intention and a commitment to free trade. If that is so, I am bound to say that the idea of threatening to revoke Japanese banking licences and pushing the Japanese institutions out of London seems a questionable way of achieving that aim. I have long argued that we should have a much more comprehensive approach to Anglo-Japanese relations. In that way we could deal with such crises as they occur rather than waiting until something goes disastrously wrong and then making threatening noises or proposing measures that may not do much more than damage the United Kingdom.
I appreciate that the present economic dispute with Japan is extremely irritating. Indeed, it is one of many irritating things—the Scotch whisky curb and the habit of placing absurd standards On imports. I appreciate why people are concerned about the saga of Cable and Wireless. But I urge my right hon. Friends to think extremely carefully about the idea of placing curbs on Japanese institutions and on the free entry of Japanese finance institutions to the City of London. I urge them to keep the question of financial institutions and our opportunities to get into Tokyo separate from the issue of the Cable and Wireless investment in the second telecommunications system in Japan. I believe that my right hon. and hon. Friends are aware that we have not heard the full story about Cable and Wireless—nothing like it. There are many ramifications that may not lend themselves to emotional utterances in the House, but they must be studied carefully before we go at half-cock on that issue.
As a nation we are committed to the open trading system and for that reason I was encouraged by my right hon. and learned Friend's remarks. We must remain committed. The suggestion that we are prepared to move away from that commitment when we are faced with minor squalls in economic matters represents a worrying route. The strands go deep, and we must be careful that what appears to be a temporary deviation does not become a habit. The main aim of world economic policy at the moment is to get countries such as Japan to spend much more and expand much faster. The policy is not to put up more barriers by retaliation or to move the world into a cycle of protectionism.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although the toleration that he is spelling out, with which I agree wholeheartedly, is admirable, none the less there must come a point when Japanese penetration of our markets becomes intolerable? At that stage we must act from strength to get the Japanese to open their markets to our imports. How does my right hon. Friend believe we can do that?
My hon. Friend anticipates me. I shall describe in a moment how we should proceed rather than how we should not proceed in this matter.
I have mentioned two reasons why short-term retaliatory threats are not the right way. The third and fundamental reason is that the idea of each country being in bilateral payments balance with another country is utterly absurd. It means nothing at all. It may happen that we have a large current deficit with Japan. We have an even larger current deficit with Germany. But in neither case is that a meaningful economic concept. The flow of trade is triangular or quadrilateral—or many-sided—in a variety of countries at different levels of processes and products. The proposition that we must work to obtain an equal balance of trade with each country and that something is wrong if we do not belongs to the world of fantasy. It is certainly not a guide to policy, or should not be.
Japanese exports have been falling recently and Japanese imports have been rising rapidly—15 per cent. in volume in the past two years. If a little patience is shown, because of the enormous appreciation in the yen, we shall see a major impact on the Japanese balance. That will take time. In the meantime, people want instant results and we have the sort of dramas that we had only a few days ago.
Another reason why the open threats that we have heard so far are not valuable is that they are incredible. They do not carry any weight. Everyone knows that if we were to prevent the movement of financial institutions into the City of London, or demand the removal of those already here, they would go elsewhere. If it is suggested that somehow they could be kept out of the EC, there are other countries in Europe that are not in the EC that would find it hard to say no to them. Switzerland is the obvious example.
If I may stick for a moment on the negative side, there is one more reason why it is a mistake to deal in terms of open retaliatory threats. My young son, who learns judo at school, or it may be karate—I am not very good on these things—tells me that the secret of wrestling with rivals in those styles and techniques is to let a rival's own weight work against him. That is extremely good advice in dealing with the colossally powerful Japanese economy.
The truth is that the weight of Japan today is its staggering prosperity; its enormous capacity to save and to generate investment. Its weakness is that it is not an effective part of the global security system. It has grown powerful and has lived by the belief—which is a complete anachronism in today's integrated defence and financial systems—that it is a small island that can safeguard its vulnerability as far as possible and lie low, and that as long as it does that it need not fulfil any responsibilities in the international global system. That is no longer true. It is no longer true of defence and it is no longer true, and it has not been so in Japan for some years, of energy and, in particular, oil. The question of Gulf and middle east stability is central to the survival and development of a peaceful Japanese society, and many Japanese recognise that.
Above all, we should be pressing Japan on its weak point—the failure of that giant so far to contribute to the global security system even remotely on the sort of scale commensurate with its enormous prosperity, size and importance in the world's economic system. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield made some points on that, although I cannot remember whether he gave a figure. Japan spends about $12 billion a year on so-called self-defence against the $24 billion or $25 billion a year that Britain spends, yet Japan has a GNP three times the size of ours. We should now be pressing the Japanese on precisely that point. If they are to expand and prevent the world economy going into recession, of which there is a great danger now, it may well be that on defence spending, among other things, there is room for expansion.
Dr. Kissinger told some of us the other day that that is all very dangerous. He said that we could not let the Japanese spend more on defence because that would lead again to the rise of militarism in Asia, of which we have seen horrific consequences in the past and of which we do not want any more. I think that he is looking too much at the past. We are talking not about the rise of national militarism, or its dangers, but about a gigantic nation—the world's second richest—contributing to the incredibly expensive global security system.
The reality is that the SS20s that are pointing at Europe and that we want taken out of the INF system are also deployed in Asia, for reasons that I have never quite understood. Certainly they do not harmonise closely with the idea of the Soviet Union as entirely benign. But the point is that if Japan wants the intermediate nuclear missiles to be removed, and if it wants to move into the post-INF order, it will have to consider playing a much bigger part in the global defence system that follows.
We have all heard enough in this debate to understand that the zero option is bound to mean in the short term, and I suspect in the long term as well, increased expenditure on conventional forces to make some match with Soviet Union superiority, although we have argued about how great that superiority is. It is also bound to mean, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has pointed out, a considerably enhanced importance for British and French nuclear weapons. It is also bound to mean, as we have already heard from leading German authorities, that they now have a growing interest in seeking some kind of French or Franco-British nuclear protection. Those things are already happening.
But it is not only western Europe which will be more vulnerable in the new post-INF situation if it comes about. Japan will be vulnerable too. If anyone has any doubts about that, he should read the speech that Mr. Gorbachev made in Vladivostok when he visited that part of the world the other day, when he said clearly that there would be pressures, and that the Soviet Union would have interests in that end of its empire just as much as it has interests in eastern Europe.
Rather than trying to tackle Japan on specific pin-prick points—I am afraid that they are only pin pricks—we would do better to be pressing this gigantic nation, which will dominate the 1980s and 1990s, including our own interests, on defence expenditure, overseas investment and support for overseas and world development. We should also press that nation to be making a much larger contribution to science and technology internationally than it has done in the past.
The thought that I want to encapsulate in this short intervention is that we should certainly press the Japanese on opening their markets, as my right hon. and learned Friend says. That would be right. We have some reason in some areas to be irritated and I wish good luck to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. He has gone into the lion's den to explain how unacceptable and irritating some of those restrictions are. But also let us press the huge nation of Japan to become a much bigger and more open spender in defence and other areas of overseas investment. Let us realise that open threats of retaliation are not the subtle, clever or effective way in which to achieve the aim of expanding the world economy and maintaining the open free trade system.
Possibly the most important proposal to come out of the Prime Minister's visit to the Soviet Union was that more British schoolchildren will be able to visit Soviet families in their homes. Therefore, unlike the Prime Minister, they will not take until their 61st year to realise that in the Soviet Union are real people with the same sort of aspirations as the rest of us in the world who want peace, who are striving for a decent standard of living and who hold out the hand of friendship to people throughout the world.
The Prime Minister, in her speech at the Kremlin dinner, mentioned the memories of the second world war. Speaking of Britain, she said that our great cities had been bombed night after night. My first memories of the Soviet Union go back to the days when, as a child, I spent a year and a half sleeping every night in an Anderson air-raid shelter at the back of the garden. I remember the eight consecutive nights in Liverpool when we faced the wrath of Hitler's Luftwaffe. We faced many other nights of bombing in that city, too. Liverpool was the second worst-bombed city in the country after London.
In May 1941 we faced the May blitz, but I also remember what happened after 22 June 1941. Then we came in for a quieter time, and things became easier. There were not so many air raids. Those of us who remember Liverpool in those days remember the words that were spoken during the second world war by a former Conservative Member of Parliament, Mr. Duff Cooper, who said that we should never forget the debt that the British people owed to the gallant Red Army. I shall never forget that debt and I shall never forget what we owe to the Russians. Many people, inside and outside the House, are alive because of the valour of the Soviet army during those years. That was borne out in a speech made by Winston Churchill at President Roosevelt's press conference in Washington DC on 25 May 1943. We do well to remind ourselves of those days and of what Churchill said.
I shall not give way. Many hon. Members still want to speak and I do not want to take up more time. Churchill said :
The Russians have held the weight of 190 German divisions and 28 divisions of satellite axis nations. They have done what no one else could do—torn part of the guts out of the German war machine. They have been grand allies in the heroic fashion".
Yes, there are those in this country who will remember what we owed to the Red Army during the second world war.
I went on my first visit to the Soviet Union in 1967. I was not part of any delegation. My wife and I simply got in my car in Liverpool, drove to the Soviet Union via Viborg and visited Leningrad, Novgorod and Moscow. We met ordinary people in those places. That was 20 years ago, and I realised then that there is more to compare between our two countries than there is to contrast—certainly as regards ordinary 'people. The Prime Minister is just gleaning a little of that truth.
Let us examine what the Soviet Union has had to suffer. It has faced three invasions from the West in this century. During the revolution and civil war 14 nations invaded the Soviet Union. It was attacked by Germany during the first world war and invaded during the second world war—an invasion that saved many of our necks. European Russia was devastated in 1945, but the Russians built up their country for the second time this century. That calls in question the attitude of those Tories who belittle the economic system in the Soviet Union. I would not support every facet of the system there—of course I would not—but where, if not in the Soviet Union, has the real economic miracle taken place since 1945? If its system is so weak, what are the Tories afraid of? Why do they think that Mr. Gorbachev and the Soviet Government are just waiting for us to give up nuclear weapons so that they can launch an attack?
After all the euphoria of the Prime Minister's visit and the propaganda of the Tory press that was associated with it, one thing emerged: the real differences between the position of the Prime Minister and that of President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev, who have said that they want denuclearisation and an end to nuclear weapons. The Prime Minister alone holds the view that we should support the continuance of nuclear weapons. Mr. Gorbachev does not agree that nuclear deterrence is the only way of averting war. What sane person would disagree with him?
I was fortunate in 1984—thanks largely to the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris)—to be introduced to the Soviet leader. I did not spend nine hours or 28 minutes with him, but I was fortunate enough to have 10 minutes. I was impressed by his attitude to nuclear weapons, and I remember him telling me that the Soviet Union would never turn its weapons against those countries that did not have nuclear weapons on their soil.
The Prime Minister, however, still argues that a world without nuclear weapons would be less stable and more dangerous for us all. If she is right, why should not every country have its own nuclear arsenal? Let us all have nuclear arms. Does anyone seriously believe that the world would be a safer place, and that there would not be an even greater risk of an accidental outbreak of nuclear conflict? Mr. Gorbachev has offered to negotiate not only on the issue of nuclear arms but on conventional reductions, too.
What concessions do we offer? The Foreign Secretary has spoken of constraints on shorter-range weapons, yet at this very time the United States army, supported by the United Kingdom, has deployed the W79 8-inch artillery shell in West Germany. That is a weapon with a potential neutron capability, a fact that was hidden from this House for a number of years after the Montebello proposals.
The Prime Minister has talked of keeping the peace by the withdrawal of Russian troops from Afghanistan. I and my hon. Friends believe that it is highly desirable that the Afghanistan people should be allowed rightful self-determination, but freedom to choose one's own Government should not end in Afghanistan. That right—the Prime Minister often speaks of freedom of choice—must include the right of the peoples of Nicaragua, Vietnam and Angola to throw off their oppressors and seek economic solutions that are different from the ones that we would choose—solutions that are not to the liking of international finance capitalism.
The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) spoke of Communism in one breath and the dangers of subversion in the next. The only subversion that we have heard about that has threatened the British Government has come in the form of the allegations in Peter Wright's book. It is alleged that the Government of Harold Wilson were in danger of being subverted by the agents of the CIA and of others who wanted to ensure that democracy produced the right results in the eyes of American capitalism. The Harold Wilson Government were not in danger of being subverted by the agents of Moscow.
The Prime Minister has said that the withdrawal of Russian troops from Afghanistan will have a crucial part to play in the future of Afghanistan and in deciding how others see the Soviet Union, whether they trust it or fear it. The same must be true of the Americans, who have occupied Grenada and who currently occupy the Guantanamo base in Cuba without the approval of the Cuban Government. Equally, the same must be true of the United States Government continually giving support to the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua, to the UNITA South African-backed forces in Angola and to other regressive forces elsewhere in the world.
The Prime Minister has the audacity to go to the Soviet Union to talk about human rights. The Soviet General Secretary made one or two comments about that, and I believe that they are well worth repeating. At the Kremlin dinner, Mr. Gorbachev said that he hoped that his word would be heard openly and loudly in the West by the millions who are unemployed, the homeless, the destitute, by those beaten by the police and victimised in court—like the Liverpool city councillors—and by those whose civil rights and dignities are subjected to glaring discrimination because of the colour of their skin.
The Prime Minister has been a Member of this place since 1959 and we look in vain for any early-day motion which she has signed opposing oppressions by the Pinochet regime in Chile or by the dictatorships of Salazar and Caetano in Portugal. The right hon. Lady was a Member of this place when those two were in control of affairs in Portugal, and the same applies to the colonels' regime in Greece. We can look in vain for the name of the Prime Minister being signed in opposition to oppression and violation of human rights in any of the countries to which I have referred.
To send the Prime Minister to Moscow to preach human rights is like sending a burglar to inaugurate a home-watch scheme. When she visited the Soviet Union the Soviet Government were generous enough to allow her to see the dissidents Mr. Sakharov, Mrs. Bonner and Mr. Begun. I hope that Mr. Gorbachev will take up the Prime Minister's invitation to revisit Britain. When he does so, I hope that he will be allowed to see our unemployed, homeless and old people who have had their heating allowances reduced and are endangered by the threat of hypothermia every winter. I hope that he will visit Liverpool and Tyneside to see our dissidents. I hope also that one day we shall have a Prime Minister who feels as popular and as safe in Liverpool and on Tyneside as the present Prime Minister felt last week in Moscow and Tbilisi.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) drew attention to the fact that we owe a great deal to the Soviet army because of its sacrifice during the second world war. The hon. Gentleman spoke about bombing, and the Chamber was bombed six weeks before the Soviet Union was attacked. We should not forget that Britain was involved in fighting against the Third Reich for some years before the Soviet Union was attacked.
Recently I had hoped to visit Moscow to be one of three Members of Parliament to be present at the British embassy to present awards to a certain group of refuseniks, including Mr. Josif Begun. I was glad that, instead of the three of us going, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was able to present the award herself. I feel that she was entitled to raise the issue of human rights. The Russian Government accepted the commitments in the Helsinki final accord relating to the free movement of people and ideas, and my right hon. Friend was entitled to request that the commitments be observed.
That issue has a relationship with arms control, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister stated in the House that the way in which the Soviet Union honours the Helsinki accord is an indicator of the way in which it would honour any other agreement. How it acts in respect of its own communities is evidence of its good intentions.
There is no doubt that those directly concerned wish the issue of human rights to be raised. Mr. and Mrs. Begun were quoted by the Prime Minister as saying:
There is a great deal to be done. Will the West please continue to make representations?"—[Official Report, 2 April 1987; Vol. 113, c. 1230.]
Apparently they believe that the changes that have taken place would not have happened in the absence of pressure from outside.
Mr. Gorbachev has said that he would look at humanitarian cases carefully and that wherever possible there would be positive results. I would like to raise the case of one family which is known to me. In June 1975 Mrs. Cherna Goldort applied to the department of emigration in Novosibirsk in order to emigrate to Israel with her daughter Galina. She worked for a research institute for chemical technology and she signed an undertaking not to leave the Soviet Union for a period of five years after she had finished her work there. That period ended in 1976 but she was still refused an exit visa.
In 1979 Mrs. Cherna Goldort was summoned to an interview with General Slontezky, an official in the emigration department. The general said :
You have one daughter in Israel and another with you. If you want to be with both of them, then let Galina go, and it will be easier for you to receive permission for yourself.
Therefore, Galina was allowed to leave and she settled in Israel. Mrs. Cherna Goldort applied for an exit visa as General Slontezky had suggested but she was refused.
In October 1980 her two daughters in Israel appealed to the Madrid review of the Helsinki accords. They were informed that the official reason for refusal was the fact that Mrs. Goldort's two brothers remained in the Soviet Union. When her brothers went to meet the relevant officials to say that they did not wish to stand in the way of their sister emigrating, they were removed from the building by force.
Since that time Mrs. Cherna Goldort has had a heart operation and is not in good health. She has been refused an exit visa until at least 1995. Her letter states:
I am here … You are there and there is no end in sight.
I raise this case because I met her daughter Galina in the House of Commons with Martin Gilbert who is Sir Winston Churchill's official biographer. I promised to raise the matter with the British ambassador in Moscow.
The point is one of principle. Divided families should, wherever possible, be reunited on humanitarian grounds and in future there should be a higher regard for the Helsinki accords in the Soviet Union. We must appreciate, as was said earlier, how much has been done already and how much Mr. Gorbachev is trying to do. However, we should not underestimate the extent of the opposition to him within the KGB.
I am glad that the Prime Minister had the courage to raise these issues. It is particularly significant that she went on television, possibly before a much larger audience than any other Western leader. The commercial contracts worth £400 million and the various other agreements she has signed along with the Foreign Secretary are extremely important, including the new arrangements for an improved hot line between No. 10 and the Kremlin. It seems that those are remarkable achievements and full advantage should be taken of them. The Prime Minister's visit will act as a catalyst, not only in reducing tension but in making it easier to achieve future advantages in arms control and in human rights negotiations. In doing that, I believe that she has rendered a service to the Western democracies.
The Prime Minister's pre-election visit to the Soviet Union was far more concerned with television audiences in Britain than in the Soviet Union. It was clearly a pre-election public relations exercise, and there is no doubt that that is the view of most people in politics and the media. I am sure that that view is expressed in one way or another in the country as a whole. However, that is not to minimise in any way the changes that are occurring in the Soviet Union, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) said. Those changes are of considerable importance. There is undoubtedly a welcome change of atmosphere and a climate where criticism is being permitted on a number of topics. It is especially expressed in films, plays and some books. The press is beginning to play a somewhat different role in the Soviet Union than it has played until recently.
The other evening I watched on "Newsnight" excerpts from a Soviet film that is playing to crowded audiences in the Soviet Union. The film is called "Repentance". The main character—he is certainly no hero in the film—is based largely on Beria, Stalin's criminal chief of the secret police, who had many other responsibilities. He did not survive Stalin for long. Clearly, the audience were happy to be able to watch a film that, to some extent at least, dealt frankly with a topic that, until now, could not be mentioned.
At long last, "Dr. Zhivago'' is to be published, and that is a welcome change. I well remember, in 1958, the uproar in the Soviet Union when that book was published in the West. Other publications and articles are appearing, and plays and films dealing with what, until now, have been sensitive and controversial themes are being shown That is all to the good.
I look forward to the time when Soviet citizens can leave and enter their country as we can leave and enter ours, and I believe that Soviet people should be able to enjoy that right. Moreover, this is the opportunity for the West to respond to the new atmosphere, and certainly to the repeated offers by the Soviet leadership to negotiate meaningfully on a wide range of subjects such as nuclear disarmament and arms control.
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), I believe that most people in Britain feel that the United States has more responsibility for the failure to negotiate properly than has the Soviet Union. There is a widespread feeling here—one that I share—that there is no wish or enthusiasm on the part of the American Administration, and certainly not on the part of President Reagan, to respond constructively to what is happening in Moscow. There is too much enthusiasm for the status quo on nuclear weapons, for star wars and the rest.
Whatever view the British people take about unilateral nuclear disarmament, there :is no passion for nuclear weapons as such. However, the Prime Minister seems to have that passion. Her constant theme is that for the past 40 years peace has been kept because of them, and it will be maintained in the future only because of such weapons. There are two logical conclusions from that. The first is that there should be no reduction in nuclear weapons. According to her, that would be a danger to the continuation of peace. Secondly, as my hon. Friends have pointed out, why not spread this more widely? And instead of trying to limit the production of nuclear weapons by various countries, why not say that the more that have nuclear weapons in Europe, Africa and Asia, the more peace there will be? Is that not after all the logic of the Prime Minister's argument?
Our concern on the Labour Benches for human and democratic rights is universal. It is not confined by any means to the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe. Of course the people in those countries do not enjoy anything like the civil liberties that we have. As I have often said, in the Labour movement, in the House, and elsewhere, if we have these democratic rights, there is no reason why the people of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Hungary should not have them. That makes sense. However, there are double standards and they are not on this side of the House.
In 1973, when the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) was a junior Minister in the Foreign Office, he spoke about what had happened in Chile as a result of the armed coup. I gave the right hon. Gentleman notice that I would mention this. The Pope has just visited Chile and he went to the national stadium, where, as we know, following the coup thousands of people were held, and many were executed. The bodies were piled high. On 28 November, the right hon. Member for Pavilion said :
It is not possible for the Government of the United Kingdom to intervene everywhere all over the world. We do our best to protect human rights in the Council of Europe and through the United Nations, but it would be unrealistic to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries as suggested in the motion and it would also very often be, in our experience, counter-productive".—[Official Report, 28 November 1973; Vol. 865, c. 483.]
This illustrates that, when it comes to Chile, there is no great concern on the Tory side about human rights.
As I asked during an intervention, did the Prime Minister, in the week before she went to Moscow, lecture the King of Saudi Arabia when he came over here? Did she talk about human rights in that country? Could it be argued that the Prime Minister has been a champion defender of the rights of the black majority in South Africa? Is it not more accurate to say that, time and again, the Prime Minister has used every argument to stop effective British and international action being taken to undermine that notorious and evil regime in South Africa, which denies human rights to millions of people simply because of the colour of their skin?
Before lack of time compels me to finish, let me deal with another matter relating to Eastern Europe—that is Czechoslovakia. I note that Mr. Gorbachev is visiting that country this week. Like many others, I am very disturbed that two members of the Czechoslavakian Jazz Section were recently put in prison. Undoubtedly, there is a good deal of repression in Czechoslovakia—far more than there is at present in the Soviet Union—and we hope that that will change.
I should also like briefly to mention the Palestinians in the refugee camps in the Lebanon. I welcome the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Mr. Young), who made a passionate plea about those Palestinians. He is right; I cannot deny it. But, if I am interested in human rights in various parts of the world, should I not also be concerned about the human rights of the Palestinians?
I have no time now to deal with what has been happening in the camps, and to a large extent my hon. Friend has already dealt with it. However, I have always taken the view—and I make no apology for it—that Israel has as much right to existence as any other country. That remains my view, whether it is that of the majority or of the minority at any given time. It does not mean that I am not a very harsh critic of that country's policies. It does not mean either that I believe that the West Bank should be in Israel. But I do believe that there will be no lasting security in the middle east, or for Israel itself, until the solution is found for a Palestinian state. If the people of Israel have a right to their country, the Palestinian people have no less a right to a state. It is absolutely essential that effective action is taken internationally to try to secure a settlement, and the Soviet Union and the United States certainly have a role to play in that.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for accelerating his comments. As you reminded us three minutes ago, Mr. Speaker, before the Front Bench takes over, the best prepared of all speeches must be cast aside.
If I had had longer, I would have wished to turn from five hours dominated by a debate on East-West relations—and the related feature of human rights and disarmament—to discuss a forgotten element in our foreign affairs debates of the past four months. I refer—after what the hon. Gentleman has just said—to South Africa.
There is, as I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will note, a lull in the debates and deliberations in this place on the affairs and fortunes of South Africa. It gives us time to reassess, to revalue and to take fresh stock. In that lull, let us recall that the objective is to see established in South Africa a form of Government that is acceptable to all races. The present Government have tried faithfully to pursue that objective.
During this time for reassessment, let us consider whether we should not make a more positive assessment of the role to be played in South Africa by the tribal leaders. In recent days, we have heard announcements and pronouncements about the possible establishment of an indabha in Kwazulu-Natal. We have also seen further advances towards genuine independence in Bophuthatswana. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will take on board the sincere plea that, in pursuing the encouragement of those who seek moderation and a peaceful solution acceptable to all races, he will listen to those voices of moderation from both black and white. Many Conservative Members wish to place on record their personal esteem for the move made by Denis Worrall in his courageous stand for Parliament in the approaching white minority general election.
With one minute to go, let me sum up my argument by saying that voices of moderation are at work in South Africa. Let the Government hear those voices, identify them, encourage them and reassess the low value that hitherto has been accorded to the leaders of tribal groupings in South Africa.
The debate has ranged across such a large number of issues that it will be impossible for the Minister and me to cover all of them this evening. However, all hon. Members will agree that it has been a fascinating debate. It has rightly concentrated on the Prime Minister's visit to the Soviet Union and all that it means to us. We look forward to hearing the Minister's predictions in his summing up, because he and the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) have seen their weekend predictions crumble into dust. The Minister is here to face the music this evening, but the right hon. Member for Devonport has probably not yet caught up with the fact that the election will not take place next month. He, together with all his hon. Friends, is probably campaigning now in another part of the country or, who knows, in another part of the world.
Right hon. and hon. Members have referred to the Prime Minister's visit to Moscow. We welcome the fact that the trip was a success. It is not a grudging welcome; it is not forced. We are genuinely happy that the Prime Minister returned with such refreshing views of Mr. Gorbachev and of what he is doing and also with such enlightened sentiments about the future.
Hon. Members have pointed out that there are few tangible results from the days of walkabout, intimate chat and electorally appealing photography, but we do not deny the value of establishing trust with the general secretary of the Communist party of the Soviet Union. Hon. Members have also pointed out that the climate for an agreement on intermediate nuclear forces was not helped before the visit by the Prime Minister having needlessly invented fresh conditions or linkages—from human rights to coincidental short range nuclear agreements. Hon. Members have pointed out, too, the glaringly obvious fact that negotiations on arms control, as distinct from after dinner speeches about the subject, are the property of Mr. Shultz next week. That does not detract for a moment from our genuine relief that the Prime Minister has now abandoned the empty rhetoric of the cold war and embraced the idea of dialogue and the establishment of trust with the Soviet Union.
When BBC4 listeners turned on their radios last Wednesday morning, 1 April, and heard the breathless tones of the Prime Minister when she said,
If he gave me his word, I would believe him",
many of them must have had good reason to feel that this was one of the broadcasters' jokes that had been specially created for that particular morning, but when they had woken up to the fact that it was genuine there was undoubtedly a collective sigh of relief that this would be a safer world than the world that we normally associate with the analyses of our national leader.
Now that the Prime Minister has caught up with the enlightened views of Chancellor Kohl and President Mitterrand, whom she tried to put off before she visited Moscow, perhaps she will now wend her way to Tokyo and use her now famous charm on Prime Minister Nakasone on a subject that has also exercised hon. Members in this debate.
Where, however, does this new re-think leave the Government's vision of Europe? The confusion of the signals from all sources must be a sign of ministerial nervousness about the election that looms over them and threatens them.
The Foreign Secretary made a speech in Brussels a couple of weeks ago which represented a complete volte face by the Government on the subject of Western European union. That speech, combined with his reported veto at the weekend on the European Community's strengthening its links with the United States, certainly suggests that the Foreign Secretary is still performing his act of getting into the Prime Minister's consciousness by making radical speeches rather than through the ignored Foreign Office memoranda which land on or are discarded from her desk.
That suggests to me that the hon. Gentleman is giving far too much credence to what he reads in the newspapers. On the second point that he made, he should not believe for one moment that I am seeking to stand in the way of effective co-operation across the Atlantic. We are all seeking to discover the best way of advancing it. On the first point, he just happened to have read the most recent speech. If he read the points which I made on many previous occasions, he would find no difference in the points of view. I acknowledge the incompleteness of his information.
The Foreign Secretary may seek to clarify the record, but I do not think that he persuades very many people. It would perhaps help the House if major meetings of the Foreign Ministers of the European Community took place at the weekend. Perhaps then we could have a precise record of what happens at those meetings and a report from the Foreign Secretary or a junior Minister to the House of Commons to let us know precisely what takes place. I do not like relying on newspaper reports any more than the Foreign Secretary does, but sometimes the House of Commons has no alternative because it gets no more information from him.
Just as we welcome the Prime Minister's conversion, so too do we welcome the Foreign Secretary's conversion to the creation of robust Western European self-reliance, because we see the merit of Europe's starting to prepare for possible reductions in the physical United States presence on our continent.
It has to be said that the fashionable obsession which we hear about very often from the other side of the Atlantic via the airways with alleged American isolationism or the Americans' rejection of a role in Europe is knocked on the head by the splendid study of American opinion which was made by the authoritative and very distinguished Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. When its sample was asked about leaving troops in Europe, no less than 82 per cent. said that they should be left in Europe and only 16 per cent. said that they should be withdrawn. So the scaremongers who question the Atlantic relationship would be well advised to absorb this study.
If the Foreign Secretary is to fly such radical kites, we have the right to ask whether the Prime Minister flies them with him. While we more than welcome the objective of European equality with our American ally—and equality is what we seek with the Americans—there is no sign that the Prime Minister has abandoned her affection for the subservient, lap-dog approach which has characterised her premiership. We seek in vain signs that she has changed—but maybe the Foreign Secretary continues to work on her.
If evidence of the poverty of the right hon. Lady's strategy on Atlantic relationships is needed, it can be found in the news today from Westland, only a year after the forced marriage with the American partner took place and resulted in large numbers of redundancies. That is the partnership that brought so much chaos to the Government and that we were told at the time would protect jobs and protect Westland. We know precisely what value to place on the Government's record and their view of the way in which that relationship should develop.
The Foreign Secretary rightly mentioned the European Community but dealt inadequately with it. Two weeks ago we marked the 30th anniversary of the signing of the treaty of Rome. The celebrations in the United Kingdom were appropriately muted as if to recognise that the 30-year-old European Community had little to celebrate other than the fact that it had survived at all until 1987.
The Community is beset with crises. The budget is still in financial chaos, with elastoplast ineffectively keeping all the cracks covered and with inventiveness confined to more and more desperate creative accountancy. Indeed, the week before last the Court of Auditors described the recent attempt at a budget as illegal. The common agricultural policy is still an uncontrolled shambles. The drive by Lord Cockfield to a barrierless Common Market by 1992 is already doomed because he fails to see that such a concept is impossible without the necessary and coincidental balances against the market dictating that all the benefits go to the strongest areas and member states.
Nothing betrays this Government's cynical betrayal of the European interest more than the fiasco of the European research programme. At the same time as the Foreign Secretary is preaching the virtue of European self-reliance our so-called technology Minister, the right hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie), the Minister of State at the Department of Industry, is in there openly sabotaging the one programme which might make Europe competitive with those in the United States and in the far east who threaten us.
Britain stands alone—the only nation in Europe blocking the £4·5 million European framework research programme. We were abandoned by our last reluctant ally—West Germany—at the end of last week. We are attacked by everybody else in the Community. We are even isolated from the entire sycophantic group of Conservatives in the European Parliament. The Government project their image of King Canute on the beaches of high technology.
The Government embarrass the nation and disgrace our reputation with their inexplicable opposition to the most valuable and relevant of European programmes. That is true even if it did not contrast so starkly with the pusillanimous attitude to the out of control farm spending and food stockpiling. The Government add their words of opposition to that scandal, but their ineffectiveness is manifest.
But glorious opposition to a realistic research effort is the real fighting ground for the neanderthals in Downing street and the Treasury. When it comes to destroying the European capacity to recover in high technology, it is small wonder that even the Conservative research spokesman in the European Parliament, Mr. Amedee Turner, said that the Pattie position was "becoming untenable"—delicately put. The CBI disagrees with the Government, the other 11 countries of the Community disagree with them, the 63 Tory Members of the European Parliament disagree with them. Their case is isolated and discredited. We get more from European Community research programmes than we pay in, but the stubborn, irrational resistance goes on. We are made a laughing stock and branded as short-sighted by the rest of the Community.
Our cynicism is not alone in European Community politics. The West Germans, refreshed by a general election when the Christian Democrats won another majority, are now entering the cynicism game to equal our Government. Last Thursday in Bad Godesburg, West Germany, I listened to a speech by the opposite number
of the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker),. Dr. Inngard Adam-Schwaetzer, the Minister of State in the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic, who said :
There is no alternative to the continuing integration of the member states of the European community. This sometimes requires that we put our national interests behind us.
When next day I looked in the British newspapers for this declaration of faith in the European Community, what headlines did I see:
West Germans warn EEC that their own interests come first".
It was a betrayal of the ideal by those who preached that European unity is what matters and that national interest must be pulled behind us. The prospects for a resolution of the major financial crisis in the European Community have diminished with each act of cynical self-interest.[Interruption.] I ignore the sedentary interruptions from Government Members whose heckling reaches new heights. Election fever is now overcoming even the Foreign Secretary, who is carried away by that prospect.
The middle east is of common concern to us all. There must be widespread relief in this House that the disgraceful siege of the Palestinian camps in Beirut may have begun to end. This serious issue has been raised by the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Walters) and by my hon. Friends the Members for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and for Bolton, South-East (Mr. Young).
The slow starvation of the tragic inhabitants of the camps at Chatila and Bourj-al-Barajneh has been a real horror that has been given wholly insufficient attention by the world community. One can only compare the attention and concern that we paid to the slow, calculated and cynical attempted destruction of these people with all the attention that was given to the attack on them by the Christian militia. When Jews help Christians to destroy Arabs it is an outrage to humanity, but when Arabs starve Arabs it is viewed simply with concern and resignation. The sieges are not over yet. Maximum pressure must be put on all parties to get them stopped immediately.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East is right to remind the House of the British citizens who still languish kidnapped in the back streets of Beirut. Our friend Terry Waite is the best known but certainly not the only one whose fate still remains unknown but for whom we still keep our hopes high.
We welcome the Foreign Secretary's report that the European Community has now launched a new initiative by convening an international conference on the middle east. With the Americans apparently opting out of the process, and with new responsibilities lying all the more heavily and onerously on the shoulders of the European Community, it is vital that the momentum be maintained even if the outcome is far from clear.
There are some welcome signs in the middle east. The Americans do not seem to be so opposed to an international conference. Mr. Shimon Peres is continuing the effort of persuading his Prime Minister of the merits of some dialogue in this area. The Soviet Union is making historic, if tentative, moves towards recognising Israel. King Hussein is also making valiant efforts to deal with both the Palestinian case and the Syrians. The key to progress in the middle east lies in Syria. If King Hussein's visit to Damascus last Friday is productive, then a glimmer of hope may exist.
But if Mr. Tindemans' perambulations round the middle east bring back one message, it must be that nothing will happen in the troubles of the middle east, the Lebanon or the West Bank without the involvement of Syria. What happens then? What do the British Government do at that point? Is there not a case for reviewing—in the light of developments since we broke off diplomatic relations—our relationship with Syria? Surely it is better to do that than to find ourselves, as so often before, out-manoeuvred by our Community partners and forced to change against our will.
Many other subjects of central importance to this country and its future were raised in this debate, including the whole question of central America and the trade war with Japan that we seem to be on the brink of. The right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), who is not in his place, remarkably chose to deal with that in his speech.
Finally, I wish to comment on a subject mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North, human rights in eastern Europe. We have heard much about human rights in the past few days and, as my hon. Friends have said, we have strong views about such issues. We do not have the same partisan view about human rights that is so often displayed by individuals on Opposition Benches. However, I entirely endorse the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North about the Czech repression of the Jazz Section of the Czech musicians' union. Suppressing ordinary musicians as though they were commercial criminals persuades no one outside Czechoslovakia that their actions are right. I returned an invitation to attend a conference in Czechoslovakia, declining on the ground that I could not accept an invitation to a country which acted in that way towards people who were simply practising their music.
The Prime Minister's visit to Moscow may yet turn out to be a watershed representing the point when at last she saw that there was a common destiny for the world and that the idea of frozen hostile camps at each other's throats could have no sense in a world with split-second timed weapons of mass destruction. If that is the case, we will welcome the dawning of the blindingly obvious and the world will perhaps be slightly safer as a result.
I certainly agree with the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) that this is a very hard debate to summarise, especially in the 19 minutes now left to me. In the course of the debate we have been taken down some extremely interesting avenues. For example. my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) referred to the possible reunification of Germany and my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Sir C. Mather) mused on what might have happened if we had stayed in Palestine and if we still exercised strict influence over the Persian gulf. Unfortunately, I do not have time to pursue those interesting thoughts. I must come straight to the detailed points raised in the debate.
First, I must state how very much I agree with all hon. Members, and most recently my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), who referred to the enormous success of the recent visit of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to Moscow. It most certainly was an enormous success and I thank the hon. Member for Hamilton for adding his tribute.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and other Opposition Members could not be as generous. When those Opposition Members referred to my right hon. Friend's visit in the disparaging terms that they used, the words "sour grapes" came to mind. They simply cannot stand the thought that a Conservative Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary were so well received and so attentively listened to in Moscow.
The question of human rights has been much referred to in the debate and quite rightly. We shall try to look into the human rights case specifically mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West. I can tell the hon. Member for Hamilton that I met members of the Jazz Section and members of Charter 77 when I was in Prague a few weeks ago. The Czech Government already know what we think about the trial of the members of the Jazz Section and we shall puruse that matter.
No. I have many points to answer.
We heard a great deal about human rights. However, there is a strange and curious affliction that appears to strike down Opposition Members. That is the compulsion to shout "Chile" or "South Africa" whenever the subject of human rights abuses in the Soviet Union is raised. I must make the point that it is a peculiar idea that somehow human rights abuses in one country cancel out those in another. This Government take up human rights abuses wherever they occur—in the Lebanon, in Chile, in South Africa or in the Soviet Union. A particular point about human rights abuses in the Soviet Union is that the Helsinki accord imposed upon signatories precise obligations. Therefore, there is a duty and an obligation to focus on and highlight abuses of human rights in the Soviet Union and in eastern Europe. Moreover, for years these abuses have been systematic and institutionalised.
During the debate a number of Opposition Members, notably the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and the hon. Members for Walsall, North and for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), talked about the Prime Minister's love of nuclear weapons. Nuclearphilia was the word used by the right hon. Member for Leeds., East. It is sad but not surprising that Opposition Members follow this propaganda line. The Soviet Union has 50 times more nuclear missiles than us.
It is foolish for the hon. Gentleman to say that the Prime Minister loves them. NATO cruise and Pershing deployments were a response to Soviet INF deployments, which now total over 900 warheads. Even under Mr. Gorbachev, new Soviet nuclear systems have been deployed in Europe. In a wise and measured speech my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) said that the gap in defence capability continues to widen in favour of the Soviets. As that is true, the talk of a nuclear-free world is nothing but that—just talk, aspiration and dreams.
We cannot disinvent nuclear weapons. They will continue to be deployed for many years, and as long as there is a civil nuclear industry, and that is growing all the time, nuclear material will be created. As long as nuclear weapons are there and as long as they represent a threat to our security, it would be irresponsible madness for this country unilaterally to surrender its own deterrent.
The Opposition often think that by cancelling Trident and spending more money on conventional weapons they would achieve such a balance that they would be able to do without nuclear weapons. However, Trident's share of the defence budget will, on average, be no more than 3 per cent. In the peak years of the procurement process its share will be less than 6 per cent. Planned future expenditure takes full account of the Trident programme in the same way as it takes account of any other major project. Indeed, the Tornado programme has been much more expensive than Trident will be.
Further, it is known that the Warsaw pact countries have a superiority over NATO of about 30,000 tanks in the central region of Europe. If Trident were cancelled and all that money was spent on other equipment, over a 20-year period all the Trident resources would buy just slightly more than one armoured division with 300 tanks. That includes the infrastructure, support and running costs. The Opposition should think about those figures. What is the purpose of just 300 more tanks in one armoured division when the Warsaw pact countries have 30,000 more than us in the central region of Europe?
I shall now turn from arms control to some of the many other matters raised in the debate. The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) asked about the death threat against Dr. Pauline Cutting. As the hon. Gentleman will understand, we very much condemn the reported threats. I pay tribute to the courage of Dr. Cutting who carries out vital humanitarian work in difficult and dangerous conditions. There is little that the Government can do at present, but we are certainly ready to help with arrangements for Dr. Cutting to leave when conditions permit. We call on all concerned to end the violence and to allow free access to the camps for food and medicines.
A number of hon. Members including the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and for Dundee, West raised the question of the Lebanon. I fully agree with them that the press reports about the situation in the camps are deeply disturbing. The current situation is very confused. There are conflicting reports about whether the ceasefire is holding or has been breached and we do not know about the extent to which food will continue to get into the camps.
In his opening remarks my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State referred to the further aid that we have recently given to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The scope for United Kingdom action is limited, but we shall consider what we can do.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I should like to continue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Walters) raised the question of the international conference. We support the principle of an international conference and we are co-operating in setting it up with the United Nations Secretary-General. We are not overoptimistic. It is right that the modalities should be worked out in advance to ensure that the conference, if it takes place, is a success. We accept that at the moment the international conference seems to be the only way of taking the peace process forward, and therefore we are playing our part in the relevant discussions.
The hon. Member for Hamilton referred to the fact that the Belgian Foreign Minister, Mr. Tindemans, who is now President of the Foreign Affairs Council, is shortly going to Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The Israeli Foreign Minister, Mr. Peres, is going to Madrid, Rome and Belgium. That shows that there is a certain momentum in the peace process, and we hope that it will be successful.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westbury asked about the Soviet Union. We have agreed with the Soviets on the urgency of getting the peace process moving. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State found that Mr. Shevardnadze's ideas on an international conference were not far from his own. In so far as we see a place for all five members of the Security Council in the international conference, there is acceptance that the Soviet Union will have to be involved.
My hon. Friend the Member for Esher raised the question of Count Tolstoi's books and the massacres of displaced persons. He spoke movingly on that issue. I understand his deep concern. It has been the subject of much discussion over the years. The best contribution that the Government can make is to facilitate access to official records, which we do under the 30-year rule. The official records relating to post-war policy on repatriation have been open to scrutiny for more than a decade. It is not the business of the Government to reach a verdict on such issues, but I understand the strong feelings which lay behind my hon. Friend's remark, in which he utterly rejected the thesis that the late Lord Stockton was involved in a devious plot.
I was asked about Greece and Turkey. We welcome the restraint that has been shown by both sides. Confrontation is clearly in no one's interests and we are glad that Greece and Turkey are talking directly with each other. It is not for us to take sides in that dispute. It is best solved by direct negotiations, but we welcome Lord Carrington's offer of good offices.
I return to the opening remarks of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East, even though he is not in the Chamber. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East said that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East had trivialised foreign affairs. That was a kindness. I have only one word for his speech—dreadful. As a reward for publicly abandoning his beliefs and supporting policies that he knows are nonsense the right hon. Member has been promoted to the post of the Labour party court jester, doing comic turns and trying in vain to amuse his dispirited Back Benchers. Every comic wants to play Hamlet, but it is sad to see a formerly serious actor volunteering to play the clown.
As the days pass, his ability to fantasise increases. For example, on 25 March he made the astonishing claim on the "Today" programme that the zero-option was a Labour party proposal made in a Healey-Foot visit to Moscow in September 1981 and adopted later by President Reagan.
Nice try. We never learnt what Mr. Brezhnev said in reply. Unfortunately, the zero-option was discussed in NATO for months before President Reagan announced it in November 1981. It was even debated in the Bundestag in May 1981. Moreover, whatever his views in 1981, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East had clearly abandoned the zero-option by 1983 because on 31 October he commended to the House Mr. Andropov's offer to cut SS20s in Europe to 140. He said that it was made not to negotiate on this offer because it would give the West a very good deal.
It is sometimes said that the alliance has no policies. I do not think that that is fair. The alliance has yards of policies—at last two for every subject. However, the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed has been the only member of the Liberal party present and no SDP member has attended at all.
It is convenient to have variations on policy to deploy depending upon the audience, but it leads to confusion, certainly within the alliance. I well remember the statement in the House during our last foreign affairs debate on 9 March by the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) who said that, fortunately, he was not responsible for Liberal policies. I can sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's wish to dissociate himself from the alliance's loony Left but if the alliance spokesman for defence is not responsible for alliance defence policies, who is?
Mr. Gorbachev's treatment of the Prime Minister confirmed her status as a senior Western leader. Britain's standing in the world has seldom been higher. Given our long list of foreign policy successes, that is not surprising. We have achieved agreement with China on Hong Kong, guaranteeing a stable and secure future for the Hong Kong people. Within the European Community, contrary to the artificial indignation of the hon. Member for Hamilton, we have negotiated a favourable settlement on the longstanding budget dispute. We have played a key role in improving Community decision-making and in speeding up the creation of a single market in which goods, peoples and services can circulate freely.
The Gibraltar border has been reopened and negotiations have been started with Spain on the differences over Gibraltar. We played a leading role in the Stockholm conference on disarmament in Europe, which was successfully concluded last autumn. In Geneva last summer I was proud to table our proposals on challenge inspection, the ultimate test of verification for chemical weapons. Those proposals are now being carefully considered.
We have maintained a substantial aid programme totalling nearly £4 billion since 1983. We have responded quickly and generously to appeals for emergency aid in Africa. Meanwhile, we are giving bilateral aid to 120 countries.
Most important, we have maintained Britain's firm commitment to national defence and to the NATO Alliance, while promoting closer European defence cooperation, not least, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion suggested, through a revived Western European Union. We have worked steadily for a more stable relationship between East and West and for balanced and verifiable reductions in nuclear and conventional weapons.
Those achievements have come as a result of determination, persistence, consistency and reliability. I note with great pleasure the credit given for those achievements to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary by my right hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) and for Guildford (Mr. Howell). It is no wonder that other European leaders said that the Prime Minister spoke for Europe when she visited Moscow. Other Governments know where we stand and what we stand for. I contrast that with Labour party policy. All parties in Opposition face the problem of achieving consistency in foreign policy because they often have to react to issues as they come along. But the Labour party has achieved that because its members have all rallied under the disreputable banner of anti-Americanism.
If the Leader of the Opposition can say that there is an almost miserable equality of threat between the United States and Russia, if he attacks the United States on Libya, Grenada, SDI and signs an advertisement inThe Guardian describing President Reagan as continuing a brutal terrorist war against Nicaragua, how can he expect to be taken seriously in Washington or other western capitals?
The Labour party has achieved a unique double. It has lost the respect of both Washington and Moscow. Soon it will be a triple crown as it will lose the respect of the British electorate as well.