Adjournment (Christmas)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:54 pm on 19th December 1990.

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Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North 6:54 pm, 19th December 1990

The hon. Gentleman will have heard the arguments. He mentioned the need for free or concessionary television licences for the elderly. When I came first in the ballot, I introduced a Bill to that effect on 16 January 1987. I was willing to reach a compromise with the Government. If they had said that they would settle on half the licence fee, I would have accepted that as a first step. My Bill was voted down by 21 votes. We all saw on television Cabinet Ministers in their chauffeur-driven cars coming from only a few yards away to vote to deny the elderly free or concessionary television licences. It is argued that two thirds of pensioners—the statistics bear out the argument—live either in poverty or near it, yet the Government were not willing to give me any support. Far from it, they voted down my Bill.

Much needs to be done, including —[Interruption.] —I hope that the Leader of the House will give me his attention for a moment—urgent action on cold weather payments. As I said earlier this week, the arrangements are far too inflexible. Hon. Members should note how warm it is in the Chamber and how we all try to keep our homes warm. It may not be freezing, but it is cold enough to need to keep homes warm. People on low incomes are in an impossible position.

I atteneded a meeting here today called by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North. One pensioner told us that her total income was £45 a week. That is the income of many of my pensioner constituents. Of course, out of that they have to pay about £10 a week in rent. There is urgent need for a more generous cold weather payment. Even when the payment is triggered, and there are all sorts of conditions associated with that, it is only £5 a week. That is hardly generous. We must bear in mind what the hon. Member for North Down and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North said about the immense suffering of elderly people on limited incomes when the weather turns really cold.

This debate was initiated by the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), a former Leader of the House. He referred to the recession. That recession is hitting the west midlands and the black country very hard. There have been announcements in my constituency of imminent factory closures, and those will involve a great number of redundancies. We suffered a great deal 10 years ago. Many factories in the west midlands were closed, never to be reopened. Indeed, in many cases housing estates and shopping centres have been built on former industrial sites.

A number of people who were made redundant at the time have never been able to work again because of their age. As the right hon. Gentleman said, there is a justified fear that manufacturing industry will be particularly hard hit again. There is little sign that there will be any let-up in 1991. All the signs are that the recession will deepen and we may be in the same position, or close to the position that we were in 10 years ago because of Government policies. The first and most obvious need is for interest rates to be lowered.

I wish to refer to two other matters. Amnesty International published a report today on the events in Kuwait since the occupation of that country on 2 August. I do not think that anyone would be so silly as to believe that Amnesty International has some sort of bias, other than against those who are indicted in its reports. It comes as no surprise to me to learn that the Iraqi embassy in London has described the report as a fabrication. The report deals with the atrocities of the occupying forces in Kuwait, including gouging out eyes and cutting off ears.

The report says that there is evidence that 300 premature babies were left to die after Iraqi troops looted incubators in hospitals. It also goes into considerable details of other atrocities that have been carried out in the past four months. No one can be surprised about that. They have been carried out by a criminal and terrorist regime which has maintained a state of terror inside Iraq itself for the past 10 to 15 years. No one will be surprised that such atrocities followed the criminal invasion and occupation of Kuwait.

I loathe war as much as anyone else. My hatred of war is second to none. But I am not a pacifist, and the way in which war can be avoided is simple and clear—for Saddam Hussein to withdraw his troops from Kuwait by the deadline set by the United Nations Security Council.

When the House was recalled in September I said that sanctions should be given time to work. I also made the point that any partial withdrawal would be completely unacceptable. It must be unacceptable to the United Nations and the international community for Saddam Hussein to withdraw from one part of Kuwait but to remain in the rest. There can be no question of trying to save his face. There was no justification for the invasion in the first place. Only a total withdrawal from Kuwait could satisfy the international community.

The dictator and mass murderer who rules Iraq is making a grave mistake if he believes that the debate occurring in the democracies, including Britain, means that the allies are not firmly resolved. He says that he is frightened of an attack on Iraq. Again, the remedy lies in his own hands. If he withdraws by the deadline set by the United Nations, there can be no attack and no justification for any armed attack. But the withdrawal from Kuwait must take place.

The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) has aired his views, as he has every right to do, and as I am doing now, in the House of Commons and elsewhere. But when I listen to him arguing about whether the borders were correct in the first place and so on, I am rather sickened. The right hon. Gentleman is to give evidence to a Senate sub-committee in the United States. As I say, he is perfectly entitled to his views. They are shared by some people in Britain. But they are not shared by the large majority of the British people who know that what took place on 2 August was unjustified outright criminal aggression.