This debate offers the House the opportunity to consider British foreign policy against the background of a Europe that has changed more in the past 10 years than probably at any time since the French revolution in 1789. Over the past 10 years, we have seen the collapse of the Berlin wall, end of the cold war, disappearance of the Warsaw pact, disintegration of the Soviet Union and a series of other dramatic changes in Europe. They have had an effect which has resonated throughout the world and has had substantial global implications.
For some 44 years, our world was essentially a bi-polar world as the two alliances—the NATO alliance and the Warsaw pact—faced each other in a potentially threatening fashion. There were super-powers in each alliance—the United States and the Soviet Union—with massive nuclear arsenals. There was the ideological conflict of capitalism versus communism.
Those disagreements, disputes and conflicts were not limited to Europe. The cold war meant that events throughout the world were assessed, largely, in relation to their implications for the cold war. Indeed, the rest of the world called itself the third world. The very name it gave itself had significance only as an aspect of the cold war between the west and the Soviet Union. When there was a coup d'etat in Latin America, the main interest was whether it would produce a Government who were pro-communist or pro the United States. If there was a revolution in Africa, what were the implications for the cold war? If there was a civil war in Afghanistan, what were the geo-political considerations beyond Afghanistan in the wider international context?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is taking a historical road and I should point out that this is the 40th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising. Also, since it is the 40th anniversary of the Suez aggression, would it not be appropriate for the Government to publish a White Paper which, for the first time, gives the truth about what happened before the aggression and about the collusion which undoubtedly took place between the three Governments—the British, the French and the Israelis? After 40 years, why can we not be told the full truth at long last? Surely we are entitled to know.
I suspect that we do know the full truth. I am not aware of any significant unresolved issues. Although the hon. Gentleman's party has not been involved in producing White Papers for a long time, he should realise that the primary purpose of a White Paper is to look to the future. We are content to leave it to historians, taking into account Government documents, to assess the lessons of the past.
That bi-polar world is now behind us with the end of the cold war and we now have a multi-polar situation. There is only one world super-power, yet we have the development of global politics. So many issues are affecting the world as a whole in an unprecedented way. The last time there was a global world, it was based on colonial empires. All those empires—the British, the French and even the Russian—have now disappeared. The factors that now lead to global issues, which will increasingly dominate our debates and the interests of our country, do not arise simply as a result of the end of the cold war but have been given a spur because of that.
Market economy capitalism is dominant throughout the world. Almost every country, including communist China, is developing what is, in effect, a capitalist economy. We have an extraordinary development in personal communications and information technology which is accelerating and which will give rise to new global dimensions. We have the movement of capital in an unprecedented way which is making it impossible for any one country to have a completely separate economic policy.
We have the extraordinary growth of trade, not just with the single market in Europe or the North American Free Trade Agreement area, but with the countries of south-east Asia, Japan, Latin America and China which are increasingly becoming major international contributors to the extraordinary increase in global trade and are doing so through the disintegration of internal barriers to wealth creation and economic activity.
There are not just encouraging developments. There are new global threats of which we should be equally conscious. One of the most unwise predictions of recent years was that of the American philosopher who, at the end of the cold war, said that it was the end of history. I prefer the alternative statement which is that as one door closes another slams in your face.
We have significant new threats. The international development of terrorism and crime can be properly combated only by unprecedented international action. The threat of drugs is, clearly, an international threat with those who produce drugs and allow them to transit through their territory having to be involved in dealing with that difficulty.
There is the ever-present threat of weapons of mass destruction, and I do not mean only nuclear weapons, on which most attention has been focused. The increasing threat from chemical and biological weapons is introducing an entirely new dimension into the world, and it is relevant not only as a threat from states but as a potential threat from terrorist organisations.
We have increasingly become aware of the fact that environmental considerations can be understood properly only in global terms. Pollution knows no national boundaries—as we discovered when the Chernobyl disaster had implications for farmers in Wales and elsewhere. Those issues, too, require an international response.
The worrying and disturbing growth in religious extremism has major political consequences. I am not thinking only of Islamic extremism, although that has been the most visible example. The assassination of the Israeli Prime Minister by a fellow Israeli demonstrates a similar problem and is indicative of a serious and challenging difficulty that has to be dealt with.
Bearing in mind the news this morning about what is happening in Burma, and given the record of oppression of minorities—including Christian minorities—by the State Law and Order Restoration Council and the Burmese Government, can my right hon. and learned Friend assure us that the international community is as anxious to stamp out the type of corrupt extremism practised in a country such as Burma as it is in stamping out corruption in countries closer to home?
Burma is one of the most disturbing examples of the suppression of basic political liberties, which is happening at a time when there has been a significant increase in political liberty in so many other parts of the world, including Asia. There is a need for international interest in this matter, and to use whatever means are available that would have some prospect of helping the growth of democratic institutions.
Should the Danes revive their proposal for European sanctions in Burma until there is an improvement in human rights, will the Government—after the Foreign Secretary has expressed those sentiments—support them?
I should like to make two points. First, the level of European—including British—trade with Burma is insignificant; therefore, we should not kid ourselves that sanctions alone would have a significant impact. Secondly, the British Government's view is that economic sanctions can make sense only if they are endorsed by the United Nations. We do not believe that sanctions promoted by individual countries or groups of countries are likely to have an impact, which is precisely why we disagreed with the United States on sanctions against Iran. The Security Council gave its endorsement to such a policy in the case of Iran, which it did not in the case of Libya. Our view on sanctions against other countries is based on comparable considerations.
Before the Foreign Secretary finishes the part of his speech dealing with Europe, will he consider much more fully the American desire to dash madly for NATO enlargement? Does he realise that, although it is correct that there is no way in which the Russians should be able to have a veto over any enlargement, it is necessary to ensure greater confidence between Russia and the rest of Europe? There must also be some lateral thinking on issues of non-aggression, weapons control and even non-aggression pacts, rather than build up the obvious fear of every leader of any party in Russia about the enlargement of NATO, whether that fear is justified or not.
I do not think that the countries of central and eastern Europe believe that there has been a "mad dash" towards allowing their membership of NATO. We are normally criticised by them because they believe that the entire process goes too slowly. I very much agree with my right hon. Friend that the issue of NATO enlargement should not be examined in isolation. If the policy is to be sensible, we must remember that European security is indivisible and that NATO enlargement should be part of a tripartite strategy.
I believe that NATO enlargement should go ahead, but it should be accompanied by a strategic relationship between NATO and Russia, very much for the type of reasons that my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) mentioned, and I believe that there must also be a coherent strategy for NATO's relations with those other countries that are not applying to join NATO—the most important being Ukraine—which also have very important security interests which we need to take into account.
My right hon. and learned Friend has mentioned some of the problems that have occurred recently. Will he mention the grotesque, dramatic refugee problem that now confronts the world? I shall not now mention Zaire, Rwanda or Burundi and the tragedy of the refugees in that part of Africa. I shall mention a small country in the north of India, Bhutan, and its problems with Nepal. What are the British Government doing to solve the severe and growing refugee problem in Bhutan and Nepal?
My hon. Friend is right: the movement of peoples, especially refugees, is a very serious problem in various parts of the world, and I am aware of the background to the problem in Bhutan. I do not claim that the United Kingdom can directly make a major impact on that problem—that is for the countries of the region to tackle—but my hon. Friend can assume that of course we will do our best, along with others, to help to solve that problem.
I have mentioned the way—
While we are on the subject of NATO enlargement, may I say how very much I agree with what my old and right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) said on that subject? [HON. MEMBERS: "Old?"] I meant a friend of long standing. He is much younger than I am, anyhow.
As a matter of wisdom, looking to the future, it would be very unhappy indeed if, at a time when Russia is going through what will be only a temporary phase of weakness, we were to give all the Russian leaders a feeling that we are seeking to take advantage of that to create a position that will threaten their national future. It is very alarming if a succession of national leaders visit eastern Europe and promise individually that specific countries will be admitted to NATO by certain dates. Let us remember the pledge that we gave to Poland in 1939, which we were not effectively able to fulfil and for which the Poles have never really forgiven us, and for goodness sake do not let us make similar mistakes again.
It is precisely for the reasons that my hon. Friend gives that the process of considering NATO enlargement has been taken forward very slowly, cautiously and carefully in the past few years. I do not believe that we shall rush into those matters. It is likely that a decision will be taken by the middle of next year to enter into negotiations with some of the applicant countries. I cannot predict how long those negotiations will last. I hope that they will not last too long, because I do not believe that the uncertainty is of benefit, but I assure my hon. Friend that it is precisely because NATO is not only a political club—it involves commitments to collective security—that we must address those issues, and do so sensibly.
I mentioned the way in which we have moved into a multi-polar world, and I said that the challenges that confront us are very different from those that confronted us a few years ago. That is especially true in Europe. Much of the political debate, in this country and elsewhere, is about the future institutional development of the European Union—issues of majority voting, and so on. We should remember that, important though those issues are, they are not necessarily the most important ones confronting Europe.
In the past few years, we have been presented with some extraordinary challenges which have not yet been properly addressed. We have a great debate about what degree of integration is sensible in western Europe. It is worth remembering that the experience of central and eastern Europe has been not integration, but disintegration.
The Soviet Union collapsed into 16 separate countries. Yugoslavia disintegrated into five new states. Czechoslovakia broke up into two countries, fortunately peacefully. Therefore we have an experience of unprecedented integration in western Europe, when the experience of eastern Europe has been disintegration. One of the great challenges for the whole of Europe is to find a way to bring together those two parts of our continent in a way that can produce harmony and stability.
Yes, we witnessed the end of the cold war—the cold war has been seen to be a temporary aberration of European history—but it has been replaced by a pretty hot peace. We have not yet had peace and stability throughout Europe. I believe that, during the entire cold war, not one NATO or Warsaw pact soldier lost his life in conflict between the two alliances—not a single person—yet, in the years since the end of the cold war, we have had the slaughter in Bosnia and the great loss of life in Chechnya, Armenia and other parts of Europe.
I believe that the enlargement of the European Union will ultimately be even more important than the specific powers of European Union institutions, because unless we achieve a proper, meaningful and stable relationship with countries such as Ukraine and Russia—the new nation states of eastern Europe—we shall make a fundamental and historic mistake.
I have a suggestion for the House: we should stop talking about the former Soviet Union or the Commonwealth of Independent States when we refer to those countries. Countries such as Ukraine, Armenia and the Baltic states are now independent nations, just as Poland, Hungary, France, Britain or Germany are. Every time we refer to them as the former Soviet Union, we imply an identity that can be understood only by reference to their relationship with Moscow. We do not refer to Poland as the former Warsaw pact nor to the United States as the former British empire.
If we can apply consistency, I do not mind, but until we refer to the United States as the former British empire, we should refer to those countries as what they are. Ukraine is eastern Europe; Russia is eastern Europe; Poland, Hungary and the other states are central Europe; and that geographical designation would have a political impact as well as being a more accurate reflection of their situation.
That is western Europe—I hope that that is not controversial.
I want to report briefly to the House on the intergovernmental conference, which continues to have serious and important deliberations. The timing is now pretty clear: at the Dublin summit later this year, the presidency will produce draft conclusions, not with a serious expectation of immediate agreement but to focus the debate more specifically on the outstanding issues, because only when one addresses texts does one know where each country stands and what are likely to be the important areas of difference. There is now total agreement that the Amsterdam summit of June next year will be the end of the intergovernmental conference. Britain agrees with that, and I believe that it is the view of all the member states.
Important progress is being made on issues such as the future of the Western European Union; there is not yet final agreement, but there is broad acceptance of the way in which we are heading on such matters. The important question of the relationship of WEU to the European Union remains, and I believe that our determination that the one should not be subordinated to the other will be reflected in the final conclusions.
On common foreign and security policy, on the role of national Parliaments and on the subsidiarity protocol, good progress has been made, and over the next few months satisfactory conclusions will be reached. Some issues will be more difficult to resolve than others, but I believe that it is right to draw attention to those on which progress is already being made.
There has been a foolish assumption in certain quarters—it is not being pursued now—that a country would be entitled to join WEU without joining NATO. That is an unsustainable proposition because WEU, like NATO, involves a commitment to collective security. Joining is not merely a political declaration. The treaty of Brussels, under which WEU was set up, is a treaty of collective security, but the assets that provide that security are NATO assets, so the United States has a crucial role. The political and factual reality is that one cannot be a full member of WEU without being a member of NATO. Only those countries that are contemplating joining both will be able to consider accession to WEU.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend say a little more about the European Court? Many of my constituents know that, if the courts in this country do something that the Government believe to be wrong, the Government can introduce a Bill and change the law. My constituents are concerned that no power in the land—not Westminster and not even the Council of Ministers or the European Parliament—can reverse a European Court decision. Can we have an assurance that European Court decisions that politicians do not believe to be right can be reversed using European Community mechanisms?
The European Court was created by the treaty and can therefore be changed by treaty amendment. The intergovernmental conference provides an opportunity to make certain changes. The United Kingdom has published its proposals—I shall not go into them today, but they are available to the House. That is the way in which one deals with any such situation.
The single most important issue for the intergovernmental conference is only beginning to be addressed now—flexibility. We must consider the extent to which groups of European Union states will be able to act together, when not all member states wish to do so, and still have access to European Union institutions. If they do not want access to EU institutions, there is no problem, as the Schengen agreement has shown. Any group of countries can join together on their own initiative and take certain actions jointly. However—this is a fundamental British position—access to European Union institutions for those in such agreements is acceptable only if all 15 states agree. We believe that not for theoretical or ideological reasons, but because access to European institutions means the involvement of the European Commission, the European Court of Justice and the budget. That is not acceptable unless all 15 agree.
Such agreement is possible, as with the Europol convention. The issue was whether countries under the Europol convention should have access to the European Court of Justice. The final agreement was that the other 14 states would have access to the European Court of Justice on Europol matters and the United Kingdom would not. That arrangement is acceptable because it was agreed by all 15 member states.
I do not suggest that we or any other country have thought out all the implications of flexibility. It is a fundamental issue and much more work needs to be done in this country and elsewhere if we are to move in that direction. No one doubts that the European Union of the future will be flexible—that is unavoidable and such flexibility already exists to some extent. The issues are how the system will work, what the institutional implications will be and how the interests of minorities as well as majorities can be properly safeguarded.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that he has just said that the way to change a European Court decision that people find offensive is by altering treaties? Cannot European Union regulations and directives be altered under current treaty arrangements? If the other method is the only one available, we are really into something rather tight.
That is a fair point. Part of the problem has been that some directives have not been properly drafted and have been insufficiently precise about what is required. That inevitably gives the European Court the opportunity to make law as well as to interpret it. There is a need for greater precision, clarity and care in the drafting of directives and regulations. I am saying to those who criticise the powers of the European Court that those powers are created by treaty and can be amended only by amending the treaty. That is a straightforward point.
I commend my right hon. and learned Friend's caution on flexibility, but given that we are all under the single jurisdiction of the European institutions, which tends to be an enlarging and deepening jurisdiction, if we allow some member states to take that jurisdiction even further just for themselves, what protection will we have against that jurisdiction extending to the other member states? That is particularly problematic, given that we have a single market with freedom of trade, free and open borders for workers in the European Union and a free transfer of rights between individuals of member states. Is it not increasingly becoming impossible to compartmentalise jurisdiction in some states and not others, unless those states have a constitutional safeguard to prevent the court from enlarging its jurisdiction unilaterally?
I have considerable sympathy with my hon. Friend, who sums up an important part of the challenge that we face. However, we cannot duck that challenge. We already have flexibility and it will increase. The challenge for all member states is how to manage that flexibility—what degree of flexibility should be permitted with access to European institutions and how to prevent the unacceptable consequences to which my hon. Friend referred.
I do not claim that we have all the answers today. That is precisely why I said that more work needs to be done and that our final judgment on these matters will be determined and not just influenced by whether we find a satisfactory way of managing them. We cannot avoid the issue. Flexibility already exists and is bound to increase as the European Union enlarges. The real challenge is not whether we deal with it but how we deal with it.
Before I leave the subject of the European Union, let me refer to certain remarks made by the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook).
Let me make some progress first. Perhaps I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman later.
I noted with interest that, in his speech to the Labour party conference, the right hon. Gentleman said:
we are going to put jobs at the head of the European agenda … jobs will be the bottom line by which we judge whether Britain will join any single currency.
So jobs are the most important criterion—the single question. Yet, in the same breath—[HON. MEMBERS: "Not the single important question."] The right hon. Gentleman certainly said that jobs were the most important consideration. He said that they would be the bottom line and at the head of our European agenda. He said that jobs would be both at the head of the agenda and the bottom line. Yet, in the same breath, he said that, within the first year after the general election, if there were a Labour Government they would end the British opt-out and sign up to the social chapter. No attempt was made to reconcile those brave words which are mutually incompatible.
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that unemployment in Britain is the lowest in Europe and is declining at a time when in other member states it is larger and increasing. In Britain, the figure is below 8 per cent. In Germany, it has been 8 and 9 per cent. In France, it is 12 per cent.; in Italy, 15 per cent.; and in Spain, 22 per cent. and increasing. If the right hon. Gentleman says that that is all very well, but it cannot be credited to the British Government, let me remind him what has been said by others whom he may consider more impartial. Let me remind him what was said in Le Monde on 20 October last year.
Yes. I am coming up to the present day. Le Monde remarked:
How does one interpret the incredible change in unemployment in Great Britain? If unemployment is dropping in Great Britain, it is because they have done everything to deserve it. For several years, considerable efforts have been made to improve the workings of the labour market thereby boosting job and new company creations".
Philips, the Dutch company, said:
The most competitive country in Europe today is the UK. It has a great sense of realism, a great sense of the competitive spirit".
The chairman of BMW in Germany said:
Great Britain is currently the most attractive country among all European locations for producing cars.
The Leader of the Opposition went to Germany and lectured the German CBI. He might like to know what the president of the German CBI said about the causes of unemployment:
Excessively high German labour costs are costing more and more German jobs. There is really no call for minimum wages in our economic system".
In a moment. The right hon. Member for Livingston has to make up his mind: either he wants to make jobs a priority or he wishes to give priority to his ideological objectives. He cannot do both.
In his recent interview in the New Statesman and Society, the right hon. Member for Livingston made a remarkable statement:
The terrific potential for a Labour victory in Britain is that not only would you have a straight majority of Prime Ministers at the EU summit from socialist sister parties, but you would also then
have one of the key players in Europe on their side. With a Labour Government in Britain we could put together an alliance that would enable a different agenda at those EU summits.
He says that that is a socialist agenda. I understand that socialism is not a dirty word for him. In a recent interview, he said:
I am not afraid to use that word—socialism".
I wonder from whom he was distinguishing himself. I wonder especially what is the socialist agenda in Europe to which he is committed, because we have not heard much about one from the Leader of the Opposition. He does not tell us anything about socialist agendas or suggest that that is why a Labour Government are required. Since such an agenda is the pet scheme of the right hon. Gentleman, I would be grateful if he could enlighten us on it.
The Foreign Secretary gave us unattributed quotes from Le Monde of a year ago and mentioned a German leader. May I put to him the remarks last week of Mr. Adair Turner of the CBI? He praised Germany, pointing out that its growth rate in per capita gross domestic product had been higher than that of the United States in the past five, indeed 10, years, and said that the high wages—there is no minimum wage in Germany—forced managers to compete effectively and that the German model had much to teach Britain. Instead of patronising Germany, would the right hon. and learned Gentleman care to learn something from it?
I am happy to praise Germany and its economy. It has had the remarkable good sense to reject socialist government for the past 10 to 15 years. That may in part explain the phenomenon to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
The Foreign Secretary has been very generous with his time, but I really think that he should treat the House more seriously when he is discussing such issues and should abandon, for a time at any rate, the more frivolous approach that he is adopting.
Surely we can get the right hon. and learned Gentleman to agree with this: the social chapter, as a major issue, is a fraud. There is virtually nothing in it, and although it may suit him to pretend that it will have an enormous effect on costs in Britain, he knows that that is untrue. I know very well that my hon. Friends know it to be untrue as well. It is an empty satchel.
What matters, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out, are the different labour costs in different parts of Europe. They are due to national legislation rather than to the social chapter. They are also due—I should like him to give his view on this—to the fact that continental European countries are still bound in with the exchange rate mechanism and have exchange rate policies that are not competitive. We have enjoyed precisely the revival in the economy that has occurred because we escaped the ERM and are in a much more competitive exchange rate position.
I have no quarrel with part of what the right hon. Gentleman says, but he knows perfectly well that the main reason why other member states of the European Union want to force us into the social chapter is that they wish to erode our competitive advantage, which arises out of the lesser non-labour costs that the UK enjoys. That has been endorsed by the leaders of German industry as well as by industry in other countries.
I am conscious of the fact that the new challenges that we face in Europe and around the world have to be reflected in the nature of our foreign policy. For the years to come, I believe that British foreign policy should be founded on four basic pillars. The first is the partnership of nations, which is our concept of the way in which the European Union should develop. Secondly, we need to take forward the transatlantic dimension: the concept of Atlantic free trade. The move towards tightening our links with the countries of north America is crucial. I am particularly delighted at the first meeting of the Oxford Forum—bringing together American congressmen, Members of Parliament and German parliamentarians—because in recent times there has been minimum contact at parliamentary level. Congress takes a deep interest in seeking to influence foreign policy but, sadly, congressmen have not always been keen to meet foreigners. That has been a problem, but we are slowly overcoming it.
I believe that the third pillar of our foreign policy should be promotion of the extraordinary asset that we have in the English language. The English-speaking world and the Commonwealth are a great British asset. The Commonwealth covers a quarter of the globe, and it is an asset not only to us but to all the countries within it, because of our common interests.
I agree with my hon. Friend, and I look forward to the day when BBC World Service Television has the same extraordinary success as the BBC World Service has had and continues to have. That must be the target, and it is an objective that we support.
The fourth pillar on which our foreign policy needs to be based is the championing of global free trade. Early next month, the President of the Board of Trade and I will publish a White Paper on the fundamental link between free trade and foreign policy. I believe that that is a natural subject in which the United Kingdom can take a lead. We are by nature a merchant free trading nation and, just as within the European Union we have advanced the cause of free trade and the breaking down of economic barriers, so at global level, as the world moves towards adopting the year 2020 as the target date for global free trade, the United Kingdom has a special contribution to make.
The four pillars of our foreign policy are best summed up by Tennyson's description of the Duke of Wellington:
that tower of strength
Which stood four-square to all the winds that blew! That is the approach that we should adopt.
Before I conclude, I shall refer briefly to three or four specific areas of the world—
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way—although I cannot match his literary allusion. While he is talking about the principles that should govern British foreign policy, will he say whether he agrees that one should be the need to promote respect for human rights, which was mentioned in the Gracious Speech? If so, how does he explain our continued willingness to supply arms to the Government of Indonesia while they are engaged in the brutal suppression of East Timor?
We do not provide the Indonesian Government with arms that are used in East Timor, but we are prepared to provide equipment legitimately required by that Government for the external defence of Indonesia. That is our criterion, and it has been consistently applied.
I shall talk first about Hong Kong, which is perhaps the single most important priority for the United Kingdom in terms of our obligations over the next year. Useful progress has been made this year, and the Prime Minister and I could depend on no one more than my friend, the Governor of Hong Kong, because of the extraordinarily impressive way in which he has carried out his responsibilities. In his policy address on 2 October he revealed the determination with which he wishes to take forward those responsibilities.
One of the important decisions still to be taken is the appointment of the first chief executive of Hong Kong. We welcome the fact that the Chinese Government have said that they recognise that the choice of person for that post will be crucial in determining the confidence of the people of Hong Kong, and we look forward to hearing of that choice.
British responsibilities and interests in Hong Kong will not end in June next year. It is sometimes assumed that after that date we shall somehow have no continuing involvement or responsibility, but that could not be further from the truth. We are building our consulate general there, which will be one of our largest anywhere in the world—much larger than many of our embassies in other parts of the world. That reflects the fact that we have billions of pounds' worth of assets in Hong Kong, and that our trade with Hong Kong is even greater than our trade with China. Hundreds of thousands of people there will continue to hold British passports. Most important, we shall continue to have an ethical responsibility to help the people of Hong Kong when problems arise, as they undoubtedly will in the years to come.
I must express my concern at the reported remarks by the Chinese Foreign Minister about freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in Hong Kong after the handover. Freedom of the press and freedom of assembly are guaranteed by the joint declaration and by the Basic Law. No mention has been made of the restrictions suggested by the Chinese Foreign Minister in his reported remarks. We have urged the Chinese Government at the highest level to clarify the remarks, as it is important that they should reassure the people of Hong Kong in this sensitive area.
Another key issue is whether a provisional legislature should be created. We have made it clear to the Chinese Government that there is no justification for establishing such a provisional legislature and that the members of the Legislative Council should be allowed to serve their natural four-year term of office. China must show that Hong Kong will be run by the people of Hong Kong, and that can be achieved only if the legislature comprises those who have been freely and openly elected by the people of Hong Kong. Neither the joint declaration nor the Basic Law makes mention of a provisional legislature, and China must explain how any such arrangement would be compatible with either. The establishment of a provisional legislature would seriously call into question the commitments made in the joint declaration. The House has heard that we will have a debate on Hong Kong later this year, and that is all I wish to say on that subject at present.
I now turn briefly to the important issue of Cyprus and the future of that divided island. The recent violence has shown how fragile the peace has been recently. We have a great interest in the future. of Cyprus. We are one of the guarantor powers, and we have the sovereign base areas on the island. This country is home to more than 250,000 Cypriots. A political settlement next year would be enormously important to Cyprus and to Europe, and there ought to be better prospects for such a settlement than there have been for some time. Cyprus wants to join the European Union, and that will be much easier if it is a united island. It would be extraordinarily difficult to incorporate a divided island into the EU, and that point is increasingly understood.
I recently appointed Sir David Hannay as the British special representative in Cyprus. I did that not because we intend to have a separate British initiative, but because it is important that Britain, the United States and the EU work closely together to make the maximum contribution. I plan to visit Cyprus before Christmas. That will be the first full-scale bilateral visit to Cyprus by a Foreign Secretary since independence in 1960 as, until now, it has been thought inappropriate for such a visit to take place. I look forward to meeting President Klerides in Nicosia, and Mr. Rauf Denktas in his capacity as leader of the Turkish Cypriot community. We will do our best to work with others towards a settlement of the dispute.
I wish to comment on recent allegations about our relations with Argentina and on the recent speculation on the arms embargo. The Government have from time to time considered the partial relaxation of the arms embargo, and we have recognised that some relaxation could take place. However, we have concluded that the time is not yet right. If we decide to implement any relaxation of the embargo, there will of course be an announcement to Parliament. The allegation that the Department of Trade and Industry's advice to Rolls-Royce in June 1995 reflected any change in the arms embargo or was linked in some way to the oil agreement is absurd and has no foundation. I am happy to clarify that point.
I wish to comment briefly on Bosnia. The House will be aware that a peace implementation conference will be held in London in early December. We are all conscious of the great success of the implementation force—IFOR—operation, but the mandate of that force comes to an end later this year. Nor is the civilian reconstruction work at an end.
The main thrust of our policy as we approach the London conference should be to develop the concept of a contractual relationship between the international community and the various parties in Bosnia. We must impress on them that, if they wish to continue to receive military support and economic help, it is necessary for there to be a clearer understanding of the measures that they will take to rebuild their countries, to restore the dialogue between the Bosnian Government and the Bosnian Serbs and to help to reconstruct a single Bosnia-Herzegovina. The international community cannot be expected to stay in Bosnia indefinitely, and the operation must continue on the basis of a clear understanding of our priorities and the conditions that have been accepted by the countries concerned.
The middle east peace process is the final area to which wish to refer. It, too, is an area that has given rise to enormous concern. We were all full of euphoria until a few months ago, but in recent times the situation has become very grave. I shall be in Israel and certain other countries of the middle east in a couple of weeks and I do not intend to launch some separate dramatic initiative. I believe that the proper role for the international community is to speak with a single voice. The future of the peace process will depend on the Israelis and the Palestinians, not on any other country. It is for them, if at all possible, to enter into real dialogue and to make substantive progress on the outstanding issues. I believe that the United States, United Kingdom and France are the three countries of the international community that can most influence the outcome, but I believe that the way in which that can be properly taken forward is by close co-ordination of the international community and by putting forward our maximum contribution to assisting those working for peace.
The first step that we would like to see is, of course, agreement on Hebron. It is being negotiated at the present time, but it has not yet been fully concluded. I believe that, if there is an agreement on Hebron, it will not be the end of the road. It will not be the final statement on the matter. It will not itself have revived the peace process, because other undertakings have already been given which still have to be fully complied with. I am most worried at this precise moment about the situation in Gaza, where I believe the international relief organisations, including the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, are not able to carry out their full responsibilities and are not getting the co-operation, both on access to the area and on the work that they are doing, to which they are entitled. It will be important to urge the Israeli authorities to reconsider some of the restrictions and controls. Any restrictions that are not legitimate on the ground of security should not be there. I believe that the security need can sometimes be exaggerated and used to try to justify controls and restrictions that are unacceptable and are causing grave suffering. It is necessary to work for progress in that area, and that is what we shall seek to do.
I have mentioned that there are four pillars to British foreign policy: the partnership of nations for our European policy; the transatlantic relationship; the Commonwealth and English-speaking world; and the growth of global free trade. That gives Britain a unique role in the world, not as an empire but as a medium-sized power with global influence. I believe that Britain's interests coincide with the interests of the world community as a whole.
There are three particular interests to which I shall refer. The obvious one of peace throughout the world is something with which we identify, as does every other civilised country. Secondly, there is prosperity, which can best be achieved through free trade and through the growth of liberal capitalism, which is increasingly becoming the universal philosophy of the modern world. Thirdly, there is global respect for personal liberty and for the rule of law. It is in the area of personal liberty and the rule of law that the United Kingdom also has a particular contribution to make, because those qualities have existed and flourished in this country probably for longer than in any other country.
Those are the objectives of our foreign policy. I commend them to the House.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister set the House a sterling example of bipartisanship when he went for what appeared to be an impromptu expansion of the Gracious Speech and included two measures that had been left out only because, apparently, the Government were in doubt whether Labour would support them. I am touched by the vision of the Government going through the measures in the Queen's Speech, working out whether Labour would support them and leaving out those that they felt we might not support.
I am also inspired by the bipartisan approach that the Prime Minister showed yesterday, so, to try to build as much common ground as I can with the Secretary of State, I shall at the outset of my speech focus on the areas where we agree—before relaxing into the disagreement with which both he and I are more comfortable.
I should like to respond to the Secretary of State's opening remarks about the international world that we now inhabit. There has never been an era in which international affairs were more intimately related to the domestic agenda, or a greater need for us to debate them coolly and rationally as part of those issues that concern us in our domestic society.
Our economy depends on our success in getting access for our trade in a global marketplace. Our environment will survive only if we get agreement on control of the global climate. Our security depends critically on the agreements that we can make on global weapons that have an intercontinental reach and a massive capacity for destruction.
Whether other countries have Governments who measure up to acceptable and responsible standards of behaviour is no longer a matter only for the populations of those countries, but may be of immediate and direct relevance to us. As a result of the collapse of central authority in Afghanistan, 80 per cent. of the heroin reaching the streets of London comes from that country. The present vacuum in the leadership of Russia has led to strikes over unpaid wages in nuclear power stations, which could have severe consequences for our country and for the rest of Europe.
We are all members of the world community. We all have a clear interest in ensuring that the international institutions that police and support the world community are in working order. I thoroughly agree with the sentiments expressed by the Foreign Secretary in his opening remarks. If we are serious, we must follow through the logic of those sentiments in the conduct of some of our policies.
During the Foreign Secretary's speech, we heard some interesting interventions on fundamentalism and terrorism, on migration, and on the environmental threat to the global climate. Those three major threats to the order of the international community have a common root in poverty. If we want to encourage the residents of poor countries to stay there and not to embark on migration, we must give them the hope of development within their own countries. If we want to protect the global climate against development in the third world, particularly in tropical countries—which, in turn, threatens our own climate—we must provide those countries with the means to achieve sustainable development so that they can protect their environments.
I put it to the Foreign Secretary that if he is concerned about the rise of fundamentalism, the increase in migration and the environmental threat, it is odd that the consistent trend of the Government's conduct on overseas aid has been repeatedly to cut the aid budget. Overseas aid is now only 0.29 per cent. of our gross domestic product. We are apparently about to receive a report from the National Audit Office which spells out that, at the very time when the aid budget has been decreasing, the proportion given in support of British trade—rather than for the relief of poverty—has been increasing.
Another consequence for policy arising from these considerations relates to the United Nations. Too often, United Nations institutions, such as the World bank, have pursued structural adjustment policies that were the exact opposite of the development policies required to tackle poverty. That is why many of us want a reform of the United Nations that gives at least as much weight to the Economic and Social Council as it gives to the Security Council.
In the past two decades, the world has undertaken many days of negotiations and spent many millions of pounds trying to contain conflicts after they have erupted. Those conflicts could have been resolved with less effort and much more cheaply had we first tackled the poverty that bred them.
I was interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about overseas aid. Private direct investment in developing countries, including some of the poorest countries of Africa, is running at $380 billion, which is about 20 times the total amount for overseas aid and technical assistance. We recognise the value of technical assistance, but do we have the right hon. Gentleman's support for further encouragement of private investment as the engine of development, rather than reliance on the old business of cash-to-cash aid from Government to Government?
The right hon. Gentleman has no problem with our support for private direct investment, which provides the technological transfer that is so important. If he speaks to those who are in government in those countries, he will be told that although the private direct investment is welcome, it is no substitute for public sector aid. First, direct investment goes overwhelmingly to the urban population, not to the rural poor. Secondly, direct investment will come only on the back of infrastructure development, which is possible only with official direct aid.
No, I should like to proceed for a moment.
I was rather struck by the fact that, on the birthday of the United Nations, the Foreign Secretary's only reference to that organisation was in response to an intervention by me. I had hoped that this would be an appropriate debate on an appropriate day to extend the Government's best wishes to the United Nations by announcing that Britain intends to join UNESCO once again and take up its place in that organisation. If we are genuinely concerned about the complex nature of the world and the rise in fundamentalism, what are we doing staying out of the one international body that is committed to promoting cultural understanding and co-existence?
It would be pleasing to think that the importance of these international issues and their immediate relevance to a domestic agenda explains the fact that half the text of the Gracious Speech is about foreign affairs, but I rather suspect that it has more to do with the meagre menu of domestic measures proposed by the Government. Given their problems with the political situation at home, it is probably wise for them to talk as much as possible about the political situation abroad.
The next 12 months will certainly be rich and busy in foreign policy. Many fascinating and important events that will appear on the world stage are reflected in the Gracious Speech. They include the transfer of Hong Kong, the forthcoming summit on NATO enlargement and the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in October. Common to all those events is the fact that they address serious issues in international relations. They also offer challenges and opportunities for British diplomacy and will take place under the next Government, not the present one. I say that with increased confidence after the Prime Minister's broadcast to the nation this morning in which he said that the general election will be held no later than 1 May. We would welcome it earlier if it were possible to arrange that, but International Labour Day is an excellent date for this Government's day of reckoning.
Meantime, the House is in the odd position of being invited to debate the Government's policies on events in world affairs which will not occur until, mercifully, we have an opportunity to be rid of them. The first example is the transfer of Hong Kong, which will take place on 30 June. By 1 May, if that is the date of the general election, every detail of the transfer will have been buttoned down. The hour of sunset at which the British flag is to be lowered will have been settled. The lament by a lone piper will have been chosen by then and, in relation to the transfer, there will be nothing left for an incoming Government to resolve. The present Government will have to accept responsibility for the terms of transfer that they have negotiated and agreed.
I welcome the fact that the Government have responded to our pressure for a debate on Hong Kong. The Foreign Secretary will be aware that it is more than a year since we last debated Hong Kong and that in less than a year Hong Kong will be transferred. I shall develop our concerns at greater length in that debate, but I take this opportunity to echo the concern that the Foreign Secretary expressed about the interview of Qing Qichen in The Asian Wall Street Journal. In that interview, he expressed the view that the freedom of expression of the people of Hong Kong will not extend to criticism of Chinese Government leaders and that the right to demonstrate will not extend to the right to commemorate the Tiananmen square massacre. Moreover, those constraints on their rights will be maintained whatever is said in the Basic Law.
The interview gives rise to two serious areas of concern. There is the immediate concern that it suggests an understanding that the political freedoms of the people of Hong Kong after the transfer will be much more restricted than anything that has been envisaged so far, but it also gives rise to wider concern in that it reveals an alarming belief that the state can override legal rights. Were the conduct of the People's Republic of China after transfer to reflect those comments, it would be bad for Hong Kong, because it would be denied democratic rights, and for China, because it would reinforce its image as a country that has difficulty coming to terms with democratic principles and democratic words. It would also, however, be bad for Britain because it would reveal us as having left Hong Kong without an agreement that could keep in place open and democratic systems after our departure.
I shall pick up on what the Foreign Secretary said about Cyprus. Again, I find myself 90 per cent. in agreement with him. I agree that it is important for the negotiations on Cyprus's accession to the European Union that the dispute over the island be resolved. I think that the Foreign Secretary's exact words were that accession would be "much easier", but there can be no agreement over the division of Cyprus without the agreement of Turkey, and Turkey does not want Cyprus to succeed in its application to join the EU. I therefore put it to him strongly that, while we should work for an early resolution of the dispute over the island, we must be careful that we concede no Turkish veto over Cyprus's right to apply to, or to be admitted to, the EU.
I shall refer to two other foreign affairs issues before moving on to the semi-domestic debate on European issues. The first is the stalemate in the middle east peace process. The Oslo agreements provided an historic opportunity for reconciliation in the middle east after two bitter generations of conflict. We must not let that opportunity be lost. Sadly, the crack of the revolver that shot Yitzhak Rabin a year ago this month still reverberates throughout the middle east.
I wish to be clear with the House, which is entitled to assert this: the majority of electors in Israel did not vote to reduce the peace process to an impasse. Israel's Prime Minister was elected by a narrow majority on a commitment to "peace with security". The Israeli people voted for security, but they also wanted peace because they knew that, without peace, there would be no security. If there is no progress in the peace process, we may be left with no process either. If my comments differ, therefore, from the Israeli Government's position, it is not that I am critical of the Israeli people, many of whom share the points that I am about to make.
The first and urgent priority must be to restore momentum to the peace process. Two qualities are required if it is to resume successfully. The first is that we must restore trust on both sides. Both sides must be confident that the other will deliver on the commitments that it gave in Oslo. I strongly endorse the Foreign Secretary's invitation to the Israeli Government to proceed with the withdrawal from Hebron, which is three months overdue and was agreed by the previous Government.
The second quality is hope that peace will bring an improvement in the quality of life on both sides of the divide. A fortnight before the tragic killings, I visited both Israel and the Palestinian authority. I was shocked by the subsequent violence, but I was not surprised that things in the Palestinian region boiled over.
Last year, when the Foreign Secretary addressed the House, he said that there had been substantial economic progress in the Palestinian region. I am sorry to report that that is not now the case. Unfortunately, for most Palestinians, the past year of the peace process has been associated with a reduction in the standard of life. Tens of thousands have lost their jobs as a result of the closure of the border. Restoring freedom of movement into and out of Israel, or even safe passage between different parts of the Palestinian authority, would be the most convincing way that the Government of Israel could demonstrate their commitment to the peace process and that that process will lead to an improvement in the quality of life for the Palestinian people.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that people who adopt the attitude that Israel has as much right to exist as any other country will be encouraged in the main by his remarks? The best service that the pro-Israelis can do now is to speak up, as my right hon. Friend is doing, for common sense and against the extremists in Israel—who, I hope, do not represent the views of the vast majority of Israeli people. At the end of the day, there must be a Palestinian state as well as Israel.
I believe that it is entirely possible for us to speak as friends both of Israel and of the Palestinian people.
We have a direct interest in the settlement of that issue. While I was in Israel, I happened to bump into Lord Archer, who I understand was scouring the country for votes for the Conservative party—an entirely legitimate activity. I spent one evening addressing a meeting of people who were minded to vote for the Labour party in this country. We handed out 350 forms, of which more than 300 have been completed and returned by people anxious to vote for a Labour Government in Britain. That is a demonstration of the historic, cultural and community ties between our nations. If those ties give us the right to canvass votes, they also confer on us the responsibility to give friendly support in getting the peace process back on the road with—yes—the objective of peace with security for Israel, but with the recognition that that can be secured only on the basis of peace with justice for the Palestinians.
Before I turn to matters that divide the House, I shall respond to the Foreign Secretary's observations on Bosnia. We are one year on from Dayton. The House can take satisfaction at the implementation of the military side of the peace agreement. I salute the dedication, patience and professionalism of British troops participating in the implementation force and their role in achieving its objectives.
One year on from Dayton is a fair period to suggest that an explanation is owed by the commentators and politicians who claimed that a more robust approach to ending the war in Bosnia was impossible because the casualties would be too high and too many troops would be required. Since the NATO intervention that made possible the Dayton agreement, there have been fewer casualties among the international forces than in the preceding years, when they acted only as peacekeepers.
The implementation force has one major remaining task, which must be carried out if civilian and political reconstruction is to succeed. The war criminals still at large must be brought to book. It is difficult to comprehend why it is thought so impossible to achieve that objective. IFOR states that if it comes across Mr. Karadzic, he will be arrested. Pale is not such a big town—it is smaller than most traditional market towns in Britain. It is difficult to believe that it was not possible at some time during the past year to bump into Mr. Karadzic.
There is the real danger, as Carl Bildt pointed out that month, that the policy of arresting Mr. Karadzic if he is found is becoming a non-policy. The risk for Bosnia is that there can be no reconciliation in that country unless it is true that there is no immunity for war crimes. That principle extends wider than Bosnia. If the persons who committed atrocities in Bosnia are allowed to get away with them, the next time there is a similar civil conflict, that message will be absorbed by the individuals who give the orders in that conflict.
I think that I have managed to carry most hon. Members with me so far, and it is plainly time to inject a note of normal debate. I began by stressing the continuity of domestic concerns and global issues. In the modern world, nations are more interdependent than independent, and co-operation and partnership are not just desirable but essential to the quality of life of our people.
A central feature of foreign affairs debates in the House has been the increasingly strident demand on the Government to be as rude as possible to our immediate European neighbours. That is un unpromising platform from which to begin to achieve contact with the rest of the globe. The past year has seen the expression of the view that Britain should withdraw from Europe move from the fringes of the Conservative party to its main stream. In the past six months, the former Chancellor, the former Chief Secretary and even the present Chief Secretary have all, in various ways, suggested that withdrawal from the European Union might be practical. Not one of them was rebuked within 24 hours by the Minister of State, the Foreign Office's baronet in residence, appearing on "The World at One" telling them that they were out of line. I have to say that I would have more sympathy if he were to do that to his colleagues who urge upon the Government a course of action which would plainly be disastrous for Britain's foreign relations.
I must say to Conservative Members who have in the past year expressed views about detaching Britain from Europe that they are in danger of believing their own speeches and falling for the myths that they peddle. Hon. Members may shake their heads, but three years ago I was one of the shadows of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton), who has been much in the news lately. It was a humble if not humbling role.
I remember the hon. Gentleman addressing the Conservative party conference. He told that conference that the caramel directive of the European Union took 12,000 words whereas it took only 200 words to put together the Lord's prayer. I was impressed by the comparison and telephoned the European Union movement to ask if it could help me trace the caramel directive. A weary spokesman told me that there was no caramel directive and that that line had begun as an after-dinner joke by Sir John Banham some two years previously in Brussels. I telephoned the Minister's office and asked whether they were aware that the caramel directive did not exist. I received a weary reply from a spokesman in the Minister's office, who said that they were aware that the Minister was wrong about the caramel directive but that he was right about the length of Lord's prayer. I fear that that quality of research lies behind some of the knee-jerk anti-Europeanism to which we have been subjected during the past three years.
I know that the Foreign Secretary does not share those views, although he sometimes finds it convenient not to admit to that. There is a curious omission in his section of the Gracious Speech. The really big thing that is due to happen in Foreign Affairs in the next 12 months is that on 1 July next year Britain will enter the troika of the European Union and on 1 January 1998 it will become the President of the European Union. That is not referred to anywhere in the Gracious Speech, but it is likely to be the issue that will most preoccupy the Foreign Office—[Interruption.] None of the issues in the foreign affairs section of the Gracious Speech requires legislation.
I understand why the presidency of the EU is not mentioned. If we want to accept that role, we have to accept the role of leadership at the top of the table, not heckling from the bottom. We have to accept the objective of seeking out the point of consensus in the European Union, not constantly priding ourselves on being the odd one out. Finding themselves with that opportunity and the challenge of being President of the European Union would be as big an embarrassment to the Government as to the rest of Europe.
I read repeatedly in the newspapers that, from now until the general election, the role of Europe in the Conservative election strategy will be to provide an opportunity to demonstrate strength through confrontation. We have been here before. Earlier this year, the Government displayed confrontation with Europe on heroic technicolor panavision scale in the war over British beef, which the Foreign Secretary very diplomatically and delicately did not mention once in his review of world affairs. We demonstrated our strength by a policy of serial vetoing, which, I understand, the Foreign Secretary thought up, called the policy of non-co-operation in Europe or—as I have discovered it was known to his officials—PONCE.
It may now be an appropriate time to ask, what good did PONCE do? It did not do the Conservative party much good; successive opinion polls established that the public were less, not more, likely to vote Conservative as a result of PONCE. The reason is simple. The public knew that the BSE crisis was made in Britain by a Government who had failed to provide the regulations that would keep BSE out of foodstuffs.
As my hon. Friend corrects me, the Government weakened those regulations. After BSE appeared, they denied that there was a significant risk of its transmission to humans—a denial that looks doubly irresponsible in the face of today's heavy scientific evidence, which shows that that was a virtually certain transmission. The public knew that the stage-managed war with Brussels was another case of BSE—blame someone else.
The beef war not only did no good to the Conservative party, it did no good to farmers, as they loudly reminded us yesterday.
The beef war ended in the Florence agreement, hailed by the Foreign Secretary as a turning point. I understand why mention of the Florence agreement buries him in his briefing papers. I shall quote to the House what the Prime Minister said when he reported on the Florence agreement:
We aim to be in a position to tell the Commission by October that we have met the necessary conditions for decisions to lift the ban on two of the five stages—that is, certified herds and animals born after a specified date".—[Official Report, 24 June 1996; Vol. 280, c. 21.]
By October. I think I will carry the House with me on a bipartisan approach to the fact that this is the month of October, that there are seven days left and that not one hon. Member believes that, by next Thursday, those two of the five stages of the ban will have been lifted. The main reason why they will not be lifted is that the Government, having hailed the Florence agreement as a triumph, chose not to implement their side of the bargain.
The House must ask some questions. What is the Government strategy for getting the export ban lifted? What will we now do to ensure that the continentals honour the Florence agreement, now that we have not honoured our side of the bargain? If we have written off the Florence agreement, what will we do instead? Most of all, surely we are now entitled to ask: what was the beef war fought for? Why did we take on the whole of Europe to achieve nothing?
I am bound to say that all previous Governments had the wisdom not to wage war with France and Germany at the same time. All previous Governments, even Conservative ones, ensured that, in any previous war, one or other was on our side. They sought to turn the balance of power on the continent to British advantage. Only the Government have fashioned a foreign policy that takes on the whole of Europe at the same time.
That approach has met with incomprehension in the rest of Europe. It was well expressed by the Foreign Secretary's immediate predecessor, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), who has retired to the Back
Benches but continues to take an interest in such affairs. At the time of the beef war, he wrote:
In the past few weeks, I have listened to Danish, Irish, French and Dutch friends of Britain. They do not see anything heroic about our present debate. They look on us rather as an elderly and respected relative suffering from a spasm in the corner of the room. They cannot do much to help us; they hope that the fit will pass before we do ourselves too much harm.
The clear lesson of the past three or four years is that the repeated confrontation with Europe—the fits and spasms referred to by the Foreign Secretary's predecessor—will pass only when the Government pass.
I should like to share with the Foreign Secretary my total agreement with the priorities he attributed to Labour's policy towards Europe. Yes, we will sign up to the social chapter. Is he aware that three dozen of the biggest and most efficient British companies have already signed up to the social chapter by implementing works council agreements? In doing so, they have said that having an agreement with their work force on the future strategy of their company is an aid, not a barrier, to competitiveness.
Yes, Labour has allies in Europe in the party of European Socialists—three of whom were kind enough to send messages of good will to our party conference. We offer Britain a Government who will have the respect, not the contempt, of the Governments of the other member states of Europe.
Yes, jobs will be at the top of our agenda and our bottom line—the alpha to omega of our European policy. I should mention one of the other spheres in which the Government are becoming isolated. I understand that the Government intend to persist in blocking an employment chapter in the treaty of union when they go to the Dublin summit and intergovernmental conference.
What possible national interest does Britain have in blocking the promotion of employment becoming an objective of the European Union? The Maastricht treaty, after all, sets out precise, tight objectives on Government spending, public debt and inflation. The Government did not object to those objectives being written into the treaty of European Union. A fortnight ago, I saw the Prime Minister on television taking credit for drafting those objectives. I suspect that the rest of Europe are now willing to let him have that credit, given that the period in which they have been aspiring to those objectives has coincided with lower growth and higher unemployment in their economies. That is why, across Europe, there is now growing support to balance those financial objectives with a commitment to employment.
In their time in office, the Government have promoted a dramatic shift in the nature of work. When they came to power, 60 per cent. of the work force were in full-time permanent jobs. This year, 60 per cent. of the work force are in temporary, short-term or casual forms of employment. Job insecurity is the barrier to the feel-good factor for which the Government are searching.
Against that background, I should tell Ministers that we will be delighted to take them on in a general election which they fight on the basis of their commitment to stop the European Union promoting stable employment. The fact that they will go to Dublin to fulfil that commitment demonstrates exactly how out of touch they are with the public's real worries. The people want a Government who do not delight in posturing over the fact that they refuse to agree with the rest of Europe. The public want a Government who can do business with Europe and get deals done in Europe.
The public do not want a Government who regard with fear the other member states as threats, but a Government who recognise those states as neighbours with whom we share common problems and must share common solutions. They want a Government who do not constantly block any measure to improve social conditions, and are determined to provide the people of Britain with the same rights at work as the rest of Europe—not with the worst rights in Europe.
The public want a Government who believe sovereignty rests with the people. They want a Government who understand that the real threat to the freedoms, rights and liberties of the British people is not from Brussels but from the ever increasing power that the Government are centralising in Whitehall. The people want a Government who will practise real subsidiarity, devolving power back to the regions and local communities of Britain. A Labour Government offer that.
If Conservative Members want a general election fought on the European issue, fine, we are ready for it—and we are confident that we can win it. We know that Conservative Members are not confident that they can. If they thought that they could win, instead of this half attempt at half a parliamentary Session, we would now be having a general election.
A general election is the one measure that the Government could announce that would command real popularity. It is the one step that would restore a feel-good factor and give to the people the hope of the fresh start that Britain now needs in Europe.
I welcome the fact that we are debating foreign policy today and that the subject has not been relegated to Friday, which has been the practice in recent years. That is confirmation of the point made by the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), that never before have domestic issues been so intimately interwoven with foreign policy issues, in every area, from jobs to home loan rates and our entire way of life.
I begin with the first paragraph of the Gracious Speech, which outlines some of Her Majesty's involvements with countries round the world in the coming year: Brazil, Thailand, India, Canada, Pakistan and Israel are mentioned. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary is shortly to go to Israel, and I hope that he has better luck—I am sure that he will—than the President of France, who recently experienced some difficulties there.
I pick the first paragraph because it reminds us—and we need reminding, especially when we consider the main preoccupations of the speech that we have just heard—that there is a wider world, and that foreign policy is not only about Europe and its problems—although of course we have to set those right. It is the mission of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, of its Ministers and of my right hon. and learned Friend, as he said in his excellent speech,
to promote and protect British interests and influence.
To do that, we need to look beyond Europe and beyond the niceties of the European debate, which has, unfortunately, dominated our discussions so far this afternoon.
The Financial Times estimates—it is just a shot in the dark, but it is probably not too far out—that by 2003, only seven years away, the emerging markets such as Latin America, south-east Asia, Africa, central Asia and the Pacific rim will have a larger output than all the so-called advanced industrial countries put together. That is the most important reality of all. My right hon. and learned Friend grasped that fully in his excellent survey of the future.
The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs—when it has not been bogged down like everyone else in endless issues arising from the European Union and in the latest ideas, some of them hair-raising, flying around from the intergovernmental conference—has tried to point out in its reports that the wider world and its markets should be the main focus of this country's interests and foreign policy over the next 10 years. That is why we drew up a report on the Commonwealth, trying to point out that it is not merely an old club of people who are fond of criticising the former metropolitan power, but a new and vibrant network of some of the fastest-growing markets of the modern world. Our interests, exports and skills will be especially suitable for those markets and that gives us a huge advantage over other countries. The Select Committee is also preparing as quickly as possible a report on Latin America, another vast area in which there was tremendously close British involvement in the past.
It is not only a matter of considering foreign policy in terms of geographical areas. It will continue to be important to consider the promotion and protection of our interests and influence in terms of the networks—rather than continental or regional blocs—into which the world is increasingly being organised. The second or third largest of those networks is south-east Asia, run by the large group of overseas Chinese who operate a borderless economy that spans Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Jakarta, Australasia, Hong Kong and Singapore. That is probably one of the world's biggest economies and it is a network into which we have to link. We fail to do so at our cost.
Mercosur in Latin America already accounts for 7 per cent. of the planet's gross national product, and will grow very fast—faster, I suspect, than the more mature economies of western Europe. We should also bear in mind the Association of South-East Asian Nations, the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation grouping and all our friends in east and central Europe, to which my right hon. and learned Friend rightly referred. They are now beginning to adjust to the market economy and are very anxious to develop links with Britain. When the British travel in those parts of the world, too often one hears the remark, "Where have you been?"
Some fascinating new groupings that are emerging may become more important for money, jobs and exports than our immediate continental neighbours. Such countries include the Black sea grouping and the Ukraine, which my right hon. and learned Friend rightly mentioned, as well as the new countries of central Asia, which lie beyond that—once parts of what he rightly says we must not keep referring to as the former Soviet Union.
All those countries are alive with prospects. They have vast reserves of raw materials. The centre of gravity of the oil industry is moving back to where it started from in the Caspian sea and the central Asian region, changing the face of geopolitics.
As my right hon. and learned Friend set out, with his four pillars, our foreign policy must take account of a totally new pattern of interests, which we have to protect and promote. The key elements—the most visible part—are investment and capital flows. Those, not trade, are the gigantic forces of the world international system. Trade follows capital flows, induced by the huge capital investments flowing into the developing countries and rapidly making those markets emerge and mature fully.
Some politicians are slow to perceive what is happening, which is that some so-called emerging countries are leapfrogging the so-called developed countries, not just in investment and infrastructure, but in social structures. Systems of social security and genuine welfare support are developing based on the private sector and private pension schemes, marrying the state obligation with private finance to deliver higher standards of social security and welfare as well as higher general standards of living. Some Latin American countries provide good examples, Chile being the most telling. Chile generates enormous private pension funds, producing secure pensions for its citizens and such great savings that a supposedly developing country—indeed, a few years ago it was bankrupt, with hyper-inflation under a military regime—is now a major exporter of capital. It can save all that it wants for all its infrastructure and still export capital.
Our foreign policy thinking must adjust to that speed of events. The world is completely different from the one that we were thinking about 10 years ago, the heyday of believing that western Europe—and the European Union—was, in the short-cut and unthinking language of American management, "the only game in town". That era has passed.
To protect and promote our interests, we must catch hold of certain developments that did not exist before. One is the concept of overseas production. The Japanese talk of their overseas production, but no such concept exists in British statistics and one never hears it mentioned in policy discussion. It means the output of the vast amount of British-owned investment around the world. We are in the big league of the world's super-investors. From factories operated, owned and located by British interests flows a vast amount of production, which does not show up in the trade figures. That shows the absurdity of making judgments about the importance of bilateral relations on the basis of the trade figures.
The evidence is that an increasing proportion of the production emerging from British-invested and owned plants, factories, services and operations around the world is generating a huge income and represents an important part of our national interest. Sixty per cent. of our visible and invisible earnings—which are themselves dated and meaningless concepts—comes from outside western Europe. While recognising fully the importance of our own back yard in Europe, we should note that the greater proportion of our income comes from outside the European Union.
Our trade and business has changed. It no longer comprises products and manufactures, but comprises knowledge-intensive, service-intensive operations— products with a huge information content. Our maligned but highly efficient financial services, in which I declare a personal interest, have become one of the dominating forces in our export effort. If we are concerned with the promotion and protection of our interests and influence, we should ensure that those financial services are operated successfully and allowed to trade round the world on an even bigger scale.
London is already the centre of the world's capital-raising system. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend understands that it is completely in our interests to ensure that the wealth-creating machine that has developed in the past 10 years and has provided security for billions of pounds' worth of infrastructure assets in the developing countries—a point that the right hon. Member for Livingston fails to understand—operates successfully.
It is also enormously important to promote cultural diplomacy, commercial door-opening, opportunity-seizing and the general encouragement of Britain-friendly attitudes that are the backdrop to successful investment and capital flow. I shall return to that point in a moment, as I am not sure whether we are putting enough muscle behind that effort yet, although I know it is my right hon. and learned Friend's intention.
As my right hon. and learned Friend rightly said, our island has two huge advantages in this new world, with new trade patterns and new systems creating a change in the centre of gravity of the entire planet and a shift in favour of the so-called former developing countries—many of which have now developed.
As we said in the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and as my right hon. and learned Friend fully recognised, we have the Commonwealth network. It is transregional and not just another bloc. It is a most amazing network and does not always work in our favour, but as my right hon. and learned Friend rightly says, it is bound together largely by the English language, a common business culture and a heartwarming pro-British sentiment.
Britain left behind an empire, yet got a good word from most of our former colonies. We are now welcome not only in Commonwealth countries, but in Latin America where there are enormous pro-British ties, a longing for the British to return in force—as some of our businesses are now doing—and almost an obsession with learning English and seeking to promote ties with the British culture. It is an enormous business. An estimated 1 billion people throughout the world are either learning or seeking to learn English—with an English accent. That does not mean that business comes our way automatically, but it provides a fabulous basis for the export of our services, technology and information methods.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not only the English language that binds us, but English law? Does he further agree that it is no coincidence that Britain is the largest foreign investor in the United States and that, similarly, the United States is the largest single investor in the United Kingdom? English law makes it easy for the United Kingdom, the United States and Commonwealth countries to conduct international trade.
I should even cap what my hon. Friend says. Such links are a question of not only common understanding about the systems of law but the amazing network of common understanding about a vast range of professions—architecture, accountancy, medical professions of every kind and scientific research. It is a fantastic network.
When the Foreign Affairs Committee sought to study all such things, it was surprised—perhaps other hon. Members were not—that as it lifted the lid on the Commonwealth, which has not been a very popular concept in this country for the past 20 years, it found a huge range of non-governmental contacts and links all over the globe that are flourishing and growing even faster today as new countries queue to join it. If new members are crowding in to join the Commonwealth, so much for the view that it is a dying concept. That is the background against which my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary rightly set out his pillars of foreign policy development.
One would expect from what my right hon. and learned Friend said—I know that this is the way in which his mind is working—that a large part of the emphasis of our resources and effort in external policy would switch towards every kind of scholastic, cultural and commercial contact, to encourage the flow of investment, the use of the Commonwealth network to which I have referred, and the promotion of English language teaching and vast local operations such as the Cultura groups in Brazil and Argentina, which are huge communities devoted entirely to the promotion of the English language and English culture. The question that must be asked is how much we are getting all that in focus at the moment and whether we could not sharpen that focus somewhat.
I must come to some awkward figures, which at the moment do not quite fit with the picture of the future that I am painting. First, in the diplomatic wing of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, within which there are many commercial posts and where effort is being mobilised to bring about the kind of world that I am describing, we find that the budget is being slashed. It is being reduced from this year's £1.4 billion to about £1 billion in 1998–99.
On the cultural diplomacy front, where neighbouring countries are mounting huge efforts to create inducements to encourage capital flows and inward investment into the so-called developing—in fact, developed—world, where future markets will be, we find that the excellent BBC World Service is under considerable constraints. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend has rightly pointed out that the resources which go in that direction are still great, but we are talking about priorities, not marginal concerns in external policy.
Through the British Council, the machinery can be set in motion in all the emerging market countries to establish the exchange of scholarships. They produce the additional desire for people to come to this country on paid educational visits as students, which is a colossal business and a vast export earner. We may criticise British education and may not have got it all right, but people want to come to this country for higher and specialist education. We can vastly encourage such visits through British Council work, yet many of its operations round the world run on a shoestring and are reduced to one or two people. Another pair of hands—I am not saying that more is always better—could generate vast additional business.
We find that added value in terms of prosperity and jobs in this country is being constrained, which indicates to me that the Treasury has not quite got the message that I am trying to share with the House. If we want value added in the new conditions and operations of the global economic system and the kind of security that we all seek in such a system, it is no use just thinking about Europe, just spending a third of our diplomatic resources in western Europe—for that is where they go—or slashing at the diplomatic wing, the World Service and the British Council on some spurious doctrine that every poppy must he cut to the same height and that every area should take the same amount of cuts. That is not priority-making, but wild cutting, which does not make sense in terms of the foreign policy priorities that my right hon. and learned Friend has set out so clearly.
One has to look at the overall external budget. I once heard my noble Friend Lord Howe, who was an extremely effective Foreign Secretary, say that the one thing that he regretted in his time was that he never had a chance to look at the overall external budgets of the United Kingdom, including defence, as well as, of course, the diplomatic wing, the World Service, the British Council and the Overseas Development Administration, and review the priorities on the basis of the whole canvas of our external spending.
I see that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is sitting on the Front Bench next to my tight hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, who was a very distinguished Secretary of State for Defence himself. I know that their budgets are squeezed and that their ears are full of the cries of excellent soldiers, airmen and sailors, who are saying how difficult it is to conduct their new defence arrangements with a mere £21.4 billion and that they do not like being squeezed by the Treasury any more than anyone else. But I have to lay before them the lopsided oddity of our external budget. Although at one end of the budget there is £21.4 billion, the diplomatic wing is being cut and cut, and judging from all the rumours, is about to be cut still further in areas where a few extra pairs of hands could earn colossal added value for this country.
My comments are not those of a Member of Parliament who has gone native about the Foreign Office. I am as critical as anybody of some of the policy activities of that Whitehall Department. But the National Audit Office put the argument succinctly when it said that every £1 spent in the commercial posts of British embassies in south-east Asia between 1993 and 1995—this is very precise— generated an extra £77 in earnings and business for Britain. For every £10 million, an extra £800 million is generated. That is very big added value; an enormous increment. We should be investing in it rather than cutting it back.
As I said, I know that the defence side is under pressure. Yet, according to The Daily Telegraph, we are going to buy 232 Eurofighter aircraft for £16 billion, which works out at £68 million each. I know that the marginal costs will be less and I hope that that £68 million includes delivery, charges, number plates and after-sales service, but that is a lot of money. Although it may seem a facile comparison on a superficial level, underneath there is a serious point that, for the cost of just four of those aircraft at £68 million each, we could transform the budgets of this nation's commercial efforts, the position of the diplomatic wing and the power with which the BBC World Service can spread the British cultural point of view round the world. The British Council could generate tens if not hundreds of millions of pounds in extra earnings from educational services and many other intellectual and knowledge services as well.
Although I realise that such comments are not practical politics, could we please look at that overall balance in a way that ensures that we put the money where the earnings will be in future and we do not get too dominated by the problems of security, economics and politics in the European theatre?
Diplomatic spending is running at half the French level and one third of the German level. When the Foreign Affairs Committee went to Latin America recently, we checked some figures and found that throughout Latin America, which is booming and moving into an era of massive export growth based on sound currency and open regionalism, the UK has 117 personnel in post, excluding locally hired personnel. Germany has 427 personnel there, France 384 and Italy 333. Even if half my analysis were right, such areas must be considered again. It is necessary to think in terms of some adjustments to the distribution of our scarce resources. Every pound must be fought for, as it is taxpayers' money and should not and cannot be freely spent.
So what does one conclude? Of course it is right, and inevitable, that most of the debate will be about Europe, because the European Union questions must be settled. I believe that the wait-and-see policy on the single currency can be developed into a strong and sensible policy. Indeed, it is the only sensible policy. I am a pro-European, and to my mind that policy can be seen as part of supporting the further integration of Europe.
The all-out political rush for the single currency is a dagger pointed at the heart of European unity. Nothing but division and difficulty will arise from the attempt to fabricate convergence on the basis of political will. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary made a superb speech at the Conservative party conference about the importance—and indeed, the sheer common sense as well as the constructive Europeanism—of waiting and seeing. I believe that he was right. That is exactly the policy that we should pursue.
I hope, too, that we can be good Europeans concerning common interests in foreign policy, without being sucked into the federalist ambitions for a single foreign policy and a single institutional machine to run it. In the light of what I said earlier about the fact that all the growth is outside Europe, we simply cannot afford to be corralled into that narrow European regionalism. It is essential that we rebalance our external preoccupations. I make that point as much to the Opposition as to anyone else.
We should also think in terms of rebalancing our scarce resources. Our resource effort should focus more on Asia, including the Indian sub-continent, where there is massive potential and marvellous good will, and huge markets are opening for the British. That effort should also concentrate on Latin America, which I have already mentioned, and on all our friends in eastern and central Europe, who are waiting for us.
At home we should mirror that emphasis, with domestic policies designed to encourage, or at least to remove the obstacles from, the export industries of tomorrow, which are education, research, financial services, language teaching and audio-visual activities of every kind, in which we lead the world.
I believe that British potential is as excellent as it ever was. Yesterday the Leader of the Opposition, in a dismal speech, talked about the "fracturing" of Britain. He cannot have travelled in the places where the action is happening. If he did so, he would find that United Kingdom businesses and services are marching rapidly and successfully into those new markets.
People see that Britain has falling unemployment and a sound currency, and that we have been through the difficulties of deregulation and modernisation—with much sweat and effort, and despite the total opposition of the Labour party at every point throughout the past 15 years—and have emerged as an extremely strong economy superbly positioned to take advantage of the new world that I have described.
Business is leading the way, and those who think about foreign policy must fall into line. I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend thinks deeply and sees that way forward, but others—some, dare I say it, are around him, and certainly many are on the Opposition Benches—are dragging their feet and refuse to face the conditions of the modern world. I beg them to do so.
I do not want to follow the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) down the path that he took. Instead I shall consider areas of foreign policy, some of which were mentioned in the Queen's Speech and some of which were not, and I shall try to draw some lessons for us to learn as we come to the fag end of this Government and think about the way in which they have run our foreign affairs.
The Government have responded well in some areas, but like all other Governments they have failed to realise the need to continue that response. As a result, we see on our television screens and in the other media that the problems that we put off until tomorrow are revisiting us today.
I shall start with Zaire. Initially the world community reacted speedily and positively to the genocide that broke out in central Africa in 1994. Then, as usually happens in complicated foreign affairs, tiredness set in—the tiredness of the international community in the face of constant streams of refugees throughout the world, in eastern Europe, in parts of Africa and elsewhere. The refugees excite and concern us all until they are safely settled in their refugee camps. We send blankets and various things that they need for clean water and food; then we hand them over to someone else and say that they are someone else's problem.
Once a Government of sorts were established in Rwanda and the thousands of Hutu and Tutsi refugees were locked into the camps in adjoining countries, the situation was allowed to drift gradually off the agenda for most of us. I do not exclude the Opposition from those comments. We, too, allowed that to happen.
In July, Human Rights Watch/Africa produced two worrying reports, the first of which was about eastern Zaire and Zairean complicity in forcing Tutsis out of eastern Zaire. The second was about Rwandan genocide and human rights abuses against women. I am not certain how the Government responded to those reports, but although they were sent out in July, in view of what is going on now in central Africa, the clock might as well have been turned back to July.
The reports refer to the genocide in neighbouring Rwanda in 1994, and the flight of the mostly Hutu Rwandan refugees into north Kivu, which fanned inter-ethnic tensions in that region. Some of those refugees arrived in Zaire well armed, and worked to politicise and organise the local Zairian Hutu population into militia groups.
The reports called on the international community to respond to the growing conflict in that area, and their authors said that they perceived a growing silence and indifference to the problem. They also said that the increasingly poor handling of the refugee crisis had exacerbated the simmering conflict in the area, with predictable consequences. They said yet again that efforts by international non-governmental organisations to alert the international community to the potential for renewed violence were being ignored.
The reports made a series of recommendations, and although that was in July, when we read them and look at what is going on in central Africa now, we think, "If only we had acted on those recommendations at the time." Had we done so, perhaps the representatives of the media who are having to report the awful violence that is now occurring there would not have to do so.
The reports said that we should hold the Zairean Government accountable for the actions against the Tutsi population in northern Kivu and for other attacks on civilians. They recommended that the international community should encourage the peaceful and voluntary repatriation of Rwandan refugees from Zaire and provide the means necessary to isolate the camps and prevent further infiltration of ex-Far and Rwandan Interahamwe into north Kivu. The international community was also asked to put pressure on the Rwandan Government to improve their human rights record and create a climate conducive to the return of Rwandan refugees from the camps.
Apparently there was a need for the international community to monitor the actions of Zairean forces towards the civilian population. The reports called for the deployment of international monitors at airports and border crossings in eastern Zaire to enforce United Nations arms embargoes against the Rwandan military and militias. They also called for the establishment of a UN commission, and for an inquiry into abuses of civilians in that area.
The reports addressed a series of points to the Governments of Zaire and of Rwanda. Specifically, they called upon the Zairean leaders at all levels of government—national, regional and local—to denounce publicly the ethnic violence, to identify the political, administrative and military officials who have participated in militia attacks or profited from the insecurity in order to pillage or rape, to remove those people from their posts immediately, and to begin prosecutions.
The reports asked the Government of Rwanda to create conditions within Rwanda that would favour the peaceful and voluntary return of refugees from Zaire. The Rwandans were asked to respect the right to freedom of expression, freedom of movement and freedom of assembly, regardless of ethnicity, and to begin the trials of those currently imprisoned in that country who were accused of having participated in the 1994 genocide.
We and the international community did nothing to prevent the Rwandan Hutu extremists—who are determined to return to their country by force and were allowed to take arms into the refugee camps—from launching frequent raids into Rwanda from their bases in the camps in Zaire. As a result, we are seeing familiar scenes in our newspapers and on our television screens. There is the threat of a full-scale war that could engulf the great lakes area of central Africa. Hundreds of thousands of helpless civilians—who are already refugees from war and violence—are once again fleeing to safety. Aid agencies are warning that the recent movement of civilians could lead to a humanitarian disaster similar to the 1994 Rwandan genocide and exodus.
We had better listen this time, and we must pay attention and get it right. If we do not, the area could become engulfed in a war in which it will be difficult to say which side is which, and we shall be left once again to pick up the pieces. If we do not act now, that is what will happen.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the situation that he has so eloquently outlined in respect of Zaire, Rwanda and, indeed, Burundi is an example of where the UN might play an additional role in the future? Would not a centre for the resolution or avoidance of conflict be one way of ensuring UN involvement to a greater extent than occurred in the early days of the Rwandan dispute?
I agree. That is why I was disappointed that the Foreign Secretary did not refer more to the Government's intentions towards the form and future of the UN. We should ask why the UN has got it so wrong in that area. Why did the UN allow the issue to slip off the agenda? Why did it allow the problems to bubble up once again?
I should like the Secretary of State for Defence to respond to a particular dilemma when he winds up. We know that there could be elections in Zaire next year and that there is a degree of instability in that country. It is possible that some of the armies, who have armed themselves, could overrun Zaire. What Zaire needs is democracy, and it needs it soon. We know that the President—who is ill and receiving treatment outside Zaire—has promised elections. What action have the UK Government taken to ensure, first, that those elections take place and, secondly, that they are free and fair? Will Opposition parties in Zaire have a genuine right to argue their case? Will they be able to gain access to the media to ensure that the population hear the points that they want to make? We have made a mess of the issue so far, and we must start to put the pieces back together. If we assist in this area, we could help to ensure that there is some stability in Zaire.
I wish to refer to Cuba, a country that the present Government have in recent years dealt with better than previous Administrations. I can remember when those of us in the all-party Cuba group would regularly ask Foreign Secretaries how they intended to help Cuba move towards a resolution of its conflict with its big brother, the United States of America. I was always disappointed by the way in which successive Ministers with responsibility for the area would respond. They did not regard it as a joke, but they seemed to respond with smiles when we suggested that Cuba was ready to receive not only trade, but advice on how to rebuild its relations with the USA. The present Government, and a succession of Ministers from the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry, have done a great deal to help Cuba in its attempts to ease its tensions with the USA.
Trade between the United Kingdom and Cuba has increased dramatically. In the first six months of this year, some £56 million-worth of trade was carried out between ourselves and Cuba, and it may be possible to achieve a record level of trade between our countries. Substantial joint ventures are now taking place involving industries in Cuba and this country, particularly in the development and processing of sugar, where British-managed joint ventures are already in place.
The Helms-Burton Act recently came into the picture, and many people in this country were concerned about the effect that it might have. Those of us in the all-party Cuba group were pleased with the vociferous response from the Government to the contents of the Act and the representations that they made to the USA on the issue. Having spoken to the Cuban ambassador today, I can say that there is no real evidence that the Act has discouraged European countries—or even America's nearest neighbour, Canada—from forming joint ventures with Cuba. In addition, there is no evidence of any country withdrawing from joint ventures because of the Act. It is to the Government's credit that they responded as they did to the Helms-Burton Act, and their response was helpful.
The Cuban economy has grown by about 9.6 per cent. in the first six months of this year, and Cuba is hoping for an annual growth in gross domestic product of 5 per cent. In 1994, the exchange rate within Cuba was 150 Cuban pesos to the dollar. The present figure is 18 pesos. Clearly, Cuba was moving along—until hurricane Lili arrived, bringing with it devastation. Some 5,640 homes were destroyed and a further 84,000 were severely damaged by the hurricane. Some 200 factories were destroyed, and considerable damage was done to the sugar and coffee crops. It is believed, however, that sugar—a much hardier crop—may be able to bounce back. In addition, 120,000 tonnes of citrus fruit were destroyed. Happily, no lives were lost. In the main, that was due to the action taken by the Cuban Government to protect the people. More than 300,000 people were evacuated from the path of the hurricane and 267,000 livestock were moved to safety.
Cuba has not asked for direct aid from any other country, but it has asked the UN humanitarian agencies to provide assistance. I hope that the British Government will call on those UN agencies to provide assistance to Cuba. Cuba believes that it is responsible for dealing with the damage done to the lives of its people and to its economy, and it is confident that it can do so.
Also with regard to bilateral relations, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville), recently visited Cuba, and while he was there a co-operation agreement between Customs in Cuba and Customs and Excise in the United Kingdom was signed that will allow for the training of Cuban Customs officers to take part in the battle against the trade in drugs. That is something for which Cuba is particularly grateful and it will help our own and the world's fight against drugs.
When the usual United Nations resolution on the blockade of Cuba is moved in the General Assembly, instead of abstaining, on this occasion, given the good progress that has been made in other areas in our relationship, Britain should give a positive vote, calling for the lifting of the blockade against the island of Cuba.
I associate myself with everything that my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) said about the middle east. He has a difficult portfolio to handle and I was pleased that he was able to visit the middle east two or three weeks ago, just before the recent difficulties. While he was there, he impressed most people with his awareness of the problems facing both the Israelis and the Palestinians in their determination and struggle for peace. I particularly agree with his assessment that the issues that he identified are the important ones.
My right hon. Friend rightly identified the fact that the Palestinian economy needs to be revitalised or stimulated if there is to be a peace process at all. If that economy is to be revitalised, we have to do something to ensure that it is given an opportunity to grow. I welcome the new free trade status granted by the United States to the west bank and the Gaza strip, which join Mexico and Canada as lucky recipients of barrier-free access to United States markets, but they will not be able to take advantage of the free trade agreement unless the silly and sometimes provocative embargoes put on by the Israeli Government are lifted.
It is pretty meaningless to have a free trade agreement with the United States if it is not possible to get the manufactured goods out of the country and into the United States in the first place. The on-going closures of the Palestinian territories to which my right hon. Friend referred are the first problem, before the goods reach the point of embarkation, with all the nonsense that goes on there. If we do not lift the closures and see our responsibility as not only to encourage but to demand that the Israeli Government understand that this is part of the peace process, the free trade agreement between the United States and the Palestinians on the west bank and Gaza will be just a piece of paper and nothing else.
If the agreement were allowed to develop, it would open up the opportunity to the Palestinians, who—just as we need to trade with the European Union—need to trade with Israel, which is their closest partner. They need to trade with Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the rest of the middle east, but they also need to trade with the rest of the outside world, and to do that, the restrictions need to be lifted. Although I welcome the free trade agreement itself, it does not mean much if it is not possible to get exports out of the country in the first place.
I particularly welcome the declaration of the European Union on the middle east peace process, announced on 1 October. The EU, having visited the area, noted that the Palestinians were concerned that their position with regard to the final status of Jerusalem was being eroded by the actions of the Israeli Government on the ground. I do not want to go over all that unfortunate period, but 79 human beings lost their lives. When Yitzhak Rabin lost his life, and we were all devastated by that, I had hoped that his would be the last life to be lost, since that he gave his life for a land at peace, to which he was committed. Whether or not a particular Government were involved in negotiating those agreements, I had hoped that they would accept that the agreements that had been made between the former Prime Minister of Israel and the Palestinian people were made with Israel and not just with a particular Government. They were made not with a Labour Government or a Likud Government, but between the Palestinian people and the Israeli people.
I commend the part of the EU statement that stresses the importance of the Euro-Mediterranean Association agreement, which is based on a common commitment to the peace process and calls on Israel to give a clear, practical demonstration of its confirmed intention to implement fully the agreements already reached with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, because that is the success or otherwise of peace in the middle east. If only Benyamin Netanyahu could understand that, as Prime Minister, he has inherited agreements and responsibilities. If he simply wants to accept the present arrangement, which is an uneasy peace, and if he thinks that he can enforce security by force of arms, surely the experience of the past few months will have dissuaded him from that. I listened to the Prime Minister of Israel on "Panorama" last week. I certainly was not impressed that he changed so dramatically and I was not convinced that he really understood what was happening and the part that he must play if there is to be peace in the area.
President Chirac is not the only person visiting the middle east. King Hussein of Jordan made a historic visit to Jericho, which is under Palestinian control. He made it quite clear that, despite all the difficulties, Jordanian-Israeli relationships were governed by existing peace treaties. Despite the fact that they were angry and distressed by what Israel had done over the period just before he visited Jericho, he made it clear that the existing peace treaties would be adhered to and built on, despite the actions of a new Israeli Government. He made it clear that he expected to see a link between the path of a comprehensive and complete peace in the region and the path of restoring the Palestinian and Arab people's right to the national soil.
King Hussein helped to calm the concerns of Palestinians, because there was a time when many people thought that the Israeli Government might use the peace accord with Jordan to supplement or replace the peace agreement with the Palestinians. He emphasised:
We are working together, that our relations are as good as they ever have been and will continue to grow in that direction with mutual respect and trust and the determination to pursue our common goal of achieving peace for this region, for all its people.
We now hear that the UK Foreign Secretary is also to visit the region shortly. In the press today, the Foreign Secretary is quoted as saying that, during his trip to the middle east, he will not be using any megaphone diplomacy. He said that his response would be first to complement and reinforce existing efforts in mediation made by the United States. He also said that the outside world should not seek to prescribe what the outcome would be, that it was for the Israelis and Palestinians. I agree entirely. He also said that he expected a wise, imaginative and flexible response from Prime Minister Netanyahu and his colleagues. He said that that was vital.
The Foreign Secretary should remind Mr. Netanyahu that he—the Foreign Secretary—has responsibility for getting other agreements through both Houses of Parliament. On 29 February, the European Parliament gave its assent to the European-Mediterranean agreement with Israel. That must now go through both Houses in the United Kingdom. The Foreign Secretary should tell Mr. Netanyahu that unless he gets back to the peace table, starts talking seriously about peace and begins to lift some of the restrictions on the Palestinian people, we shall have difficulty getting the European-Mediterranean agreement with Israel through either House. It is not that we do not want an agreement with Israel—we want to develop our relations—but we want countries with which we have agreements to live up to the agreements that they have already made, if only as a sign of their good faith.
The Foreign Secretary spoke to the media about the European envoy to the middle east. I welcome the comments of the Irish Foreign Minister, Dick Spring, who said that there was a clear desire for the European Union to have a more hands-on role in the peace process. It is important for Europe to play an increasing and more important role in the peace process. After all, half of Israel's foreign trade is with the European Union, and 85 per cent. of Palestinian aid comes from the European Union.
We do not want a repetition of what happened to the last European envoy, Mr. Thomas Dupla, who was forced to stay in his hotel and was not allowed out, because there was no agreement on what his job should be. We do not want to be represented by someone who is confined to his hotel. The Foreign Secretary said that we should spell out in detail what the envoy's role should be, or at least have some understanding of what his job should entail. I suggest that it should be to ensure that both the Palestinians and the Israelis observe international law. He could oversee the position, and guarantee that the Palestinians' human rights are restored and protected. He could also ensure that the massive amount of funding and finance from the European Union is getting through, and is not being held up at Israeli ports or by petty restrictions or downright obstruction. That would be a constructive role for him to play on behalf of Europe.
There is a major problem. Billions of pounds of aid have been pledged to the Palestinians, but every time the Israeli Government bring a closure on the west bank and Gaza the Palestinian economy loses $6 million per day.
Does the hon. Gentleman concede that every time the state of Israel brings a closure, as he puts it, on the movement of Arabs from the west bank or Gaza into Israel, it is not an action but a reaction? It is a reaction to Hamas and other groups that have perpetrated terrorism against the state of Israel.
If it were that, the hon. Gentleman's point would have some substance. But it has been announced that the west bank and Gaza will be closed this weekend because it is the anniversary of an alleged attack by the Israeli security services on Hamas activists in another country. Whether that incident involved the Israeli secret service, I do not know. I am simply saying that, as it has been decided that there may be some activity in response to that anniversary, this weekend the population in the west bank and Gaza will be confined to that area. The hon. Gentleman is not necessarily correct.
Every time the Palestinians are locked up, their economy loses $6 million per day which could be spent on improving infrastructure, improving the job prospects of Palestinians and improving the life of the Palestinian people. We should be aware of that, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary will take the matter up with the Prime Minister of Israel when he visits the middle east. I wish him luck. The House is united on this issue. The Foreign Secretary should make it clear to the new Government in Israel that we expect them to honour the international agreements that they have drawn up.
This country has a good record on building democracy in other parts of the world—a record to which parties on both sides of the House have contributed. In a document that was agreed at our party conference, we said that a Labour Government
will be committed to supporting democracy throughout the world.
It says that we will not seek to impose our model of democracy, but
we will offer practical assistance to countries that are committed to creating plural, participatory and accountable political structures".
It goes on to say that we shall do that by enhancing the role of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. The Labour party is not the only party involved in the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.
As the Secretary of State for Defence knows, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy is funded by the Foreign Office, all parties are represented in that organisation and I am privileged to be one of its governors. During the past year, the foundation has funded a wide range of projects to encourage democratic institutions overseas. It has supported political parties, the media, trade unions, women's groups, Parliaments and non-governmental organisations. Its work has grown, and it has given opportunities and encouragement to many individuals who are committed to democratic development in their own countries. Of particular importance are projects in Russia, Bosnia and South Africa. Those countries have regional and global significance, so it is vital to reinforce democratic efforts and activity.
As I have said, the Labour party intends to enhance the work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and to give greater prominence in our democracy-building activities to the role of civil society. The recipients of assistance have tremendous respect for the work and methods of the foundation. That is shown by the enormous and increasing number of applications for projects, and by the fact that the foundation is increasingly being used as a model by similar foundations.
We have developed a niche for effective, small-scale projects and for encouraging work involving political parties within countries and from different countries. However, we have not been as effective as we would have liked in the former Soviet Union. As a governor of the foundation, I have argued that increased emphasis should be placed on that region, and I know that the other governors agree with me.
It is time to expand the work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy to meet the increasing demand from current recipient countries and to move into other areas where the need for such assistance is growing or could arise in the future, such as the middle east, Palestine, the Indian sub-continent, Cuba, central America and south-east Asia. The foundation's current budget is £2.5 million. An increase of £500,000 would go unnoticed in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office accounts, but it would have a dramatic impact on the foundation's capacity to increase its activities throughout the world. I should like to see the foundation extend its remit to work with those in exile in Burma, the Sudan and Nigeria, to prepare them for an eventual return to democracy. We should be allowed to carry out appropriate projects on a contract basis for the know-how funds and for the Overseas Development Administration.
The Westminster Foundation for Democracy is a remarkable organisation in that all political parties play a part in it. It does a fantastic job wherever it helps to build plural, democratic, accountable structures and I recommend it for further support from the Government. I shall certainly demand further support from a future Labour Government.
As usual, our debates on defence and foreign affairs tend to be civilised. That has certainly been the case so far today and was the case in last week's debate on the defence estimates. In that debate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence had every reason to be proud of the record of our armed forces, which give sterling service in so many parts of the world. That praise was echoed in all parts of the House. Today my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary gave a masterly exposition of our attitude to foreign affairs in this changing world. I particularly welcomed the historical context of his speech in which he spoke about a multi-polar world.
I am glad to see the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) in his place. He also had some interesting and sensible thoughts last week, but I understand that at the Labour party conference there was, sadly, no opportunity for a defence debate, which is a remarkable indictment.
I took the precaution of obtaining the hon. Gentleman's contribution to what he refers to as a defence debate. I have the text in front of me. I understand that the debate took place under a larger, rather pretentiously ordered debate which was headed "Leadership in the World". The hon. Gentleman's contribution consisted of 17 sentences—I have added them up—which apparently reflect the whole of Labour's attitude to defence. Then he moved on, as he rightly said, to tackling the dissention in his party on the issue of Trident. He and I know perfectly well that usually 40-plus of his colleagues put their names to anti-nuclear amendments in the debate on the defence estimates. This year, surprise, surprise, the number had halved and about 20 of his colleagues put their names down for that debate.
I can only conclude, and I suspect that the country will conclude, that nobody was swayed by the hon. Gentleman's arguments about Trident. There was no philosophical argument, as I understood it. His main basis for not cancelling Trident was that the money on it had largely been spent and there were few savings to be had. None of his hon. Friends will be convinced by the philosophical rigour of that argument and I suspect that the country will conclude that Labour party principles have been subordinated to electoral advantage.
The hon. Member for South Shields looks rather uncomfortable. I shall quote one of the more dramatic phrases in his speech. He said:
We have caught up with the Tories on defence.
That may be a bold statement, but it is not particularly inspiring. Let us examine his claim. Did Labour pledge to increase the establishment of the armed forces? No, of course it did not. Has it promised increased expenditure on defence equipment orders? Of course not. Has it produced any new ideas for recruitment? On that I grant a small point to the hon. Gentleman because he came up with the dynamic new idea that we should extend recruitment to citizens of our European partner countries. That suggestion will not take the world by storm. Admirable as are the soldiers of Greece, Italy, Finland or wherever, I cannot see any great merit in their being recruited into the British Army, which seems to be the extent of the hon. Gentleman's enlightened suggestion.
One could hardly find anybody more fervently committed to this country's defence needs than my right hon. Friend, whatever his distinguished ancestry. The hon. Member for South Shields spoke about citizens of other European countries and as far as I know my right hon. Friend is a citizen only of the United Kingdom. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's argument is fallacious.
What does the hon. Member for South Shields really aspire to? He aspires to a defence review no less, based on what he describes as defence needs rather than defence costs. That is a rather interesting concept because it implies that his hon. Friends have obtained a blank cheque from the so-called shadow iron Chancellor to enable their defence aspirations to be met. Can Labour really justify the appalling uncertainty that would be brought about by a defence review after so much disruption in these changing times? What a contrast to the aspiration in the first paragraph on policy in the Gracious Speech which states:
National security continues to be of the highest importance. My Government will continue to play a major role in NATO's adaptation and in decisions on its enlargement, and to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security.
The hon. Member for South Shields will be glad to hear that the paragraph also states:
the United Kingdom's minimum nuclear deterrent will he maintained.
That is in accord with the wishes of right-thinking people throughout the country.
In last week's debate on the defence estimates my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence gave the salutary warning that after the cold war NATO had yet to meet an adversary which combines military capability with a strong political will. Against that stark background we should examine our own military resources and those within larger organisations to which we belong.
It is an enormous tribute to the adaptability and the morale of our forces that we have maintained the highest ever percentage of the Army deployed since the second world war. That is largely in Northern Ireland and in Bosnia. However, there is a price to be paid and I obviously declare an interest as a Regular Army reserve officer. It is that we cannot indefinitely compress the training, deployment, leave and retraining cycle even further than critics of "Options for Change" predicted. Sadly, the term overstretch has become so much used that its impact has been lessened. If anything, its effect, seen particularly in inadequate intervals between tours, is more profound on families than on service men themselves. Their resilience is quite fantastic and nobody knows and cultivates it more than my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces with his typical enthusiasm and bonhomie.
The Army is 4,000 below strength and the demographic trough will continue until about 2002. Uncertainty over such matters as the Bett report, the Army medical services back-up and the future of the married quarters estate, although the last issue has been resolved, have taxed good will in the armed forces. I look forward to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence giving a progress report on what the Government have done to achieve recruitment of around 17,000 a year for the next three years—that should be its level—to ensure that we have a well-trained, well-housed and well-paid professional Army.
I wish to examine our role in the larger military organisations in which we participate, the adaptation of which is referred to in the Queen's Speech. I welcome my right hon. Friend's positive redefinition of the Western European Union's role as the European arm of NATO, whereby the WEU maintains political control of NATO assets if only European interests are involved. I have reservations, however—I accept that this is an unfashionable view—about NATO's proposed extension to include central and eastern European countries that were once members of the defunct Warsaw pact.
If, as the Government have stated, the Russians are wary of the WEU becoming the defence arm of the so-called European Union—that wariness would be shared by many Conservative Members—why should a fragile Russia be any more content with NATO's extension to the former Soviet border? Is it not understandable that it could be interpreted as a threatening move? Should we risk aggravating the uncertainty that unfortunately prevails in Russia and possibly provoking wilder elements to react against a new artificial division across Europe, moving to the east? In historical terms, it could be interpreted as the iron curtain simply being shifted eastward, not with all the implications of the cold war era, but with implications that the House needs to debate.
Furthermore, if EU Foreign Ministers are incapable of developing a common defence and security policy—again, many of us shed no tears over that at the current stage of European evolution—what makes the Government think that an expanded NATO could do better? Why muddy the waters of decision-making in an organisation that has worked supremely well for half a century and that has furthermore competently adapted from the cold war to the decisive leadership that it has shown in former Yugoslavia?
I apologise for intervening, but I spoke on this matter last night and I feel strongly that we should remind ourselves of the reason for NATO. It was set up, first, for collective security, but also looking forward to the day when new democracies could emerge in central and eastern Europe. That is happening. A historic window of political opportunity needs to be seized.
Miscalculation is one of the tragedies of our foreign policy this century. We need to recognise the rights of the people of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and some other states, for instance the Baltic states. Certainly Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic should be admitted into NATO in the first tranche. It is a matter of right, apart from our self-interest in terms of collective security and the fact that Poland, with its large land mass and significant army, can contribute a great deal.
I apologise for missing the hon. Gentleman's speech last night, but I suspect that I heard a rerun of it just now. I have a certain amount of sympathy with what he says, but I hope that he will realise from what I have said that it is a question of getting the right balance. Of course one wants to back up democracies that have developed so marvellously in former eastern European countries, but we should not rush headlong into expanding NATO without thinking about the implications, particularly in relation to Russia.
In the context of collective security, it is not difficult to identify potential flashpoints throughout the world. For instance, there are large and significant proportions of ethnic Russians—most of them, I think, holding Russian nationality—in the Baltic states. The middle east is going through yet another period of increased tension. Islamic fundamentalism has spread to as near as north Africa, within close range, given modern armaments, of the United Kingdom. Lastly—I do not pretend that this is an exclusive list—further flare-ups in the Balkans are possible.
There are at least two major anomalies in NATO's relationship with Europe. First, neither France nor Spain is yet fully integrated into the NATO structure. Obviously, we all welcome the positive and now speeded-up moves to bring about that integration, but it is and has been a problem. Secondly, there is the bizarre anomaly of European countries such as Austria, Finland, Sweden and Ireland preserving, for different historical reasons, their neutrality, which makes their accession to NATO unlikely. I was delighted to hear my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary confirm that NATO membership is equivalent to WEU membership and that a country cannot be a member of one and not of the other.
Those two points will underlie any further discussion about the development of NATO and of the EU. Surely the yardstick of any development or reform—however we put it—must be the question: would we get unanimous and speedy military decisions on matters of collective security, whatever and whenever threats might arise? We need look no further than the different and often conflicting interests of, for instance, Turkey and Greece to realise what complications could arise if, willy-nilly, we expanded NATO.
By all means, let us co-operate militarily with former eastern bloc countries and develop "Partnership for Peace". It is extremely healthy that we are planning—for, I think, the end of this year—military operations in Poland and the Ukraine. I am not certain whether that has been confirmed, but, rather than any organic development, it represents the best way in which to get to know and understand each other and build trust.
Clearly, Poland is vital because of all its historical, emotional and geographical aspects. The Ukraine is an especially interesting example because, as far as I know, it has not applied to join NATO and will always have a special relationship vis-à-vis Russia. In any future balance of power in Europe, the Ukraine will always play an important part.
Those are important, confidence-building measures without organic change. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence not—and I am putting words into his mouth here which he will probably reject—to support NATO's enlargement for enlargement's sake, or to view such an enlargement as a substitute for broadening the EU, which many Conservative Members believe should be the prime aim and, in many ways, should take precedence over any possible NATO enlargement.
Since 1979, this Conservative Government have been tried, tested and proved right in military and foreign affairs. They have a record of which they can be proud. For the whole country's sake, we need them to continue in this uncertain world. I welcome the strong endorsement of policies to this end in the Gracious Speech.
We have been told that the forthcoming general election will be characterised by far greater participation than ever before of theatrical and sporting personalities. Even so, none of us was sufficiently prepared for the shock of hearing the Foreign Secretary praying in aid the sayings of Mr. Tommy Docherty to make a political point. Mr. Docherty is better known for his football than for his philosophy, but I suppose that we must all find our aphorisms wherever we can.
I wish that the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) had been with me and my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) when this morning we called on the President of Poland, who is visiting the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman would have been made aware of the strength of Poland's desire to participate in not only the European Union but NATO, as a way of receiving recognition for the enormous changes in Poland. That country is understandably endeavouring to ensure that change is firmly rooted in the country's internal democracy and in membership of external institutions that is conditional on the maintenance of democracy.
NATO has succeeded in relation to Greece and Turkey. If one or both countries had been outside NATO, I suspect that the nature of the relations between them in the recent past might have resulted in not only disagreement but active conflict. NATO has in that sense accommodated countries that substantially disagree, allowing pressure to be imposed to resolve their disagreements by peaceful means, not conflict. The observations of the hon. Member for Wimbledon were not entirely well placed. He has much more practical experience of being a soldier than most right hon. and hon. Members, but on this occasion I must part company with his analysis and logic.
I do not part company with the analysis and logic of the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), who is Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, in his remarks about the influence of and role played by the British Council and the BBC World Service. I suspect that he was speaking for virtually every right hon. and hon. Member—I was about to say with the exception of Government Front Benchers, but perhaps one can include even them. The economies made in relation to the British Council and the World Service are of small intrinsic value but have had an unfortunate and regrettable impact on those organisations, which ensure more than anything else that the United Kingdom's cultural and political values receive the widest possible audience.
It is said that there are no votes in foreign affairs—I do not know whether Mr. Tommy Docherty was the source of that quotation. That sentiment is generally accepted, although sometimes it is expressed differently. President Clinton did so rather negatively when he said, "It's the economy, stupid." Foreign affairs do not always command great interest in relation to electoral success. Perhaps that is why the Prime Minister's contribution yesterday did not make any mention of any foreign affairs issue. The Prime Minister addressed the House on the opening day of the debate on the Loyal Address without once referring to any of the foreign affairs issues raised in the Gracious Speech.
The Queen's Speech stated:
My Government will continue to promote respect for human rights and the international rule of law.
Those words will have a particularly hollow ring in Nigeria and East Timor. During last week's debate on the defence estimates, I asked what possible moral justification the United Kingdom has for supplying arms to Indonesia. How does the UK
promote respect for human rights
by supplying arms to Indonesia? In foreign policy, we must exercise judgments about the countries that are entitled to benefit from relations with the UK. Countries that permanently flout human rights or have oppressive regimes should not enjoy that benefit.
The Indonesian Government are systematically abusing human rights in Indonesia and East Timor. We do not need to know whether Hawk aircraft have been used against persons offering resistance in East Timor. It is enough to know the nature and extent of abuse by the Government of persons who seek to maintain publicly any opinion other than that of the Government. We know enough from the award of the Nobel peace prize to Bishop Belo and Jose Ramos Horta for their campaigning against repression in East Timor.
In a moment.
British Aerospace has had my consistent support, and I suspect that the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) is about to make that point. I disagree with the right hon. Member for Guildford for seeking indirectly to make a point about the need for the European fighter aircraft and its cost. That aircraft is central to the United Kingdom's defence and to the success and future of British Aerospace. However, I do not believe that the export of Hawk aircraft to Indonesia is necessary for BAe's survival.
During the summer, the Prime Minister talked about introducing morality into politics. I have some reservations about the extent to which politicians of any kind should start moralising, but how about introducing morality into British policy on Indonesia?
I was also a little taken aback when my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) started trading the EFA for money for the World Service and various other purposes. I am not saying that money should not be directed at such organisations, but one cannot go about it that way. Nevertheless, is it Liberal Democrat policy to stop the sale of Hawk trainer aircraft to Indonesia?
Yes, absolutely. I will send the hon. Gentleman a copy of my speech to my party's annual conference, which made exactly that point—which I am repeating. If there is merit in consistency, perhaps I may be allowed a certain measure of self-congratulation for that, if nothing else.
If we are concerned about the moral high ground, why does not the UK take a lead in a campaign to achieve an outright ban on the production, export and use of anti-personnel land mines? Why does not the UK renounce the manufacture, sale and deployment of anti-personnel land mines? Can there be any greater rebuke to our conscience than that, every day of every year, thousands of men, women and children lose their lives or limbs as a result of the indiscriminate use of land mines? Is it not an affront to humanity that a device that costs $3 to make and $1,000 to clear should cause such widespread civilian casualties? Is it not to our shame that so many of those casualties are in the third world? The military case for anti-personnel land mines is increasingly challenged by senior military commanders who previously had responsibility for the deployment of those weapons. The moral case against them is overwhelming and unanswerable.
Many land mines have been indiscriminately strewn around Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Gracious Speech commits the Government
to support peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, encouraging full compliance with the Peace Agreement and promoting reconciliation between the former warring parties.
None of us wants to detract from that objective, but the real issue is whether there will be a follow-on force to IFOR and, if so, whether the UK will be part of it. We know the answer to the second question but not the first, because the Secretary of State for Defence answered the second question in the affirmative last week.
On the hypothesis that the international community resolved that there should be a follow-on force, the Secretary of State for Defence said that the United Kingdom should be part of it, as should the United States. Everyone agrees that the implementation force has been a remarkable achievement. However, we know that there is still instability in Bosnia-Herzegovina and that the ingredients for tragedy, despair and destruction are still there. We must not throw away the gains made in the past few months. I believe that there must be a follow-on force. The United Kingdom should be exercising every diplomatic effort to achieve that. The answer to the first question must therefore be that there will be a follow-on force and to the second that the United Kingdom will be part of it.
There will be risks involved in any such force. British service men and women will be put at risk, but I do not believe that the international community can risk a return to the endless litany of horror and degradation that has been suffered for so many years in a country that is right at the heart of Europe.
The right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) dealt forcefully and effectively with the issue of war criminals. We must robustly and with dedication bring to justice those who have been accused of war crimes. They must not be allowed to escape the consequences of their inhuman behaviour, if that is established in evidence. They must not be allowed to flout the civilised standards of conduct which it is incumbent on us all to follow. As I understand it, the right hon. Member for Livingston said that it was a matter of deterrence. He said that, if we do not deal with it effectively on this occasion, in the future others will feel free to visit the same sort of horrors on other people. That may be true, but there is a more fundamental point: the intrinsic evil of the actions of those against whom the allegations have been made is such that they should be brought to justice, irrespective of any question of deterrence.
The United Nations failed to bring peace to Bosnia, but it succeeded in keeping many people alive and in preventing even worse bloodshed. It failed because its members gave it ambiguous political objectives and inadequate resources for the mission that it was directed to fulfil.
I am coming to elements of reform which I hope might find ready acceptance from the hon. Gentleman.
If the United Nations is to be more effective in the future, it must be reformed. There is a political crisis—that may be an overworked word, but there is certainly political anxiety at the heart of the United Nations as we conduct this debate—about the future of the office of Secretary-General. I do not believe that whether Mr. Boutros-Ghali has done well or badly matters any longer. The fact is that he has lost the confidence of the United States. The United States is a permanent member of the Security Council and, for the sake of the United Nations, Mr. Boutros-Ghali should step down because the UN cannot afford the paralysis of a dispute in the Security Council about who should be its Secretary-General. However, there is a quid pro quo for such a gesture, which is that the United States Congress should release immediately funds to pay the outstanding contributions of the United States, which now amount to $2 billion. If suppose that, in a practical if not a theoretical sense, the United Nations may be on the verge of bankruptcy. We cannot tolerate that.
The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr.. Fabricant) raised questions of reform. I shall tell him what I think is an essential minimum programme of reform for the UN. First, there must be an end to the financial profligacy that has characterised so much of what the UN has done. There must be an end to the overstaffing that has bedevilled the UN. There must be an end to appointments made on country of origin rather than on merit. We need a UN agency—this has been referred to obliquely, if not directly, by the right hon. Member for Livingston—for the prevention and suppression of conflict. We should resurrect the military committee of the UN and there should be a staff college responsible for the formulation and revision of peacekeeping doctrine and for instruction in peacekeeping techniques. We should resolve the much vexed question of assigned forces being available for rapid response at the instigation of the Security Council and in reliance of appropriate resolutions. That is the minimum programme of reforms necessary if the United Nations is to perform with more success in circumstances such as those it met in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
This was the year of the Scott report. I have listened to Ministers and read with interest their responses. Nothing has persuaded me that the events that led to Lord Justice Scott being invited to carry out his extensive inquiry could not happen again. Nothing has been said or written which, in my judgment, would prevent a similar set of circumstances from arising.
The Foreign Secretary made what one might describe as a statement in relation to certain allegations about Government policy towards Argentina. I am one of those who believe that we should seek to improve our relations with Argentina. The future of the Falkland islanders will best be secured by an atmosphere of, if not trust, at least a higher degree of co-operation. I have met the ambassador and officials from Argentina and I have no doubt that other hon. Members who are similarly motivated will have done the same.
We know that serious allegations are being made which suggest that certain equipment which would otherwise have been the subject of embargo has been supplied. The Foreign Secretary made a careful statement, but he did not answer all the questions in my mind. I want to pose those questions because it is right that they should be on the record.
Has policy towards Argentina and the supply of arms or arms-related equipment changed in any way since it was first formulated? Has that policy been subject to different interpretation at any time since its formulation? Has Rolls-Royce been permitted to supply marine engine spares for use in Argentine navy warships? If it has done so, was it with the knowledge of officials in any Government Department? If it has done so, was it with the knowledge of Ministers from any Government Department? If Rolls-Royce has supplied marine engine spares for use in warships, would that be contrary to the Government's published policy? The House is entitled to have answers to those questions.
Several of those who have contributed to the debate have referred to the middle east. I believe that there is an opportunity for Europe, acting collectively, to exert a beneficial influence in that region. Most assuredly, we have an interest in the region and we have historic associations with many countries there.
The recent eruption of unrest between Israel and the Palestinians came about as a result of an action regarded by the Palestinians as extremely provocative, but the underlying cause of that eruption was the departure from the principle of land for peace, which lay at the centre of the Oslo accord. The Secretary of State mentioned the need for early withdrawal from Hebron by Israeli forces, but that would not be an end of the process. Withdrawal from Hebron should be the first step in a revitalised peace process, in which the Oslo accord and the principles on which it was founded should be the centrepiece of negotiation.
The Secretary of State told us that he was going on a tour to the middle east and would eschew megaphone diplomacy. I doubt that anyone would criticise that. Nevertheless, I suggest to him, and to others responsible for formulating United Kingdom policy on that matter, that the centrepiece of our policy should be an acceptance that the European Union should take a much more vigorous role in endeavouring to help the peace process.
We should urge Israel to cease provocation such as the continuing building of new settlements. We should urge Israel to implement the Oslo accord. We should urge Israel to end the closures of the occupied territories, which have such a devastating effect on the Palestine economy. We should urge Israel to end its predatory action in relation to the city of Jerusalem. We should urge Israel to abandon its threat to close the Orient house in Jerusalem.
Some of those proposals are more significant than others. Some of those features of current Israeli policy toward the Palestinian people cause considerable distrust and anxiety, and unless those issues are resolved, one cannot look with optimism on a favourable outcome to the present exchanges—I was going to say peace negotiations, but I doubt that what is happening justifies that description. The present exchanges are unlikely to be successful unless the issues that I just mentioned are properly resolved.
I mentioned a role for the European Union in the middle east. I conclude by referring to the United Kingdom's role in the European Union. This is surely a time when our country is entitled to clear and unambiguous leadership in the debate about Europe. There has been a temporary lull in the internal storm in the Conservative party on that topic—no doubt induced by the soporific breezes of Bournemouth—but one must ask oneself how long that will last, and how long the Prime Minister can expect to straddle the gap on Europe in the Conservative party.
Not as long as that, I fancy. One might say that that would be the terminus a quo of his capacity to straddle that gap, but I doubt that he will manage to get to that point, at least in relation to Europe.
The events of the summer speak for themselves. I do not wish to rehearse them, but one unique event was eloquent of Government disarray: the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), who was in the Chamber earlier, spoke on radio programmes, criticising a Cabinet Minister for breaching Government policy.
In the curious circumstances of the dispute in the governing party about its policy towards Europe, that is probably the most curious event to have occurred. Nothing similar can have happened in modern political times. If it has happened, the junior Minister has not been notable for his survival afterwards. It was an extraordinary event, and it emphasised the fact that this gap, division, disagreement, lies at the heart of the Conservative party.
Four principles should guide the debate on Europe. First—in some senses I echo the Prime Minister—Britain must be unequivocal that its future is as a full and committed member of the European Union. Secondly, Britain must work to make the European Union more democratic and decentralised, and we must rigorously enforce the principle of subsidiarity at every level of government, in Europe and in the United Kingdom.
Thirdly, Britain must be committed to going ahead with monetary union if economic conditions make it possible to do so. Finally, any substantial change in constitutional arrangements between Britain and the European Union, including the question whether we should join a single currency, should be submitted to the people of Britain for approval in a referendum.
The Gracious Speech contains, characteristically, many ambiguities and euphemisms—nowhere more so than in relation to Europe. The expansion of NATO is desirable; the expansion of the European Union is inevitable; a comprehensive test ban treaty is worth while; free trade is advantageous; but Europe is central, and the Government's divisions appear irreconcilable. Those divisions will halt them until they are driven from office.
I have the honour to follow the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), who demands that we have a referendum if the Government decide to enter a single currency—yet the Prime Minister has committed us to such a referendum in those circumstances. The hon. and learned Gentleman also says that we should strengthen subsidiarity, yet the Prime Minister himself introduced the concept of subsidiarity at the conference in Birmingham some years ago when we had the presidency of the European Union. It is pleasurable to witness such cross-party unity, on that issue at least.
I shall discuss Israel later, but I cannot resist saying that, at the moment, many people might feel that Binyamin Netanyahu is being held hostage in his own coalition, and that one of the reasons for his hard-line policy is the number of Members of Parliament from the Religious party in his Cabinet, which is a direct consequence of the proportional representation that Israel must suffer in the Knesset. It is Liberal Democrat policy that we should have the same sort of—
First, my party does not support the system of proportional representation that is used in Israel. That system allows for representation, however minuscule the vote. The system that we support demands that a party gain 5 per cent. of the vote before it obtains representation—a system that has worked successfully in Germany so that the German economy has been the most powerful in Europe for the past 30 years.
If we are going to trade comments such as that, I would say that the 5 per cent. system also operates in Italy, and that it might be argued that the Italian economy has been paralysed because of coalitions. The situation in Germany is very different because there is far less controversy between the different parties in Germany.
No; I wish to reach the main part of my speech.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said that the four pillars of our foreign policy are the transatlantic alliance, relationships with developing countries, world trade and, of course, Europe. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East has had fun talking about the Conservative party's possible divisions on Europe, but he must accept that similar arguments on Europe are taking place in the Labour party and the Liberal party. There would be rigor mortis in the Chamber if there were no such arguments. The most profound issue facing the United Kingdom today is our relationship with Europe. I have used the word "argument" advisedly, because to argue is to discuss. I have not said that we are quarrelling, and yet I can say that some Liberal Members oppose their leader and do not want a federal Europe. I suggest that argument on Europe is inevitable and that it is positively healthy.
I should like to raise one specific European matter, because it has affected one of my constituents—although it has general importance in our relationship with Europe. At 6 o'clock on Thursday 11 July 1996, my constituent—Mr. Stanley Allsop of Lichfield—was arrested. He was held in prison without charge for 68 days, he was not allowed to see a lawyer for four days, he was not allowed to make a telephone call during the entire period that he was in prison, he was not charged with a crime, and he was not allowed to see his wife, his children or his grandchildren.
After 68 days—on 17 September 1996—Mr. Allsop was released. Did this incident happen in Iraq? No. Did it happen in the People's Republic of China? No. It occurred in France. He was arrested because he was asked to transport into the United Kingdom a container, which was sealed in another country, that had drugs inside. The French authorities eventually came to the conclusion that he could not possibly have known that there were drugs in the container that he was collecting for his transport firm, which is based in Lichfield.
The extraordinary aspect of the case is that in France, as in many other parts of the European Union, English law does not prevail and, therefore, there is no habeas corpus. Astonishingly, what happened to Mr. Allsop could not have happened in the United Kingdom or in the United States. It certainly could not have happened to him in Australia, New Zealand, India or South Africa, where English law prevails—[Interruption.] The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East says Dutch law prevails in South Africa.
I am always happy to assist the hon. Gentleman with his education about the United Kingdom. The law in South Africa is Roman-Dutch in origin—exactly the same as the law in Scotland.
I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman will find that the system of habeas corpus has been incorporated into South African law. I have worked in South Africa, and pure Roman-Dutch does not prevail, as he maintains. Habeas corpus—the very principle of English law—applies in South Africa.
The problem with the situation in France and in other parts of the European Union—although not exclusively there—is that, at times, there is more corpus than habeas. People can be held for long periods without being allowed to see relatives, to consult a lawyer or to make a telephone call. They can be held without being charged. That situation is patently wrong and against the principles of natural justice.
Before we discuss such issues as how straight cucumbers should be, or possible directives on caramel, we should discuss, as a high priority, a common principle of human rights in the European Union for the protection of all European Union citizens. That comment presents a bit of dilemma for me, because I am not at all keen on European directives that impinge on the legal process of any European Union country. It is necessary, however, to have a common basis of human rights so that European Union citizens know that they will have access to lawyers and cannot be held in prison unless they are charged for a specific crime.
It is extraordinary that Mr. Allsop was held in prison in France—only 40 miles from the south England coast—but that he had no access to a lawyer for such a long time, was not allowed throughout his imprisonment to make a telephone call or to see his wife, children or grandchildren.
Mr. Allsop was released on 17 September 1996. I should like to pay tribute to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary intervened on his behalf, as did my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Baroness Chalker in another place. The British embassy was active on Mr. Allsop's behalf in Paris, and there was a successful outcome.
While trying to obtain Mr. Allsop's release, I learnt the extraordinary fact that 15 other British citizens are being held in France without charge. That must be wrong. There must be a common standard of justice and a basic standard of human rights throughout the European Union. If there is not, the European Union will become a meaningless place.
I was delighted that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, in his introduction to today's debate, spoke about the need for world trade. He will recall that, on 26 April 1996, I introduced a ten-minute Bill entitled the Association (United Kingdom, United States and Former Dominions) Bill. I said that it is important, when entering a partnership, to enter a partnership of compatibles. When I was in business, I learnt that it is no good entering partnerships unless one feels that the partners are reasonably compatible and have the same business objectives. I am not married, but I suspect that—unless it is a forced marriage—it is helpful to marry someone who will be compatible over the years, as a longer-lasting and genuine friendship is more likely to result.
I do not agree with forced marriages or with forced partnerships. There must be compatibility, and I believe that we are very compatible with such countries as the United States and with the former dominions—Canada, Australia and New Zealand. They share not only the English language, but the English legal system—and the principle of habeas corpus.
Although the population of the United Kingdom, the United States and the old Commonwealth countries, at 356 million people, is smaller than that of the European Union—including the United Kingdom—at 369 million, the gross national product of the EU, including the United Kingdom, is $7,280,975 million, whereas the combined GNP of the United Kingdom, the United States and the old Commonwealth is more than $8,274,500 million. I am not suggesting that we exclude one set of partners or the other, or that there is a conflict between trade with the United States and the old Commonwealth and with our being at the heart of Europe, but it is important that we continue to maintain our links with the United States.
As I said in an intervention in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, British companies are the single largest holder of shares in United States companies, and United States companies have the largest number of shares in United Kingdom companies. That has come about not by historical accident but as a direct consequence of our common heritage and of the fact that it is so easy to do business between us.
Before I came to the House in 1992, I had a company that designed and installed equipment in radio stations and provided services for them. My "compatible" partners and I formed a company from scratch; by the time we sold it in 1991, 48 countries were using equipment and systems designed by us in the United Kingdom. When firms in France owed us money, I found that it was a difficult exercise to go through the French legal system, but when we were owed money by firms in the United States, I was stunned by the fact that the American system had evolved so similarly to ours.
The United States gained its independence from us in 1783 and could have evolved a totally different legal system; in fact, its system developed in parallel with ours. I think that it was Nietzsche who said that a language was the very soul of a nation—the very basis of how people think. That is demonstrated by the compatibility of the United States and the United Kingdom in so many matters. I was therefore delighted when my right hon. and learned Friend said that the Atlantic alliance was one of the four pillars that we should develop in our foreign policy.
Our foreign policy has now moved back to the first Elizabethan era. People forget that when Elizabeth I formed what in effect became the diplomatic service, she did so on the basis of trade, not diplomacy. Many years ago, when I worked with officials in British embassies to try to get our equipment exported to various countries, I dealt with diplomats who had never been in trade and had no interest in it—I think that they rather looked down on it—and yet trade, indirectly, paid their wages.
There has been a transformation since 1979: now, people working in the commercial sections of our embassies and high commissions are often borrowed from industry or have joined the diplomatic service from the Department of Trade and Industry. That is to be welcomed because it strengthens our exports.
Both Conservative and Opposition Members have mentioned the BBC World Service. I join them in congratulating the BBC on the effectiveness of that service, which lies not only in the quality of its broadcasts but in the quantity of its listeners. Although the World Service is now being broadcast in FM stereo in many places, which means that it can be received on ordinary domestic radio sets, most listeners have to find it on short wave, which is quite a complicated process; yet it can boast more listeners than Radio Russia—formerly the Radio Moscow World Service, to which I had the privilege of supplying equipment and services—Deutsche Welle, Radio Beijing and the Voice of America combined. It is an incredible balancing act to maintain the quality of broadcasting and the quantity of listeners. Domestically, the BBC has often failed to broadcast politically unbiased programmes and to provide worthwhile programming that attracts listeners. A good example of that is Radio 3, compared with Classic FM.
I am pleased that there is a continued desire for Turkey to join the European Union. Turkey is part of the cornerstone of Europe. I look forward to hearing more about Turkey from my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson); I know that he visited Turkey in the summer and has learnt the rather complex Turkish language.
Greece presents certain problems. Hon. Members will recall that Greece has had disputes with Macedonia, which it tried to prevent from using that name, and with various other countries. I hope that, if we can resolve the Cyprus problem, Greece will decide that now is the time to absorb Turkey into the European Union, provided that it is economically safe to do so. Turkey is an important nation and deserves to be a member, closely following the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary.
Russia has genuine concerns about the expansion of NATO. Hon. Members have said that Russia should be reassured that NATO is not an offensive power on its borders but a defensive power and a force for good. It is all too easy to forget that, throughout its history, Russia has felt beleaguered and encircled by hostile neighbours. At a time when Russia is going through great difficulties, it is important to reassure it that NATO is not a force for imperialism or for evil and that it will not jeopardise the Russian people but will provide stability and strengthen the very safety that Russia seeks.
Li Lanqing, the vice-premier of China, is coming here next week. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary will tell him that we are concerned about religious persecution in China and in provinces such as Tibet, to which the Dalai Lama is still unable to return, and that no one has forgotten the massacre in Tiananmen square. Incidentally, people in China know about Tiananmen square largely through BBC World Service broadcasts in Mandarin and Cantonese and through the satellite transmissions—which have, sadly, now stopped—of BBC Television on the Star network.
I was delighted to hear that the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) had caught up with the Tories on defence. I should like to claim some credit for that. He will recall that, in 1987, he and I fought a reasonably clean battle for the South Shields constituency; much to my surprise, he won. It is quite clear, however, that my arguments on defence got through to him. Only a few years ago, the Labour party was criticising our deployment of cruise and Pershing missiles in response to the deployment of SS20s by the Warsaw pact; I firmly believe that the west's resolution in deploying those missiles was one of the factors in the break-up of the communist regime in the Soviet Union.
The mists of time have affected the hon. Gentleman's memory. We had a good, clean fight. I shall not remind him of my majority, but it was considerable. Before he gets too carried away on unilateralism, I should like to point out that I resigned as the deputy Labour spokesman on defence in 1981 when the party went unilateralist because I was a multilateralist.
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has said that, because it confirms two points: first, that he is a decent sort of fellow; and, secondly, that the Labour party was unilateralist and, I believe, jeopardised the peace as a consequence. Our strength at that time maintained the peace and resulted in our winning the cold war, bringing democracy to the poor benighted people of Russia.
I should point out to my hon. Friend that the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) has still not answered the question that he was asked last week; why, if he was a multilateralist, did he say that he would not be prepared to use nuclear weapons, destroying the point of having a nuclear deterrent?
That is a disturbing thing to hear. There is no point in having nuclear weapons if the potential enemy believes that we would never use them. They have to be there as a deterrent. Please God, nuclear weapons will never be used in action, but they have to exist as a deterrent and they must be credible. Nuclear weapons have no credibility unless people believe that a country is prepared to use them.
The hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), in her high-pitched voice, is criticising the fact that nuclear weapons have to be available and—[Interruption.] Would the hon. Lady like to intervene?
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. They are not welcome to me either.
The Leader of the Opposition has talked about his role model being Margaret Thatcher. He now finds himself crossed with the Archbishop of Canterbury with his views on morality. It is interesting that he, too, has caught up with the Tories on defence. I am not convinced by that, but it is reassuring that he has seen the light. But why should anyone go for the imitation when they can have the real thing?
The right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) asked why we were so opposed to the social chapter, saying that the minimum wage would be a marvellous thing. If it is so marvellous, why does the Labour party not say what the minimum wage should be? I suppose that, if the Conservative party wanted to go for cheap votes, we could say that we liked the idea of a minimum wage and then set it at a very low rate of 10p or 20p an hour. Labour Members are not prepared to put their commitment where their mouths are, so we do not know what their commitment to the minimum wage is. As in so many other areas, there is no beef to their policy; they just make empty promises.
The right hon. Member for Livingston welcomed works councils. We should not forget that the Conservative party first came up with the idea of stakeholding, and promoted it. In previous Budgets, the Conservative party has encouraged employee share participation and has given employees the chance to own shares in their company and gain tax relief on them.
We have had an interesting debate. I am pleased that we have four pillars on which to pursue our foreign policy: strengthening our position in Europe; strengthening the transatlantic alliance; encouraging world trade; and promoting our relationship with the developing tigers in the far east.
If the World Trade Organisation can reach its objectives by 2020, there will be free trade throughout the developed world. I should like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who, some years ago—in this Parliament—successfully ensured the passage of the general agreement on tariffs and trade Uruguay round, which led to the formation of the WTO.
Speaking controversially as an individual, not as a member of the Government—because I am not—by 2020 we may not need the European Union. If there is free trade between all developed countries, we shall have free access not only to all the European countries for trade, but to north America and the far east. I hope that that will be so. In the meantime, I commend the Queen's Speech to the House and I commend the speech made this afternoon by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.
We are focusing today on the aspects of the Gracious Speech relating to defence and foreign affairs. You will appreciate, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it is with mixed feelings that I note that the ambit of our debate on foreign affairs has been widened by the inclusion in the foreign affairs section of the Gracious Speech of a reference to Northern Ireland. That is unwelcome to my hon. Friends and me, as well as to the people of Northern Ireland.
Unfortunately, the practice of including the reference to Northern Ireland in the foreign affairs section of the Gracious Speech developed more than 20 years ago. It was precisely 20 years ago that the former hon. Member for South Down, Mr. Enoch Powell, framed and tabled an amendment to the motion on the Loyal Address on behalf of the Ulster Unionist party. It is with regret that we have to repeat that amendment exactly. There was a period when the reference to Northern Ireland was in the right section of the Gracious Speech, but for some reason it has slipped back in the past couple of years. That sends the wrong signals to a host of people. I am not sure why it is done and I should appreciate an explanation from the Government.
I note the references in the Gracious Speech to the fight against terrorism and the commitment
to promote respect for human rights and the international rule of law.
I should like to address the latter topic first, drawing the attention of the House in particular to the way in which human rights and international law have been used, are being used and can be used to resolve conflicts in many parts of Europe.
Several references have been made during the debate to central and eastern Europe. Hon. Members will know that there is the potential for conflict in many areas of central and eastern Europe, where national boundaries do not correspond precisely with ethnic and national groups. In some areas, such potential conflict has been defused by recourse to concepts worked out in human rights law, and in particular the principles developed in recent years by what is now called the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
I shall refer in particular to the treaty between Hungary and Romania concluded on 16 September this year. Hon. Members will know that there are significant minority problems in Romania, which has between 1.7 million and 2 million Hungarians, living mainly in Transylvania. Hungarians continue to suffer ill-treatment by the Romanian Government.
The issue was drawn to my attention last September, when I had the honour of being included in the United Kingdom delegation to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. During my visit to Bucharest, I attended a meeting of all the bishops in Romania except those of the Orthodox Church. In Romania, Churches are organised on a communal basis. The Orthodox Church is ethnically Romanian, while the other Churches—the Roman Catholic. Reformed, Presbyterian and Unitarian Churches—are all ethnically Hungarian. I met the bishops of the Hungarian Churches, who told me about the discrimination suffered by the Hungarian minority at the hands of the Romanian Government.
That is a matter of great concern, in a part of Europe where boundaries were changed in the 1920s and 1940s. I hope that the potential for conflict is defused by the treaty between the Governments of Hungary and Romania.
It will come as no surprise to the House to hear that I very much approve of article 4 to that treaty. Let me briefly draw attention to its main provision:
The Contracting Parties confirm that, in accordance with the principles and norms of international law and the principles of the Helsinki Final Act, they shall respect the inviolability of their common border and the territorial integrity of the other Party. They further confirm that they have no territorial claims on each other and that they shall not raise any such claims in the future.
I note that they regard that as being in accordance with the principles and norms of international law, and they are quite right. The Governments concerned appear to agree that the basic principle for addressing the potential for conflict with national minorities in central and eastern Europe is respect for existing frontiers and the complete absence of territorial claims.
That is generally accepted, even in regions where the existing borders are not ideal. I am thinking particularly of the justifiable argument that citizens of Crimea could raise in regard to the inclusion of Crimea in the Ukraine. They could claim that it was a rather capricious act of Stalin in the late 1940s. It had no significance at the time as both countries were part of the USSR, but now it has considerable significance for the mainly Russian population of the Crimea. The Russian Government have been careful not to raise even the suspicion of a territorial claim to that area.
The treaty between Hungary and Romania deals with all aspects of the relationship between the two countries, particularly with provisions to protect the rights of national minorities. I shall not deal with them in detail, but the starting point is for the two Governments to accept and to apply as legal obligations the extensive provisions defining the rights of persons belonging to national minorities and religious groups as contained in certain instruments of the United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
It is obvious where the argument leads. Romania and Hungary are not alone in experiencing such problems. The same is happening in other parts of central and eastern Europe, such as the Baltic states, which have substantial ethnic minorities. The solution to minority issues in those countries will probably be along the lines of the agreement between Romania and Hungary.
I am not suggesting that the treaty is perfect; I know that the Romanian minority is disappointed that no provision has been made for autonomy for the regions where the Hungarians form local majorities. There is a strong argument for making extensive provisions for local autonomy in such circumstances. However, the agreement sets out the basic principles for dealing with minority issues, which will probably be applied in the Baltic states.
As the Gracious Speech refers to promoting respect for international instruments, why do the Government resolutely refuse to apply the principles contained in agreements to which the United Kingdom is party to the minority problem and the conflict within the British Isles? Instead of following the example of the rest of Europe and implementing agreements that the British and Irish Governments have entered into, we are saddled with the failed Anglo-Irish Agreement. I make no apology for describing it as having failed; one has only to look at the record of the past 11 years. Events this summer demonstrated the complete bankruptcy of that agreement, which is now used as an instrument to create trouble rather than peace.
The Anglo-Irish Agreement was entered into before most of the OSCE instruments that are now being applied. Why are the Government not prepared seriously to consider replacing it with something along the lines of the agreement entered into between Romania and Hungary?
The OSCE agreements and accords contain provisions that enable any country involved in the OSCE to raise issues with regard to other countries. I am thinking particularly of the Moscow mechanism, which enables countries to raise questions about the treatment of minorities in other countries, and the Copenhagen accord, which established the Commissioner for National Minorities. Those two instruments constitute a mechanism for some external supervision of the treatment of minorities. If the Irish Government have an interest in ensuring fair treatment of the Irish nationalist minority in the United Kingdom, the OSCE Commissioner for National Minorities and the Moscow mechanism represent a means by which they can reflect that interest. The procedure and machinery established by the failed agreement of 1985 is now redundant. It has been overtaken by events and developments in European law.
The Gracious Speech also refers to the fight against terrorism—a matter of real concern in my part of the United Kingdom and to the citizens of London in view of the warnings about renewed terrorist activity by Sinn Fein-IRA. We are glad that the security forces succeeded in foiling major outrages here in London in June and September. Any problems and deficiencies that might have crept into the intelligence network during the IRA ceasefire have obviously been repaired to the extent that vigilance was successful. We accept that one cannot always be successful if one thinks merely in terms of defending targets. For various reasons, lapses may occur and the bomb may get through. The incident at Thiepval barracks in Lisburn underlines that point.
We need more than just a defensive response; we need to do more than just try to defend the likely targets of terrorist aggression. We need a more positive security response. I think that people throughout the United Kingdom are somewhat surprised that, in the months since 9 February when IRA-Sinn Fein resumed violence, the Government have not been more active and that it has taken so long for a security response to terrorism to develop. I hope that things on that front will change in the near future.
I should refer also to the Prime Minister's comments yesterday on terrorism and the position of Sinn Fein with regard to the inter-party talks. With reference to the renewal of violence by Sinn Fein-IRA, I particularly note that he said:
That is plainly incompatible with joining the talks. They have excluded themselves by their return to violence".
The phrase, "They have excluded themselves" is significant. He did not say that they are excluding themselves. It is quite definite that they have excluded themselves. That must surely mean that we have reached a point where the possibility of Sinn Fein-IRA entering the process has gone. The Government may want to use a formula suggesting that the theoretical possibility is open, but in the real world we must acknowledge that it has gone. That was reinforced by the Prime Minister's comments that
The IRA and Sinn Fein should be under no illusion that they can join the process until they have demonstrated real commitment to democratic and non-violent methods." —[Official Report, 23 October 1996; Vol. 284, c. 31–32.]
If one is to use such language, which appears to hold open the possibility of a return by Sinn Fein to the political process, it is necessary at present to spell out precisely what is meant by a
real commitment to democratic and non-violent methods.
We do not want a repeat of the situation in 1994, when ambiguous formulas were used. The Government hummed and hawed about their response and made working assumptions, which have since been disproved by events. We need precision as to what is meant by a ceasefire in this context.
We also need to deal with the associated issue of the decommissioning of terrorist weapons. I shall not go into detail—certainly not into the detail in which the matter is being discussed at the inter-party talks in the Stormont grounds at the moment, where I think that about three whole days have been devoted to the debate and only three people have spoken.
Another three whole days on the issue have been promised for next week, so I shall not go into detail save to say that in the paper that we published on 30 September, we were careful to identify the minimum necessary commitments to be given by the Government on legislation, establishment of the international verification commission, the procedure to be followed if Sinn Fein ever entered the process and the timetable to be observed at that point. They are minimum requirements.
I am rather disappointed by the reference in the Gracious Speech to the legislation on decommissioning. It says that the Government merely
stand ready to introduce legislation.
I had gathered from bilateral discussions with the Government that their position was not passive, but active. I had been given the impression that the legislation would be dealt with in November. Consequently, I was disappointed at the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), when he asked in business questions earlier when the Second Reading of the Bill would be. He discovered that it would not be in the first tranche of Second Readings, and the Leader of the House was unable to give any precise guidance on when it would be. That is very disappointing and, again, is sending the wrong signals. We need that legislation to be under way as quickly as possible. I shall give way to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he wishes to comment.
I could not resist an invitation of that character. I was reaching forHansard, because I have a clear recollection of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister saying that the legislation will be introduced. I realise the point that the hon. Gentleman is making about the Gracious Speech, but I have a very clear recollection of my right hon. Friend saying in his speech in the House yesterday that it will be introduced. Further than that I will not go for the moment.
I am glad that the Secretary of State says that the legislation will be introduced. He knows that my immediate supplementary question is: when?
This is a very important issue. In the inter-party talks, we are trying to obtain firm assurances from the Government about the timetable for legislation, the verification commission and the other matters that I mentioned.
It is important that hon. Members realise the point that we have made in this context. We are not saying that the talks should mark time until the legislation is on the statute book or the verification commission established. We have said that, depending on the quality of assurances given on those matters, we would be prepared for the talks process to move forward into substantive issues in—perhaps—even just the next few weeks. That depends on whether we obtain adequate assurances and an adequate definition of what constitutes a ceasefire. The Prime Minister's words yesterday go some way in that direction, but in view of the plasticity of language and the experiences of 1994–95, we should like things to be tied down with greater precision.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a need for not just assurances and clarity from Her Majesty's Government? We are concerned that they do not fall into the trap that previous Governments fell into, by accepting assurances from the Irish Government that things would be done that were not done.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. To underline his point, one can only highlight the contrast between the statement made yesterday by the Prime Minister on that matter, and those made yesterday by the Irish Foreign Minister. The contrast is massive, but then, we have experience of the views of the Irish Foreign Minister in talks at Stormont, where he has not made a positive contribution at all.
I was holding open the possibility that the talks could move forward to deal with substantive issues if undertakings were given on the ceasefire and decommissioning. It is our hope that the talks will move to substantive issues, but if they are to do so, it needs to be done quickly. The election timetable will, as it were, set an end point to serious discussion, as electoral considerations come to dominate the parties' attitude. Indeed, such considerations have already dominated the attitude of some parties. If anything serious is to be done, it must be done quickly. We have made that point repeatedly to the other parties in the talks and I hope that there is a response.
If were to move into substantive talks, I would not at the moment envisage any great advantage in becoming involved in lengthy discussions on what are called strand 1 issues. They were debated at considerable length in the inter-party talks in 1992. We were very close to agreement. Although the document on which we were close to agreement is not perfect and could benefit from revision, I do not think that any party will move away from the principles contained in it. With that, as it were, under our belt, I do not envisage any great advantage in entering into substantive or lengthy discussion.
The inter-party talks of 1992 did not succeed on issues in what are called strands 2 and 3, which relate to the relationship between Northern Ireland and, indeed, the whole of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland. Obviously, what should be discussed and when, will be a matter for agreement among the parties to the talks. But it will be argued that if we are moving into substantive discussion, we should move quickly to focus on strand 2 and strand 3 issues—the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and both the United Kingdom in general and Northern Ireland in particular. We should focus on those subjects, and see whether we can make progress in dealing with the issues on which there was not agreement in 1992.
It will be no surprise to hear me say that the way to resolve those difficulties is to look at the models of good practice elsewhere in Europe that were mentioned earlier, and to consider the principles contained in the instruments of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
The difficulties encountered in 1992 can also be resolved by examining them on a wider basis. In 1992, there was far too much emphasis on the narrow issue of what is known as the relationship between Belfast and Dublin. That relationship is better considered in a wider context, which is, of course, the British Isles as a whole. Within that context, the issues will be easier to resolve.
That is not simply a formal matter; the wider context is the real context. Although there are a certain number of interactions on an economic, human and social basis on the north-south axis, east-west interactions, both between Belfast and the rest of the United Kingdom and between, say, Dublin and London, are much greater. So there is a real common interest in looking at things in the wider context.
That is not a new idea. I believe that it was my predecessor as leader, my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Sir J. Molyneaux), who used the term "a council of the British Isles". My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South will remember the phrase "the community of the British Isles", with which we have both been associated in the past. That was more than 20 years ago, but it still represents the right context within which to consider the issues.
The Romanian-Hungarian treaty runs to a good dozen pages, but it does not find it necessary to start creating elaborate structures to provide for the many occasions and features of co-operation between the two countries. It merely refers, in article 5, to the parties' establishing
an appropriate framework for co-operation".
I am fairly certain that that framework will not be an institution with political significance, and it will definitely not be an embryonic joint Romanian-Hungarian Government.
My hon. Friend is right to mention the free travel area that exists throughout the British Isles. That has implications that affect immigration control and other matters, and that reinforces the argument for dealing with such matters within the larger context. That is the way in which we should proceed.
I hope that there will be an opportunity for the parties to start dealing with the substantive issues in the corning weeks. But first the issues of ceasefire and decommissioning must be adequately dealt with. All the parties involved in the talks must be willing to commit themselves to talking on the existing basis.
That means going ahead without Sinn Fein, and we hope that there is a willingness to do that—although the comments by the Irish Foreign Minister yesterday reminded us that his close associate, one Mr. Fergus Finlay, said that talks without Sinn Fein were not worth a penny candle. The question will be whether the Irish Government still regard Sinn Fein as more important than all the other parties in Northern Ireland put together. That is a profoundly depressing and anti-democratic state of mind, and I hope that it is not representative of the Irish Government as a whole. That Government will need to declare their mind quickly, so that we can take advantage of the opportunity before us.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) began his speech by expressing concern about the Northern Ireland section of the humble Address being included in the foreign affairs day. However, I believe that whenever the hon. Gentleman speaks he will be listened to with great attention, and it may even be to his advantage to be required to speak in a foreign affairs debate as he may be listened to with even greater attention today than would have been the case had he had to contend with social security or some of the other rather less exciting domestic issues.
It is fair to remind the hon. Gentleman, too, that today's debate is not about foreign affairs alone but also about defence and it is sad but true that Northern Ireland has greatly concerned him and his colleagues, as well as the rest of us, as a matter of defence. However, I assure him that from my point of view not only as a Conservative Member of Parliament but as a former pupil of Friends school, Lisburn, I consider Northern Ireland to be very much a domestic, British, United Kingdom issue. I hope that he will be reassured to some extent by those words, delivered from my little haven on these Benches.
When the hon. Gentleman took us off to Romania and Hungary, I was a little concerned that he had been seduced into joining my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) in a journey around the international radio dial. However, I was thankful to see that the hon. Gentleman's mind was far too subtle for that and that he was merely addressing us in symbolic terms about the concerns of his Province.
I shall concentrate on a narrow aspect of foreign affairs—the concerns involving Bosnia-Herzegovina. Hon. Members will know that these were mentioned in the Gracious Speech. In the printed version, the passage appeared at the bottom of page 1 thus:
My Government will continue actively to support peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, encouraging full compliance with the Peace Agreement and promoting reconciliation between the former warring parties.
The subject was also referred to, by a side wind, as it were, just above the paragraph that concerned the hon. Member for Upper Bann, in a passage which said:
A substantial aid programme will be maintained to help improve the quality of life in poorer countries, by contributing to sustainable development and reducing poverty and suffering.
My only experience of Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a short stay there as one of the 40 British international observers monitoring the elections on 14 September this year. I was one of eight or nine British Members of Parliament in the group. Others were what I would call professional election watchers, while yet others were local government officers. All those people had art interest in seeing that the elections which formed part of the consequences of the Dayton agreement passed off successfully and it is fair to say that as elections, by and large, procedurally they passed off reasonably well.
My experience was limited to spending a few days in Brcko, a town which sits on the crux of the two halves of the Republika Srpska, on the River Sava, pushed up against Croatia and on the northern border of the Muslim-Croat federation. Because of that geographical position, the town is seen by all the parties in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Serbia proper as strategically important. The Dayton agreement did not settle its status or say into which part of the new country it should go. Indeed, it is yet to be decided whether Brcko should be part of the federation or should remain, as militarily it now is, in the Republika Srpska.
I want to dwell not on that, however, but on the civilian, or civil, side of the former Yugoslavia problem. We must concentrate on that, given that the fighting is at an end and given the great strides achieved by IFOR in maintaining the peace since the Dayton agreement.
I was looking earlier at the Library paper of 9 July entitled, "The Dayton Agreement: Progress in Implementation". It contains a number of statements, and I wonder whether two of these still hold true in the post-election period. On page 30, the document says:
The contradiction between the relative success of the military implementation of the Dayton Agreement and the relative lack of success in the implementation of the civil wing of the agreement gives rise to consideration of the future of the western military presence in Bosnia".
The second statement is:
Although the warring factions have more or less stuck to the letter of the Dayton Agreement, they have not entered into its spirit. While the war has ceased, there is little freedom of movement, actual or even desired, between the three ethnically defined areas of Bosnia".
My limited experience has been gained from my observations of what was happening on the ground in Banja Luka—where I landed in an Italian military aircraft following a flight from Vienna—and Brcko, where I went other observers. I spent some time in the Brcko area, meeting and speaking with local people, and I would suggest that the two statements that I have quoted remain true, even though they were published in July.
The elections—as elections—were successful, but I fear that they have not so much unified the new republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina as consolidated the ethnic differences. I spoke to Bosnian Serbs in the voting queues at the 15 polling stations that I was monitoring, some of which were in bombed-out buildings and bullet-riddled schools. Two of the stations were in military tents provided by the US forces, as Brcko was in the US sector. The impression that I gained from many of the voters was that the one thing that they did not want was the proper reunification of Bosnia-Herzegovina. They wanted to consolidate the differences and make sure that the Muslims and Croats did not come back to the area to live in their former homes. That is a fact of life, and I fear that we must live with it.
That leads me to suggest that the second statement is true—that the people have stuck to the letter of the Dayton agreement, but not to its spirit. The conversations that I had with the voters of Brcko, and other evidence that I saw, confirmed to me that—as the Library paper suggests—while the war has ceased, there is
little freedom of movement, actual or even desired".
People are not prepared to move across the inner zone that separates the Republika Srpska and the Bosnian Muslim Federation.
I had to travel on one occasion from Brcko to another Republika Srpska town called Doboj. The quickest route would have been to cut straight across the federation, but our drivers refused to cross the boundary despite the fact that the war was supposed to have ended. We had to take a much longer route because no Serb from Bosnia-Herzegovina would ever want to be seen in the federation—just a few miles across the boundary.
The fact that there is still a ceasefire and that progress is being made on the Dayton agreement is greatly due to the work of the British forces in Bosnia. I was fortunate to land in Banja Luka, the headquarters of the British division, where I met Major-General Kiszley, the general officer commanding. I was able to discuss the operation with him and with others on his staff. I was then able to compare the role of the British forces with that of the United States forces in their sector.
The comparison was stark. I do not blame the military leaders of the United States sector, who are following political orders. However, it appeared to me—and, it is fair to say, to the people of Brcko—that the United States forces resembled an army of occupation, whereas the British troops appeared to the people of Banja Luka and the north-west sector to be a quite different military force. Our forces do not go around in full military armour or in convoys with machine guns glistening out of military vehicles. Our troops look relaxed, although they are not relaxed in any sense that would suggest military negligence. But my impression was that they were there to assist rather than to confront, as I felt the Americans appeared to the residents of Brcko. As a consequence, the British forces are welcomed and are treated in a far different way from the way in which, the Americans are treated in their sector.
I do not blame the US forces. It is not their fault that the President has made it clear that he is not prepared to accept any casualties between now and 5 November. But the point is that the British forces can do things in their sector that will have a more long-lasting effect than anything that the American forces can do in theirs.
What are the British forces doing, and what can we encourage them to do, in their sector? Much has been said about the need to develop the infrastructure and the civilian economy of that war-torn country, and that is correct. The Library paper contains a chapter headed "Progress in reconstruction" which mentions the huge sums of foreign aid that were promised following the Dayton agreement. At the first international conference on reconstruction—held on 20 and 21 December 1995 after the Dayton agreement—the European Union and the World bank promised $500 million of aid, or capital
freed up for priority reconstruction projects in the first four months of 1996".
Further promises of huge sums of money were made, and the Library paper states that
the European Union pledged $100 million, the United States $63 million and the World Bank $150 million. France, which insisted on an equal distribution of the financial burden, pledged $4 million.
All of that is very well, but little of the money has hit the target. We hear great words at international conferences about the huge sums of capital to be used to rebuild the country, but very little of the money is doing the work that it should.
My central point is that we must contrast those promises with the rather more effective work of the British armed forces and the Overseas Development Administration in the north-west sector. In that sector, little groups of British men and women have worked with local people in small projects—not great civil engineering projects, such as building new motorways and new railways. They are doing what is required now—building new medical centres and primary schools, or rebuilding the small bridges across the little streams and rivers of north-west Bosnia-Herzegovina. They are improving education and health and improving the infrastructure on a small scale. They are improving the water and sanitation systems and creating employment.
That is happening because the British soldiers and the ODA—which has devoted not hundreds of millions of dollars, but a little under $10 million—have been able to be direct. It is as if they have gone around with a suitcase of money, and said to local people, "Go and rebuild that school. Here is the money and the equipment to do it. If you need a tractor, here is a Royal Engineer with a tractor to help you." It is small-scale, I admit, but it is effective; it is working and it is doing wonderful things for the reputation of the British Government, the British Army and the way we do things in that part of the world. Out of that, I trust that greater things will grow, because we have regained the confidence of the people of that part of Bosnia-Herzegovina in a way that the Americans, for all the reasons that I have explained, could never do. As a consequence, I trust that we shall maintain a British military presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina after the end of the IFOR mission.
I think that most people now agree that there will have to be some form of NATO military presence in the former Yugoslavia after 1996. It may have to be smaller, but in my view it is essential that Britain remains there and remains a major force within the peacekeeping arrangements stationed there after 1996. I trust that we shall see not only that that is the right thing to do but that it will be in our commercial interest in the long term, because out of these small projects I trust that we shall have so gained the confidence of the people of that country that they will, when it comes to sorting out the bigger problems—the railways, telecommunications, big roads, canal projects, river projects, and so on—come to Britain, the country that came to their aid straight away and was effective, and give the work to the big British companies, the big infrastructure civil engineers, and so on.
The Overseas Development Administration is frequently traduced by Members of Parliament and by people outside, but today is a day to sing its praises for the work that, in alliance with the British forces in the north-west sector of Bosnia, it has quietly but most effectively been carrying out.
Before bringing my remarks to an end, I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the fact that regrettably I shall not be here for the winding-up speeches. I have informed my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and I have passed a message to the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). I trust that my absence will not be treated as a discourtesy to the House.
I found the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) interesting, because I have been quite close to developments in Bosnia-Herzegovina over the years and have heard experiences, similar to those that he reported, from a friend of mine who works for a non-governmental organisation and was there at the time of the elections. He reported great difficulty in moving around. That, perhaps, is not surprising given the events in that troubled country over the past five years or so. He also came back with a number of reports that lead me to believe that although peace has, thankfully, reigned for a year now and Dayton has largely been complied with, there are all sorts of problems. Although people are putting the war behind them and getting on with the rest of their lives, rebuilding their lives and their country, many people are still categorised as missing, their whereabouts unknown. That is particularly true of the horrific events that took place in and around Srebrenica in the summer of last year, when so many people were herded out of the town and into the countryside and have never been heard of since. One can only have the worst fears about what happened to them.
The friend to whom I referred was not allowed to go to Srebrenica or cross the river in Mostar and go into the Croatian part of that city. While such no-go areas survive and people harbour suspicions, which are inevitable after the horrific events of any war, but particularly this one, we are some way from being able to say that things have returned to anything like an acceptable level in that country. It is important that we learn the lessons from what happened there, particularly in the context of the earlier remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) in relation to Rwanda and Zaire and the actions of the United Nations. We have to look at reforming important aspects of the United Nations' work, because terrible delays have led to the deaths of thousands of people in Bosnia-Herzegovina over the past few years, and we must make every effort to ensure that they do not recur. If we can do that by reforming the way in which the United Nations operates, we must seize that opportunity.
I shall confine my remarks mainly to Europe and the European Union—a subject that was given an airing earlier by the Foreign Secretary and his opposite number, my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). Europe is now more widely discussed among the people of this country than at any other time. That does not necessarily mean that it is particularly well understood, and that situation is highlighted now that a general election is on the horizon. For far too long, the reluctance of the Conservative party—the party of government for the past 17 years—to be involved in anything to do with Europe has prevented this country from playing a meaningful role, from punching its weight, in concert with our fellow European Union members.
Over the years we have seen a succession of Ministers pursue policies but confine their efforts rather than apply pressure to the accelerator. Indeed, in defiant fashion, they have applied the brake wherever possible—quite often with evident glee. That has had the entirely predictable effect of condemning this country to the margins of the European Union. That is not a position that I and many other hon. Members believe that we should adopt. That is particularly so in the Council of Ministers.
When I visit Brussels and Strasbourg, Members of the European Parliament—from various parties, not just those from the left—cannot understand the British mentality: why the Conservative party is so anti-European. Even Conservative Members who profess to be pro-European come across in European terms as anti-European. Members of the European Parliament—indeed, some Ministers of some member states—are becoming increasingly fractious over the behaviour of British Ministers who adopt that approach and use the veto as though they were playing a joker in a game of cards. They are a bit like the child who takes his ball home if the game is not going just the way that he wants. That desultory approach was encapsulated by my colleague, Wayne David, a Member of the European Parliament and leader of the parliamentary Labour party. Writing in The House magazine, he said:
Surely, we should recognise that using the national veto is not a reflection of political virility, but a sign of political failure. To promote Britain's national interests our approach should be based on engaging with our partners and winning the argument, instead of standing to one side and shouting the loudest.
Fortunately, we can say with relative confidence that the days when Britain and its representatives are the lone—indeed, the lonely—voice in Europe are drawing to a close. Within six months, there is a good possibility that this country will have a Government, a Prime Minister and a Cabinet who will all identify with our fellow Europeans and view them as friends with whom we can build a prosperous Europe rather than one that, it seems, is determined to rob us of our sovereignty, which is an argument with which we are continually faced.
That sea change will not come a moment too soon, but it will come just soon enough for influence to be brought to bear in the intergovernmental conference, as it draws to a conclusion. It will also be in time to set a positive agenda for the period when Britain will have the presidency of the Council of Ministers in the first half of 1998. I echo the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston, who said that there was no mention in the Foreign Secretary's opening remarks about the agenda for 1998 or the fact that Britain enters the troika in the middle of 1997. I do not know, but that may simply reflect the Foreign Secretary's view that, having looked at the political scene, having surveyed it, read the runes and listened to the pollsters, he feels that neither he nor his party will be in government at that time. That might well be a realistic conclusion to arrive at, but it is remiss of the Foreign Secretary, at a crucial time in the development of Europe, to have nothing to say about what Britain might put into the troika, and its period of presidency.
This is interesting, but what does the hon. Gentleman have to say—he is obviously having a bit of fun pointing the finger at the Conservative Government—about the 15 Labour Members who are also members of a splinter group that disagrees fundamentally with the position of the leader of the Labour party? They feel that the Labour party would take them too deeply into Europe and they fundamentally disagree with the position that the right hon. Gentleman takes.
They have overreacted to the Labour party's proposals. It would be fatuous to suggest that there are no differences of opinion on Europe in the Labour party. Of course there are, but I believe that they are neither as wide nor as deep as those in the Conservative party. Not all Labour Members are in agreement, but the party policy advocated by my right hon. Friends the Members for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) and for Livingston and others is accepted by an overwhelming majority of the party.
Labour party policy is arrived at democratically after a healthy debate. Party members understand that, and can live with it. That does not prevent people from arguing a different point of view. The hon. Members to whom the hon. Gentleman referred have certain fears and are prepared to argue their case, but that does not alter the position of an incoming Labour Government.
An incoming Labour Government will begin the process of bringing this country into line with the rest of the European Union. I was not poking fun at the hon. Gentleman's party. It is not a light-hearted issue, and I am not trying to score cheap political points. I have given a factual description of the way in which this country has been represented in Europe in recent years. This is a serious matter.
One of the first ways in which an incoming Labour Government would make it clear that their approach to the European Union is different would be to sign up to the social chapter. At the beginning of the debate—at this time of night, that seems a long time ago, because some of us have been here since 2.58 pm—my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) referred to the social chapter, and said that he did not understand what everyone was getting excited about. He described it as an empty satchel. That is going over the score. I think that there is much less in the social chapter than many people have suggested, but that is not to say that it is not worth having.
Signing up to the social chapter will have an important psychological function. It will send a message to the rest of Europe, and to people in Britain, that Britain's new Government are now willing to play a more proactive role in Europe. The message will be that the Labour Government are speaking on behalf of not only the millions of people who elected them, but the millions who did not vote Labour for various reasons but none the less largely support the position on Europe advocated by the Labour party. They want Britain's relationship with Europe to be inclusive. That would be an early indication of a change in government.
Signing up to the social chapter will strengthen employment rights, although that will do no more than give British workers the same rights as workers in other countries have had, in many cases for some considerable time. Co-operation on employment policy and the creation of a level playing field will be the inevitable result of the development of the European Union. That level playing field will prevent unscrupulous employers from reducing pay and conditions, seeking the lowest common denominator and trading on the job insecurity that the Government have done their best to foster. The work force have been cowed, and in their desperation for work they will take jobs no matter what protection has been removed, even if they are part time and lack any security.
The application of the social chapter will allow fair employment practices to apply in this country as they have in other countries for many years. I cannot understand how that can be seen as a disadvantage to British industry. The Government have less faith in the ability of British industry to compete with its European counterparts than have many of its leading players.
Last week, the Institute of Management revealed the results of a survey that showed—this may have been uncomfortable, indeed embarrassing, for the Government—that three out of four British managers believed that the Conservative party's hostility to Europe had damaged British business. The scare stories about the effects of the social chapter are not borne out by many leading industrialists in this country, who are certainly not Labour supporters. They do not expect to be placed at a disadvantage by the application of the social chapter.
As has been mentioned on more than one occasion in the debate, the introduction of works councils by many major employers, despite the Government's warnings, reflects that view. I refer to companies such as Coats Viyella, United Biscuits and Pilkington. In the past two years, I have been privileged to hold an Industry and Parliament Trust fellowship at Pilkington. When I visited its head office in St. Helens, that was one of the issues that I discussed with its senior human resources management staff. They made it clear that in its plants in Sweden, Germany and Italy, it was a great advantage to be able to bring together management and staff to discuss issues to their mutual benefit and to the company's benefit. There was no implicit threat, because both sides saw the advantages. Where works councils work effectively—as they do in many other European countries—they are not seen as a threat to management's right to manage, nor are they seen as an attempt by workers to gain rights that they do not have through the usual negotiating channels. So there are clear benefits to both sides of industry.
Evidence shows that the Government are out of touch with both sides of industry. Many senior managers in this country do not have the fears about what Labour policy on Europe would mean for them that the Government claim.
One of the major areas in which I want to see progress in the European Union in the coming years is regional policy. One of the major challenges facing an incoming Labour Government will be to make an effective response to the untapped potential of the regions of Britain. I use the term "regions", but I am only too well aware that Scotland is a country, Wales is a country and Northern Ireland is a province. None the less, they are regions within Europe, and if I use that term for convenience the meaning will be well understood.
The regions of England will be particularly important. There is an on-going debate in the Labour party about devolution of power and the decentralisation of government. People argue that no one knows what the regions of England are: they ask where East Anglia begins and the east midlands ends, and so on. I dispute that. The regions of England are clearly defined. Unemployment statistics are issued in London, nine English regions, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Government have established offices in the regions and have devolved power; perhaps that is the only example of decentralisation during four terms of Conservative government. They have recognised the benefit of bringing government closer to the people and responding to local needs. That is the most important aspect of regional policy in the United Kingdom. In the European context—the two sit neatly together—this matter is important, because the three European structural funds are allocated on a regional basis.
Equally important is the fact that it will be next to impossible to reduce the widely perceived mystique of Europe and make it relevant to the people of this country, and to the people of Europe as a whole, unless we give regions a strategic role and bring government closer to the people. We should involve people and make them feel that regions can respond to local needs.
The way in which this country is ruled puts us at a severe disadvantage, because we are one of the most centralised countries in Europe. Most member countries of the European Union either have been decentralised for some time or, like Spain and France, have made moves to devolve power from the centre.
The countries and regions of Britain have much to offer across a broad range. That is largely unrecognised. That is not a criticism of the Government, because it has not been Labour policy to take this issue seriously until recent years, but we are beginning to develop that policy now. The countries and regions of Britain have much to offer in a European context, but they are hamstrung by the lack of a strategic framework for generating regional initiatives to enable them to obtain funding that is available through the European Union. The lack of such a framework prevents local authorities as they are now from being the voices in local communities, and it will prevent the putative regional authorities that I hope will be established throughout Britain at some stage from developing regional economic strategies. That is a void, in regeneration terms, which a Labour Government will begin to fill. They will do that in the context of the participatory, inclusive approach to which I referred earlier when I spoke about Labour's attitude to Europe and European Union membership and its appreciation of the increasing importance of the European Union regions.
That concept has been strengthened. The Maastricht agreement provided for the establishment of a Committee of the Regions, which at the moment is struggling to take on any kind of meaningful role, largely because power has not filtered through in a meaningful way from the centre in Brussels. Undoubtedly, that concept will develop in the years ahead and I hope that the intergovernmental conference will provide a clear framework on how that should happen.
The development of a co-ordinated regional policy will allow a Labour Government to decentralise our state and deliver the state's services as well as maximising the benefits of our share of European regional funds. Subsidiarity is a much maligned term, but that living example of subsidiarity in operation allows it to be easily illustrated and explained with the spin-off of allowing the participation of our people in making decisions that affect their day-to-day lives. That will help to give Europe the relevance to which I referred earlier.
Without that there will be an inbuilt suspicion of Europe—I would not put it as high as hostility—in terms of who does what, where the money goes, what we put in, what we get out and why some parts of the country get assistance while others do not. It will be part of any Government's job to be as clear as possible in explaining Europe's role.
There is no doubt that in the coming years economic and monetary union will be the most controversial issue surrounding Europe, if it is not already that. I am sure that we can all recall the Maastricht treaty winding its weary way through the House in 1993. I contributed to those debates and more than once voted against aspects of the legislation. I did that despite being a confirmed pro-European. I want to see the EU deepened and widened but in a controlled way. I was primarily concerned by the agreement's convergence criteria for moves towards a single European currency. The criteria were and still are deflationary.
I represent an inner-city constituency which is already short of many of the resources that are needed to provide adequate housing, education and other benefits and I am worried that those criteria put any economy in Europe into a straitjacket, forcing it to bend to certain economic principles before it will be eligible to join the single currency. That concern was shared by many hon. Members. As a concept, a single currency has my support. In itself it is an admirable and desirable destination, but under the current criteria, the route that is mapped out to get there gives me and many others great cause for concern.
I welcome the fact that the debate has moved on since 1993 and that there seems to be a wider acceptance, certainly in the Labour party, that convergence must be based on improving growth and employment and not on monetary objectives alone. That is the key to the whole matter. I recognise the necessity and welcome the moves that are being made towards flexibility in the criteria. How that will happen, if it happens, remains to be seen.
The huge protests which occurred in France at the end of last year and last week and those that occurred in Germany show that the severe public expenditure cuts in those countries to enable them to be in the vanguard of the single European currency in 1999 may succeed in bringing about the flexible approach that is needed and may even have the desirable result of putting back any idea of the single European currency coming into effect in 1999. I do not think that that wrecks the project. If we are to have such a currency it is far better to make sure that it is done at one speed so that we do not end up with a two-tier system. That would be particularly damaging because it would ensure that Germany in particular and France and perhaps one or two other smaller countries would be well ahead of the rest of Europe and that gap might prove impossible to bridge in future years.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has given great thought to the single currency because he has spoken at length on it. He says that it is in the best interests of the people of the United Kingdom. Precisely how will a Labour Government consult the British people on whether we ought to have a single currency?
No doubt the hon. Gentleman is aware that my party will either use the general election as a guide or may at some stage use a referendum. That has not been ruled out. Labour has no difficulty with referendums. There are to be referendums in Scotland and Wales and following a Labour victory there would be a referendum on the issue of this country's voting system. My view is that on constitutional issues it is often appropriate to use referendums. Whether it is appropriate for a Labour Government will depend on developments. As I say, it has not been ruled out, as can clearly be seen from party documents. Events would be the appropriate guide in that.
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I have made my position clear and Labour has nothing to fear from consulting the people and saying, "Here is a fairly fundamental change. What do you think about it?" That decision will be made at the time. No one can look ahead two or possibly three years with any clarity.
The whole question of monetary union has aspects of uncertainty and that is why the policy to which I referred in answer to the intervention of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) and the one that was outlined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston earlier are correct at this stage. In the meantime, efforts should be concentrated on trying to build as wide support as possible for the Swedish Government's proposal that an employment chapter should be added as a counterpart of the Maastricht criteria. That would ensure that we do not lose sight of the fact that while job creation may be clearly stated in the Maastricht agreement, how to get there within the confines of the criteria as it stands is not explained. That will be a priority for a Labour Government.
In a sense, on the question of enlargement I am rising to the bait in respect of comments of the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant), who spoke specifically about Turkey. As is widely known. Labour is keen to see enlargement of the European Union. That is why the party recently appointed Sir Michael Butler, who is held in high esteem for his work for Governments of different political colours, to be our envoy in dealing with those countries that are seeking to enter the EU. That is an example of how seriously we take this matter.
I am concerned about the remarks on Turkey. The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire said that the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson) may wish to comment on that. It is unacceptable that a country such as Turkey should be admitted to the EU before severe changes of direction in its internal and external policies are effected. I am not talking only about the illegal occupation of the northern part of Cyprus, but about Turkey's appalling human rights record and in particular its treatment of the Kurds. If we allowed a country with such a record into the European Union at this stage, far from strengthening the union it would weaken the whole concept of the standards that are demanded of countries before they are admitted. Turkey falls well short of those standards.
I am pleased to say that, when I discussed the matter with Members of the European Parliament and with the European Commission as recently as last month in Strasbourg, I was assured that any application by Turkey would be vetoed. Given its current policy, I want Turkey to stay out, but I would be more than pleased if Turkey could get its house in order, reapplied and was admitted then.
The EU should be used to encourage all countries of Europe to come into line on basic issues such as human rights, democracy and the sovereignty of other countries' territory, and to abide by United Nations resolutions. Without that, there can be no question of Turkey's entry.
Overseas development aid has not, to any extent, been touched on today. The Gracious Speech says:
A substantial aid programme will be maintained".
We could be here until a week on Tuesday discussing just what "substantial" means, but Britain's aid level is down to 0.29 per cent. of gross domestic product and falling. Recently, under the auspices of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, I was in Australia. While in Canberra, I met Ministers, including the Minister with responsibility for overseas development aid, the head of AusAid, as the Department is known. In a discussion with him and his civil servants, I commented on the fact that one of the new Liberal-National Government's first cuts had been a 10 per cent. cut in the aid budget, which brought it down to 0.29 per cent. of GDP.
When I raised that with the Minister, his answer was, "Your country's aid is at that level," more or less questioning my right to raise the issue with him. I made it clear that that was not a decision of the party of which I am a member, but it is worrying that other countries should use Britain's aid level as a benchmark, as if that somehow makes their aid level acceptable.
We are about 14th in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development list of countries in terms of aid level. I have spoken at length in debates on the subject in the House and I do not propose to go into any more detail, but, again, under a Labour Government, there would be a sea change in Britain's approach to aid by the fundamental means of restoring to a Government Department the overseas aid portfolio. Labour plans to establish a Department of international development, giving back the added status of a Cabinet Minister to that Department. That would underline our approach to aid and ensure that the world's poorest people receive reasonable assistance from the developed world.
Among a list of proposals that will substantially change the way in which Britain delivers aid, we have a commitment to reverse the decline in UK aid spending. That will be generally welcomed throughout Britain by people who appreciate the work that is done with our aid budget.
I touch on Kashmir because the Gracious Speech mentions that the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference will be held in Edinburgh in October 1997. As someone with a large Kashmiri population in my constituency, who has been consistently asked to raise this issue and who has travelled to Kashmir, it strikes me that the Commonwealth offers a means of helping to resolve a conflict and dispute that has been going on for nearly 50 years.
Hon. Members may note that there is an early-day motion on today's Order Paper on the subject. That outlines the major issues, but it does not mention the Commonwealth, which has a role to play now that Pakistan is again a member. The Commonwealth could use its offices to bring together the Governments of Pakistan and of India, with a view to trying to resolve the dispute along the lines of UN resolutions, some of which have been on the statute book since as far back as 1948.
The Commonwealth is held in high regard way beyond its boundaries. Bloodshed is continuing in Kashmir. Kidnaps are still a regular occurrence. The unfortunate people kidnapped last year have still not been released and we do not know whether they are still alive. That is an example, added to the fiasco of the recent so-called election in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, of the impasse. I hope that the Commonwealth might be encouraged to try to resolve the dispute. If nothing happens before it meets, the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference might be a useful starting point, when the issue can be placed on the agenda by the British Government of the time.
It is important that, in debates such as this, where, unusually, there is the opportunity to discuss wide-ranging aspects of the Government's proposals, a broad spectrum of hon. Members from all political parties participate. We have seen that today. I cannot endorse, as the Foreign Secretary invited us to do, what the Gracious Speech says on foreign affairs, particularly Europe, but I end where I started. In the near future, we will have a different approach to Europe. It will be positive, inclusive and much more in tune with the views of Britain's people.
It is interesting to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson), because my hon. Friends and I understood him to have opened a new area of Labour party policy. He seemed to commit the Labour party to at least three referendums on various subjects of interest to the British people. I understood him to say that he was expressing the possibility that the Labour party would commit itself, if it ever came to office, to referendums on devolution, on a single currency and on the voting system. Trotsky—not a name so popular these days in the Labour party—used to believe in an era of permanent revolution. The hon. Gentleman seems to believe in an era of permanent referendum.
I take the hon. Gentleman's remarks in the jovial sense in which, I am sure, they were intended. I have not added to Labour party policy. I have simply repeated existing policy on Scotland and Wales, which is well known and has been widely debated in those countries in the past two to three months. A referendurn on the voting system has been policy for some considerable time. On the single currency, let me make it clear, if I did not earlier, that far from committing the party to that policy, or even saying that I want that policy, all I am saying is that it has not been ruled out and it will be examined at the time. The Labour party may, however, correctly conclude that a general election result has given an incoming Labour Government the mandate that they need. We will reconsider later. That is what I said.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that clarification. It is useful for the House to have that on record and for the British people to understand that we could be involved in such a prolonged period of extensive referendums. Clearly, the Labour party is unable to trust the House with making up its mind and will commit us to extensive and unnecessary referendums.
My hon. Friend is being a bit unfair on the Labour party because it says that it wants to test the single currency issue with either a referendum or a general election. It: cannot make up its mind whether to have a general election or a referendum. It is a vague policy. Why does it not simply announce whether it will have a referendum, like our party? Why be so coy about the test of public opinion? I do not understand the Labour party's behaviour. Perhaps my hon. Friend can help me.
The Labour party is being coy. As my hon. Friend says, we have committed ourselves to a referendum on a fundamental constitutional issue—the single currency—but for the Labour party to commit itself to three referendums seems more than a little careless and utterly absurd. I hope that the British people recognise that at the next general election; however, I do not want to get stuck on the subject, but wish to move on and welcome the Queen's Speech, which outlines the Government's plans to extend opportunity against a background of continuing economic success.
The tough decisions on the economy taken by Ministers have delivered sustained growth, rising prosperity and low inflation, enabling this year's Queen's Speech to concentrate on raising standards in education and health and on fighting crime. Against that background of sustained economic growth and success, the Government can consider the UK's position in the world with confidence in today's debate on foreign policy and defence.
In the recent past, the House has spent more than a little time—some people would say too much—debating European monetary union and a single European currency. The House has spent a great deal less time considering a common foreign and security policy, which is no less important and dangerous. My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) referred to the dangers of the UK being corralled into a narrow European regionalism, and of Britain and other European nation states being drawn into inflexible structures, which would be inappropriate. Foreign policy cannot be imposed on European nation states and to try to do so by diktat or the machinations of Brussels would be dangerous, divisive and as much a threat to sovereignty as trying to impose a single currency.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary outlined the four main pillars of UK foreign policy as he sees them. I agree that they are priorities, but our foreign policy is still primarily driven by two main engines—and I hope that will continue. Those two engines are our trading interests and a desire to create or maintain stability in areas in which Britain has an overriding national interest—and they may provide points of common interest with our fellow Europeans or they may not. In some areas, commercial rivalry makes it unlikely that we can develop a common policy, at least in the short term. I remember visiting Hong Kong when the Governor and the British Government, following Tiananmen square, were trying to take a tough line with the Chinese Government in Peking. At exactly the same moment, the German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, arrived over the border—in Guangzhou—with the largest-ever delegation of German business men, to try to win the contract for the new Canton metro. There cannot be a clearer demonstration of the lack of a common European foreign policy, which Germany was understandably prepared to override in its commercial interests.
Does my hon. Friend recall that Germany's recognition of Croatia, when we felt that to recognise any of the states of the former Yugoslavia would be destructive, probably single-handedly led to the break-up of the Yugoslav republic?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right. That is an example of Germany trying to impose a common foreign policy on Europe. In that instance, Germany tried to bounce the rest of Europe into recognising Croatia, and it was a complete disaster. It helped to create the conflict in Bosnia, with all the enormous and tragic consequences that followed.
It is possible, however, to develop a common foreign policy in some areas, by virtue of shared interests. That is true of the common European response to some of the more bizarre decisions of the United States Government and of the State Department in particular. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will continue to be extremely vigilant in reacting to the outrageous American attitude to trade with Cuba. We cannot allow America to get away with victimising west European business interests. It is outrageous that the USA should seek to blackmail British and other European businesses that are trying to engage in legitimate trade with Cuba. We must stick firmly to that particular common European position.
Trade and investment provide the real engines of common foreign policy. As France, Britain and Germany begin to invest in similar emerging markets and countries, or to develop multinational trading alliances to win contracts in new markets, such activities will develop and shape foreign policy. We see that happening in some of the emerging markets of the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) pointed out, to follow the Brussels or German route of imposed foreign policy would be extremely dangerous for Europe, posing threats that could have far greater consequences than those that people might initially have imagined.
I intended to intervene earlier, when my hon. Friend was talking about American foreign policy on Cuba. I was going to bet my hon. Friend and the House that, after the American elections on 5 November, US policy on Cuba will be revoked by the President—if he is re-elected.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am sorry for having given way to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire. Perhaps he did not expect me to do so. Earlier, he made an extremely good point about the dangers of trying to impose a common European foreign policy.
If the Germans want greater foreign policy co-ordination, the best way is through industrial trading and investment co-operation. Germany might like to consider the importance of large multinational defence contracts such as the Eurofighter, which are real examples of European co-operation. As the EFA is such a strategically important project and has huge export potential, it will obviously be of enormous importance. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will take that message when he next goes to Bonn. That is the sort of project that the Germans should pursue in the interests of European co-operation, rather than force Europe down the route of an imposed common foreign policy. The Foreign Secretary is absolutely right to resist unnecessary institutional attempts to impose a common foreign policy. His approach contrasts with the approach of the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who would surrender our sovereignty to Brussels on this and so much else.
There are areas where I believe that my right hon. and hon. Friends must ensure that the United Kingdom gives a lead in co-ordinating European foreign policy. Increasingly, there are areas of the world in which Europe, particularly Britain and France because of their history, has a significant role to play. That is due partly to the fact that the United States has overstretched itself and has shown that it is not capable of taking on all that it has sought to take on recently. It is vastly over-extended and is unwilling to undertake significant long-term commitments.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) mentioned some of the strains felt in Bosnia from which it is likely the United States will seek to withdraw following the presidential election. It is clear that the Americans are unhappy about their long-term commitment to keeping troops in Bosnia. There will be other areas in which they are equally unhappy to undertake the necessary commitment or to play a role and it is in such areas that Europe has a duty and a potential role to play.
The Americans give us some cause for concern in the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire suggested. In some quarters in America what he described is known as the 5–11 policy—that being 5 November. That seems to be a major determinant of American foreign policy. It is ludicrous for us to go along with a foreign policy that is led primarily by a wish to ensure that the President is re-elected. It is nonsense, but it is happening. There are parts of the world where there is too much at stake to allow that to continue. It reveals the lack of United States experience and shows how important it is for us to carve a role for ourselves.
The United States is bound to withdraw increasingly from some of the areas on Europe's frontiers and to look more and more towards the Pacific rim. Over the next 20 or 30 years, that is bound to be the drift in American foreign policy. Inevitably, we will have to concentrate on some of the crisis areas, difficulties and opportunities on our borders.
We need a clear and co-ordinated foreign policy which can be led and directed primarily by Britain and France. The most obvious and immediate area on which we should concentrate is the middle east. The United States peace initiative is in imminent danger of collapse and that will create a dangerous vacuum. President Chirac has shown during his recent visit to Israel and Palestine that he is determined to ensure a French presence in the region and to intervene. The experience of the United Kingdom and France throughout the middle east and our significant commercial and trading interests in the region should encourage us to develop a role there. I would encourage the Foreign Secretary to pursue that with the French. I welcome the recent appointment of a European Union envoy to the region. That is good news which we should all welcome.
Russia and eastern Europe is another area in which we have a responsibility and where there is an urgent need for us to develop a focused European policy. The Foreign Secretary did not mention events in Russia during his speech, but what is happening there now is a cause for concern. It is clear that there is a significant problem in the Kremlin because President Yeltsin is not really in charge. He may soon be removed, either by an act of God or by the act of some of his more immediate neighbours. He would not necessarily have to die to be removed from office because, under the Russian constitution, he can be removed on the grounds of persistent instability. If he is persistently ill or incapacitated, it is likely that he will be removed.
In the past, Europe and America have made the mistake of putting too much faith in President Yeltsin and assuming that our policy towards Russia should be dictated by trying to preserve him in power. We have not thought through what will happen if he goes, with whom we should deal and whom we should be encouraging. That is a real question for us.
Yeltsin has not been the great democrat that he was supposed to be. Anybody who has walked through the rubble of Grozny and spoken to people who suffered the Russian attack on Chechnya and the destruction of civilian property and life will know that that disgusting campaign was not the action of a democratic Government, or a Government prepared to pay even the remotest attention to their own constitution. Yet we trusted Yeltsin and backed him during the election campaign, despite knowing all about his health problems. It is obvious that those who now hold power in Russia are an unaccountable and unelected clique.
That is deeply worrying, particularly for European countries such as the Ukraine, Poland and others which border Russia. It is bound to lead to an increase in demands from those countries for membership of NATO or the European Union. That is perfectly understandable, particularly given the events in Chechnya. Poles feel this particularly strongly because of their historic connection with the Caucasus. In the last century, Polish officers fought with Chechens in the northern Caucasus against the Russian occupation. The Poles feel that link strongly. They can see what the Russians have done in Chechnya and worry that, in certain circumstances, that might be their fate too. Who can blame them?
Given what has been happening in Russia and the instability there, the worst thing we could do would be to try to ignore the demands for membership of NATO and try to pretend that the problem does not exist. We must face up to the expansion of NATO, probably sooner than we had imagined. If Yeltsin is removed from power, the consequences inside Russia could be so far reaching and horrifying that the expansion of NATO will be on the agenda much sooner than we expected. We must send a clear signal now to the effect that we will not allow a Russian veto, that we will proceed with the expansion of NATO, that we want Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic—to name but a few—to be full members of NATO, that we will go ahead with that process and that we are prepared to offer the guarantees that that entails.
Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a difference between Chechnya and countries such as Poland? Historically, Chechnya is part of the Russian federation, whereas Poland was not. Does he also accept that, if Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin were deposed, it would be wrong for us to intervene to try to decide who would succeed him'? He will recall the British intervention in Murmansk from 1919 to 1922, which was disastrous for British relations—
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend makes another interesting and valid point.
I am arguing that we need to understand clearly what our interests in the area are. The first must be stability. Secondly, we must do what we can to encourage democracy and constitutionality. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary dwelt on the rule of law, which is extremely important. We must encourage Russia to abide by its law and Russian Governments to abide by what they have adopted as the Russian constitution, imperfect and inadequate though it may be. Our final consideration must be our commercial interests.
Of those interests, in this case commercial interests must come a long way down the list of priorities. Our first interest must be stability and our second democracy and constitutionality. Much wishful thinking goes on about our commercial interests in Russia, especially in the banking community.
Most important, we must send clear signals to Russia about its approach to its neighbours. We need to stop being obsessed by Russia to the exclusion of other countries of the former Soviet Union. The Foreign Secretary mentioned some of those countries and encouraged us not to use the term "the former Soviet Union". Many countries will have been grateful for his remarks.
We must do what we can to encourage investment and support democracy and the rule of law in countries such as the Ukraine and to help them along the path to democracy and the free market.
I turn to another part of the world—Turkey. It is overwhelmingly important for Europe to develop policy, and perhaps for Britain to play a lead in helping to develop that policy, in Turkey. I am sorry that we do not have time to go into the implications of Europe's policy towards Turkey and the need for us to develop a common policy towards Turkey, because it is extremely important. I hope that it will be the subject of an Adjournment debate.
Turkey's immense geopolitical and strategic importance has increased enormously since the break-up of the Soviet Union. Turkey is Europe's bridge to the east. It retains a huge amount of experience in the middle east through its old Ottoman connections. It sits on the border of Iran, Iraq and Syria, all of which have helped to export terrorism to Turkey and elsewhere, but all of which are crucial to the future peace and stability of the middle east.
Turkey is also crucial in developing the prosperity and security of central Asia and the trans-Caucasus. We cannot underestimate those regions, because they are full of energy and mineral resources, which will transform that region and probably the whole middle east, especially the Gulf. Those resources will provide an enormous new source of energy to western Europe, so that we will no longer depend on the Gulf states. Strategically, that is massively significant.
The best way for us to approach those countries is through Turkey. We need, as Europeans, to develop a partnership with Turkey that enables us to offer the Turkish model—not ideal, not always thoroughly democratic, not always the type of regime of which we would approve, but at least a model—of progressive secular Islam, to which those states in the former Soviet Union and that part of central Asia can aspire. That is a major challenge for Britain and France. I know that we shall consider that, and I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will do what he can to pursue that initiative.
I am grateful for the chance to make a short contribution to the debate on the Loyal Address. I shall be diligent to ensure that I keep my remarks to a length that will allow other hon. Members to speak.
We live in a changing world, which is much smaller than it was before the cold war thawed and the Berlin wall came down. Communism as a creed has become as unpopular abroad as socialism appears to have become at home. But it is not a safer world. Hon. Members mentioned several places where there are problems. If I were to mention them all, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and the Labour defence spokesman would have no time in which to speak, but I shall mention one or two places where, to a lesser or greater extent, this country may be, or is, involved.
During the past few weeks, our newspapers have been full of what is happening in Afghanistan, with the Talibans. Many people are extremely worried about their fundamentalist nature. In the places that they have entered, women have been dictated to. They have been told to wear a dress from top to toe and show no skin, and they have been told that they cannot work. That region has been unstable for a long time, but we have cause to worry about what is going on and I hope that the troubles of that region can be brought to a speedy conclusion.
I am extremely worried about Sri Lanka. Two years ago, I was able to go there to witness elections. For many years, there have been problems in Jaffna with the Tamil Tigers. It was thought that, as the region had become more stable and elections had taken place, things would continue to settle down, and there was great hope that the new leader would bring that about. That has palpably not been the case and, unfortunately, there have been several hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths in Sri Lanka during the past 12 months.
Sri Lanka relies heavily on tourism, much of which comes from Britain. As a result of the troubles, many British people and other Europeans have decided not to go there, which has hit Sri Lanka's economy savagely and caused suffering to many. I welcome the fact that a great deal of Overseas Development Administration aid has been given to Sri Lanka to help displaced people from the Jaffna region. I hope that stability can be brought back to Sri Lanka in the not too distant future.
Another part of the world that must cause us great concern, and to which a great deal of ODA money is going, is Rwanda and Burundi. We heard today that a third of a million people are crossing into Zaire. Many hundreds of thousands of people have already crossed into Tanzania and are in receipt of ODA money for food and water, but I read that, in the region of Zaire where the refugees now are, there is sufficient food and water for only a couple of days. That must be of great concern to us, and I hope that every effort is being made to ensure that we get vital supplies through to that region so that people do not starve.
Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia have been mentioned several times tonight. I had the opportunity to visit Belgrade and Pale. I was heartened to see the work of the United Nations agencies, which were getting food and supplies through to an innocent population who were suffering greatly as a result of the war that savaged the region.
I am encouraged by the fact that the situation seems to have become much better, although it is still extremely unstable and anything could cause another flare-up. I am delighted that we have a presence in the peacekeeping forces there and that that operation is going extremely well. We must be very careful that our presence is felt in that region to ensure that the troubles do not flare up again, because the people who live there will be the ones who suffer.
It is obvious that diplomatic efforts are vital in preventing hot spots from flaring up. I visited Cyprus this year and last, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has said that he will visit before the end of this year. I had the opportunity to meet the leader of the northern Cypriots, Rauf Denktas, and this year I met President Klerides. We also met many officials and journalists from both sides of the dispute. Although the situation in Cyprus has been quiet over the past few years, there have been incidents and fatalities on the green line—including one only last week. Unfortunately, the situation seems to be worsening, partly because Cyprus has applied to become a member of the European Union.
Much attention is being focused on what may happen to Cyprus in the future. The Foreign Secretary mentioned that, although it may not be impossible, it would be far easier for Cyprus to be admitted to the EU if the current divisions on the island were resolved. Great hope has therefore been placed in our special envoy, Sir David Hannay, who will go to the area to do what he can to bring both sides together to find a solution. As I understand it, talks on Cyprus's accession to the EU will start six months after the conclusion of the EU intergovernmental conference.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) said that Turkey's accession to the EU would be difficult because of its human rights record, and gave several other reasons why he thought that it would be inappropriate for Turkey to enter now. I agree that Turkey has certain problems, but I know of no fundamental, philosophical reason why Turkey might not become a full member of the EU.
A deal was made last year stating that Turkey should enter the customs union, but there have been problems—particularly those raised by Greece—establishing a full customs union with Turkey, and Turkey cannot fully benefit from it. The delay will only cause further problems for Turkey, and increase its suspicions of Greece. We should do as much as we can to ensure that the customs union agreed with Turkey operates properly.
I have spoken to Turkish Cypriots, and they, too, are concerned at the number of settlers who have come to the north from Turkey. They feel that those Turks do not have the necessary customs or roots in northern Cyprus, and believe that something should be done about the issue. The problems will have to be dealt with if a solution is to be achieved there. One problem is the settlers, how long they have been in Cyprus and how many of them will return to Turkey.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary mentioned the fact that 250,000 Cypriots are living in the United Kingdom. When there is a settlement, some of them may wish to return to Cyprus, as I was told when I visited Cyprus earlier this year. There is also the problem of the property of people who were removed from the north. They believe that, if there is to be a settlement, there must be compensation for that property.
As for an agreement, a form of bizonal arrangement should be examined, but certainly with protection for those who live in the north who are rightly concerned that they would be swamped by the Greek Cypriots to the south. I hope that the Foreign Secretary's visit to Cyprus will make some headway and that confidence-building measures will be introduced.
The European Union has been mentioned time and again. Although it might be thought that EU accession will bring security and stability to Cyprus, it has caused a great deal of discussion and debate in the United Kingdom, and not simply within the Conservative party. There is great disagreement on the issue among Labour Members. At least the Government have given a commitment that there will be a referendum on a single currency, and that the British people will decide whether we should enter a single currency.
I cannot understand why the Labour party, which has had many months to deliberate on the issue, cannot get its act together and tell the British people whether they will get a referendum. It should not fudge the issue and say that it will be decided by a general election, because all hon. Members know that, in a general election, people vote for all types of issues. A single currency is a fundamental constitutional issue, and the people should be given an opportunity, via a referendum, to decide whether Britain should be a part of it.
Another issue surrounding European Union expansion—I hope that we endeavour to broaden it and not to deepen it—is our relationship with Gibraltar. I spoke with the Chief Minister, Peter Caravana, at the Conservative party conference. He has good relations with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but we must ensure that Gibraltar's position is fully recognised in any talks with the EU and in any directives that the EU may issue. The people of Gibraltar are very proud of their links with the United Kingdom, over almost 300 years, and we must ensure that that relationship is properly recognised in EU directives.
There are many other issues to deal with in this debate, but I shall say only that we are a world trading nation and that we do not trade only with the European Union. It is important that we recognise that fact, and the importance of our trade with the United States, which amounts to about £25 billion a year. We have many links with the United States, as we do with Europe. We do not want to go down the route of a fortress Europe, although we want to have alliances.
We have an alliance in manufacturing in my constituency, with British Aerospace. No debate on defence and foreign affairs would be complete without a mention of British Aerospace, because of the thousands of workers it employs in my constituency. There are also many smaller companies in my constituency that supply British Aerospace and other defence manufacturers. They were overjoyed at the announcement of the Nimrod order at the end of the old Session.
Those workers and manufacturers were also delighted by the announcement, made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence at the Farnborough air show, of our commitment to the European fighter 2000. I hope that he will take to Germany the message that we would like there to be an equal, parallel commitment on its behalf. We understand Germany's domestic problems but, if we want there to be a future in collaborative projects with Germany, we must make absolutely certain that all the partners play their proper roles, that we all take an equal share and that we have a defence manufacturing industry for fighter jets.
I am speaking not only of the European fighter aircraft, but of the future offensive aircraft that will replace the Tornado. If other countries are to accede to the EU, we must ensure that our partners will remain partners, from beginning to end, and that they will not mess us about.
My hon. Friend mentioned the defence manufacturing base. Like him, I have many constituents who work for British Aerospace at Warton and Samlesbury. Does my hon. Friend agree that his constituents' jobs depend significantly on defence exports? Does he agree that it is absolutely disgraceful that many Labour Members oppose defence exports to some of British Aerospace's most significant markets? Many Labour Members oppose the sale of defence equipment even to India.
I simply cannot understand the attitude to which my hon. Friend refers.
The problems with the European fighter and the question whether we should buy fewer of them to enable us to spend more on the World Service and overseas development were mentioned earlier. I am proud of the World Service and I want it to develop, I am proud of the Overseas Development Administration—we are spending more than £2 billion on good, targeted aid—and of our commitment, which I have seen demonstrated by the work being carried out in Africa, but we must ensure that our defence manufacturing industry, which operates not only in the north-west but throughout the United Kingdom, endures. We must back it to ensure that it has the best possible chance to win orders from the British Government and throughout the world.
In response to the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), I want to make it clear that Labour is committed to the Eurofighter; there is no difference between us on that, and I hope that that message gets through to his constituents. Like him, I have many constituents who work in the aerospace industry—in Broughton, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones). That industry remains an important part of our manufacturing infrastructure and must not be forgotten, either by the current Government or by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), who will soon take over from the Secretary of State for Defence.
It is an interesting week for the House in terms of our commitment to the world, and I am referring not only to the parts of the Gracious Speech relating to foreign policy on which we have some agreement. Everything that we say in the House is now available not only to British newspapers and in Hansard but throughout the world on the Internet; that may cause certain right hon. and hon. Members to think twice about their remarks.
The Secretary of State for Defence may be interested to know that one person was delighted that the Government survived long enough to ensure that a Gracious Speech could be delivered this year—my daughter Joanne, who is 18 today and who was determined that the Government should survive long enough for her to cast a vote for my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Hall) in the election.
I want to make some points following on from those that I made in the debate on the defence estimates last week. But before I do that, I heard this evening that the European Parliament had condemned British Petroleum for alleged activities in Colombia. We recently had reason to be critical of Shell—with which I work closely because it is an important employer in my constituency—over its policy in Nigeria, and now there is a similar problem with BP. Can the Secretary of State cast some light on what the Government know about BP's activities in Colombia, particularly in the light of what I intend to say about the drugs industry, which bedevils each and every constituency?
On defence, I want to concentrate on naval issues. I twice asked the Secretary of State a specific question about the batch 2 Trafalgar class submarines in the defence estimates debate. The subject follows neatly the comments of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley about the aerospace industry. We need to give confidence to our manufacturers and it would be helpful to know if and when the Government intend to place the orders. The opportunity is there, and the need has been identified, especially now that some navies in less than stable countries possess SSK submarines. I again press the Secretary of State for a clear answer on the matter.
We all know that in past engagements the merchant marine has provided sterling support for the Royal Navy. There are now concerns, in the Royal Navy and elsewhere, about the level of that support, especially in the light of the bizarre saga of the Ukrainian ship that was engaged in Operation Purple Star and was subsequently declared unseaworthy by the Americans. That is extremely worrying, and unless we ensure that the Royal Navy gets adequate support, we shall be doing the country a serious disservice.
The issue of drugs is important in every constituency. I thank the Minister of State for the Armed Forces for a positive response to my comments in the defence estimates debate. There are concerns about certain activities in the Caribbean and south American countries. The hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson) made a pertinent comment about Cuba. It is clear that the real enemy in the Caribbean is the drugs industry and the way in which it is developing.
We have an important function through the West Indies guard ship, in partnership with the United States Coastguard, the Dutch navy and others who are trying to stop drug trafficking in the area. There are related questions about our relationships with countries such as Colombia, and questions that relate to other areas of policy. For example, what is to happen with the banana regime—a subject that crops up from time to time in the House? It is regarded too flippantly by some hon. Members on both sides of the House. The underlying issue is clear—if a small farming community fails to get the necessary support to maintain such crops, there will be a marketplace for the drug barons to force their way in. We have a responsibility, particularly to our Commonwealth partners, to ensure that every possible support is given.
I was pleased to be invited by the Foreign Office to attend a briefing by our ambassador in Burma a few months ago, as a result of some questions that I had raised. I formally thank the Ministers responsible, because I found the briefing very interesting.
The first paragraph of the Gracious Speech mentions a proposed royal visit to Thailand. All hon. Members are aware of some of the difficulties facing the Karen nation in camps on the Thai-Burmese border. I hope that the Government will use their best endeavours, through their foreign policy machinery, to put the utmost pressure on those two Governments to develop democratic rights for the people in those camps, who are wrongly regarded as stateless citizens.
The Karen nation has a long and proud tradition in the area, and many of its elders, including Bruce Humphrey-Taylor in my constituency, fought for the British Army in the second world war. They are getting a raw deal. I hope that we shall exert the maximum pressure on those regimes, particularly bearing in mind the recent pronouncements of the Burmese Government on the lack of freedoms granted to Aung San Suu Kyi.
I listened carefully to the thoughtful remarks of the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and his definitions of the role of foreign policy, but he missed out the important issue of our humanitarian responsibilities in the development of our foreign policy. Burma is a good example of an area in which the Government could take a lead and give real assistance. The problem is not specifically British, but it relates to the issue of the oil companies, which I mentioned earlier. As the Secretary of State for Defence knows, the freedom movement in Burma has expressed concerns about the role of some foreign oil companies in supporting the regime as a result of deals that have been struck.
We must consider those matters. We have important potential trade links with such countries, but we must put the human rights of the citizens uppermost in our minds before we commit ourselves to any deals.
It is appropriate to spend the first day of the debate on the Gracious Speech on foreign affairs and defence. Those two intertwined policies are critical to the existence of our country. That is reinforced in the short sentence at the beginning of the substantive part of the Gracious Speech, which says it all:
National security continues to be of the highest importance.
The whole House concurs with that. The Gracious Speech goes on to refer to the future of NATO, Britain's nuclear deterrent, preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the early ratification of a comprehensive test ban treaty. On all those key points there is a consensus between the Conservative Government and the Labour Opposition—a consensus which, I am sure, also includes the Liberal Democrats. I shall return to that later.
We have had a good debate, because every right hon. and hon. Member who has sought to contribute has been successful. I was puzzled and somewhat disappointed by the Foreign Secretary's speech. Having had the honour of shadowing him for several years, I know the capabilities and incisiveness of his legally trained mind. Today I thought he was below par. For too long he gave us a tour d'horizon, but certainly not a tour de force. Only towards the end of his speech did he begin to address the real problems facing Britain and British security—problems involving Europe, Hong Kong, Bosnia, Cyprus and the middle east. However, once that speech was over, we began a constructive and positive debate.
Once again my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) drew the attention of the Foreign Secretary to all his omissions and widened the debate. He spoke about issues of serious concern to British citizens and exemplified the Government's shortcomings in such issues as bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The Government have let down not only the farmers, but the consumers very badly.
Six years ago, the Labour party produced a set of proposals which, had the Government accepted them, would have avoided our present difficulties with Europe and would have averted the need for a major cull. It is a pity that the Government would not listen to our proposals for the selective slaughter of calves from infected cows, a proper tagging system such as exists in Northern Ireland and restricting the use of offal in animal feed. Had the Government followed our advice then we would not be in such a mess and many farmers would not be in their present difficulties. That is just one shortcoming in the Government's foreign policy.
The right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, rightly addressed the role of diplomacy. I did not agree with everything that he said, but he was right to draw to our attention the necessity of diplomacy.
I enjoyed the thoughtful speech of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who made a useful contribution to the debate. Although the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson) is not in his place, the House benefited from hearing his opinion about Russia. He probably knows more about that country than any other hon. Member and I agree with most of the points he made. I very much agree with what he said about the expansion of NATO. Although we must take the Russians with us as far as possible, we must not let them dictate the shape of our security framework.
The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) made some excellent points about Bosnia. As for the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant), I listened to his discourse on habeas corpus and I am sure that all hon. Members share his concern about the constituency case that he raised.
I could not but listen with care to the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes). I always listen to him with great respect when he speaks on military matters as he knows a great deal about them. Once he had got rid of the central office brief, he made an excellent speech. He spoke about overstretch and put a view that the Labour party has continually argued.
If he does not, I am rather surprised.
We have argued that it makes no sense to cut the defence budget by more than one third and increase our commitment to the armed forces. The only way that the Government can overcome the problem is to sit down with professional advisers and the experts—as virtually every country in the western world has done—make an assessment of the risks and the threats facing Britain and reshape our forces to meet those threats. It is only by having a strategic defence review, with the painful consequences, that that problem can be addressed. We of course make the point that a strategic defence review is not a cost-cutting exercise. It is an attempt to match our capabilities with the threats to ourselves and our neighbours.
I should like to take the debate forward a little. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) again gave us the benefit of his considerable knowledge of the middle east. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) exposed the Government's weakness on Europe. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) showed the benefit of the armed forces scheme. He was able to bring to the House a certain hands-on knowledge of the armed forces, especially the Navy. I hope that the Defence Secretary is able to give him a satisfactory answer on the batch 2 Trafalgar class submarines.
I said that I thought that the right hon. Member for Guildford had taken the debate forward. His points on the need to build diplomacy into a security strategy represented the right approach. Indeed, we have argued—it is very encouraging that the view is taken up by the only remaining super-power in the world—that preventative defence, as Defense Secretary Perry called it, is a very important part of the armoury in trying to achieve security not only in the west but throughout the world. His speech to the JFK school of government in May on the subject is well worth reading and studying. As he says,
The story of preventative defense is not merely one of preventing threats from weapons of mass destruction. It is also the story of engaging military and defence establishments around the world to further the spread of democracy and to further trust among the nations.
He talked about the way in which we are engaged in trying to help three of the four former Soviet Union countries that still hold nuclear weapons to rid themselves of those weapons. Decommissioning has been going on in Kazakhstan, Belarus and the Ukraine. He gave other examples of how we try to defuse situations before they emerge into points of conflict. In a sense, Secretary Perry was merely repeating in a more sophisticated form the words of General Marshall—who did so much in the post-war years to build economic stability in Europe—who said when wearing his military hat:
The only way to win a war is to avoid one.
He was suggesting not appeasement but preventative diplomacy and preventative security measures to try to ensure that the conflict did not occur.
I referred earlier to the Opposition's belief in the importance of seeking a consensus with Her Majesty's Government on defence and security matters. I have been trying to follow that approach since undertaking the defence portfolio more than four and a half years ago. It seems obvious to us that we ought to be able to agree across the Chamber on the basic principles governing our national security. The fact that the lead times for development and production in the procurement of defence equipment often stretch across decades and different Governments adds to the need for consensus if possible. For example, there is a need for a joint-strike fighter, to which the hon. Member for Ribble Valley referred. We are talking about an aeroplane for the second quarter of the next century.
The revolutionary frigate that we saw on television at the weekend, which will be difficult to track by radar, is another example. It is hoped that that will be developed by a British company. We are talking about long-term projects, which increasingly cross national boundaries, so if we could achieve a consensus in the House, that would be the right and proper thing to do.
If we are honest, there is considerable agreement on many such matters already. On NATO, for example, which was very much a creature of the Labour party under Ernie Bevin in its early years, we agree with the Government. On the idea of the Western European Union's becoming the European pillar of NATO, we agree with the Government. On the United Nations, on retaining our permanent seat on the Security Council and on the development of professional peacekeeping operations, we are in agreement with the Government.
On British troops in Bosnia, too, we agree with the Government. On Desert Storm, on operation Provide Comfort and on Southern Watch over Iraq, we agree with the Government. On retention of the British nuclear deterrent, we agree with the Government. On the restructuring of the reserves, we agree with the Government. On the need to modernise our weaponry, so that it will be characterised by reach, flexibility and accuracy, as epitomised in Eurofighter and the attack helicopter, we agree with the Government.
When there is so much agreement, it came as a grave disappointment to us to hear our attempt to build on a national consensus dismissed by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. It augurs ill for our nation when such a senior Minister is incapable of overcoming party prejudice in the national interest.
It is not only the hon. Gentleman's prejudice that concerns us, because during the 1996 defence estimates debate on 15 October he said:
We do not regard the Government as having any consensus with the Labour party on any single defence issue".—[Official Report, 15 October 1996; Vol. 282, c. 627.]
Not only is that factually incorrect, but it is unhelpful to the defence of this country. The Minister has become blinded by his limited prejudice.
Although we are prepared to try to reach a consensus with the Government as far as we can, that does not mean that we slavishly accept all the details of Government policy. Far from it. We believe that in many areas the Government's approach is harmful and destabilising to our armed forces and our security.
At times the Opposition have led the debate, and we shall continue to do so in the few months before we take over responsibility for the governance of our country. We repeatedly led the debate on Bosnia. It was the Opposition who suggested ways forward for Britain's participation in UNPROFOR and IFOR, and the Government followed. On 7 August 1992 we called for troops to be sent to help in the humanitarian effort. Six weeks later, the Government agreed. In December 1992 we called for a no-fly zone to be established. Four months later, the Government agreed.
The latest example arose on 11 June this year. When I returned from my fifth visit to Bosnia I urged that British troops should participate in a successor to IFOR. We could not fail to do that, because we could not afford to throw away all the good work that we had done. Only last week, the Secretary of State finally agreed on the line that we had taken.
Now we hear the Secretary of State acclaiming the expansion of NATO. We were arguing from the Dispatch Box in favour of that in January 1994, and I am pleased to hear that it is now the policy of Her Majesty's Government. I was also delighted to hear President Clinton's announcement in Detroit only last week that new members would be admitted to NATO by 1999—appropriately, as that will be the 50th anniversary.
We believe that it is right and proper to try to take those arguments forward, and that is what we have done in our attempt to achieve a consensus. However, there is still a lot of work to do.
On the subject of land mines, the Government have been laggards. During the past year, I have been to Cambodia and Bosnia and seen the effect of anti-personnel mines on civilians—and, indeed, on soldiers. In north-east Cambodia, I was struck to find that about 70 per cent. of military casualties had been inflicted by mines. Anti-personnel mines are the enemy of the soldier as well as the civilian in many cases. For that reason, many American military commanders—including Norman Schwarzkopf and General John Galvin, the former NATO military chief—have urged President Clinton to introduce an embargo and, of course, the President has accepted that.
Despite that pressure, progress towards achieving a world free of land mines has not been good. This year saw the virtual collapse of the inhumane weapons review conference in Geneva, where only a small number of limited changes were accepted. This simply was not good enough for the men, women and children—and the soldiers—who have suffered so cruelly from anti-personnel mines.
There are those who say that nothing can be done, but they are wrong. Our Government must be at the centre of multilateral talks and taking a positive line. I must admit that, for one brief moment at the end of last year, I thought that they had decided to make a positive move. It appeared that the Government were prepared to support a ban on anti-personnel land mines, and there were headlines in the newspapers to that effect. But when the details of the Government's policy came out, the reality was exactly the opposite.
The Government had announced that they would destroy half their stocks of anti-personnel land mines—a welcome move. However, they then announced that they would modernise the other half of their stocks. As British firms have not manufactured such land mines for more than a decade, we will either have to develop the manufacturing capacity in Britain or import mines from countries such as China. In taking either of these options, Britain will be actively encouraging the trade and manufacture of land mines—something that the Government claim to oppose. I hope that we can persuade the Government to change their mind on land mines.
One of the advantages of having this debate so soon after the debate on the defence estimates is that we can pursue some points that were not clear before the Gracious Speech. Last week in the estimates debate, I highlighted the issue of overstretch in our armed forces—an issue initially raised by the hon. Member for Wimbledon. I remind the House that although we have cut defence spending by more than a third, our armed forces are more committed than at any time since the end of the second world war. Frankly, many of our units left in Germany and at home are virtually hollow, and we are getting by only because of the dedication and commitment of the personnel in our armed forces.
Having made up to one third of armed forces personnel redundant, it is unbelievable—yet true—that the Government now have a shortfall in all three services and have not been able to recruit to the full. It takes a special kind of genius to achieve that, but the Government have that. During last week's debate, I was interrupted by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, who argued that the Army and the military are
in a difficult position because they are trying to recruit the high-quality young men and women who are also being sought by the burgeoning British industry".—[Official Report, 14 October 1996: Vol. 282, c. 494].
When the Minister of State for the Armed Forces interrupted, I had been making the point that I could not understand why the Army could not recruit in the traditional recruiting areas for the infantry, especially the counties of northern England and in Scotland. I have since discovered that, in my constituency, on Tyneside, about 26.5 per cent. of young men between the ages of 17 and 25 are unemployed. These are the traditional recruiting grounds, so why are the Government unable to recruit?
The truth is that the issue of overstretch, referred to by the hon. Member for Wimbledon, who has considerable military experience, has got through to young men and women. I am afraid that I must tell the Defence Secretary that morale is being affected, and he needs to look at this issue much more seriously. Indeed, he needs to look at training once we have recruited people. A systematic study should be conducted at a high level within the Ministry of Defence to establish a rigorous system for deciding how much training should be conducted centrally and how much at a more diffuse level in the field Army.
I am listening to the argument being advanced by the hon. Gentleman and I have a great deal of sympathy with what he is saying about overstretch, which was reflected by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes). The hon. Gentleman did, however, say earlier that the Opposition would consider a strategic defence review. If it became apparent from that review that additional resources were necessary to enable Her Majesty's forces to undertake all the functions and responsibilities that they have throughout the world, which, as the hon. Gentleman said, are now greater than at any time since the second world war, would his Government provide the money?
I understand the sympathy that the hon. Gentleman has for me, because I remember the fight that he had on behalf of the Cheshire regiments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston was also very much part of that campaign, and I know how hard they both fought to try to ensure that the regiments were maintained.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) makes a fair point. We have said that we will provide whatever resources are needed for the defence of Britain, but it is important that we match our commitment with the resources available. That will be the role of our strategic defence review.
I have tried to argue that there are areas on which there is consensus and areas on which there is potential consensus. There are, however, some things that we believe the Government have got completely and utterly wrong. Their obsession with privatisation really is bizarre. No other country in the world would sell off the strategic asset of the married quarters of its military, especially to a foreign country. It is just bizarre. It not only imposes a great deal of uncertainty on thousands of Army and military families but it imposes a real limitation on the flexibility and deployment of our forces and has placed a financial albatross around the necks of successive Secretaries of State for Defence for decades to come.
What is worrying is that the Government's privatisation mania knows no bounds. They really are sell-off mad. The Defence Secretary's dogma has overcome his common sense. We have seen what privatisation leads to when Tornado aircraft are refitted. Airworks Ltd., a company at St. Athan's, actually wrecked a Tornado. It was only because of the skill of RAF technicians and personnel that we found the damage that had been done. It was not only financial damage, running into tens of millions—or even hundreds of millions—but RAF pilots were expected to take those wrecked aeroplanes up, all in the name of the mania of privatisation.
Today's news was the final straw. Cowies, the major bus company in the constituency next to mine, made its fortune by buying second-hand military motor cycles, repainting them and selling them back to the public. It is interested in buying Challenger 2 tanks and leasing them back to the Army on a monthly basis. That may amuse the House, but it is the Government's latest ploy, and it is plain daft.
The hon. Gentleman is perhaps being a little hard on the Government over this sale and lease-back proposal. We had exclusive responsibility for our tanks immediately prior to the Gulf war, but it took three armoured divisions in Germany to enable us to put one armoured division in the field to assist the allied effort in that war.
The hon. and learned Gentleman is right. The military effort of the Warsaw pact was poor, but to be frank, ours was not much better. Thank God it was that much better, and we were able by other means to destroy the Warsaw pact.
I used to think that privatisation was a bit of a joke. I also used to joke that the Government should take their arguments to their logical conclusion. Why do they not go the whole hog and privatise our armed forces? The Navy could go to P and O and operate under flags of convenience: that would be the best way. The RAF could be franchised to Virgin Atlantic Airways, although I fear that this Government would choose Freddie Laker. The Army could go to Securicor or Channel 4—[HON. MEMBERS: "Group 4."] Group 4. Tragically, as each day passes those jokes turn into reality. A future Government may be so desperate that they will have to take such action.
The Government have mismanaged change since the end of the cold war, leaving our armed forces grossly overstretched. Only the dedication of our armed forces has allowed us to get through. The Government have failed to undertake a strategic defence review. We have had no assessment of the threats facing our country, and we have no way of matching those threats. The new Labour Government will do just that and in doing so will not only give our service men and women a fairer deal, but provide a more secure Britain in a more secure world.
This is the second time in 10 days that we have heard the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) make that speech. It did not improve with time. He requires a little more rehearsal on the punch lines if he is to get his jokes in. On the whole, however, in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes), this has been an extremely civilised debate. It has included some very distinguished contributions.
I was not present for a short period, so I did not hear all the contributions, but my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson) made a distinguished speech, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) toured the world in 15 minutes. My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) has the talent of being able to step back from the world scene and observe the trends. He sees the way in which our world is developing and the shifting centres on our globe. He can perceive the advantageous position that Britain occupies in that world: a Britain playing a global role; a Britain with a language that gives her a particular advantage, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said in his opening remarks.
We had the good fortune to hear from the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross), who is a governor of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. I join him in paying tribute to that organisation for its good work.
The hon. Member for Dundee, West and my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley asked important questions about Rwanda and Zaire, which is an area of great concern to the House. Both Governments deny beginning cross-border shelling. We have appealed bilaterally to Rwanda and Zaire to calm the situation. We have received assurances from both sides and the situation seems to have calmed.
Hon. Members spoke about refugees in southern Kivu. Our posts in Kingali and Kinshasa are closely monitoring the position and keeping in touch with UN agencies and the non-governmental organisations. We are concerned by reports of a large-scale internal displacement at Kivu, but so far there has been no major refugee flow across the borders.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary met Zaire's Prime Minister Kengo during his visit to London on 22 October and discussed the recent escalation of conflict in eastern Zaire. He encouraged him to remain in close contact with all the regional leaders and to do all that he can to defuse the tension with Rwanda and among the different ethnic groups in eastern Zaire.
The hon. Member for Dundee, West was concerned to know what part we would play in making sure that the elections were free and fair. They will not be held until May but we are considering what help the United Kingdom can give to ensure that they are free and fair. We are supporting the work of the Ligue des Electeurs, which is a Kinshasa-based NGO promoting democracy in Zaire. Experts from the European Union and the United Nations are also assisting in the work of the national electoral commission.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon said that he had unfashionable views about the enlargement of NATO. His remarks seemed to find an echo in the interventions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) and my hon. Friend the Member for East Lindsey (Sir P. Tapsell). The subject was also mentioned in a distinguished way by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant).
I should make it clear that NATO enlargement is part of a number of processes that are going on within NATO. It is obviously adapting to the post cold-war world and is restructuring, planning for new missions and welcoming France and Spain into a new integrated military structure. Therefore enlargement should be seen as one of many changes that will produce a different alliance. NATO does not see itself as being hellbent on its own expansion. It is not an aggressive organisation wishing to take in more and more members—rather the initiative has rested with the applicants who have made a strong moral appeal to NATO. They have put it to us that they would have been members of the western family of nations decades ago if they had not suffered for such a long time under communist regimes. We must acknowledge a moral obligation towards them.
NATO is certainly not a political club: it is a military alliance, but the process by which nations try to reform themselves and their procedures to qualify for membership of NATO has a strong effect on entrenching their democracies and, of course, NATO will insist on clear evidence that these are permanently established, pluralistic societies before it can admit them to the alliance. Military alliance it is, but one cannot deny that there is also a political dimension to accession.
We are conscious of Russia's attitude. Of course it has security concerns. We want to make it perfectly clear that there is nothing aggressive about NATO's expansion. We certainly want to build with Russia a new European security architecture. Some believe that we should delay the process of enlargement during the period of difficulty in Russia while President Yeltsin suffers bad health. My view is rather that, in an uncertain position, the obligation on NATO is to inject whatever certainty it can. By sticking to the moderate, but clear and certain timetable that we have developed, we inject certainty into that position.
None of us is able to define precisely what the new European security architecture involving Russia will look like. We cannot describe the finished product, but we can distinguish the first steps that should be taken. In particular, with Russia's work alongside the implementation force in Bosnia, we have found that we have had to establish certain liaison arrangements between Russia and NATO. Those arrangements have been working well. They can be extended and made permanent. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting Colonel-General Shevtsov, the Russian representative to IFOR, at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Mons.
NATO has also gone out of its way to explain its policies to a succession of Russian Ministers. I have met Minister Grachev, the former Defence Minister. Minister Rodionov recently attended a meeting with NATO Ministers. General Lebed was recently in Belgium to receive a briefing on the way in which NATO viewed the future. NATO generals stressed to him that NATO has a firm mission for peace enhancement.
A coherent strategy now forms an important part of NATO's day-to-day work, which is about co-ordinating exercises and activities under "Partnership for Peace" to extend security in Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals. NATO clearly does and must retain the article 5 responsibility in the NATO treaty, and ensure that we are prepared to exercise that responsibility, but in its day-to-day work, NATO is strongly engaged and absorbed in the peace enhancement mission. That strikes a chord with Russians.
My right hon. Friend is extremely interested in this issue and has obviously thought about it deeply, but will he reassure us that the peace enhancement concept developed by the generals does not include, contrary to anything said in the House today, any question of buffer or non-aggression zones between Russia and the rest of Europe? Russia has its own back yard in central Asia, but the region should all be eligible for inclusion in the European security system under NATO.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I can imagine nothing worse for the countries concerned than to be regarded as a buffer zone. That terminology, that concept and that idea play no part in NATO thinking.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon discussed the new role that has been given to the Western European Union. It is worth dwelling on that. At the North Atlantic Council meeting in Berlin this year, a historic decision was taken that it would be possible in future for there to be European-only operations, which would use NATO assets, in particular NATO headquarters, which would include Americans. They would, however, be European-only operations and the political authority would rest with the WEU. That puts the WEU on the map in a way that has not been true before. It also, by the way, increases the importance of ensuring that the WEU is not subordinated to the European Union.
For all the reasons that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary gave in his opening remarks, the EU, which has members with an honourable tradition of neutrality, but which are not committed to collective defence, is not a suitable body to oversee the WEU's task. The WEU will remain a body whose full members are both members of the EU and NATO members.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North that a common foreign and security policy cannot be driven by institutional change. It would be impracticable and inconceivable to decree an institutional arrangement that had the effect of obliging countries in Europe to adopt foreign or security policies in which they do not believe.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier)—who made a most distinguished and polished speech based on his experiences as a monitor—the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) and other hon. Members referred to Bosnia. I reiterate that we must put the horse before the cart. We must begin with an overarching political strategy devised by the international community, which must put in place its support for the democratic processes, suggest ways of helping to improve the quality of policing, define the role of the international financial institutions and discuss how rebuilding the country's infrastructure and other work will be co-ordinated.
All that must be done before we can decide whether there will be a follow-on force to IFOR, its size and objectives. I understand the impatience felt in the House and elsewhere, but I have described the right order in which to proceed. Meanwhile, nothing was lost at the meeting of Defence Ministers at Bergen at the end of September. We tasked the military authorities with preparing a series of contingencies, so that the necessary planning is ready in any eventuality. Since we last discussed Bosnia in the House 10 days ago, the decision was taken by Mr. Frowick to postpone the municipal elections. There were strong arguments for postponement. There were fears about the adequacy of registration and of holding an election in the depths of winter—when the roads would be bad and the nights long—involving places that have no electric light. There were considerable difficulties.
That decision has implications for force levels in Bosnia. It was anticipated that the drawdown of the implementation force would be postponed substantively until the municipal elections had taken place. We will now see a different shape of drawdown, but still nothing will be done during the course of it that would prejudge the decision about any follow-on force.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley made interesting points about the threat to peace, which need to be carefully assessed. About 35 countries outside NATO are equipped with up-to-date tanks and artillery. Many of them have armies numbered in hundreds of thousands. There are 40 air forces outside NATO with modern offensive aircraft and 30 countries have submarine forces.
I may say in parentheses to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) that the Government are in negotiations with GEC Marconi, which is the preferred bidder for the Trafalgar class batch 2. If we can achieve an acceptable price, we hope to place the prime contract early next year. Although delays are always frustrating, the Government's record over the past year or two of placing orders for the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy makes me feel proud. We have recently placed orders for three frigates, and for two assault ships to replace HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid. We have ordered the Apache attack helicopter for the Army, confirmed that we want to go into production with the Eurofighter, and ordered the cruise missiles and anti-armour weapon that will be deployed on the Eurofighter, as well as the Nimrod 2000. I was pleased to hear from my hon. Friends how welcome those orders were.
On the question of threat, there are 20 countries outside NATO which possess ballistic missiles now. Some of them have crude technology, but it is improving fast. Even today, some NATO territory is within the arc of threat of some of those missiles fired from the middle east. North Korea is exporting missiles. If it exports its more advanced systems, more NATO nations will be brought within range. There is a risk that, despite our best efforts, stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction will grow and spread. Over a dozen countries have either the capability to deploy chemical or biological weapons or have development programmes which are at an advanced stage. Some of those countries can already produce a warhead for a ballistic missile for those weapons systems.
The likelihood of conflict in our world is, if anything, increasing. We have seen how, with the end of super-power tension, others have been emboldened to push their territorial and ideological ambitions. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary talked about moving away from the bi-polar world. We have seen recently overt aggression by some states and the covert export of terrorism by others.
We cannot even relax our vigilance over nuclear weapons. The international community was surprised to discover the progress that Iraq had made with its nuclear weapons programme. We will need to sustain in Iraq an intrusive monitoring regime to prevent it from reviving that programme. We will need to monitor North Korea's compliance with the nuclear commitments that it has entered into.
We have been shocked by the discoveries we have made about the weapons of mass destruction programme in Iraq. The United Nations Special Commission has discovered more and more evidence of the extent of that programme and Iraq has failed to co-operate with those investigations. It has made every effort to hide the extent of what it has been doing.
Russia's armed forces are clearly not what they used to be during the cold war. Russia's forces have grave problems, but they are large and have a considerable quantity of sophisticated weapons, both conventional and nuclear. Russian capability in strategic nuclear missile submarines has not diminished. That, alongside the reform process in Russia, is one of the factors that we must take into account when assessing the potential security needs of Europe.
Our planning needs to take account of all the places where conflict could occur. I have looked at an assessment of the potential crisis points around the globe. The last assessment I read had 53 entries of potential crisis points, including the Balkans, the Transcaucasus, Algeria, Libya and Iraq. Seventeen of those potential trouble spots are within just 200 miles of NATO's borders.
There is no reason to believe that territorial or ethnic disputes are on the decline—quite the contrary. We must add to that potential disputes that could occur over natural resources such as oils, minerals and even water. A common feature where such regional tensions exist is arms proliferation. Dictators impress and intimidate their populations and their neighbours by acquiring weapons of mass destruction. The more responsible nations respond by matching those countries if they can, so as to build up their deterrents. Even where Governments are currently well disposed to us, we need to consider the potential impact of political instability.
With the end of super-power tension and the spread of democracy there is the potential for a better world. However, the world has not become good overnight and it is at present no less dangerous. As the risk of global catastrophe has reduced, the risk of geographically limited conflict has increased. We are not in a position to abolish extremism, greed and intolerance, but we can deter them and we can stop them winning.
All that makes me believe that it is extremely important that NATO should remember that it is a military alliance. There is a tendency for some people to believe that the future for NATO is likely to consist largely, or even exclusively, of peacekeeping operations. Although I recognise that there may be many more Bosnias to come, I would caution against believing that that will be the template for the future of the world.
As recently as 1991, we were involved in a high-intensity conflict against Iraq—an aggressor with very large amounts of artillery and armour and fairly capable modern aircraft. In the event, we overcame that aggressor, with mercifully few casualties. But even Iraq in 1991 should not be our yardstick for what may come in future. Weapons are becoming more sophisticated, and it is conceivable that we would meet an aggressor, a dictator, much more capable than Iraq was in that year.
We therefore need to ensure that our military alliance, NATO, which has been so successful in the past, which has had credibility, and which has been able to maintain its deterrent capacity, retains its interest in, and its commitment to, hard defence.
I make this point vis-a-vis enlargement. It will be important that countries that wish to become members of NATO recognise the responsibilities that are placed on them by membership. Although they wish to benefit in part from the political aspects of NATO membership, the full benefit will come to them if they are part of a military alliance that is as credible and effective as NATO is today.
Some of my hon. Friends who do not support NATO's expansion may fear that the rigour in that alliance will be loosened. Although that is a reasonable suspicion, we are determined to ensure that it is not realised.
I suspect that the Secretary of State has the support of the whole House for what he said, but are we not also required to be anxious about—to use a word of the moment—the drift downwards in defence expenditure among many NATO members? If we are anxious about extending rigour to those who wish to join, should we not be similarly anxious to ensure that the existing members are still able collectively to fight the high-intensity warfare that the Secretary of State rightly mentioned?
The hon. and learned Gentleman makes a good point.
If I may say so in response to the hon. Member for South Shields, it is not only Britain whose defence expenditure has been reduced. Since 1985, the European average has reduced by a third in real terms and today, European countries spend a good deal less of their gross domestic product on defence than does the United States.
I was reading some of the figures yesterday. Seven European countries spend less than 2 per cent. of their GDP on defence. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East makes a valid point, but what has been remarkable about Britain is that we have been willing to take tough decisions, we have taken out the numbers in the armed forces and in the civil service, we have not held on to redundant estate and therefore we have been able to achieve great efficiency.
The fact that I was able to tell the House that, in the past year, we have ordered cruise missiles for submarines and for aeroplanes and all the other assets that I mentioned earlier, shows that Britain, at her present level of commitment, is capable of engaging successfully in high-intensity conflict if necessary.
That is because we are a country with global responsibilities. We are an island, but we have never been little Englanders. We have always had to trade with the four corners of the globe. That has made us very outward looking. Today we are still a global trading, global investing, globally conscious country, dedicated to the spread of democracy throughout the world; dedicated, through free trade, to the spread of wealth, which, as was well observed during the debate, underpins democracy, drives up living standards and makes the terrorist less welcome.
We have a responsibility for security in the world. We play our part, as we demonstrated in the Gulf and in Bosnia. We are a highly deployable country. Britain will go on playing its part in world affairs, by deed as well as by words. As long as there is a Conservative Government, we will be a reliable ally.
It is difficult to arrive at a consensus with the Labour party, because many of its Front Benchers were supporters of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. They made a fundamental misjudgment about the key decision of the second half of the 20th century, and I, for one, simply cannot trust Labour on defence.
Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Ottaway.]