Foreign Affairs and Defence

Part of Orders of the Day — Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 8:50 pm on 8th November 1990.

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Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton 8:50 pm, 8th November 1990

The London Evening Standard described the Queen's Speech using the headline, "Thatcher Clears the Decks." The paper meant that the legislative programme was light so that the Government would be ready for the election. From the Prime Minister's speech yesterday and the Chancellor's autumn statement today, clearing the decks seems to mean shouting the lies louder. The Prime Minister and the Conservative party are engaged in that bluff.

The credibility of the Prime Minister and the Conservative party is damaged beyond recall by the realities that our people experience daily. Examples of the bluff are clear in the economy. The Prime Minister said that we have economic resurgence and that we are seeing the "re-industrialisation of Britain". Nobody believes that.

There is a story about the Prime Minister and the Cabinet getting caught in Regent's park zoo on the wrong side of the crocodile lake. The Prime Minister walks across the lake on the backs of the crocodiles in the style of James Bond. People say, "How did you do it, Prime Minister?" The Prime Minister undoes her jacket to reveal a T-shirt saying on one side, "We have economic resurgence" and on the other side, "We are seeing the re-industrialisation of Britain," and says, "Even the crocodiles couldn't swallow that."

All the economic indicators tell a different story. There is high inflation and high interest rates, which are coming down slowly now because of the desperate worries about recession, but which are still high. Even the banks which make profits on high interest rates want the rate to come down because they know that debts will not be repaid. There is low growth, low investment and high unemployment, which has risen for six months running. If France and Spain are an example, after entry into the exchange rate mechanism employment is likely to rise by another 1 million in the next one year to 18 months.

Last year, the balance of payments deficit was £19·1 billion on the current account—the highest on record—and was £13·2 billion in the first nine months of this year. The Prime Minister said that there is more investment here from the United States, from Germany and from Japan. The balance of payments debt is being paid by the ownership of Britain by those countries. In the words of the Confederation of British Industry, the United Kingdom is "ripe for takeover"—and, I might add, on the cheap.

The Tories claim that public services are safe in their hands, but we see public squalor. Our people know that there is squalor in our public transport system and that there is neglect, from a mere lick of paint to the lack of investment in new rail lines. Our people know that the NHS has been destroyed by hospital closures, health authority debt and longer waiting lists. There is no new public housing, so we have cardboard city, and there is no major infrastructure work for the future. We have no clean-up plans for our rivers and no plans for a new sewerage system.

The Prime Minister attacked borrowing. What is wrong with borrowing to invest for the future? The cost of worth while projects such as sewerage systems and the cleaning up of our rivers can be shared with future generations, who will benefit from it. In the face of all the evidence, there is incredulity among our people at the Prime Minister's claim that it is so good under the Tories.

The Tories are split over Europe and that reflects the split in United Kingdom businesses over whether to go with the European capitalists or with the United States. Both choices would represent a narrowing of our independence and a changed understanding of our role and of our importance. We have diminished from the Great Britain of empire, an idea used by the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), when he was chairman of the Conservative party, and by the Prime Minister during the previous election campaign. In many ways, the Euro argument is phoney. It was the Prime Minister who signed the Single European Act and none of her present concerns was made known then, although they stem from it.

Many of our people do not care which currency is used; they care about getting more of that currency in their pockets. Europe cannot be the narrow, bureaucratic and undemocratic capitalist club of the Twelve. It must encompass all Europe—east as well as west. That will happen anyway as Germany moves closer to an alliance with Russia in both their interests.

Capitalism and recession in Europe mean unemployment on a huge scale, the division and instability that flow from it, and war. That is why free-market Thatcherism will not work in Europe—as it does not work now in this country. The future of Europe will be democratic socialist.

Meanwhile, debt ravages more and more of the world, and the Gulf crisis and recession will make that worse. There will be unnecessary loss of life, environmental disaster, human underdevelopment and war, promoted by the arms trade and principally promoted by the United States and the United Kingdom, the biggest arms dealers. Increasing numbers of refugees come to this country, to the rest of Europe and to the industrialised world as a consequence of that abysmal policy. The Government have caused the increased number of refugees, but they will not pick up the problem.

Curbing the arms trade should have been included in the Queen's Speech. We have sold about 10,000 chemical protection kits—and to which country? To Iraq. The Iraqis can now feel free to use their chemical weapons against us. British companies, with the support of the Government, have attended arms fairs in Baghdad to sell weapons. We even sold Iraq some of our desert uniforms, so we now have only jungle green uniforms—a wonderful camouflage in the desert.

In an answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith), the Minister of State for Defence Procurement talked about the role of the Defence Export Services Organisation and of International Military Services Ltd. The Minister pointed out that the role of DESO was to assist the British defence industry in selling its products in overseas markets … International Military Services Ltd. is a private limited company … whose shares are vested in the Secretary of State for Defence. It offers, on a commercial basis, a range of marketing and project management services in the defence field available to both Government and industry."—[Official Report, 30 April 1990; Vol. 171, C. 428.] That is the arms trade in which the Government are involved.

We should be adopting proposals such as those put forward by CND for controlling arms sales and curbing the spread of missile technology: The Government should set up a register of arms sales … The DTI, MoD and FCO should set up a specialist unit to investigate 'dual-use' exports and screen suspect orders … The MTCR"— the Missile Technology Control Regimeshould be tightened to include shorter range missiles and lighter payloads than at present … An independent international MTCR enforcement and verification agency should be set up … Cessation of all missile proliferation within the MTCR. Cessation of joint missile projects like the Anglo-French 'Eurodynamics' company set up to research a new air launched nuclear missile … All missile producers should be encouraged to join the MTCR through incentives and penalties. All that should have been in the Queen's Speech.

The Prime Minister has made it clear that she is using war in the Gulf as a political tool. The last paragraph in her speech on the Loyal Address must be seen in the context of the leadership challenge to her, and her current electoral position. Its placing at the end of the speech was bellicose and cynical: she is prepared to use force to reverse the electoral trends running against her. Of course, we must make distinctions—in regard to, for instance, the use of force under the auspices of the United Nations. Whether or not such force is exercised by the United States—the main protagonist—the moral position is against any force being used, because it would be a colonialist measure to protect oil for the use of the capitalist world. My position is clear: I oppose a first-strike policy. We should let sanctions work, and, at the very least, stick with the United Nations.

Neither a cynical war nor bluff can save the Tories. They are split, and their policies are a shambles. As Harold Wilson said, they could not manage a vinegar bottle stall in a chip shop; and, as always, their intentions are malevolent. They wish to maintain wealth, power and privilege for their small elite, and to put everyone else firmly in their place lower down the scale. That has been increasingly understood—but the British people will clear the decks of them at the next election.