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President Yeltsin and UN Security Council

– in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 3rd February 1992.

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Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon 3:31 pm, 3rd February 1992

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about President Yeltsin's visit to London on 30 January and about the special meeting of the UN Security Council in New York on 31 January. I was accompanied to New York by my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary.

Both meetings came at an important time in Russia's relationship with the rest of the world and at a critical time for world peace and stability. Russia has, in President Yeltsin's own words, thrown off the shackles of communism. She remains a nuclear super-power. As such, and as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, she has world responsibilities. It is essential for our own peace and security that Russia continues to play the positive role on which President Gorbachev embarked and which President Yeltsin is set to continue and to develop. I believe that we should offer them our support in this.

I called the meeting in New York during our chairmanship of the Security Council so that the council could meet at the highest level to reaffirm and develop its commitment to peacekeeping and peacemaking. The timing was particularly apt following the appointment of a new Secretary-General and with Russia taking the seat in the Security Council formerly held by the Soviet Union. The meeting was successful, and I should like to highlight the key points.

This was the first time in the 47 years of its history that the UN had met at the top level. For the first time ever, the Heads of State and Government of the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain sat around the same table and pledged themselves, with the other members of the council, to collective security, to international law and to our commitments under the United Nations' charter.

A statement was agreed by all the members of the Security Council. Copies are in the Library of the House. In it we reaffirmed that all disputes between states should be resolved peacefully in accordance with the provisions of the charter. We committed ourselves to the fight against terrorism. We asked the Secretary-General to make recommendations for a more effective role for the United Nations as peacekeeper and as peacemaker. Under article 99 of the charter, the Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which, in his opinion, may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security. We hope the new Secretary-General will use those powers. He will report to us within six months with his recommendations. We committed ourselves to arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation and to the conclusion of a chemical weapons convention this year. The council endorsed the idea put forward by the British Government, and recently endorsed by the General Assembly, of a UN register of conventional arms transfers.

During his visit to London, President Yeltsin noted that Britain had been the first country to denounce the August coup, and the first to recognise Russia; the first to propose Russian membership of the International Monetary Fund; the first to propose an April deadline for that membership; and the first to support a stabilisation fund for the rouble.

It is essential that Russia join the IMF at the earliest opportunity, and I believe that a stabilisation fund may need to follow if Russia is to have a prospect of establishing a successful market economy. There is, of course, a financial cost in this, but the cost of failure and a return to dictatorship and the cold war would be infinitely higher. It is in our national interest and in the interests of the west as a whole to help Russia, and we shall continue to take a lead in doing so. I undertook to make it one of the priorities of our presidency of the European Community later this year to carry through an improved trade and co-operation agreement with Russia.

In our discussion of arms control issues, President Yeltsin committed Russia to further significant reductions in the Russian strategic and international arsenal. I told him that we had already committed ourselves to a cut of one half in our sub-strategic nuclear weapons and to smaller conventional forces. I told him also that Britain's only strategic weapon would be the minimum deterrent constituted by Trident. President Yeltsin accepted that Trident was indeed a minimum deterrent and that the focus of arms control negotiations should be on the arsenal of the two super-powers.

We agreed to co-operate in handling surplus Soviet weapons and in safeguarding nuclear materials. I offered to send a technical mission to Moscow to assess the immediate needs at first hand. I have also offered to send a small number of officials from the Ministry of Defence to the Russian Ministry of Defence to advise on the restructuring and control and financing of armed forces in a democratic society. We discussed the problem of the possible leakage of expertise from Russia in the field of weapons of mass destruction. President Yeltsin has made proposals for handling this problem, and we have offered our help as part of an international effort.

The President and I agreed to establish a secure telephone link between our two offices. This is not meant as a crisis hot-line; it will enable us to conduct the significant amount of business we have to undertake.

We signed a joint declaration—the text of which is in the Library of the House—on relations between our two countries. It will form the basis of a treaty which the President and I hope to sign during the official visit to Britain which he will make later this year. It will be the first such treaty since 1766.

This is a time of great hope in international affairs, but also of uncertainty and potential instability. The two meetings on which I have reported to the House have shown our determination to work for a safer world and a new partnership with Russia in the cause of peace.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

In thanking the Prime Minister for his statement, may I first confirm our welcome for President Yeltsin's visit to London and for the United Nations Heads of Government meeting?

May I also take this opportunity to wish the new United Nations Secretary-General success in his efforts to prepare recommendations for improvement in the preventative diplomacy, peacemaking and peacekeeping capacities of the United Nations?

There is clearly force in Mr. Yeltsin's view that greater support for economic development is essential for political stability and for the prevention of any possibility of a return to totalitarianism and militarism in the former Soviet Union. Will the Prime Minister therefore tell us what specific proposals he has made for supporting economic projects in the republics of the former Soviet Union, particularly in the distribution industries, which are obviously of basic importance to economic growth and to the development of markets?

The Government's announced change of policy on export credit facilities for the republics of the former Soviet Union is welcome, but can the Prime Minister clarify the extent and the effectiveness of these changes in practice, as it appears that the conditions limiting the operation of those credit guarantees is likely to make them unusable for several years to come?

May I express my satisfaction that the Prime Minister does not now take the reluctant attitude towards the establishment of a rouble stabilisation fund that he did in July and August last year when I put that proposal to him? Will the right hon. Gentleman say what support he is receiving from other G7 countries for his recent endorsement of a rouble stabilisation fund?

Can the Prime Minister say also whether he has encouraged discussion of the establishment in the new democracies of a payments union similar to that which played such an important part in western Europe's recovery after the second world war?

Following his contact with Mr. Yeltsin and with other leaders of former Soviet republics and Warsaw pact countries, does the Prime Minister accept the need for a co-ordinated international aid and support programme—a modern Marshall plan—as proposed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe? Does he not agree that such a programme could, amongst other things, establish an effective linkage between western support for economic development and the response from the newly independent states in terms of schedules for comprehensive, verifiable, and quicker disarmament?

I endorse the Prime Minister's request to the Security Council that all member nations "commit" themselves anew to … reinforced measures of arms control. With that in mind, can the Prime Minister tell the House what his response is to President Yeltsin's call for Britain, France, and China to participate in the process of international negotiations for reduction in strategic nuclear weapons? What is the Prime Minister doing to promote a comprehensive test ban treaty, and what proposals does he have for strengthening the nonproliferation treaty?

The Prime Minister's declarations of support for the United Nations are, as ever, to be commended. I therefore invite him to express his regret that, according to the figures published by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office last week, United Kingdom support for United Nations development agencies has been cut by 38 per cent. in real terms since 1979. Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether he has any intention of reversing such cuts? Does he not agree that, without such a radical break with his previous policies, his statement that a new situation in the world needs new ideas and a new impetus will not carry much conviction?

I welcome the Prime Minister's use of the words "partners and friends" to describe the relationship with the new democracies. We on this side of the House will continue to propose and to support policies which give practical effect to the hope for a new and durable world order of peace, liberty, and prosperity which was expressed again at the United Nations last week.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome for President Yeltsin's visit, and for the broad welcome that he gave to the outcome of last week's United Nations meeting. I am pleased that we have a joint view on so many matters of such importance.

As to economic support, one noticeable difference in the circumstances within the former Soviet Union over the past few weeks is that the price of a liberalisation programme has been put in place. That is a vitally necessary component of creating a free and open market there—but it necessarily brings with it great short-term difficulties. It was an immensely brave step for President Yeltsin to take, and on that basis I believe that it is right for the United Kingdom to change its policy on a rouble stabilisation fund—as an indication that we are prepared to support the reform programme that is now in place.

There will be need for support in that fashion, and that can satisfactorily come only through the International Monetary Fund. For that reason, I proposed that Russia should join the fund, and that has the support of other members. We propose that that process should be concluded not later than April, but it is immensely to be hoped that it can be done far more speedily. Once Russia is a member of the International Monetary Fund, that will make it possible for Russia to receive sustantial assistance in cash to deal not only perhaps with a stabilisation fund but balance of payments support—which I personally suspect will be needed in the Soviet Union. It is equally likely that Russia will need ECGD or comparative support in the months and years ahead, not just from this country but from others.

Let me respond to the specific ECGD point raised by the right hon. Gentleman. We have announced the availability, for Russia and the other republics, of £280 million worth of ECGD support this year, but that is dependent on an IMF programme's being in place. I hope that that will be the case not later than April; it may well be a good deal earlier. The arrangement is also dependent on the Russian republic's continuing to meet its debt obligations in the future, as in the past.

As for the arms control matters, we have been working to improve the measures of arms control. During my discussions with President Yeltsin, he explicitly accepted the disproportion between the British nuclear deterrent, Trident, and the nuclear capacity that will be available to the Soviet Union even after it has carried out the reductions to which it has committed itself, and which will take a decade or more to implement. That point was explicitly recognised by President Yeltsin in our private discussions, and also acknowledged in public after our meeting.

The United Kingdom has spoken bilaterally to a number of countries about the non-proliferation treaty. We have raised it through the United Nations, and we see the United Nations as the primary focus for encouraging a much wider group of countries to sign the treaty and abide by it. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have made very large contributions to the development agencies, and we shall continue to do so.

As for the question of partnership and friendship in the 1990s, the joint declaration that we signed sets out a series of bases on which we can improve our relationship with Russia. We intend that joint declaration to be turned, during this year, into a comprehensive treaty between Russia and the United Kingdom—the first that we have had since 1766.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. This is a Back-Benchers' day, and a motion has been tabled in the name of the hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert). I shall allow questions to continue until 4.30. I hope to be able to call every hon. Member who wishes to speak before then, provided that single, brief questions are asked.

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, through his energy and skill, he has now given a powerful send-off to the new United Nations and its new Secretary-General in the very complex and difficult tasks that we expect the UN to have to face in the post-cold-war world?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that much the most important and immediate task now faced by the international order is to ensure that there is not a quantum leap in the number of countries with access to smaller, tactical and battlefield nuclear weapons and nuclear warheads? Will he assure us that everything will be done, as a matter of urgency—both by this country and by the Security Council and its agencies—to ensure that that task is tackled, collectively, with the utmost vigour? Failure now would involve colossal cost later.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his kind welcome for what has been achieved.

I think that there are two aspects to the question of a quantum leap in nuclear weapons. First, there is the success of the non-proliferation treaty, and the inhibition on extra states' developing a nuclear capability; secondly, there is ensuring that the nuclear capability—particularly the sub-strategic capability—that is at present spread throughout the republics of the former Soviet Union remains under strong control, is brought together and is dismantled at the earliest possible opportunity.

Photo of Mr Paddy Ashdown Mr Paddy Ashdown Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Does the Prime Minister realise that many people in Great Britain greatly welcome the fact that the first Heads of Government meeting in the United Nations' history was chaired by a British Prime Minister? Does he further realise that what will also have been welcomed and noted is the difference in attitude between the Prime Minister and that of his predecessor towards the United Nations? Those of us who have criticised the Government's and western nations' lack of urgency in providing appropriate assistance to the Soviet Union will also welcome the new steps and the energy that is being shown in this area

If, as the Prime Minister rightly says, the protection of non-proliferation is the absolute key to world peace, why are the Government seeking to increase the number of nuclear warheads that are carried on Trident, when they have the option of keeping the number the same, at a time when the rest of the world is decreasing them? How can it be consistent— perhaps the Prime Minister will answer the question now, since he did not answer the Leader of the Opposition—for the Prime Minister's policy to be as expressed in the statement but for that policy to be opposed to a comprehensive test ban treaty?

Finally, if the Prime Minister says, as he rightly does, that one of the centrepieces of reshaping the United Nations so that it can cope with the new challenges to world peace is to strengthen the United Nations' peacekeeping capacity, why is it that the Government are, I am told, $8 million in arrears with their dues towards United Nations' peacekeeping?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

On the first of the right hon. Gentleman's three points—how many nuclear warheads we have—he knows that we have never indicated how many warheads there will actually be: I do not believe that it would be in the interests of our security for us to do so. However, we shall maintain the minimum necessary. That has always been our position, and I reaffirm it again today.

As for the nuclear test ban treaty, for as long as it is necessary for us to have nuclear weapons, we require the ability to test and we propose to keep the ability to test. For Opposition Members to suggest that we should have nuclear weapons but not the ability to test shows how little they understand the responsibility that lies with a nuclear power.

Photo of Mr Cyril Townsend Mr Cyril Townsend , Bexleyheath

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the problem faced by the United Nations in recent decades has been entanglement in east-west confrontation and that at this stage of its development it does not need to embark on an extremely controversial and difficult period of structural reform but should make greater use not only of the United Nations charter but of the existing United Nations machinery? Does my right hon. Friend also agree that we need greater United Nations intervention in the sovereign affairs of sovereign states—as in Iraq, where there is gross violation of human rights and massive oppression of minorities?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I agree with my hon. Friend's second point. In the Gulf war the United Nations played a part of immense importance. I hope that in similar circumstances in the future it would do so again. I share also my hon. Friend's view about the reform of the United Nations. There are parts of the United Nations that certainly could work better. We are keen to help them to do so, but the Security Council is working well and reform is neither necessary nor desirable.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton

Did the Prime Minister discuss the anti-ballistic missile treaty? Is not the United States trying to scrap the ABM treaty so that it can push on with its star wars programme? Does the Prime Minister agree that we do not want the militarisation of space, and that in any case it is not needed? Will he put his weight against that treaty being abrogated?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I know that the hon. Gentleman is chairman of the Labour party's defence committee and that therefore he is a specialist in these matters. On the ABM treaty, he will know that the United States is also talking to Russia about acting jointly in that matter.

Photo of Mr Terence Higgins Mr Terence Higgins , Worthing

May I enthusiastically welcome the enhanced role for the United Nations, particularly the excellent choice for its new Secretary-General? My right hon. Friend will be aware, however, that contributions to the main United Nations budget have not in the past always been paid on time or in full, even by members of the Security Council. Can my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that the additional funds that the United Nations needs to carry out these increased responsibilities will be provided by the members of the United Nations?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I cannot answer for other members of the United Nations, but in our meeting last week I certainly drew attention to the necessity for ensuring that the United Nations had the right financial and material aid to complete the tasks that we have set it.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Shadow Minister (Disability)

The Prime Minister told my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) that the Government make a large contribution to the UN development agencies, but he must be aware that our contribution has been cut by 38 per cent. since 1979. What would happen if other advanced nations did the same? When do the Government expect to meet the target for overseas aid of 0·7 per cent. of gross national product?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

Before the hon. Gentleman lectures me about the 0·7 per cent. commitment, he should bear in mind that the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that that is an aspiration and not a commitment. There is no indication that the Labour party would meet it.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier , Canterbury

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although I welcome the economic measures to assist the Soviet Union—granted, as he rightly says, because of the courage of President Yeltsin in implementing his reforms—the other side of the coin is that it would have been a terrible mistake if we had jumped the gun and granted the assistance before the reforms were implemented? It is unlikely that Boris Yeltsin would be implementing those reforms if we had jumped the gun, as the Opposition wanted.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I agree with my hon. Friend. The important fact is that President Yeltsin is there now, and we have an obligation to assist him; it is in our own interests to do so.

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney

Is not one of the most serious threats to stability and peace in central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union the presence of large minorities within the new states that do not necessarily recognise those states? I realise the major problem of recognising new borders, but did the members of the Security Council discuss new machinery or initiatives to deal with those potentially tremendous conflicts? Yugoslavia was the most extreme case, but there are many other examples that could threaten stability in central and eastern Europe.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the potential causes of instability, but that was not the subject of our discussion last Friday and it was not discussed other than in the margins of the meeting.

Photo of Michael Mates Michael Mates , East Hampshire

May I particularly welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement that he has agreed to President Yeltsin's request to send advisers to help the Russians with the traumatic changes that they must make to their armed forces as a result of the change in the situation? Will he instruct them to explore further the possibility of greater co-operation so that we can work, train and perhaps exercise with the Russian forces? It is becoming clear, day by day, that our interests and theirs are growing more and more together in our determination to achieve stability in the new Europe.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

We are content to explore any and all of those matters; indeed, a number of them have been the subject of detailed discussion. We have agreed in principle on some completely new ideas of co-operation between Britain and the Russian defence ministries and the armed forces, in particular on the handling of military budgets, co-ordination between military and civilians, accountability to Parliaments and such matters.

On the safe disposal of nuclear weapons—a critically important matter to the House and elsewhere—NATO made a general offer of co-operation in December. I again offered our bilateral co-operation to President Yeltsin last week, and we are prepared to make United Kingdom expertise available to the Russians.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

The Prime Minister rightly emphasised the question of non-proliferation. Why, therefore, does he continue his nuclear fatalism through his pursuit of the Trident programme, which increases the number of nuclear warheads on Polaris from 192 to 512? He may wish to confirm or deny those figures. How does that set an example to countries that he wishes to discourage from adopting nuclear deterrence? If he believes in friendship and partnership, at whom will we be pointing the Trident warheads?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I dealt with the first part of the hon. Lady's question in reply to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). She will recall that Britain halved its sub-strategic nuclear weaponry only last year.

Photo of Mr Peter Blaker Mr Peter Blaker , Blackpool South

Is it not clear that the welcome improved prospects for an effective United Nations are due to the Soviet Union's abandonment in the late 1980s of the aim of intimidating western Europe into submission and expanding its power generally? Was not that change in turn due to a realisation by the Soviet Government that the Governments of western countries, particularly the British Government, were not going to adopt a policy of one-sided nuclear disarmament, despite the urgings of Opposition Members?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's analysis on that point. I think that the right decisions were taken in recent years on the deployment of cruise and other nuclear matters, and we are now seeing the benefit of that.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin , Sunderland South

How can the Prime Minister possibly justify spending £23,000 million in capital and maintenance on a missile system which does not work properly, which does not deter, which is not independent and against whom there is now no one to target it?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I do not accept the figure, I do not accept the analysis, and I do not accept the premise.

Photo of Mr Nigel Forman Mr Nigel Forman , Carshalton and Wallington

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the most important subjects on which he obviously made so much progress with President Yeltsin was that of non-proliferation? Can he tell the House a little more about any plans that he and the Government may have to recruit or to find peaceful employment for some of the rocket scientists and nuclear experts of Russia and, perhaps, even of the Ukraine? It seems to many of us that that would be one way to limit the spread of nuclear know-how which could be one of the longer term dangers of the issue.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I agree with my hon. Friend about that. I discussed the question of the nuclear scientists with President Yeltsin last Thursday. He has put forward some interesting ideas for international centres to redeploy nuclear scientists on civilian work. We have agreed to examine that with him and to see in what way the United Kingdom and other countries can help Russia and the other republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States to use the talents of their nuclear scientists for peaceful purposes.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

Will the Prime Minister rule out United Nations military action against Libya?

Photo of Mr Michael Jopling Mr Michael Jopling , Westmorland and Lonsdale

Will the Prime Minister bear in mind the vast quantity of surplus conventional and chemical weaponry held by the former Soviet Union states? Did he attempt to get undertakings from President Yeltsin that he would use his best endeavours to ensure that they resist the temptation to sell that weaponry to unreliable states in the middle east and elsewhere?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I am able to say to my right hon. Friend that I raised that matter with President Yeltsin very forcibly indeed.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

I am sure that the House will agree that the United Nations' enhanced role in the issues that the Prime Minister has mentioned will be most welcome. However. as that role will need to be funded, does he support the Government's policy of cutting aid to the United Nations development agencies by 38 per cent. since 1979? Does not he think that we are a bad example to tell people to act through the United Nations when we as a Government have failed to do so?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

We have been one of the foremost supporters of the United Nations, and the Government have played the prime role in enhancing the position of the United Nations in the past few years.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Warren Mr Kenneth Warren , Hastings and Rye

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his robust leadership of the United Nations last week. Was he able to discuss with President Yeltsin the problems of the old Soviet bureaucracy in Russia and the way in which it is inhibiting the ability of the people of Russia to receive the aid that they deserve? Will he consider setting up in Moscow a unit composed of people from British industry, from the British Government and from the British-Soviet Chamber of Commerce to try to help the Russians receive the aid that is being held from them by the stupidity of their bureaucracy?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

One of the principal difficulties faced by the Russians at present is that they have no effective distribution system whatsoever to deal with the aid that is available to them. That distribution system fails at the bureaucratic level and in terms of the direct transport available. That is a matter of discussion between the Russians and the European Community at present, and the Community has stated its willingness and ability to assist.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

Will the Prime Minister reconsider his answer on nuclear tests? Does he realise that, statistically, the one test a year that Britain carries out is not sufficient to verify that our bombs would work if, tragically, they were ever to be used? However, one test a year causes major increases in radiation and problems of cancer. The Prime Minister's answer is wholly illogical, as he would say that if there were one nuclear weapon left in the world there should be tests. Is it not time that we followed the Russians and went for a permanent test ban for all weapons?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I do not feel inclined to reconsider my earlier answer. It is necessary to have a minimum level of testing, which is precisely what we have. We test for safety reasons, and it is right that we do so. We will continue to do so.

Photo of Mr Peter Hordern Mr Peter Hordern , Horsham

Given the scale of the problem both in the size of the capital required and in the need to stabilise the rouble, does my right hon. Friend agree that the International Monetary Fund is by far the best body to deal with the problems? How soon can Russia become a member of the IMF? Does it not to some extent depend on the willing co-operation of the United States? Is the IMF not far and away the best organisation to deal with such matters, given its long experience of dealing with the ravages of socialism?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

My hon. Friend is entirely right to say that the IMF is by far the best organisation to assist in the circumstances. I hope that Russia can become a member speedily—in any event, not later than April. I assure my hon. Friend that the United States also supports Russia's membership of the IMF.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

I welcome the Prime Minister's decision to consider a stabilisation fund for the republics. That is a major and important development. What are his preliminary views on the conditionality that would have to apply to the republics if such a fund were set up?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his earlier remarks. The conditionality must be determined in the light of the IMF discussions with the Russians when we shall have a clearer view of precisely what Russia's needs are and of the capacity that Russia has to meet its current problems. Although I am sure that there will be conditionality of some sort, I believe that it is necessary to move as comprehensively and as speedily as possible to provide the rouble stabilisation fund and possibly other assistance as well.

Photo of Mr Robert Rhodes James Mr Robert Rhodes James , Cambridge

During his discussions with the new Secretary-General and with President Yeltsin, did my right hon. Friend raise the importance for the future of the United Nations of the restoration of the idea and the reality of the true international civil service? That was contained in the charter and some of us endeavoured to fulfil it. It has been fulfilled by certain individuals, the most conspicuous of whom is my former colleague and assistant Mr. Piccu. That ideal and reality, opposed so bitterly by the former Soviet Union, surely should be restored as a major part of the future of the United Nations.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I did not discuss that particular matter with the Secretary-General or with any of the other United Nations officials. I share my hon. Friend's view that it is an important matter, and I will take an opportunity to discuss it in the future.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Some of us will be able very shortly to assess the position for ourselves. For the immediate period and during the winter months, is it not essential for food to get into the shops and, whatever problems there are with distribution, for the west and the other developed countries to help? Should we not make it clear when we are in the former Soviet Union that aid from the developed countries is conditional only on two factors—no going back to any form of dictatorship, and no armed conflict between the republics?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said on both points. The food aid—the humanitarian aid—which is necessary now is unconditional; there can be no question of conditionality for the food aid. A substantial amount of that has already been delivered. There is a good deal more which is in the pipeline committed by the European Community but which is not yet in Russia. It is intended that it will go to Moscow and Leningrad and beyond those two major cities.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt , Bury North

Is it not the case that the present serious conventional and nuclear arms reductions have been brought about by the twin policies of determination and constant vigilance, especially in this country and through its Government? Is not the success of those policies the answer to those who sought in the past or who will seek in the future to undermine those policies and to question the value of the nuclear deterrent?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I agree with my hon. Friend. There is no necessity to add to what he has said.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz , Leicester East

The Prime Minister told the House that the new Secretary-General is conducting a review of the machinery of the United Nations. As the chairman of the meeting, does the right hon. Gentleman have any thoughts of his own about which current members of the Security Council should give up their permanent seats and which other countries that seek permanent seats should be given those seats?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I see no need for change at the moment.

Photo of Mr Anthony Nelson Mr Anthony Nelson , Chichester

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his historic initiative and speech. Does he agree that the central theme that emerged from the meeting was that proactive diplomatic intervention is always preferable to reactive military intervention? If that is to be acheived, and if there is a hope for the United Nations in the future, does he agree that that hope lies not so much in building up a United Nations army as in finding a common political cause among the members of the Security Council?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I agree, without reservation, with what my hon. Friend has said. Proactive diplomatic intervention is precisely what we increasingly see as the role of the United Nations. I hope that the report from the new Secretary-General will lead us further in that direction.

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Bethnal Green and Stepney

This was clearly a successful and possibly historic meeting of the Security Council, but I am sure that the Prime Minister will accept that it is time that deeds followed words in a number of relevant international commitments. Therefore, was anything said either in the Security Council itself or, more probably, in the margins about bringing the Uruguay round to a successful conclusion, upon which success so much of the world's economic prosperity rests?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

Not in the meetings because that is not the purpose of the Security Council. However, in the margins and in the bilaterals in New York, the Uruguay round was the matter that was first discussed with President Bush and other leaders. I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman that nothing is more important at the moment than the successful and speedy conclusion of the Uruguay round.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

Does the Prime Minister agree that certain historic inherited tensions and forces must be overcome in the former Soviet Union if the objectives that were agreed last week are to be achieved? By what means are the reforms, the democratic achievements and the other agreements that were reached last week to be measured and implemented?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

They must be implemented by the Russian Government and the Governments of the republics, but the framework of the economic reforms will no doubt be set by the International Monetary Fund in the report that it will submit before making available the loans that I expect to be made available. Once an IMF programme is in place, it is monitored by the International Monetary Fund.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Is the Prime Minister aware that, when he refused to answer an earlier question about Britain scabbing on its contributions to the United Nations fund to the tune of about $8 million, he was no different from somebody who refuses to pay the poll tax? Is it not ironic that, when Britain holds the chair of the United Nations, Britain is not up to date with its subs? Is it any wonder then that, despite not having nuclear power, Japan and Germany look like taking the United Kingdom's seat at the United Nations Security Council? What state have we reached when, after 13 years of Tory Government, Germany and Japan are pushing us out of the Security Council? What a sorry state we have reached.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

We can always rely on the hon. Gentleman for a little light relief. We can rely on him also to sink below any occasion, as he has yet again this afternoon. No one is pushing the United Kingdom out of its Security Council seat, as I said to his hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), who appeared to suggest that that might be desirable.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson , Ruislip - Northwood

I welcome especially my right hon. Friend's commitment to a reinforced effort on the part of the United Nations in peacekeeping and peacemaking. In that regard, did my right hon. Friend have the time, either in the margins or in bilateral meetings with his United States and French counterparts, to discuss progress in sending peacekeeping troops to Yugoslavia? Is there any prospect of that being acceptable in the Serb-dominated areas of Croatia?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

No, that subject was not for discussion in New York on Friday, although it is under constant discussion among my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, his fellow Foreign Ministers in the European Community and the United Nations.

Photo of Mr Calum MacDonald Mr Calum MacDonald , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

On Russia's debt obligations, will the Prime Minister respond to the urgent pleas in private of President Yeltsin's advisers and consider the suspension of interest payments, at least in the short term? What is the point in giving money with one hand and taking it away with the other?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

That is a matter for the Paris Club, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and it is best discussed there.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Eltham

In addition to the important issues of world citizenship and Government-to-Government relations, will my right hon. Friend consider, in recognising the 100 or so administrative regions within Russia, that it might help to get delegations from the Trades Union Congress, the Confederation of British Industry and local government at both officer and councillor levels to have seminars in Russia so that people can start breaking down the bureaucracy and make the system better able to deliver what is now needed there?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

As ever, my hon. Friend has produced an intriguing idea.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths , Bridgend

Will the Prime Minister reflect on the conditions of the export credit facilities? There seems to be a widely held view that, if the current conditions are maintained, Russia and the other former Soviet republics will not be able to take advantage of those facilities. It is obvious, too, that if the former republics are to revive economically, those export credit facilities must be used soon.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

That, of course, is a reason why I am pressing for such an early IMF entry and IMF facilities. In that way the export credit facilities can be available not just from this country but from the other western countries that broadly take the same view.

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor , Esher

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the important role of the International Monetary Fund. In the autumn there were talks leading to some progress that might be made on Russia becoming a member. Was my right hon. Friend able to discuss with President Yeltsin the problems of the Ukraine? The other republics are undoubtedly severely affected by any problems with the rouble. For them, too, a rouble stabilisation fund would have a significant impact.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

There was no detailed discussion of the position in the Ukraine or other republics because there were sufficient matters to discuss on Russia itself. The subject was touched on generally, and I understand my hon. Friend's point.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

Does the Prime Minister believe that the imposition of massive food price rises and mass unemployment on the Russian people, together with his statement that we will spend £23 billion on the Trident missile system, represents anything but a backward step in a world that is already bitterly divided between north and south? What we need are economic and arms strategies that bring world justice and world peace. Do his policies do any of those things?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I believe that we are making progress, and so does President Yeltsin. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman dissents.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Hind Mr Kenneth Hind , West Lancashire

Did my right hon. Friend have the opportunity to tell President Yeltsin that in 1984 he was a member of the Government's Whips Office urging Conservative Members to vote for the deployment of Pershing and cruise missiles, which resulted in the end of the cold war, a major reduction in nuclear weapons and the election of President Yeltsin? Perhaps that does credit to my right hon. Friend's judgment.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

My hon. Friend is very ingenious. I did not mention that particular point. Had I done so, I could also have mentioned that some cruise missiles were stationed in my constituency.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson, Shadow Spokesperson

May I say how much we welcome the death-bed conversion of the Conservative Government to supporting the United Nations—something that we have done consistently? Will he direct himself to answering the question put to him several times this afternoon: how much money does the United Kingdom Government owe to the United Nations? Is it true that the United States owes hundreds of millions of dollars?

On a personal note, may I say, sadly, that I do not care which country the Prime Minister visits so long as he does not come to Stamford Bridge.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's good humour has been improved by Chelsea's result at Liverpool. It would seem not.

I cannot answer for other countries' arrears to the United Nations, although on Friday I made the point that I hoped that all countries would meet their obligations to the United Nations—

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

—including this one; and we do.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

Will my right hon. Friend say more about the enormous numbers of chemical weapons held in Russia and the former states of the Soviet Union? Does he agree that their elimination and that of other such stockpiles around the world must be a prerequisite of proper progress in wider world disarmament?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. One of our agreements at the Security Council was to seek a comprehensive chemical weapons ban this year.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn , Newport West

Does the Prime Minister recall that, five months before the start of the Gulf war, one of his Ministers, in an answer to me, refused to strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency's inspections of Iraq on the ground that Saddam Hussein had signed the non-proliferation treaty? As such, the Government had full confidence that Saddam Hussein would not work on nuclear weapons. After that bitter experience, will the Prime Minister assure us that attempts to strengthen the IAEA safeguards will be real and serious and will remove the greatest danger that faces the world now—the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to countries ruled by people such as Saddam Hussein and other paranoid butchers?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I draw two lessons from what the hon. Gentleman said. First, at the moment, we are seeking to enhance the status of the IAEA, and, secondly, in view of the uncertainties that the hon. Gentleman set out, I believe he makes a very comprehensive case for this country keeping its own nuclear weapons.

Photo of Mr Paul Boateng Mr Paul Boateng Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Lord Chancellor's Department)

Given the Prime Minister's stated commitment to improving the effectiveness of the United Nations and its agencies, when will Great Britain, once again, play a full and active part in UNESCO, bearing in mind the major reforms that have been carried out to that agency?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

We play a full part in all the important aspects of the United Nations.

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Norwood

I am sure that the Prime Minister will agree that one of the greatest threats to the survival of President Yeltsin is the fact that people are cold and hungry. What practical help did the Prime Minister offer the Russian oil industry—we have great experience in oil production—to enable it to earn hard currency and distribute its products more efficiently to its own people?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

On Thursday, we did not discuss the particular question of the Russian oil industry, but there will be continuing discussions between this country and Russia to determine which areas of its economy we can assist. The oil industry may be one of them. In the time available on Thursday, we dealt with macro matters rather than the position of individual industries.