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Commons Chamber

Volume 67: debated on Friday 9 November 1984

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House Of Commons

Friday 9 November 1984

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]


National Health Service (North Staffordshire)

9.34 am

To the honourable Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Parliament assembled, the petition of North Staffordshire showeth

That we, the undersigned, wish to express our concern at the cut that is taking place in the Health Service and the reduction in the level and standards of health care provided for the people of North Staffordshire.
Wherefore your petitioners pray that your honourable House urges the Secretary of State for Health and Social Services to urge the chairman and members of the District Health Authority to use every means in their power to resist the cuts in all parts of health care imposed by the Government, and to prevent any further closure of hospitals, clinics or other Health Service facilities. And that it calls on all members of the public to join the campaign to defend the National Health Service.
No fewer than 18,500 people in North Staffordshire are deeply concerned about this issue and hope that full account will be taken of this petition.

To lie upon the Table.

Bill Presented

Civil Aviation

Mr. Secretary Ridley, supported by Mr. Secretary Brittan, Mr. Secretary Younger, Mr. Secretary Jenkin, Mr. John Moore and Mr. Michael Spicer, presented a Bill to make provision with respect to the imposition of limits on aircraft movements at aerodromes designated by the Secretary of State, including provision with respect to the functions of the British Airports Authority in connection with any such limits; to make further provision for securing the most effective use of aerodromes; and to make provision for reducing the indebtedness of the Civil Aviation Authority in connection with the disposal of certain aerodromes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 8].

Orders Of The Day

Debate On The Address


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [6 November].

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:

Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament—[Sir Paul Bryan.]
Question again proposed.

Foreign Affairs And Overseas Development

9.36 am

As we start the first foreign affairs debate of the Session today, the whole House is bound to be aware of the extent to which the world scene is overshadowed by two tragic events—in Ethiopia and in India.

The first dark shadow over our debate is cast by the fate of hundreds of thousands of people who have died, or are near to death, as a consequence of the catastrophic drought in Ethiopia, and, alas, in other parts of Africa. During the past two years we have made available almost £13 million worth of food aid and disaster relief supplies to Ethiopia. We have taken the lead in the Community to expand and speed up the relief effort. Our prompt response has been followed by many countries in East and West; and there has rightly been a surge of sympathy and support from all over the country.

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development will deal with this major issue in more detail at the end of the debate. I should like to assure the House simply that famine relief in Ethiopia and Africa generally is, and will remain, an urgent priority for the Government.

Many hon. Members have already expressed their feelings at the more personal tragic event — the senseless, cowardly assassination of the Indian Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. The House will know that Her Majesty's Government and the British people totally condemn the tiny minority of people here who have sought to exploit, and—still more shocking—to rejoice at, this evil deed.

I had the privilege just a year ago of seeing Mrs. Gandhi at work in her own country. That was during her skilful and engaging chairmanship of last year's highly successful Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in New Delhi. I can add my own testimony and deep regret that Mrs. Gandhi's death has deprived India of a great leader and the Commonwealth of a far-sighted world statesman. We share the grief of all true friends of India. We extend our earnest good wishes and our full support to her son as he takes on his new responsibilities.

Mrs. Gandhi's death by assassination is the latest in a world-wide chronicle of terrorism. The outrage at Brighton is fresh in our minds. Few countries have escaped this scourge. Innocent people pay the price of such wanton attacks on civilised society. The most disturbing feature has been the readiness of some Governments to instigate and support terrorism. By our actions, we have made it plain that we will not tolerate the abuse for this purpose of diplomatic missions in Britain, but the threat will be checked only if the major countries are prepared to take strong measures, and, above all, to take those measures together. We have taken the lead in insisting on practical, concerted action. We shall continue to work for vigorous steps to combat terrorism around the world.

I intend to concentrate most of my remarks on the key international issues of East-West relations, developments in Europe and in the middle east. First, I should like to deal briefly with several other topics that are mentioned in the Gracious Speech.

I begin with Gibraltar, about which I have had a number of discussions with the Spanish Foreign Minister. I expect to meet him again quite shortly. As the Gracious Speech makes clear, these discussions have focused upon the implementation of the Lisbon statement. As the House knows, that statement provides for the lifting of restrictions on communications between Spain and Gibraltar, and for the start of negotiations with Spain aimed at overcoming all the differences between us over Gibraltar.

In that statement, Her Majesty's Government clearly reaffirmed our commitment to honour the wishes of the Gibraltar people about their future. I have no doubt that the Lisbon statement offers the best framework for managing our differences with Spain over Gibraltar. We want to see it put into effect at an early date.

In September, I attended the meeting in San Jose of the Foreign Ministers of the Community, together with Spain and Portugal, and the Foreign Ministers of nine central and Latin American countries. The meeting underlined Europe's determination to help in the urgent task of promoting stability and political development in central America.

I made it plain that the United Kingdom, together with her European Community partners, is giving its wholehearted support to the Contadora process. We believe that that process offers the best hope for achieving stability, prosperity and democracy in that part of the world. To demonstrate our practical support for that process, the Community Foreign Ministers expressed their willingness to give additional aid to the region. The roots of the conflict are indigenous to central America, but they have been exploited by those who have little interest in the establishment of truly democratic government.

In recent days there have been reports of further arms supplies to Nicaragua. We share the concern that has been widely expressed about the possibility that this shipment included high-performance fighter aircraft. It is an integral part of the Contadora proposals that armaments should be scaled down and not built up. It would be most regrettable if any steps were taken at this stage to introduce weapons systems that would inevitably be seen as a threat to other countries in the region, and that would set back the hopes of a successful outcome to the Contadora negotiations. The situation is one that in our view calls for the greatest possible restraint on all sides.

We were glad to welcome El Salvador's return to democracy, but in Nicaragua we became increasingly concerned about the conditions for the election campaign. Many hon. Members will have seen reports that, over a period of many months, the opposition parties were effectively intimidated and often physically harassed by Sandinista mobs — "divine mobs", as they were described by the Nicaraguan Minister of the Interior. As a result, both main opposition parties decided to withdraw from the election. In those circumstances, there was no possibility of a genuinely free and fair contest, however orderly the polling may have appeared to visitors who spent the last few days in Nicaragua.

In our considered judgment—a view shared by the great majority of our European partners—it would have been quite wrong to send official observers to watch the final moments of an election of which the earlier stages were so fundamentally flawed.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will have seen that his French colleague, M. Cheysson, told the Assembly in France two days ago that he regarded the elections as correct and as a contribution to peace in central America. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree with that?

I have expressed my view about the elections already. There is a difference between the conduct of the elections on the day and the circumstances and background in which those elections have to be conducted in the weeks and months before election day. One has to take acount of such matters as the extent to which the media are controlled, the extent to which intimidation takes place, and the extent to which other elements of the state have a serious impact. In our view, all these things combined to create a sitation in which free and fair elections could not be regarded as having taken place. In El Salvador, a real transfer of power took place; but that was not the position in Nicaragua.

Let me now turn to southern Africa. Some new developments there have been encouraging. We welcome the Lusaka agreement on troop withdrawals from Angola, the Nkomati accord between South Africa and Mozambique and the more recent moves towards a ceasefire in Mozambique.

There seems, too, to be a greater prospect of progress now over Namibia. The diplomatic efforts undertaken by the United States and the direct contacts between those directly involved appear to be making headway. We remain firmly committed to early implementation of Security Council resolution 435. We shall continue to lend our help and support to the negotiations.

However, once again, events inside South Africa have caused concern on both sides of the House. The incident at our Durban consulate, and the South African Government's refusal to return the four men to face charges in the Coventry court, show that the South African Government's own policies can be a major obstacle to stable relations. We wholly reject the idea of any linkage between these two problems.

We have already condemned the South African breach of faith over the Coventry four. The responsibility of the South African Government to bring them to justice is clear cut. The situation in the Durban consulate was not of our making. I will not deny that it faces us with a complex and delicate legal and humanitarian problem, but I am sure that I have the support of the House in seeking, so far as we properly can, to take account of the humanitarian considerations.

The Gracious Speech reaffirmed our commitment to the Falkland Islands. We welcome Argentina's return to democracy, but last week's debate in the United Nations General Assembly showed that Argentina's failure to take any account of the wishes of the islanders is still a fundamental obstacle to any solution. The Argentine resolution insisted on the resumption of negotiations, aimed at transferring sovereignty, as if the brutal invasion of the islands had never taken place. I am pleased that the support for our position in the United Nations remained as firm as last year.

I can assure the House that we shall continue to protect the islanders' right to live peacefully under a Government of their own choosing. We are not prepared to discuss sovereignty over the islands, but we have made sustained and carefully prepared efforts to improve our bilateral relations with Argentina, and we shall persevere in that. We remain convinced that the only effective and realistic way forward is to tackle practical issues step by step.

I turn now to a development that many Members on both sides of the House have been kind enough to describe as a considerable achievement for British diplomacy. I refer, of course, to Hong Kong. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) described our recent exchange on the subject as a "feast of love." I am still recovering from the indigestion caused by those unusually honeyed words.

The draft agreement that was initialled on 26 September was the fruit of long negotiations. The people of Hong Kong are now expressing their views on that agreement, and the assessment office is now receiving and collating those views. The report of this office, together with that of the independent monitoring team, will be laid before the House. I know that hon. Members will want to study them carefully so that at an early opportunity we can have a thorough debate on the draft agreement, but I am already confident that we have secured an agreement that the Government can strongly commend to the people of Hong Kong and to Parliament.

I shall now move to the broader international issues of profound concern to the House. From the moment when I became Foreign Secretary, I have never had any doubt that the greatest and most important challenge that faces the foreign policy makers of the West is to find a way of establishing stable, peaceful relations with the nations of Eastern Europe. That was the principal foreign policy task that the Prime Minister and I set ourselves when this Government were returned to power.

There is now widespread agreement among the Western allies, in both north America and Europe, about the philosophy of the Western approach. Some right hon. and hon. Members may already have studied an important speech made by Secretary of State George Shultz on 18 October in Los Angeles. It deserves study in full, but two points were well orated—that
"In the nuclear age we need to maintain a relationship with the Soviet Union"
and that
"negotiation without strength cannot bring benefits. Strength alone will never achieve a durable peace".
Since that speech was made, the people of the United States have re-elected President Reagan and Vice-President Bush with an overwhelming majority. We congratulate them on a signal victory and wish them well in their second term of office. We look forward to the same spirit of co-operation and shared values that characterised their first four years. President Reagan's statements of policy have been fully in tune with those of the wider Alliance. For example, in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on 24 September he made very clear his wish for greater understanding between the United States and the Soviet Union and for progress on arms control. This week after his re-election he has reaffirmed that message—and this week there can be no doubt that President Reagan spoke for the American people.

I was able to explore the call for a fresh start contained in President Reagan's speech when I met Mr. Gromyko a few days later, for the fourth time this year, in New York. On every occasion of that kind, and indeed at my meeting in July with President Chernenko alongside Mr. Gromyko, I have been struck not so much by the differences between us, although they are, of course, real and substantial, as by the similarity of what we say are the basic aims of our people. This similarity in what we say is reflected in both sides' stated desire to break the spiral of the arms race, in both sides' declared and shared aim of better relations between East and West—often, indeed, in apparently similar words and phrases. Time and again, I have found that we are separated not so much by the words, that we use as by the meaning that we attach to them.

I believe that it must be our task to try to bridge that gap and to reconcile in a realistic and practical way our differing approaches with our common underlying interest in the safety and security of the world. That is why I am glad that Mr. Gromyko has accepted my invitation to make a return visit to London in 1985. That is also why I welcome the opportunity of discussions with Mr. Gorbachev, who will be here in London next month on a parliamentary visit organised by the British group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. He will be the most senior Soviet Politburo member to come to Britain for many years and we shall use these discussions to impress upon the Soviet leaders the sincerity and commitment of the Western nations to the search for peace and stable relations. I shall convey the same message in the eastern European capitals which I plan to visit in the course of the next 12 months.

The West's prime objective is, and will remain, genuine, balanced and verifiable measures of arms control. I am sure that the House agrees that the whole world would applaud a positive and practical Soviet determination to pursue the same objective. The Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Leeds, East are shortly to visit Moscow. I hope that when they go there they will convey the same message. I hope, too, that they will discard the obsession, which seems to be recently acquired in the case of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East, with the idea of Britain acting unilaterally. I must tell them that this would emasculate the protection offered by the Alliance not just to Britain but to our neighbours and would secure nothing in the way of progress towards genuine and balanced arms control.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend suggest to the Opposition and make it clear to Mr. Gorbachev that this country hopes not merely for shared good intentions between the West and the Soviet Union but for evident and practical measures to show that the Soviets themselves desire a reduction of tension—for instance, by withdrawing their troops from Aghanistan and encouraging free trade unions in Poland?

I agree with my hon. Friend; and I have raised both those points in earlier discussions with the Soviet Union. We need to move to practical measures of that kind. Indeed, in the whole arms control debate we need practical measures. The Soviet Union in its present tone tends to say that it looks to the West for deeds rather than words in relation to arms control. I am anxious to move from shared statements of objectives and shared identification of the arms control menu to find practical ways of making headway in the much harder but very important business of arms control.

I hope that before the right hon. Member for Leeds, East and his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition go to Moscow they will give some consideration to the views of their Socialist colleagues in Europe. President Mitterrand, for example, does not believe that a policy of unilateral disarmament would advance the cause of peace. Speaking, I believe, to the Bundestag, he said:
"Our analysis and our conviction, those of France, are that the nuclear weapon, the instrument of deterrence, whether one likes or deplores it, remains the guarantee of peace".
The Socialist leaders of opinion in the rest of Europe recognise that we have to live with the realities of the world as it is, and it is high time the right hon. and hon. Members opposite who take a different view learned the same lesson.

The pursuit of dialogue with the East does not do away with the need for effective defence of the West. The Government are fully committed to ensuring NATO's continuing effectiveness as a defensive alliance. I emphasise the word "defence". Alliance leaders stated unequivocally in Bonn in 1982 that we shall never be the first to use force, and that remains our position. We threaten no one. For the continuing strength and cohesion of the Alliance, we owe a great debt of gratitude to Joseph Luns, who spoke and worked fearlessly for the causes in which he believes. To succeed him, the allies are fortunate in having secured the services of a distinguished former holder of my office, Lord Carrington. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House welcome his appointment. The Government will give him and through him the Alliance, our full support.

I sometimes detect a tendency, not so much in this House as on the part of some of our European partners, to talk as though security among Europeans could be brought about by economic and political means alone and to take for granted the defence of Europe. The reality, of course, is that the security of Europe, and thus the contribution made by member states to the defence of Europe, is an indispensable element of European co-operation as a whole. In this respect, it cannot be said too often that Britain's contribution is pre-eminent.

I am glad to say that that point was plainly recognised by our partners at the 30th anniversary meeting of the Western European Union which I attended, together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, in Rome two weeks ago. It was one of our allies who pointed out there that the most important aspect of the original WEU treaty is the continuing commitment by the United Kingdom to maintain a very substantial force of British troops and airmen on the mainland of Europe.

The meeting in Rome was of more than a commemorative nature. We in Europe must share the common burden in a way that matches our political and economic strength. We have already done more than many realise. Since 1971, the European share of spending in the Alliance has increased by almost a quarter. Under this Government, the record of the United Kingdom has been particularly good, but the European countries can improve their performance still further. Closer co-operation and greater concentration on value for money can make more effective use of the resources available to us. I believe that the Western European Union can act as a ginger group to maintain what President Eisenhower once described as
"a core of unity at the heart of NATO".
I believe that the WEU playing that role will help to forestall any anxieties that the super-powers may be designing a defence system for a world fit only for superpowers to live in. This relaunching of the WEU comes at the right time, and we shall give it our full support.

Referring to the Community, I should like to stress once again that, following the Fontainebleau agreement, we now have a sound and durable basis for its financial arrangements. We had to fight hard to get it — for Britain, but, as our partners increasingly recognise, for Europe, too.

There are three essential points on which agreement has been reached: first, that the United Kingdom should have a lasting correction of its budget contribution; secondly, that the Community must implement a more rigorous approach to sound financial management; and, thirdly, that the common agricultural policy should no longer take a growing proportion of the Community budget. I want to comment on each of those points.

First, the budget. After the prospective increase in own resources, the new system will reduce our contribution to about half what we would have paid had there been no agreement. It will take effect on the revenue side, with provision for abatement of our contribution being made through the new own resources decision now under discussion. The 1,000 million ecu due to us for 1985 will, in accordance with the Fontainebleau agreement, also be made available in the same way.

The Commission's draft of the decision has been recommended for debate by the Select Committee on European Legislation. The House will, of course, also have a full opportunity to give its views on the terms of the decision when it is presented to Parliament for approval.

Secondly, budget discipline. Agreement on that is a prerequisite for our approval of the new own resources decision. The European Council established two key principles: first, that the maximum level of expenditure to finance Community policies was to be laid down each year; secondly, that net expenditure on agriculture was to increase at less than the rate of growth of the own resources base. Work on a text that will guarantee the effective application of those principles is nearing completion.

This will be the first time that the Council has bound itself to such a ceiling for expenditure — both agricultural and non-agricultural—and to live within it. In the words of a paper tabled in Brussels in November 1983 by M. Jacques Delors, due soon to take over as President of the Commission, from now on
"Expenditure must be determined by the means available, not the other way round".

In view of my right hon. and learned Friend's previous experience in another key position in the Government, so that he knows as much—or more—about this matter as most others, I should like to ask him whether the discussions on financial discipline encompassed any consideration of supplementary budgets and the effect that they can sometimes have in getting round ceilings and limits that are imposed at the beginning of each year? Has that been considered, and will it be part of the mechanism?

That is an important consideration. It is necessary not to allow devices to be used to enable the mechanism to be escaped from. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to that matter. As he says, the concept is one with which I am familiar. I was pleased that the very sentence that I quoted from the French Finance Minister, as he then was, was almost literally an echo of one of my few statements to appear in The Observer's "Sayings of the Week". I said that finance must determine expenditure and not expenditure finance. I think that I put it slightly more crisply than M. Delors, but we were both on the same track.

That is an important development. With German, Dutch and, increasingly, French support we now have a real opportunity to introduce a sensible balance into how the Community uses its resources.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there is already cause for concern? Will he confirm that expenditure has risen to 1·2 per cent. and all the signs are that it is still rising? Those who are in authority in the Commission, particularly in agriculture, can see no way in which we shall not bump up against a new ceiling. How can one control that when one has commitments in advance on the agricultural side?

My hon. Friend has made a point to which I shall refer next. I entirely agree that the way in which the CAP is operated and applied is the key to the long-term solution to the problem. The extent to which surpluses have built up means that it is bound to take time to attack and reduce the problem to which my hon. Friend referred. Of course we must preserve the benefits of the CAP. However, we must avoid guaranteeing, as in practice the CAP has so far, that whatever the market conditions, surplus production will be funded by the Community taxpayer.

The Agriculture Council meeting on 31 March this year put in place some of the key decisions that are necessary to take us in that direction. The important thing is for us to sustain pressure for the application of those principles and their implementation throughout the Community. It will require constant vigilance by members of the Council, and Members of the House and of the European Parliament. It is a long-term exercise. If we can make headway on that, as we must, another great task will face us—to build on Fontainebleau to make the Community work better for all its member states. That will be one of the major challenges for the new Commission. It will be fortunate to have M. Delors as its President. As I have already said, we have worked alongside each other as Finance Ministers. Not just as a result of that stern and invigorating shared experience, which I share in a residual capacity with the right hon. Member for Leeds, East, I have a profound respect for M. Delors' determination to manage the Commission on realistic and practical lines.

We in the United Kingdom have already put forward many practical ideas for the Community agenda. There are, for instance, some simple businesslike institutional changes that could rapidly make a difference. The European Council must be less of a court of appeal and better adapted to giving strategic direction to the Community, telling the Community what the member states, expressing their views to the Council of Ministers, want the Community to do.

Each member state has the equivalent of our own Queen's Speech, setting the agenda for action over the coming years. The European Council should do the same for the Community as a whole. I know that M. Delors shares our view of the need for clear priorities.

Above all, we want practical measures and tangible benefits for the peoples of the Community. When our lorry drivers can travel without undue frontier delays in continental Europe; when it costs the same to fly from London to Paris as from New York to Washington; when British insurers can compete freely in German markets; then, and only then, shall we be making a reality of some of the most basic provisions of the treaty of Rome.

A genuine Community-wide market should create a more competitive climate in which European business can prosper and Europe can compete better in world markets. That is the way to create the lasting jobs that Britain, like the rest of Europe, so badly needs.

The Community must also fulfil its responsibilities in the world. Let me give three examples of how it is seeking to do so. The first, of course, is enlargement, from 10 members to 12. The negotiations are now reaching their concluding stages. We want to see them completed by the end of the year, so that Spain and Portugal can enter the Community on 1 January 1986. Secondly, the Community needs to complete the current negotiations on a successor to the present Lome convention, governing its relations with 64 African, Caribbean and Pacific states.

Thirdly, there is political co-operation. Almost all the problems that I discussed earlier in my speech have been the subject of discussion with our Community partners. That growing habit of concerted action is increasingly valuable because it enables us to make our joint influence felt across the whole field of foreign affairs.

Nowhere has there been a more distinctive European approach than over the problems of the middle east. Ten days ago I paid a brief visit to Lebanon, for talks with President Gemayel and Prime Minister Karame. I went on from there to Israel. I was able to have there very friendly and open discussions with all the senior Ministers in the new Israeli Government. I also had a most useful meeting with Palestinian representatives.

I returned from those visits more than ever convinced of the need for an end to the tragic suffering of the Lebanese people, and for early movement towards a settlement of the central Arab-Israel dispute. In Lebanon I was able to reaffirm to President Gamayel our support for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from his country. The Government of Israel left me in no doubt that they wish to withdraw their forces from Lebanon soon, subject to the negotiation of satisfactory security arrangements for Israel's northern border. The next step must be direct contacts. I am therefore very glad that the UN Secretary-General has taken the initiative to convene talks between Israeli and Lebanese military representatives.

Our policy on the Arab-Israel dispute is clear and consistent. I explained it in the same terms to Israeli Ministers and Palestinian representatives: the same terms as I have also used in discussions with Arab leaders. It is based on the firm belief that no durable settlement is possible without acceptance by the parties of two basic principles. These principles, which cannot be repeated too often, are Israel's basic right to a secure and peaceful existence, and the Palestinians' right to self-determination. The role of the United States, with its unique position of influence, will remain a vital one.

I shall be discussing with the new American Administration how best to give the search for peace in the middle east the high priority it deserves. We and our European partners will continue to do all in our power to help that process forward.

Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman concludes his comments on the middle east, will he comment on the Iraq-Iran war? Does he agree that that is hardly a good example of a coherent approach by the European Community in that Iraq is basically armed by France, and Iran, although it does not receive arms from us, is now trading more with Britain than it did in the days of the Shah, with most of the resulting money going on arms?

The approach of the European Community to the need for an end to the Iran-Iraq conflict is based essentially on persuading the parties to recognise the need to bring the conflict to a conclusion. Doing that head-on has so far made little headway. The approach that has made headway is the delimitation of the conflict and the agreement, which has largely been observed, to refrain from attacks on civilian targets. The most hopeful approach currently on the table is the way in which the Japanese have put forward a development of that, seeking to limit the scope of the conflict rather than trying, which seems so difficult, to bring it to an end.

I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I say no more than that. I have tried to deal with most of the major topics, but I was about to say that no opening speech in a foreign affairs debate can deal with all of them. That is one of the subjects that I have not been able to cover. Another is the Cyprus question. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development will be glad to cover further subjects that arise during the debate.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way to him. I must draw my remarks to a close now.

I shall not deal with it en passant. My right hon. Friend will comment on it at the end of the debate if the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) raises the matter.

I want in conclusion to underline one factor. The complexities of foreign affairs do not lend themselves to the simplistic recipes of the ideologue, nor the contortions of those who are prepared to cast away principles in the vain pursuit of a spurious party unity. This Government have restored respect for Britain abroad.

We have shown ourselves a firm and reliable member of the North Atlantic Alliance. We have shown ourselves determined in the search for stable and peaceful relations between east and west. We have achieved at Fontainebleau a major advance for the European Community. We have kept up and strengthened our partnership with our friends in the Commonwealth. We have shown in the Hong Kong agreement that steady and determined diplomacy can achieve results.

In a dangerous and unstable world we have shown that this country stands for civilised and democratic values. That is the basis on which we shall continue to promote British interests in the coming year.

10.13 am

Since our last debate, the Foreign Secretary has achieved one impressive success in the agreement on Hong Kong. He was rightly congratulated by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House on his achievement. I am sorry that the love feast gave him a touch of indigestion, but I hope to correct that this morning by administering a slightly more balanced diet.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman was right to say that, since we last debated foreign affairs, some terrible events have occurred in other parts of the world. The murder of Mrs. Gandhi has imposed the worst strains on the largest democracy in the world since the bloodshed which attended its birth. The tragic famine in Ethiopia has reminded us of a catastrophe which already faces all the African peoples just south of the Sahara, right from Sudan in the east to Senegal in the west. It reminds us, too, that 500 million of our fellow beings today are suffering from chronic malnutrition all over the world and that 15 million children die from hunger and related diseases every year. That is the equivalent of the death toll at Hiroshima every three days. If the Ethiopian tragedy has done nothing else, I hope that it has directed the attention of Governments and peoples to these horrifying facts.

Meanwhile, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman had to admit, the war in the Gulf continues in the middle east and peace in the near east still remains extremely fragile. The martyrdom of the majority of the people of South Africa continues. There is still civil war in El Salvador and Guatemala, and there is an imminent risk of American military intervention in Nicaragua. The British taxpayer is still forking out £2 million a year for every family living on the Falkland Islands. Meanwhile, the world's debt problem is growing steadily worse, threatening political stability in the Third world and financial disaster for the western world. Above all, the arms race continues unabated and is now entering its most dangerous phase since the first nuclear bombs were exploded at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Many of these problems were necessarily left untouched in recent months because of uncertainty about the result of the American election—and, more so, the difficulty of getting coherent American attention devoted to these problems while the election was proceeding. But President Reagan's re-election removes all excuse for continuing to ignore these clamant problems. I shall try to deal shortly, inevitably, with each of them in turn, starting with the arms race.

What worries many of us most is that both sides—the Russians and the Americans—are now deploying new weapons which will greatly increase the risk of war and make arms control much more difficult. Cruise missiles capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads are being deployed by the Russians and by the United States, and both sides are deploying missiles whose flight time is so rapid that the reaction to the first information that they have been fired will have to be taken by computers and not by political decision. The SS22s in East Germany and Czechoslovakia could hit the cruise bases at Molesworth and Greenham common just three minutes after we first knew that they were on their way.

On top of this, the United States Administration have decided to try to deploy an anti-satellite system in outer space and to develop the so-called "star wars" system of defence against ballistic missiles. If these two developments came to fruition, they would threaten the whole basis of stability on which the nuclear balance has lasted for the last 30 years. At this moment, NATO Governments are considering proposals to shift NATO strategy towards deep strike into eastern Europe and western Russia. If it were adopted, that strategy again would be bound to be met by a Soviet strategy involving deep strikes against western Europe and the United Kingdom.

The extraordinary feature to ordinary people is that this new development in the arms race on both sides is taking place at a time when leading scientists, both in the Soviet Union and in Europe and the United States, have come to the conclusion that if either side were ever to explode even a fraction of its existing nuclear arsenals in war there would be a danger of creating so much soot in the upper atmosphere as to blot out the sun for months. It would be condemning its own people to a lingering death in conditions of arctic night and it is even possible that all human life and plant life in the northern hemisphere would come to an end.

Yet Her Majesty's Government not only ignore these findings; they actually attack them, as the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram), did the other day, as a
"blatant propaganda exercise deliberately seeking to mislead people about civil defence."
I can think of no more damaging and inadequate response to this new finding than that, and I hope that the Minister of State will totally disavow the extraordinarily inadequate and damaging reaction of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland.

The United States Administration are at least taking those findings seriously. They are to spend $50 million over the next five years in examining the concept of nuclear winter in more detail, and they will undoubtedly make changes in their policy, not only on civil defence but on strategy, in consequence of that examination. I am sorry that the Foreign Secretary made no reference to that new development.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman off course by 180 degrees on the question of deep strike into Warsaw pact countries? The whole purpose of SACEUR strategy and the follow-on forces interdiction strategy is to raise the nuclear threshold, with precision munitions of a conventional kind to check the follow-through — the second echelon. As far as the strategic defence initiative and ballistic missile defence are concerned, the whole purpose of the investigation being conducted by the United States Administration is to make a pre-emptive nuclear strike incredible. The possibility of a nuclear night, the awesome apocalypse of which the right hon. Gentleman has given us a dreadful description, should be diminished rather than enhanced by such developments.

I wish that I was as innocent as the hon. Gentleman. The fact is that SACEUR has presented the follow-on forces concept as related to the air-land battle strategy of the United States army, which envisages the use of chemical and nuclear weapons for deep strike as well as the use of conventional weapons. One of the problems of the emerging technology weapons is that they are dual-capable and that there is therefore a great risk that, even if they were used in the conventional mode, the enemy could not afford to assume that they were not carrying nuclear warheads. That strategy would therefore greatly increase the possibility of war. I am glad to see from the hon. Gentleman's nods that he secretly agrees with me.

On the point about "star wars", the trouble is that what the United States may see—if it works—as something enabling it to prevent a Soviet pre-emptive strike may appear to the Russians to be preparation for an American first strike by guaranteeing the invulnerability of the rest of American forces to Soviet retaliation. The hon. Gentleman must accept that many people involved in defence over the past 30 years on both sides of the Atlantic have that misgiving about the "star wars" strategy. I am glad to see that, even if the hon. Gentleman is not nodding, he is looking thoughtful. That is progress.

The one encouraging development since the American election is the fact that there is some evidence that President Reagan is genuinely seeking to reach an agreement on arms control or disarmament with the Soviet Union. However, I believe that he probably genuinely wanted agreement last time he was in office, but was prevented by bureaucratic in-fighting between the White House, the State Department, the Arms Control and Development Agency and the Department of Defence from producing a coherent approach to the problems of arms control which had the slightest chance of getting to first base. In the coming days, we shall all watch anxiously for any changes of personnel—or, indeed, structure—in the American President's approach to arms control in his second term which will give a better chance of success.

Europe cannot afford to wait until the United States has sorted out its familiar bureaucratic muddles. I was pleased by one suggestion apparently made by the Foreign Secretary. I hope that I did not misunderstand him. Searching in the bran tub of his woolly rhetoric for the nuggets of meaning is sometimes a tiring and exhausting job. However, the Foreign Secretary seems to suggest that Britain should lead the way in this area. I strongly agree with him on that point. Under Prime Ministers of both parties — Lord Stockton and Lord Wilson — British Governments have taken initiatives which in the end were accepted by the United States and led to agreement with the Soviet Union. The Opposition greatly welcome the Government's invitation to Mr. Gorbachev to visit this country next month. However, what policies are we to put forward, and what initiative do we propose to break the existing deadlock?

The Foreign Secretary referred to Mr. Shultz' s admirable sentiments in a recent speech in Los Angeles, but more than two months have passed since, on 2 September, Mr. Chernenko put four proposals to the Western powers, the acceptance of any one of which, he said, could break the deadlock and lead to the resumption of general negotiations on disarmament. His first proposal was an agreement to stop the militarisation of outer space. His second was for a mutual freeze on the development and deployment of nuclear weapons. Third, he suggested that America should follow Russia's unilateral pledge not to use nuclear weapons first. Fourth, he proposed ratification of the test ban treaties negotiated in 1974 and 1976. What is more, Mr. Chernenko make it explicity clear in that interview that Russia was no longer insisting on the removal of existing American missiles from Europe before the talks began.

Now that the American election is over, that shift in the Soviet position requires an immediate response from the West. I hope that the Government are arguing to the United States that we should immediately accept a ratification of the two test ban treaties, and that we would be prepared for at least a moratorium for a period of months—which I understand is under consideration in Washington—on the testing of anti-satellite weapons. The Russians have put forward concrete proposals which represent an important shift in the position which they held as recently as last summer, and a Western response is required. Provided that we can get the process started, there is a strong case — it appears to be under consideration in Washington—for merging the strategic arms reduction talks and the intermediate nuclear force negotiations.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman made some points about unilateral action proposed by my party. What we have proposed is that he should agree now to include the existing British nuclear forces in the arms talks. How can he justify unilaterally keeping the British nuclear weapons out of the talks about disarmament—whether in the European context of the INF talks, or in the START context—when he knows as well as I do that SALT I and SALT II, which he claims to support, tacitly took account of the size of the British and French nuclear forces?

How can the right hon. and learned Gentleman twit us with unilateralism when he proposed unilaterally to increase the striking power of the British deterrent by a factor of at least six? The right hon. and learned Gentleman has not yet told us how many warheads on the D5 missile he plans to order for his proposed Trident force. He should now listen to what is being said by representatives of the services through the Ministry of Defence, and by many of his own Back Benchers, about the undesirability of proceeding with the highly expensive, highly dangerous and untested Trident programme, and agree that henceforward he will put all Britain's strategic nuclear weapons into the arms talks. There is no question but that the refusal of the British and French Governments to do so during the INF talks was one major cause of their breakdown.

Does the right hon. Gentleman have any problem with the attitude of the Socialist Government in France on this matter? President Mitterrand is pledged to increase the effectiveness of France's independent force because he believes, from a Socialist point of view, that that is the best way in which to talk peace.

I disagree with the president of France, and I told him so when the leader of my party and I met him a fortnight ago. I believe that French defence policy is reaching the point at which its internal contradictions will require some painful choices. I am glad to say that I shall be chairing a discussion between French and British defence experts at Avignon in a few weeks' time.

I think that the Foreign Secretary will agree that progress on disarmament is bound to be limited unless there is also progress on some of the political issues that divide the Soviet Union from the West. I agree with him —again, if I read his code correctly—that the middle east is probably the best area to start. It seems that the United States and the Soviet Union have reached some understanding about how to handle the dangers of the war in the Gulf. Indeed, we have the astonishing spectacle of the United States and the Soviet Union as co-belligerants with Iraq, one of the partners in the Gulf war, to ensure that Iran does not win. I do not ask the Foreign Secretary to comment on these delicate matters, although I see from the smile that is playing around his benign features that he might go some way towards agreeing with me about the irony of that situation.

Is it not time for Washington and Moscow to resume the discussions that started seven or eight years ago between Mr. Vance and Mr. Gromyko on limiting arms supplies generally to the middle east and other areas of tension? Those discussions were broken off in 1977 for a variety of reasons. It would appear that there is an overwhelming case for resuming them now and I do not believe that any western country has derived any long-term benefits by selling arms widely to both sides in the middle east war. Earlier this year, we had the extraordinary spectacle of the West looking like losing a large part of its oil supplies because French Super Etendard aircraft launched French Exocet missiles against tankers in the Gulf. The response to that would be the mining of the Gulf by Iran with French mines dropped by French torpedo boats. The time has come for a serious attemptt to limit arms supplies in the middle east and other parts of the world.

In central America, an essential part of the Contadora process, which the Foreign Secretary endorsed, is the cessation of arms supplies to countries in the area. The same is true for the subcontinent. There is no doubt that America's decision to rearm Pakistan since the Russians invaded Afghanistan has led to an Indian response that is creating a new arms race on the subcontinent. The consequences of that could be especially dangerous after the murder of Mrs. Gandhi and in view of the difficulty that India now faces.

Perhaps I might make a philosophical comment about the middle east. It seems that the lesson of post-war western policy in the middle east is that no external power makes long-term gains by unilateral intervention. Britain and France learned that in 1956 and the United States has learned it repeatedly, most notably in the Lebanon. I recall that possibly our most distinguished post-war ambassador in the middle east, Sir Humphrey Trevelyan, prefaced his book on his experience with a couplet from Hilaire Belloc which ran:
"Decisive action in the hour of need,

Denotes the hero but does not succeed."
We, the French and the Americans have learned that and the middle east powers have found it well-nigh impossible to exercise lasting influence outside their countries. Egypt twice tried to make a permanent constitutional link with Syria and failed. Syria is no more able to control what happens between the warring parties in the Lebanon than was Israel, Britain or France before her. In those circumstances, the most sensible thing is for the external powers at least to try to agree not to intervene against each other's interests and to try to create a framework in which the internal problems are less dangerous to world stability. It is not possible to achieve stability in the middle east unless the Soviet Government is involved in the process. We have already learnt that in the Gulf. I believe that the same will prove equally true in the Lebanon and in the search for an Israeli-Arab solution.

The Foreign Secretary visited Israel and the Lebanon recently. I think that he agrees that an Israeli withdrawal is likely to require an effective UNIFIL presence which is substantially larger than that which exists at the moment, and possibly a somewhat expanded mandate. The Foreign Secretary knows as well as I do that that will require Soviet agreement in the Security Council. Every Arab country now agrees that Russia should be involved, as does every European country, except President Mubarak and the Foreign Secretary who have adopted the advice of that great Algerian holy man, St. Augustine:
"Give me chastity and continency—but not yet."
I think that the Foreign Secretary said in a recent speech that Russia should be involved but that the time for that has not yet come. If I read the right hon. and learned Gentleman's code wrongly, perhaps he will answer.

I would not want the right hon. Gentleman to be under any misunderstanding. It is plainly sensible for Russia to be involved in the sense of participating in discussions on issues such as the Gulf war and the future of UNIFIL. It is clearly desirable for such regional issues to be the subject of discussion by the superpowers and more widely. I have discussed these subjects with Mr. Gromyko because of the practical reason that the right hon. Gentleman gave in regard to UNIFIL, for example. The only difference between us concerns the comparable role of a conference along the lines proposed by the Soviet Union. I do not begin to doubt the need for discussion and consultation.

I am immensely grateful to the Foreign Secretary for making that clear—it was not quite so clear from his speech of about one month ago. I do not believe that it is possible to make progress without involving the Soviet Union. Everyone must accept that.

As to the Arab-Israeli conflict, I agree with the Foreign Secretary that it is desperately desirable that we try to reach a long-term settlement. However, he must agree that there can be no settlement unless the United States is prepared to use its influence with Israel to get its participation in a settlement. President Reagan's last proposal was rejected out of hand by the Israeli Government. It is worth remembering that the only American President who has used American influence in this sense was another Republican just after an election in 1952. President Eisenhower used his influence and prevented the Israelis from diverting the Jordan river from surrounding Arab countries. There will be no progress on Israel unless President Reagan is prepared to follow that precedent.

There is some sign of progress in Africa. It seems possible that Cuba might be prepared to withdraw its troops from the Horn and from Angola. In the latter case, the last excuse for South Africa's holding up an agreement on Namibia will have disappeared. I must confess that the Government have not commanded much confidence in regard to the robustness of their approach to South Africa on these issues. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who returns from Poland today, has been following a policy of doormat diplomacy with Mr. Botha. That is highly regrettable.

What specific action will the Government take against the South African Government to illustrate their displeasure at the South African Government's breaking of a solemn promise by not returning the Coventry four to face trial? South Africans are used to rough words. The favourite nursery rhyme of South African mothers is:
"Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me."
The South African Government broke a solemn obligation, and the British Government threatened to take specific action about it. We want to know what that action is.

Regarding the three Indians who remain in our consulate in Durban, I was glad to hear the Foreign Secretary say that he regarded humanitarian considerations as paramount. I understand that they are still prevented from seeing their lawyers, although the lawyers were recently informed that they now have leave to appeal to the Supreme Court in Bloemfontein. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will assure us that the Government are prepared to allow the lawyers of those men to visit them to receive instructions for that possible appeal.

Many hon. Members are greatly worried about central America. Talks have recently begun between Mr. Duarte and Mr. Ungo, which offer at least a chance of ending the disastrous civil war in El Salvador. Elections were held in Nicaragua, which were regarded by all the British hon. Members who attended them, including the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby), all 400 American unofficial observers who attended them and by the French Foreign Secretary, as free and fair. Criticisms can and have justifiably been made about the attitude of the regime earlier in the summer, but the regime was undoubtedly prepared, if necessary, to delay the elections until January. Mr. Arce told Dr. Cruz that at a meeting in Rio a month ago.

All observers on the spot and all British correspondents, such as those for the Financial Times, The Guardian and The Times, agreed that the support received for the Sandinista Government represented the overwhelming view of the people of Nicaragua. It is worth reminding ourselves that President Reagan in his magnificent triumph in the United States won only 30 per cent. of the total electorate. He got 60 per cent. of a 50 per cent. poll. By contrast, in Nicaragua Mr. Ortega got more than 50 per cent. of the total electorate—nearly 70 per cent. of an 82 per cent. poll. If the Government really believe in self-determination and the sovereignity of independent states, they must note those facts and insist that the United States also notes them.

I deeply regret that the Government have not joined their European partners in speaking out against recent American intervention in Nicaragua. The United States Administration have violated the ruling of the International Court of Human Rights, which was made in the Hague in June, by mining the harbours in Nicaragua. They have violated the United Nations charter and the treaties of the Organisation of American States.

During the election campaign, President Reagan encouraged the recruitment of volunteers to fight with the Somozista forces. That is a violation of America's own Neutrality Act. He allowed the publication of a CIA manual—it makes the Mafia look like a vicarage tea party — which is a guide to terrorists about how to employ criminals to murder people who stand in the way of the success of terrorism. The Gracious Speech commits the Government to fighting terrorism, and, according to the Foreign Secretary, we are supported by other Governments in that. What representations has he made to the United States' Government about the publication of the Central Intelligence Agency manual? I am prepared to give way if he wishes to answer that now. I see that he is writing furiously. When the Minister replies he may, or may not, give us an answer.

Many hon. Members will remember how, in the aftermath of an earlier American election, the CIA bounced the new President into a disastrous foray against Cuba—the Bay of Pigs affair. In recent days, it appears that something similar is happening in the United States. If the Foreign Secretary cares that European public opinion should support the alliance with the United States, as I do, it is his duty to intervene now and to warn the United States' Government how Europe would regard a third invasion by American troops of Nicaragua since the first world war.

Nicaragua has the same rights to self-determination and sovereignty as the Falkland Islands or any other part of that great sub-continent. One of the dangers that lies behind the risk of an American intervention is its effect on public opinion in Latin America. There is strong anti-Yankee feeling there now, not least because most countries' living standards have been depressed to pay off debts to American banks, which were often incurred by earlier regimes. That is true of Argentina. The debt burden continues to grow. The strain on the banks has greatly reduced banking confidence and has led to the nationalisation by a British Conservative Government of a bank in Britain and by an American Conservative Government of a bank in the United States. Defaults have already begun. Some months ago Bolivia announced that it would not service its debts, and Peru appears to be on the point of doing so now. None of the Governments or banks dares describe what is happening because it would affect their balance sheets, but plainly defaults have begun. If America took military action against Nicaragua, the tidal wave of anti-Yankee feeling in Latin America could lead to a chain reaction of defaults and, indeed, to the fall of many Latin American Governments.

The ultimate threat is not to western banks. It is already clear that western banks that are in trouble will be nationalised and that Governments will print the money to pay for their nationalisation. Indeed, Mr. Leutwiler, the chairman of the Bank for International Settlements, invited them to do that at the last meeting. The consequences for the Third world of the loss of access to credit could be disastrous. The best proof of that is what is happening now in Africa.

I shall conclude with the implications of the famine in Ethiopia, which will be dealt with in greater detail later. We must accept that the Ethiopian famine is only the best dramatised case of a famine that is probably equally severe in Chad and Bangladesh, and which cuts a great swathe across Africa, south of the Sahara from the Sudan to Senegal. I read in the Daily Telegraph yesterday that Germany and France have given four times as much cereal aid and Holland, with its tiny population, five times as much aid as Britain has. I should like the Minister responsible for aid to tell the House whether he agrees with those figures.

In recent years, the West has undoubtedly shown a callous cruelty to the growing problem of starvation in the Third world. The World Bank, led by one of the most Conservative American bankers, Tom Clausen, told the assembled Finance Ministers at the International Monetary Fund World Bank meeting two months ago that unless it got $2 billion immediately, the spectre of disaster would appear throughout Africa south of the Sahara. He was turned down flat by the United Kingdom, the German Government and the American Government. What is now happening in Africa is a direct result of that failure to respond to an urgent demand by the World Bank. Even after we had seen those tragic pictures of famine in Ethiopia on our television screens, the British representative at a meeting of the International Fund for Agricultural Development refused to contribute any money to keep it going because of an arcane bureaucratic wrangle between OPEC and the Western powers.

That is just not good enough. The other day one of the world's leading figures said this:
"This poor south will judge the rich north. And the poor people and poor nations—poor in different ways, not only lacking food but also deprived of freedom and other human rights—will judge those people who take away these goods from them, amassing to themselves the imperialistic monopoly of economic and political supremacy at the expense of others."
That was not Mr. Chernenko speaking; it was His Holiness the Pope speaking during his tour of Canada just before the IMF meetings.

I hope that that will open the eyes of Government and bureaucracy to the urgency of the problem. I do not deny that the problems are overwhelmingly difficult and complex. As Lord Cameron wrote in The Times, there is an urgent need to set up permanent contingency arrangements for emergency action in cases of extreme tragedy, such as that in Ethiopia. We must hold massive stocks of food on the spot in areas likely to be subject to famine. We know that those stocks exist; they have been maintained at enormous cost by members of the European Community. There is a crying need for agricultural development, and there is a crying need to give the countries where climate, or the poverty of the land, offer no prospect of them feeding themselves, the means to earn money with which to buy the food that they need.

I do not wish to dwell further on the past, but I would say this to the Foreign Secretary—I said it to him in a letter a week ago. In January, the Government offered $200 million to a special IDA fund — the soft loan agency of the World Bank. It was not taken up because other countries refused to match the offer. Will the Government tell us today that they are now prepared to offer that $200 million to the International Fund for Agricultural Development, because that at least would do something to reassure us that they are taking the problem seriously?

I must ask the Foreign Secretary about what happened in the Cabinet meeting yesterday. There are reports that the Chancellor of the Exchequer succeeded in persuading the Cabinet to cut the aid budget, which has already been cut under this Government from 0·5 per cent. of our GDP to one third of 1 per cent. If those reports are true, they will expose all the Government's talk during the past fortnight as odious and cruel hypocrisy. I hope that the Minister will tell us about this when he replies.

The famine in Ethiopia has done much not only to wake the conscience of the world but to make the world aware of the realities of the appalling gap in wealth between north and south. Nothing would do more to restore confidence in the political process in the western world than a major effort by all western Governments to attack those problems at their source, and to offer a joint campaign of attack to the Governments of the Communist countries. Co-operation in this area, offered by the West, would do more than anything else to create a climate in which our other problems could be solved.

During the coming Session we shall judge the Government's performance against the words spoken by the Foreign Secretary this morning. If they fall short in any of the ways that I mentioned, we shall be merciless in opposing them.

10.55 am

I rise in some trepidation after the peroration of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). It is always a pleasure to follow him in debates, and one always enjoys his speeches although one might not always agree with everything that he says. I follow him in this spirit at least; in foreign affairs debates the tradition is and should remain that there is more opportunity for agreement across the Floor of the House than there is in some other subjects that the House must address.

Another reason why I am grateful for being called early in the debate is that it is often difficult for Back-Bench Members, who must sit through foreign affairs debates as the evenings wear on, to select subjects for discussion that their colleagues have not already covered at least three times. I have often waited during debates prepared for at least three subjects for discussion, in various stages of array and disarray. At least on this occasion I can address what I consider to be the most important subject. A tour du monde does not come as well from the Back Benches as it does from the Front Benches, so it is better for us to select one subject. I wish to talk about East-West relations, which are crucially important, and I shall also refer to the recent presidential election in the United States.

Now is the time for progress in East-West relations, and I feel strongly that if we fail now, the damage could be irreparable. I hope that I am not alone in recognising an increasingly relevant role for the United Kingdom in the important progress towards disarmament and world peace. The matter is also crucial because of the recent background, which is not the happiest part of the story. In recent years, there has been far too much cheap Soviet-bashing, sometimes to get easy applause, in too many Western countries, and I fear that we could relapse into the sad state of affairs from which we have all too recently, thank goodness, escaped.

The subject is crucial because of President Reagan's big win in the presidential election. Much now depends on who is appointed to key positions in the White House and elsewhere. I attended the Republican convention, and I can say I am relieved that the size of the President's victory was not repeated in Congress. That is a healthy sign. Although it is not for us to intervene in such matters, perhaps America could do without Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I say that with some knowledge of what his Senate colleagues think about the matter. Happily, to fulfil his pledge in North Carolina, the Senator will, it is to be hoped, remain as chairman of the agriculture Committee.

The Soviets want to talk and want progress, because, although the economics of the arms race may be too much for us, defence takes a crucial proportion of the Soviet budget and hinders their aspirations for the future. However, we should never under-estimate their basic patriotism and determination in the face of their vast loss —much greater than ours—in the second world war. When one visits Russia, one is blind if one does not encounter it, and we should recognise the fact.

It is crucial also to remember that hawks on one side breed all too many hawks on the other. That is what I mean when I say that if we fail now the damage could be irreparable in terms of future possibilities and progress.

We must recognise some of the obstacles to progress in the recent past. One such obstacle is the way in which we tend to talk to each other. That was summed up by Lord Carrington, a knowledgeable and experienced former Foreign Secretary, as megaphone diplomacy. An example is the "Kingdom of Evil" speech—it must be said, now retracted by President Reagan. Such terms are no better than the Soviet Union referring to the President as Hitler. We must avoid descending to that level in international dialogue. That avoidance must be permanent rather than temporary.

We must be thankful that there has been a change in the dialogue between East and West and perhaps the change is not unrelated to the views of the western electorate—

It being Eleven o'clock, MR. SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 5 (Friday sittings).

Business Of The House

With permission, I shall make a short statement about the business for next week.

Following discussions through the usual channels, the business for Friday 16 November will now be as follows: Second Readings of the Friendly Societies Bill and of the Mineral Workings Bill.

Will my right hon. Friend say when the Second Reading of the New Towns and Urban Development Bill is likely to be taken? It seems to have been lost in the changed order of business.

Nothing is lost. The Second Reading of the New Towns and Urban Development Bill has merely been deferred.

Foreign Affairs And Overseas Development

Question again proposed.

11.2 am

I am flattered, Mr. Speaker, to be called so quickly to resume my speech. I was relaxing in my place and imagining that I could take a proper intermission.

I was dealing with megaphone diplomacy and the happy change that has been made to that approach. The process of change was started by President Reagan seeing the Soviet Union's Foreign Minister, Mr. Gromyko, slightly over a month ago. However, it is somewhat extraordinary that in the four years of the President's term of office there was no high-level contact between super-powers. The change in that state of affairs is to be welcomed.

There is a valid role for Britain because our part in the process of change is much more advanced than that of the United States. The Prime Minister's visit to Hungary was welcomed on both sides of the House, as was my right hon. and learned Friend's visit to Moscow. There is an increasing number of senior Soviets coming to Britain to visit our Parliament and Government. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East mentioned the visit of Mr. Gorbachev. The right hon. Gentleman must forgive me for being slightly sensitive when I say that I think that he let the House down by saying that Mr. Gorbachev was coming at the Government's invitation. In fact, he is coming at the invitation of Parliament and of Mr. Speaker. It is a visit that the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which represents all parties, has worked on consistently in recent years. The invitation to Mr. Gorbachev and a delegation was aided and abetted by the Select Committee in Foreign Affairs, whose members come from both sides of the House.

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, who is, of course, right. However, Mr. Gorbachev would not have accepted the invitation if the Government had not agreed to receive him.

I happen to know that the right hon. Gentleman is precisely correct. However, the more important point is that Members of this place, acting in a parliamentary rather than a governmental capacity, have a constructive role to play. A purely governmental visit is expected by Mr. Gromyko, which should be welcomed by both sides of the House. We have a role to play and I hope that it will be a continuing one. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has already been to Moscow and I hope that that will lead to an eventual summit, with a visit by the Prime Minister to Moscow.

There has been a mutual lack of understanding between East and West of their different systems. That is not unimportant from the Soviet side. However much they affect an understanding of western democracy, there has been a slight failure on their part to appreciate the rapidity of democratic change. Whatever their experience, they tend to stand bemused when Congressmen go to the electorate every two years and when Presidents face the electorate every four years.

The blessing of this election is that there is not a pause of months following a change in the Administration. There is no pause for months on end while thousands of appointments are made. There is no repeat of the marking time on SALT II, the law of the sea and everything else upon which the Americans, Russians and others have been working for a long time. The Soviets are slightly bemused about this but the plus point of the recent election is that progress will continue. It is to be hoped that the seeds have been sown by the Americans, in meeting Mr. Gromyko, for a constructive future. One of the President's earliest pronouncements has been a call for umbrella talks. That must be followed up with great determination if they are to be achieved. It is significant that that is one of the first things that he has said following his re-election.

It is all too easy for the West to be tempted into engaging in too primitive a dialogue with the Soviet Union. That is something that I have always deplored. Dialogue with and attitudes towards the Soviet Union should not always be regarded as a super-power confrontation. When trying to reach policy decisions there is a tendency on the part of far too many to see reds under every bed. I do not address that comment solely to our American friends. All too many western leaders have expressed themselves in that rather primitive way in recent years. It is too easy to do that and it should be recognised that the issues are much more complicated. That approach can go beyond words into actions.

Both sides of the House are concerned about what is happening in central America, which is the United States' backyard. We have only a limited opportunity to exercise any control over what is happening. However, we can maintain an influence, as in other parts of the world, and express our views. There is a terrible danger that an escalation, if that is not too basic a term, could upset the applecart of East-West negotiations and progress towards disarmament, which in the view of many of us is all-important. That progress is certainly more important than the somewhat smaller issues that occur in central America.

I think that it is the view of many that those who have a primitive outlook on East-West confrontation always pay too little attention to local circumstances and events that are actually taking place. That applies to shells from the New Jersey pounding into the Chouf mountains as much as to the events that are taking place in and around Nicaragua.

We must accept realities. The Soviets are here to stay. We must accept their concentration on the system and policy rather than the man. We must accept their capacity to change leaders because of the concentration on policy rather than the man. We must accept also their lack of flexibility. Anyone who has dealt with them, even in a humble way — I have done so myself — finds it a somewhat frustrating experience. They do not have the most flexible system in the world. Their inactivity is sometimes so masterly that events can pass them by altogether. Democracy is more transient in its nature and our changes should be taken advantage of by them as much as we should appreciate what is going on within the Soviet Union. If we call the Soviets everything in the book, it stands to reason that they are human and will react. They will be suspicious of sudden changes of heart. We must work hard to achieve good and normal relations with the Soviet Union with a view to all-important disarmament talks.

Good and normal relations do not always constitute super-power stuff. They need not all relate to disarmament and governmental contact. There has to be a wider dialogue that is social, cultural and personal. That dialogue must extend right across the board. In the recent past, the dialogue has concentrated, for those engaged in it and for observers, on super-power contact and macro issues. The danger here is that distrust is heightened if something goes wrong. A wider approach is more absolute and gives a greater depth to superpower contact between East and West. There are many organisations in Britain that work extremely hard to maintain basic contact with the Soviet Union and the Great Britain USSR Association deserves the tribute of the House. It ensured that basic contact was maintained while the going was difficult and bleak. It has a limited budget, yet it has done a superb job in soldiering on in bad times.

The society was responsible for the first parliamentary delegation after Afghanistan comprising Members of Parliament, although not officially representing the House. In 1981 I participated in that delegation. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Sir J. Osborn), who is the chairman of the Soviet group, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) and Lord Bottomley, who was a Member of this House, were all members of that delegation. There is a role for us to play. The House will forgive me mentioning here the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which I head. Through it, many individual hon. Members have played a considerable role in maintaining bridges when things were chilly because of Government actions.

We must work towards an atmosphere of less rivalry and more co-operation. The changes in the American Administration are crucial, because a climate of confidence must be created. That climate can be created only by avoiding competition and confrontation. That point applies to both the Russians and the Americans, because each tends to provoke the other. In recent years we have seen the way in which that provocation has descended. Now that we are on the way up, we must be conscious of all those factors. What happens in Latin America, the middle east and everywhere else is all important. As confrontation boils up, disarmament and world peace, which are all important to all of us, become more difficult to achieve and our confidence in our ability to achieve world peace is lessened. In recent years the Russians and the Americans have shown a lack of confidence in each other.

The right hon. Member for Leeds, East said that we need to create a better dialogue on the middle east. I was relieved that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said that we are at least approaching a meaningful dialogue with the Soviet Union on such matters as the middle east. It is apparent to all of us that there cannot be, for example, United Nations' action in the Lebanon or other areas where such action is relevant without the participation and approval of the Soviet Union in the Security Council. I am not alone in suggesting to the House that there will be no solution to middle east problems until the Soviet Union is involved to a greater extent. The matter is as simple as that, and it is up to our American friends and allies to appreciate it. If the Soviet Union is generally more involved, we shall create the climate for high-level dialogue and for successful disarmament talks. This matter is all-important, and deserves the attention of the entire House and the whole of the West and the East. We must succeed in getting those talks off the ground and those talks must be successful. Electorates in Britain and elsewhere will not tolerate our delay and our failure in this matter.

11.13 am

I congratulate the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) on his extremely constructive and positive speech. The hon. Gentleman rightly said that foreign affairs debates, as opposed to those on domestic issues, offer a far better opportunity for cross-party agreement. The hon. Gentleman is not, however, right in applauding that, because at the end of the day, when looking at international political matters, nationalism takes over. Whether one is a Conservative, a Socialist or even a Liberal, it becomes more important to talk about the national interest than about the political solution. I hope that we shall move slowly away from that view.

As the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) rightly pointed out, foreign affairs debates cover a wide area. I make one request to the Government Front Bench. Ministers who respond to foreign affairs debates must face up to a multitude of questions covering a wide area. Normally they do so by ignoring the fact that those questions were put. Previously, there was a custom whereby a Minister who ran out of time — possibly because of the development of some particularly effective peroration—would arrange for letters to be written to the hon. Member who asked the questions. I believe that that good custom should be revived.

The Minister is shaking his head in a slightly deprecatory way. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that my experience during the last three foreign affairs debates is that that custom needs reviving.

I echo everything that was said by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East and others about the death of Indira Gandhi. Her death was a tragedy, and it has led to a ghastly series of riots and murders. We hope that the situation will become calm and that her son will effectively restore order to a great democracy.

We should properly congratulate President Reagan on his success. I must admit that I am not an admirer of the President, but the fact is that this old warrior has a better opportunity than any American President for a long time to make a positive contribution towards solving problems in a wide area—east and west, the middle east and central America—and I hope that he will do so.

The right hon. Member for Leeds, East congratulated the Foreign Secretary again on his actions on Hong Kong, and I suppose that I should do so as well. What is important is not only the success in Hong Kong, but the development of a better relationship with China. We do not often talk about China in these debates, but I believe that we shall have to discuss it more frequently in the years to come.

I agree entirely with what the right hon. Member for Leeds, East said about Nicaragua. I draw the attention of the Foreign Secretary to the speech made on Wednesday in the other place by the Social Democrat, Lord Kennet. The noble Lord had just returned from attending the Nicaraguan elections. Among other things, he said that he considered that those elections had been conducted fairly, that the results were perfectly proper and that, although there had been disturbances in advance of the elections —the Foreign Secretary referred to them—they were not extraordinary or such as to devalue the result of the elections.

The right hon. Member for Leeds, East asked about our response to South Africa's failure to yield the four people who were involved in arms dealing. The right hon. Gentleman asked what would be done. We should ask also: when will something be done? The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office—the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) — said that something was going to be done. He said the the court had requested that those people be returned to this country and that we were waiting. My simple question is: how long will we wait?

I confess that I am extremely depressed about the European Community. At the end of October, an excellent letter was printed in The Times. I shall quote a chunk of the letter because it put succinctly and well the things I believe and the actions that should commend themselves to the Government. The letter states:
"Europe lacks sufficient monetary integration to provide a means of defence against American interest rates and the Japanese exchange rate".
We are still not in the European monetary fund. The letter goes on:
"it continues to duplicate costly research programmes; it is failing to produce information technology on a scale that can compete; it has proved incapable of taking measures that would constitute a defence against the effects of disruption in the international oil market.
After 25 years of common market it has not even eliminated technical barriers to internal trade".
The Minister would agree, but he would focus on just that and ignore the other aspects. The letter continues:
"in terms of political influence it is still a dwarf when compared to the USA and the USSR, although its population and economic potential are as great.
This situation cannot be dissociated from the fact that it can take years of negotiations in the Council to set up a single research programme, such as ESPRIT, and that the management of existing Community policies is subject to the abuse of the veto even by minor officials from national ministries.
As President Mitterrand put it in his address to the European Parliament on May 26, 1984, 'How can such a complex and diversified unit as the Community has become be governed by the rules of the Diet of the old Kingdom of Poland, where every member could block the decisions? We all know where that led'."
That was a letter from Altiero Spinelli, a former Commissioner and a well known left-wing Italian politician. He was the originator of the proposal for a new treaty of European union. He expressed many wise words in that letter. Many people say that he is perhaps too idealistic, but he is pointing in the right direction.

One sentence in the letter following, from a Mr. J. Leech, summed up the position beautifully. He said:
"It is curious that those least in favour of effective European institutions … are also the harshest critics of their deficiencies, without ever being aware of the connection."
The Government have shown no evidence of wishing to improve the decision-making processes of the Community or its democratic base. France appears to be moving away from the Luxembourg compromise, and I wonder how the Government will respond to that. When President Mitterrand was here, he was interviewed by The Times. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East referred to the part of it dealing with defence. Apart from that, I agreed with almost all the rest of what President Mitterrand said. Indeed, I said to myself that I wished he could have been the British Prime Minister. As the Foreign Secretary quotes the President of France with approbation when he deals with defence, he should try to be consistent and consider the President's views on other matters.

I do not think there is any evidence that the Government are willing to accept any kind of effective Community budget. Back Benchers frequently refer to the Community overspending again, but what is the Community to do for Portugal when it becomes a member? It is said that the Government are pledged to Spain and Portugal coming into the Community on 1 January 1986, but we cannot do anything for Portugal unless there are sufficient resources in the regional and social funds.

The Government's attitude is succoured by that of the Labour Opposition, who remain staunchly critical of everything that the Community does. The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who is not here today, makes speech after speech in which he picks at every nit that he can find in the Community. He never says anything positive about what he sees in the Community.

I think that that attitude was to some extent reflected in the appointment of our Commissioners. Lord Cockfield is not known to me and he is not a leading light in Community matters. Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Stanley Clinton Davis. He has already shown a willingness to see members of other parties and to maintain contact, and that is admirable. But, as he frankly admitted, he is a long-standing opponent of the Community. I said to him, "If you can, try to set that attitude aside. Otherwise, how on earth can you expect the Community to work?" Obviously, the Community cannot work if a large proportion of its Commissioners are opposed to the very idea of it.

The Community is very important in matters of overseas aid. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East dealt with that aspect of things at some length, and in doing so covered most of my points.

The tragedy in Ethiopia has been continuing for a considerable time, yet it was partly because of the accidental descent on Ethiopia of a BBC television team, on its way north from South Africa, that the famine received the world attention that it has had in recent weeks. It is a long-standing problem that affects the whole sub-Saharan region.

I do not like attacking the Foreign Secretary. I regard him, as does the right hon. Member for Leeds, East, as a benign man. It is all very well for the Foreign Secretary to say that the problem is terribly important, but such problems are there all the time, and the Government's record is one of continually cutting aid to Third world countries.

Reference has been made to the Foreign Secretary's success in the Hong Kong negotiations. When I was there in September, I was told on many occasions of concern about the increase in overseas students' fees. That action has adversely affected Britain's standing in Malaysia, in India and in the east generally.

In The Scotsman of 8 November there was a very good letter from Stanley Budd, the European Commission's representative in Scotland. He said:
"The EEC owns no food. No cereals, no beef, no milk-powder, not even any butter. Surpluses belong to Governments … Many writers in the Press in recent days have offered a simple solution: 'Ship the EEC's food mountain to Africa.' They seem to believe that the Commission in Brussels has the power to commandeer granaries, the money to hire ships and aircraft, and the staff to implement the operation. In fact, of course, every penny of the Community's own resources has to be fought for against the inbuilt resistance of national treasuries."
In other words, it is the responsibility of our Government, the French Government and the German Government— not the responsibility of the Commission—that the food mountain exists. The Commission cannot be blamed for it.

The Government stand condemned for reducing overseas aid. In 1982–83, our contribution was 0·34 per cent. of GNP, compared with the old target—laid down in the United Nations resolution 2626 of 1970 —of 0·7 per cent. of GNP. Our contribution is only half that amount, and is getting smaller. The Government have made no attempt to enlighten public opinion on overseas aid. The cutting of the development education budget was in itself a significant act.

In the Gracious Speech, the hope is expressed that there will soon be a successful conclusion to the negotiations on the Lomé convention. What line are the Government taking on a renegotiatied Lomé convention?

I broadly agree with the Government's view on the middle east, and there is a fair degree of cross-party agreement, but the outlook is very depressing. At the beginning of September, I attended a seminar in Amman between representatives of Liberal International and the Arab Thought Forum, which is headed by Crown Prince Hassan, the brother of King Hussein. There is general agreement that the solution of the Palestinian problem lies only in some sort of state based on Gaza, on the west bank, but that objective becomes more and more difficult to attain.

There were 3,500 settlers on the west bank in 1977 when the Likud party came to power. There are now nearly 30,000. They are well integrated and it will be very difficult to secure their removal. In the end, it will be done only by United States pressure on Israel. My impression is that unless something positive happens over the next year or so, the moderates in the middle east—if I may call them that—will lose their power completely. If that happens there will probably be a succession of convulsions such as those that have taken place in the past in the Arab world, with dictatorships of the Left or of the Right emerging and endangering the oil supplies on which the West depends so greatly. The position is grave. We must put every possible pressure on the United States to take part in the Geneva conference that the Soviet Union has proposed, together with the King of Jordan and others. It would seem to be the most effective way forward.

With regard to East-West relations, all the indications are that the arms race will continue, that the United States will pursue "parity" as it calls it, and that the Soviet Union will respond by seeking to catch up with United States "superiority". I am not in sympathy with the USSR's form of government, but I believe that at the moment it can certainly be made to respond to an approach. I believe that the view of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East is correct.

The United Kingdom's contribution must be within the Atlantic Alliance. I do not believe in unilateral action. We must use all our influence with the United States of America. We should put Trident, if we have to have it—and I am not in favour of our having it, because I should prefer that Polaris be not replaced — into the negotiations, as the right hon. Gentleman said. There is no doubt that, in the previous negotiations, the Russians, said that if the French and British included their deterrent in the negotiations they would reduce the number of missiles that they were putting in place. The general arms sales point was well made by the right hon. Gentleman. The Vance-Gromyko talks have perhaps been long forgotten.

It is shameful that we fuel conflicts all over the world and receive money for that. We then flap our hands and say how terrible it is that all these Iranians are fighting these Iraqis, and that they must stop, but that does not stop the production of Exocets or trade.

We, as a country, have not yet adjusted or attuned ourselves to our European role. Our national disposition is to unilateral activity and to independence. In the end, that is politically Luddite. We see it in defence, in the European Community, and in overseas matters.

Our approach to overseas aid for the Third world has been profoundly inadequate. Brandt has been largely ignored and much of our behaviour, alas, has been thin and niggardly. I believe that we shall suffer from that. I believe that we could do much better in many areas.

11.31 am

I take as my text the four main sentences in the Gracious Speech which deal with security policy and arms control:

"My Government consider as their highest priority the maintenance of national security and the preservation of peace. They will accordingly continue to play an active part in the Atlantic Alliance.…
With the allies of the United Kingdom, my Government will contribute to arms control and disarmament negotiations and will work for the resumption of negotiations where these have been broken off. They will work continually for a greater atmosphere of trust between East and West."
Having the debate soon after the dramatic re-election of President Reagan and Vice President Bush, an event which has been widely applauded on both sides of the House, we should consider the implications of that reelection for the Alliance and defence and security policy as a whole. In this context, it is beholden or worthy of us to consider an aspect of security policy that is especially President Reagan's own—the strategic defence initiative and the issue of ballistic missile defence.

In a speech in Pittsburgh on 30 October, Secretary for Defence Caspar Weinberger brought home clearly to his and to the wider audience world wide the great importance which the United States Administration attach to evaluating the potential of ballistic missile defence. He said:
"The United States has a vision … of a peace secured by strategic defence that would enable us to defend against nuclear missiles by non-nuclear means … We do not seek new weapons that could wreak untold devastation on an aggressor; we do look to the day when we will be able … to destroy weapons in flight rather than people on the ground."
He continued:
"Finding a thoroughly reliable means of destroying Soviet nuclear missiles … is, perhaps, the most morally right … and most noble of the enterprises in which the United States is engaged. We cannot do this yet, but we have made very good progress."
That, of course, very much follows President Reagan's speech of 23 March 1983 which had the same moral tone.
"Would it not be better to save lives than to avenge them?",
the President asked.
"Are we not capable of demonstrating our peaceful intentions by applying all our abilities and our ingenuity to achieving a truly lasting stability? I think we are—indeed we must."
This is the important part:
"After careful consultation with my advisers, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I believe that there is a way. … It is that we embark on a programme to counter the awesome Soviet missile threat with measures that are defensive. Let us turn to the very strengths in technology that spawned our great industrial base. … I know this is a formidable technical task, one that may not be accomplished before the end of the century. Yet, current technology has attained a level of sophistication where it is reasonable for us to begin this effort."
The effort has begun. It is a sizeable effort, and it is one that will have cardinal importance to the evolution of Alliance strategy, the East-West balance and arms control during the remainder of the decade.

In the financial year 1985, $2 billion is being assigned to the strategic defence initiative to evaluate whether a space-based ballistic missile defence system is technically feasible. The totality of the programme, which will continue until financial year 1989, is of the order of some $25 billion.

We are all aware that many of the arguments on this subject are simplistic and emotional. Since Wernher von Braun and the Peenemünde team started developing the V2 rocket, and we had the construction thereafter of a succession of intercontinental ballistic missile systems, space technology has been used for military purposes. Its main use has been for offensive—potentially aggressive—military purposes. We are all aware that the outcome has been a system of deterrence, a balance of terror, that has, paradoxically, preserved the peace of the world; but it is an uneasy peace. It is a peace with which people are profoundly concerned. They do not believe that the proliferation of offensive systems and the building up of ever larger stockpiles of mass destruction are the way to secure stability and to bring about security.

In the 1950s, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence was evolved. We remember the days when there was a genuine and unchallenged "pax Americana" which was founded upon the overwhelming might of strategic air command. Strategic air command, with its B47s and later B52s, was able to ensure peace, and the Soviets, until the launching of the sputnik and until they developed their ICBM programme, were unable to challenge that American supremacy.

However, during the days when strategic air command ruled the skies unchallenged, and provided the ultimate nuclear guarantee which ensured the peace of the world and the security of western Europe, we all believed it sensible, reasonable and right that the western nuclear deterrent force should be guaranteed to some extent by an effective air defence. No one thought it unreasonable that our own independent nuclear deterrent should be defended by fighter command.

I do not see why, in doctrinal and philosophical terms, it should be wrong for the United States to use its dramatically developed technical capabilities to examine whether those capabilities could be harnessed to ensuring some measure of defence against ballistic missile attack.

The outcome of the strategic defence initiative will not be known until the end of the decade, so decisions do not have to be made by this United States Administration, but we can be certain that the re-elected Reagan Government will pursue the strategic defence initiative with great vigour. It is an initiative that has the President's personal imprimatur upon it. It is very much his own brainchild. It is an initiative formed by people of an ideological persuasion similar to his own, and it is an initiative which has the backing of the industrial enterprises that provide the heart of the United States' military industrial base.

Many writings have been developed to articulate the concept of ballistic missile defence. There are the writings of what is called the high frontier team— Lieutenant-General Danny Graham, former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Brigadier-General Richardson, and many others. The growing consensus is that such a defence would be feasible. The question is the time scale within which such a defence can be affected within reasonable bounds of cost.

The strategic defence initiative is being conducted within the context of a race between the superpowers to achieve dominance in the key space technologies. I refer the House to a pamphlet written by the Defence Intelligence Agency of the United States entitled "Soviet Military Space Doctrine". It is difficult for us to obtain information and facts upon which to make judgments in these subjects, but the consensus, if one reads the non-classified journals, is very much in line with the findings of this pamphlet. It says:
"The Soviet Armed Forces shall be provided with all resources necessary to attain and maintain military superiority in outer space sufficient both to deny the use of outer space to other states and to assure maximum space-based military support for Soviet offensive and defensive combat operations on land, at sea, in air and in outer space. Western analyses catalogue a continuous and in-depth Soviet drive to improve on its current military space capabilities and to develop new ones as technological breakthroughs are achieved."
The CIA has recently been hinting that the growth in Soviet military spending has not been quite as substantial as we had feared. There seems to have been some tailing off in their expenditure on conventional armaments. However, there has not been any fall in their expenditure on offensive nuclear delivery systems, inter-continental ballistic missiles, intermediate range missiles and submarine launched missiles. Nor has there been any tailing off in their development of military space technology. The Soviets' attitude to arms control makes this clear.

The Soviet Union was the first of the super-powers to deploy an operational anti-satellite weapons system. It is a rather crude system. Its efficacy is rated at approximately 50 per cent., but it is in service and it is deployed. That is the imperative that drives the United States to develop its own anti-satellite weapon system, launched from the F15 Eagle fighter aircraft.

The Soviets have been reluctant to come to the conference table to talk about arms control, particularly the control of offensive nuclear systems, so long as the United States has been developing its anti-satellite weapon. They have sought to make the halting of the United States development programme for its anti-satellite weapons system a precondition for coming to the talks. I can understand the Americans' determination not to give in to such blackmail and to wish to secure at least some parity with the Soviets in this sector. The United States has always said that its prime concern is to secure mutual, balanced and verifiable control of offensive systems. We hope that this process can be re-engaged now that there is a new United States Administration in office.

Where does all this leave Europe, and what should the attitude of Her Majesty's Government be? My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary referred to the meeting at Rome at the end of last month in which we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Paris protocols to the Brussels treaty—the process by which Germany and Italy were enabled to come into NATO, and the Western European Union in its present form was established.

At the Rome meeting, Her Majesty's Government undertook, along with the other six members of the WEU, to attend at ministerial level—that is, defence Minister and Foreign Minister level—biennial meetings of the WEU Council. The ministerial Council of the WEU could be used to formulate a European approach to the military implications of space technology and the consequences of related developments for the Alliance as a whole. There is no other body in a European context within which this can be done, as France does not participate in the Euro-group.

The WEU has two other advantages. First, it has a standing armaments committee that could be used to formulate the industrial strategy for the development of those space-based systems that Europe might need. President Mitterrand in his speech to The Hague spoke of creating a European space community, and the vision of the French Government is eventually for an autonomous European space station. A building block towards that would be participation, we hope, by the Europeans in the NASA space station. That is the vision of the French, and they comprehend the importance for deterrence and security of some European military capability in space. That is how the standing armaments committee should be used, particularly as the convention on the European Space Agency precludes ESA involving itself in any purely military space technologies, although in strategic and technical terms the capabilities which are developed jointly on our behalf by ESA have considerable implications.

The other aspect of WEU's advantage in this is that it has an arms control agency. Since the conventional arms limitations on the armed forces in the Federal Republic of Germany were lifted, much of the apparent raison d'etre for the arms control agency of the WEU has disappeared. However, European security policy would be enhanced if our electorates were convinced that there was a specialist body examining, on behalf of the key west European democracies—the countries of the WEU—the aspects of arms control that concern us in Europe.

Everybody has said that were ballistic missile defence to come to fruition, and were the strategic defence initiative to prove that such a defence was possible, the construction of an anti-ballistic missile system by the United States would somehow put western Europe at risk. There would be a global umbrella that would ensure the sanctity of the homelands of the two super powers and enable them to carry on their conflict in Europe underneath that overall umbrella. That argument is fallacious.

We have always been in the front line in western Europe and we shall continue to be so. I do not see that maintaining vulnerability and our deterrence posture on the premise of mutually assured destruction is the right or sane way to proceed. Apart from anything else, the danger of war by miscalculation or accident is enhanced if there is no effective defence against ballistic missiles. No one believes that there will be a 100 per cent. effective system. Even if each layer of the three-tier ballistic missile defence system that is envisaged—the boost phase, the orbital phase and the entry phase — had 10 per cent. ineffectiveness, taken together they would mean that only 0·1 per cent. of offensive missiles got through. We all know that calculation is hyperoptimistic and that a multiplicity of offensive systems can be developed. We are aware of the risk of decoys and other schemes that could be used to penetrate the defences. Nevertheless, it would still make a pre-emptive attack a less credible and much less sane policy. There would be virtually no possibility of taking out the adversary's retaliatory capability at source. Furthermore, the danger of war through miscalculation would be greatly diminished if an incoming missile could be destroyed after launch.

Therefore, we must give this strategic defence initiative our full support in Europe and concert our position towards these developments. I do not believe that this can be done on a purely national basis. The Government have rightly given full backing to the revivification—my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary referred to it as a relaunch—of the Western European Union. This is a way in which we can make sense of that relaunch and use that body, with all its organs—its ministerial Council, its standing armaments committee, its agency for the control of armaments and its parliamentary Assembly, which has an effect on national Parliaments and, theoretically, on public opinion — to make our electorates aware of what is going on so that people do not simply talk in emotive terms about "star wars" or make wild suggestions, as did the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), that it would be destabilising. It will not necessarily be destabilising. I should be much happier if a portion of our country's defence budget and that of NATO went to enhance defence rather than to maximise the killing potential of our offensive system.

I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will consider these matters seriously.

11.52 am

The hon. Members for Ruislip, Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) and for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) both referred to the re-election of President Reagan. Recent events in the United States will clearly have considerable influence on the matters being debated here today.

Having recently visited the United States, I welcome the view of the hon. Member for Leominster on the fact that the Republicans have not gained control of the House of Representatives. I also share his concern about the role of Mr. Jesse Helms, which I do not believe will be particularly helpful. The hon. Gentleman also referred to the Republican platform in the election. The Foreign Secretary must be greatly relieved that this House takes a very different and far more realistic view of the Hong Kong situation than do the Republicans, given the complex problem of that part of the world.

The world has changed considerably, even since our last debate on these matters and has become, as I believe we all acknowledge, a far more dangerous place to live in. I wish to make three major points following the interesting and thoughtful comments of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Johnston) about overseas development. First, however, I wish to deal with two other issues which I regard as important—the future of UNESCO and events relating to South Africa.

I am sorry that the Foreign Secretary did not find time to address himself to the subject of UNESCO as there is great concern about our future role in that organisation. I visited the UNESCO offices in New York three or four weeks ago—as it happened, on the very day on which the recent report, parts of which discredited UNESCO, was deliberately and very selectively leaked. Nevertheless, I believe that UNESCO, with all its faults, has been more sinned against than sinning. I understand that the Government are still considering their position. I hope that they will give some thought to the views of the non-aligned nations. The Financial Times recently suggested that the Prime Minister had not given much thought to the American position on this but would nevertheless follow the President's lead. I hope that that is not the case. On the contrary, I hope that the British Government will accept their role in UNESCO and recognise that in education, science and culture UNESCO plays a very important role as a United Nations agency. Although constructive criticism may be offered, not one shred of evidence of corruption actually emerged. I hope that the British Government will reaffirm our membership and encourage the United States to stay in membership, too.

On South Africa, I was encouraged by the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). I have received information today which leads me to ask some serious questions about the Government's policy in relation to South Africa. I understand from a branch circular issued by the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire branch of the National Association of Probation Officers that a Mrs. L. van der Heefen, a judge in the South African supreme court, visited an establishment of the Berkshire probation service last weekend accompanied by a senior Home Office official who, I understand, is an assistant chief inspector in the Home Office probation service branch. I understand that the NAPO branch has protested to the chief probation officer.

I am appalled that such a visit should have taken place. I am worried by its implications. Where else has that supreme court judge been and what other assistance has the Home Office provided? South African judges are the last people who should be welcomed in this country and given assistance by the Home Office.

Will the hon. Gentleman expand on that and tell us what categories of people he would like excluded from this country and on what basis, and why he is picking on this particular individual or category of individuals for what seems to be rather odd treatment?

It is for the Government to expand on the matter. I am asking the question. I do not intend to answer questions that the hon. Gentleman himself can pursue, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am making a serious point about an apparent change of policy by the Home Office at a very significant time in terms of events in South Africa and I shall not be put off by the trivia paraded before the House by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth). [Interruption.]

I regret that the subject of South Africa, where there have been many deaths in recent weeks, detention without trial and so on, is apparently regarded by some hon. Members as a subject for laughter. For that reason, I am sorry that proceedings in the Chamber are not being televised.

I say to the Minister for Overseas Development that that judge appears to have been on an offical visit and was accompanied by a Home Office official. The House should be told whether the Home Office now has a policy of providing official welcomes, assistance and facilities for South African judges, court officials, police and other personnel who man the repressive agencies of that apartheid state. If the Government's policy is to have no formal or other contact, the House should be told why the Home Office was involved in that way in the judge's visit.

If the policy has changed—this is the central point—there must be the most tremendous outrage. For that South African judge, and possibly others in future, to be officially received, welcomed and assisted here by the Home Office just a few weeks after South Africa showed its complete contempt for British justice by refusing to return the Coventry four—four of its own officials on serious charges here—is a massive insult to the British people and British justice. Will the Minister tell the House whether the Government now endorse and support such contact? If they do, will he tell the House how he squares that approach with that of the Commonwealth and the United Nations, both of which have described apartheid as a crime against humanity.

Right hon. and hon. Members have referred to aid and development. The House and the country were appalled at recent events in Ethiopia and at the television coverage that was rightly given to that holocaust. However, I think that the Minister will expect me to be frank on that issue. The Government emerge from it with no credit. The lethargy that in the past I have been sorry to attribute to his Department I see again today. I offer my view in no sense of conceit, but I think that I am entitled to refer to a question that I asked the Minister on 20 July 1983. I asked specifically what arrangements he was making for
"the development of a common policy on the provision of aid to Ethiopia."
The right hon. Gentleman replied
"Exchanges take place from time to time with our European and United States colleagues about matters of common interest in the aid field. Aid to Ethiopia is one on which various views are held and I do not think it would be productive to seek a common policy."—[Official Report, 20 July 1983; Vol. 46, c. 159–60.]
How hollow those words sound today. Nothing that the Minister or the Government have done since the people viewed those dreadful scenes on television gives any of us any hope that they are approaching those matters with the urgency required by the British people.

I should like to ask the Minister about the £5 million that the Government have agreed to give to Ethiopia. Where does it come in terms of the global budget on overseas aid, with which his Department has to deal? In the absence of the full explanation that I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give at the end of the debate, many people believe that the Government are taking from the poor to feed the poor.

May I dispel that canard straight away? Surely the hon. Gentleman knows by now that the money comes from the Contingency Fund. Any rational aid budget will have a contingency fund to deal with crises, emergencies and so on. That is what is happening in this case, and it would be ridiculous if it were otherwise.

If that is so, the amount that is being allocated from the contingency fund is meagre in the extreme. The figure of £5 million is about the same as we are giving to two families in the Falkland Islands. It is a trivial amount. Therefore, the Minister will have to be much more convincing in his reply at the end of the debate.

There have been rumours that the Cabinet, in discussing its financial plans for next year, was planning to cut overseas development aid. I do not know whether my hon. Friend heard the news item this morning on the radio that said that several members of the Tory party were worried about that because it would give the wrong image of the Tory party. That is appalling. I wonder what my hon. Friend thinks of that news.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I hope to come to it.

The facts about Ethiopia have been known for some time. There have been four harvest failures and six wars. We know that there have been food centres. The tragedy is that if people leave their land to go to those food centres, they help to create next year's lack of harvest. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East said, problems are also emerging in the Sudan and Chad, where there has been no harvest for four years and there is a civil war.

I should like to put to the Minister views that have been expressed by several aid organisations, principally War on Want. I should like him to address the facts to which they referred. With regard to Ethiopia, we are told that the Government are committed to giving 600,000, tonnes of grain when 2 million tonnes are needed. War on Want believes that the United Kingdom grain mountain stands at 8 million tonnes and that the EEC grain mountain stands at 32 million tonnes. Therefore, the contribution that we have been making is flimsy in the extreme compared with the resources that are available. I know that the House is extremely concerned about distribution. Transport problems were discussed in the debate on Ethiopia, five days after the Minister gave me his reply last year. The drought was predicted. Many of my hon. Friends predicted precisely what would take place. For us to pretend now that sending out two planes is enough and to complain that there will be difficulty in landing and in distribution is hypocritical nonsense. We have had that information for well over a year, and that should have given the Government a sense of urgency.

I should like to refer to the problem of the global overseas aid figures. Like my hon. Friends, I have been appalled to read the various leaks this week from the "star chamber", particularly in respect of overseas aid. When Hugh Dalton was Chancellor of the Exchequer, Chancellors resigned when leaks were published, although perhaps they were not published until after he sat down. From this Government of leaks, whose interdepartmental disputes are conducted in the media, it is clear—unless the Minister denies it—that there will be a considerable cut in overseas aid. It will be announced on Monday, although the Gracious Speech referred to the need to
"maintain a substantial aid programme".
If, as was predicted last night on the BBC, the aid figure will be reduced by £150 million—others predict that it will be cut by 20 per cent.—that represents a tragic blow to the Third world, to those living in poverty, suffering and dying from starvation. What justification can the Minister offer, as the Minister responsible for those matters, if anything like those aid reductions take place?

As my hon. Friend says, the Minister does not appear to be paying attention. Just as he and his colleagues ignored the important debate on Ethiopia last year, the same appears to be happening today.

The people of Great Britain are paying very close attention to the Government's policies on overseas aid, and all right hon. and hon. 'Members know from their postbags that this is one of the biggest issues to emerge since the start of this Parliament. The British people will be looking for an explanation if the Minister sits in his Department and allows these reductions to be made.

Even if there were not a proposal by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the "star chamber" and the Government to make this reduction, the existing figures do not reflect any great credit on the Government and their approach. It is clear that the Government have not the slightest intention of achieving the United Nations figure of 0·7 per cent. of gross national product. Even now, the figure stands at a miserable 0·35 per cent. Compared with other countries we should be ashamed of ourselves. We are way down the league table. Norway gives 1·06 per cent., the Netherlands 0·91, Sweden 0·88, France 0·76 — perhaps all the references we have had to France this morning in another context will lead the Minister to think in terms of that Government's policy on overseas aid—Denmark 0·72, and even such countries as Belgium, Australia, West Germany and Canada, which did not meet the United Nations figure, nevertheless have done much better than we in the United Kingdom have.

If the suggestions that we hear on television and radio broadcasts are correct and there is to be a cut in the region, it is suggested, of 20 per cent., I ask the House to imagine what that means. If, as some people predict, there is to be a 20 per cent. reduction—we shall wait to see what happens on Monday—our miserable figure will slip to about 0·28 per cent. Obviously that is not only unacceptable; it is going somewhere near the ridiculously low figures of the United States, with 0·24 per cent., and of the USSR, with 0·19 per cent.

In the Government's policies on overseas aid we are really seeing that they have far more to do with the Government's attitudes to east-west relations than with the problems of north-south development. This represents a tragedy for the modern world.

Even if the Government cannot be persuaded that it is morally right to contribute more to starving millions, are they not persuaded by enlightened self-interest? Are they not persuaded by the fact that in Ethiopia there are eight British Leyland trucks on show? They are also on sale in Khartoum for £30,000 each. Why cannot we buy them? If we did we should be giving great hope to the men in Bathgate who are to be made redundant because markets for their products are not available. We all know that they are available and that without the debt crisis there would be even more markets for what our people are producing.

Why do not the Government consider the Dando irrigation equipment, which was put on show at the Foreign Office last week by War on Want? Hardly a few hours had passed when we were told that, because there was no demand for that equipment, 37 men were to be made redundant.

Why have the Government taken such a dim view of the Brandt report? Why have they set the priorities that they have on overseas aid and other matters?

I recognise that the Minister has a responsibility to his Department and is being asked by the Prime Minister to take a more global view. However, I remind him that it was Nye Bevan who once said that the burdens of public office were far too heavy to be borne for trivial ends. If the Minister takes the view that because the Cabinet and the "star chamber" demand these unacceptable and unreasonable cuts he should meekly accept them, he and his Government will reap the wrath of the British people, and deservedly so.

12.15 pm

Inevitably the debate has been wide ranging, and the speech of the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) was fairly typical of that.

Eight years ago, in the coldest November on record, I was contesting a by-election in Cambridge. On 21 December I made my maiden speech in the House from the Opposition Benches in the context of a proposal by the right hon. Member for Leeds East (Mr. Healey), then Chancellor of the Exchequer, for a cut of £50 million in the overseas aid budget, upon which the then Minister, now my right hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice), resigned his office.

My maiden speech was on the topic of drought, famine and malnutrition in Africa. It was made almost exactly eight years ago.

I do not agree with the hon. Member for Monklands, West that the British record on overseas aid is, as he puts it, miserable. Compared with a substantial number of other countries, not least the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact countries, it is admirable. The reaction to the tragedy in Ethiopia by the Government has been swift and positive, and it comes on top of 40,000 tonnes of grain which had been sent beforehand. With my involvement in the Save the Children Fund, I am deeply proud of the work done not only by the people of the fund but by other British voluntary agencies in the face of this appalling tragedy.

It is in this context that I find it inconceivable that there should be proposals, as are rumoured, to make reductions in the aid budget and even the funds of the BBC Overseas Service and the British Council. I say that it is inconceivable because we read in the Queen's Speech:
"My Government will continue fully to support the Commonwealth, to play a constructive role at the United Nations, to maintain a substantial aid programme, and to encourage investment in developing countries."
Looking back at my speech eight years ago, to which no one listened and on which no action was taken, looking at the situation that we now confront not only in Ethiopia but elsewhere, it is obvious that what is really needed is not only preventive medicine, which the Stop Polio campaign of the Save the Children Fund provides, and preventive agriculture but also recognition by the Government that we have an obligation and a duty to endeavour to assist as far as we reasonably can.

looking at the scale of the tragedy which is unfolding and recognising what is being done by us and the voluntary agencies, could not we take ourselves away from our parochial concerns and give the kind of lead which could and should be followed so that we might make some contribution to preventing these tragedies from occurring in the future?

12.19 pm

Most hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have taken the grand design of world strategy as their theme. I propose not to do that. Instead I wish to go perhaps to the other extreme and discuss a very small part of the world which, with the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed), I visited this summer as a member of a delegation on behalf of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I refer to St. Helena.

The first problem with such a colony is that people do not know where it is. I am sure that hon. Members know, but the public at large usually have difficulty. Some place it next to Italy. Others think that it is in the Indian ocean. Most people know that it is where Napoleon ended his days, but that is the sum total of the British public's knowledge of the island.

St. Helena is in the Atlantic ocean. It is a small island of about 47 square miles. It is roughly 800 miles off the African coast and about 1,200 miles from the south American coast. It is an inhabited island with 5,500 people of a mixture of races. There are some expatriates from the United Kingdom. There are immigrants from the United Kingdom. The island was a Boer prisoner of war camp and there are some Boers living there. Some 100 years ago, there were indentured Chinese labourers there, and Africans settled there too. There is a completely cosmopolitan community but only one language—English. It is not spoken with any dialect. It is not pidgin English; it is ordinary English such as I am speaking now. If one heard an islander speak, one might have great difficulty in believing that he came from somewhere abroad. Many of the islanders speak English better than I do.

Until recently, the island had very little publicity. The best publicity it has received was the hour-long documentary shown nationally by Anglia Television last August. St. Helena is a colony and we have a responsibility to look after it and to try to lead it to economic viablity. That is crucial.

Of course I would not say that St. Helena is in the same position as Ethiopia. Conditions in Ethiopia are desperate and cannot be compared with the bad standard of living of people in St. Helena or parts of the United Kingdom. St. Helena is not a Third world country. In many ways the standard of living there is comparable to that in parts of the United Kingdom. That is the light in which it must be considered.

The island was settled over 300 years ago with a view to refuelling ships going to India by the cape of Good Hope. That traffic developed and enjoyed its heyday, but it then fell away again and very few ships call at St. Helena now. Apart from the one ship which services the island, there may be one or two calls a year. The livelihood of the islanders disappeared with the sea traffic. When that happened, the island was given over to growing flax for making string which was used by the Post Office. However, synthetic materials were developed in the 1950s and 1960s and, quite sharply, over a period of three or four years, the market for flax disappeared. The fact that St. Helena was covered with flax plants made no difference. The economic viability of the island was lost again, and has not yet been recovered. No Government have yet been able to provide a successful formula for re-establishing economic viability, but I hope that all Governments will continue to try to do so.

There are three ways in which economic viability could be encouraged. First, there is import substitution. Wherever possible, the islanders must be able to grow their own food and to make their own manufactured goods so that they do not have to import goods. The cost of imports is very high because of the problems of transport.

Secondly, we must find something that the islanders could export. They might have some success with fisheries, or with cash crops such as coffee, although more investigation would be needed before a firm proposal could be made.

Thirdly, it is important that the islanders should be trained and should acquire qualifications so that they can return to St. Helena and replace the expensive repatriate advisers. It is inconceivable that there will be video manufacturing plants, for instance, on St. Helena. All half-developed countries—and, indeed, some regions of the United Kingdom—talk about small electronic industries, but such industries will not appear in all the parts of the United Kingdom and all the colonies which want them. Equally, the manufacture of machinery and engineering industries are very unlikely prospects.

However, the islanders could be encouraged to grow their own produce. The difficulty is that there are no facilities on the island for storing water. Below 1,200 ft the island is very arid, but in the centre of the island there is about 40 in rainfall a year, and that is no small quantity. The difficulty is that very little development aid has been forthcoming to enable that water to be collected, stored and distributed throughout the island. There is plenty of land available for gardens, but islanders are loth to try to grow their own vegetables because they know that in two years out of three there will be a drought or a distorted rainfall pattern, and their crops will fail. The islanders have no incentive to grow vegetables.

Water is the first priority. The Government have started a water programme—I give them credit for that—but my experience on the island suggested that the water programme must be extended, and a full programme implemented as soon as possible. We visited the island during a period of drought. Water started to fall as soon as we arrived, but many of the 700 head of cattle on the island were in danger of dying. It is a false economy, and will lead to a lack of morale among the islanders, to start to do something about collecting water—there are advisers there on agriculture and forestry—but not carry it through. The island does not have the resources to see it through periods of drought, and stocks of cattle which have taken many years to build up have to be killed because there is not enough grass for them to eat. Water is the key to import substitution. It should be the highest priority of any Government concerned with the island.

Many schemes for exports have been suggested, but it is unlikely that any non-indigenous industry could be developed sufficiently. For example, there is much talk of lace making, but I doubt whether it would be successful.

I give credit to the ODA for recently approving an offshore fishing survey. St. Helena has one ship that is capable of such fishing. The ship—the Westerclam—is being sent to the African mainland to be refitted to enable it to conduct the survey. I wish that it could have been sent to a British yard. Fish are not especially plentiful around the island, but inshore fishing now supplies local needs. Proceedures for drying and exporting fish have now been got right. One of the island's difficulties is that experts go to the island, make recommendations and leave. Projects cannot then be carried through as the islanders do not have the necessary expertise. Things go wrong, so other experts are sent and recommend something quite different. The islanders feel that one expert is no better or worse than another.

The hon. Gentleman is treating us to an interesting description of circumstances in St. Helena. Can he say anything about how he envisages the democratic element in St. Helena being developed? Does he envisage a French solution—integrating small colonies with metropolitan France—some form of self-government, or something else?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning that. I have given it some thought and hope to discuss it later.

The offshore fishing industry promises to be successful in terms of exports. However, if the island is to achieve economic viability in five or 10 years' time, training and education are vital. Until recently education only up to O-level standard was available. Subjects to A-level are now taught, but the schools are rudimentary. I visited a classroom where teachers were trying to teach A-level physics. All of their apparatus would have fitted nicely into the Dispatch Box. In those circumstances, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to educate islanders to university or technical college level. Because only O-levels were available, islanders were able to come to Britain for two years' work experience.

I was told that no islander had been to university in Britain. I hope that that will change. I saw 16-year-old girls who had just left school trying to teach in a junior school. They worked hard and were doing well, but there is no short cut to having proper qualifications and undergoing a proper term of study. Study to become a teacher, engineer, doctor or scientist is not available. We should provide bursaries or scholarships to enable islanders to attend university degree courses here.

We should congratulate the ODA on having recently approved the building of the central school for 11-plus children. It will incorporate a sixth form. The islanders warmly welcome that development. I hope that it is built properly and has properly equipped science laboratories.

I saw six deaf and dumb children on the island. There is no remedial teaching and no speech therapist on the island. Those children will be a burden for the rest of their lives. Although something should be done from the moral point of view, it should be borne in mind that it is cost effective to provide remedial help. Much can be done to help deaf and dumb children. They need not be a burden on society. Indeed, they should be able to lead useful lives. Islanders have never heard of phonic ears, although they cost only a couple of hundred pounds each. Such distress could easily be ameliorated.

I now turn to the problem of communications. There is no airfield on the island. There is one ship called RMS St. Helena, which makes six journeys a year from St. Helena to Cape Town and back. If it breaks down or if there is a strike and it cannot sail, the island suffers. It has certainly suffered this summer. Yesterday on its way to the United Kingdom there was a fire in the engine room. The ship drifted for about 12 hours and is now near Dakar. Fortunately, no lives were lost. The position is not as bad as it had been feared, mainly because of the efficient action of the officers and crew. However, that shows how vulnerable a small island is. Another ship must now be chartered, which will cost the ODA extra money.

What can we do about it? One might think that the islanders would want an airfield, but that is not the case—perhaps I went there with a preconceived notion that an airfield must be built. There is no general desire for an airfield, although a substantial number of islanders would like one. The islanders would be happy if the ship, which will have to be replaced by about 1987, were replaced by a bigger and better version. A recent report by economic consultants recommends, in so far as it recommends anything, precisely that. The report also suggests that such a ship should be able to carry petrol and diesel, but I doubt whether the Department of Transport would give permission for that. I urge the Government, not just to spend a little money so that the present RMS St. Helena will last from 1987 to 1991—that would not be cost effective—but to spend enough for a bigger and better version of the ship. If we can get the present ship back into service, we shall have time to design a new ship, which could carry cargo at a cheaper cost and more passengers.

There may be a case for an emergency air strip, though not a commercial one. Even if everyone wanted a commercial air strip, it could not be justified. It would cost an astronomical sum, passengers would swamp the island and the cost of air freight is prohibitive. If an emergency strip were built, a Hercules aircraft could land in an emergency, for example, if the two electric generators in the power station broke down simultaneously. It would be useful if a Hercules aircraft could land with supplies, or even simply throw them out of the back of the aircraft while it flew overland. It would also be useful for urgent medical cases which could not be treated on the island.

I now turn to the problems of immigration and the restrictions placed on St. Helenans. Until 20 years ago they could come and go from the United Kingdom, but since then our immigration laws have become increasingly restrictive and repressive. The islanders find it hard to understand why the people of the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar are not in the same position as they are. I sympathise with that view. There are probably more St. Helenans in Britain than there are in St. Helena. There are two big colonies of them—one in Britain and one in South Africa. It is wrong that a small colony, which has been completely British and completely loyal to Britain for centuries, should be deprived rights of entry to Britain. If St. Helenans apply for work permits, obstacles are placed in their way. The age limit for entry has been increased from 16 or 18 to 23. It also takes a long time for visas to be issued.

St. Helena is not like Hong Kong, nor is it like previous British colonies such as Uganda. There is a good case for treating St. Helena on the same basis as we treat Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, and I hope that the Government will consider this.

The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Johnston) raised an important point about the constitution. As the island is not economically independent, most of the islanders do not have jobs. The Government's policy is to give males, although not females—there is an element of discrimination there—Government make-work jobs, with the result that 90 per cent. of the male population is employed by the Government. That means that 90 per cent. of the male population is debarred from election to the Legislative Council, which must be nonsense. Of course, as in Britain, we must always guard against possible conflicts of interest, and if someone has a job that could lead to a conflict of interest, it is right that he should not be allowed to stand for election. However, for a person who has been given a make-work job and is not a civil servant, the possibility of a conflict of interest must be remote. It should not be inconceivable for the Government to lift the ban, and make the islanders more aware of which direction the island's affairs are going.

The registration of electors is not carried out as it is in Britain. Islanders must go to a certain place to register, with the result that only one third of the population is on the electoral roll. That is not acceptable in a democracy. Nearly everyone should be on the electoral roll, and I strongly urge that the registration procedures are changed. The voting age on the island is still 21. If we have managed to lower it to 18, why can it not be the same in St. Helena?

Much must be done in St. Helena to disseminate information. Before one can ask the islanders whether they wish to be, at one extreme, an integral part of the United Kingdom—as Martinique is to France—or, at the other extreme, wish to have complete independence, they must know what the possibilities are. At present, I understand that the islanders wish to remain part of the United Kingdom, but before we can say that with certainty we must give them some independence so that they can discover all available information and how their process of government works.

I pay credit to the Overseas Development Agency, which is taking steps in the right direction. It is about to build the central school, but it must finish the process. After the school has been built, and children have benefited from it and left with A-levels, they must be given the opportunity to attend universities or polytechnics in the United Kingdom so that the next generation of islanders is competent and professional.

The ODA is to build a new electricity generating station, which is a step in the right direction. However, the island should not be at the mercy and vagaries of shipping. The aim is to have 12 weeks' supply of diesel by 1988. That means that if the supply vessel catches fire, for example, or does not sail, the island will have a severe energy shortage. A tank farm should be built to ensure a supply of diesel and petrol for at leest six months and possibly for 12.

The ODA was right to take a step in organising the offshore fisheries survey. If the survey shows that there are fish that could usefully be harvested offshore, it is important that landing facilities, handling and transportation facilities are supplied. That, of course, would require extra capital. It is necessary that that commitment is made by the ODA.

The ODA has commissioned a report on a new ship for St. Helena. I hope that it will take the matter to heart and will not opt for a stop-gap measure to last the island of St. Helena for three or four more years. If a decision is to be made, let it be the right one so that there can be 20 or 30 years of good transport between the United Kingdom and St. Helena.

Most important of all, the ODA has initiated irrigation schemes and water collection points. So far only about half the programme is the subject of agreement. If we are to make any headway in the economic development of the island, it is important that the full water programme is given the go-ahead and implemented as soon as possible.

St. Helena is not a tropical island. It has faced many difficulties but there is now the possibility of an economically viable future. Its loyalty to the United Kingdom is undoubted. I hope that every Member will give it a fair deal in years to come.

I am anxious that hon. Members who have been present throughout the debate should have the opportunity to address the House. I know that the House will want also to hear the Front Bench replies. If hon. Members restrict themselves to about 10 minutes each, I hope to be able to call all those who wish to contribute to the debate.

12.48 pm

The House may or may not be relieved to hear that I shall not indulge in any further special pleading for St. Helena by taking up the remarks of the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek). However, I am happy to be called to participate in the debate immediately after the hon. Gentleman as it gives me the opportunity to observe that representatives from Welsh constituencies now represent about 25 per cent. of the attendance in the Chamber. I am pleased to see such a strong Welsh representation.

I shall not develop the theme of several hon. Members that has been built on the rumours about cuts in the overseas aid budget. I do not believe the rumours. If they were to be of the magnitude that is suggested in the press, that would demonstrate insensitivity to British public opinion that would be hard to comprehend at a tune when everyone's eyes are rightly focused on the tragedy that is unfolding in Ethiopia.

I shall address my remarks briefly to events in Nicaragua. We meet at a time when Nicaragua is mobilising and the 82nd airborne division is preparing itself for something. I share the concern expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary about any Soviet arms build-up in central America, especially if that involves missiles. However, it is necessary to transgress far into the realms of unreality to pretend that events in Nicaragua are akin to those which took place in Cuba. It is necessary for us to dismiss that thought from our minds—certainly at the present time.

Was the position in Nicaragua so grave for the United States that it entitled a superpower to indulge in destablisation and mining of ports long before the elections were held? It looked as though elections would be conducted in a full, fair and free way. I do not wish to judge today whether they were. The fact is that elections were held that were regarded by many as fair and they led to the return of the existing Government. One must bear in mind the integrity of the sovereignty of individual states, however small they may be. The evidence is conflicting. I have gathered evidence from not only the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua but the United States. The regime in Nicaragua has produced a booklet which states:
"In April 1982 the Government of the United States presented Nicaragua with an eight-point proposal in which were summed up the conditions that must be met, according to that Government for the normalisation of relations between the United States and Nicaragua. The Government of Nicaragua agreed to discuss the eight points presented by the United States if the United States agreed to discuss those questions that preoccupied Nicaragua. Notwithstanding this disposition to engage in dialogue, the North American Government refused to accept a continuation of the conversations, even interrupting the informal epistolary exchange that had been maintained until 13 August, date of the last Nicaraguan communication, which remains unanswered.
Having abandoned the way of dialogue, the North American Administration qualitatively and quantitatively increases its aggressions against Nicaragua, utilizing as its instruments counter-revolutionary mercenaries organized, trained, financed, armed and directed by the Central Intelligence Agency (the CIA), and redoubling its political pressures and economic aggressions to the prejudice of Nicaragua."
That is one side of the coin. We have heard the other side expressed more often. It was expressed perhaps most forcefully by Secretary of State Shultz on 20 March, when he said:
"If regimes responsive to Moscow and Havana and hostile to the United States are installed in Central America, we will pay a high price for a long, long time."
A document produced by the United States Information Agency states:
"Nicaragua is a grave threat to all the countries in Central America, beginning with its immediate neighbours, Costa Rica and Honduras."
The document went on to amplify that statement.

The evidence is conflicting, but what stands out is the fact that it is right that a degree of criticism of the United States for its attitude towards Nicaragua should come from Conservatives. Although I accept that we do not want a Soviet build-up in central America, destabilisation cannot be the way in which a super-power should react, especially when it is carried out only too readily in other parts of the world by the Soviet Union. It is right that criticism should come from Conservative Members, because we criticise in the knowledge that we are friends and allies of the United States, that we stand together in NATO and that we shall continue to be the closest ally of the United States in the foreseeable future. The Opposition's criticism of the United States might be more persuasive if a greater acknowledgement were made of the United States' role in NATO and if the Opposition did not believe that we should embark upon a defence policy that would destabilise NATO and make the Alliance that much more difficult.

I criticise not just because of the problems confronting a small country in central America, which did not have the choice of being in America's backyard, but because of the effects of what is happening in central America, especially on the United States. The United States has increasingly become the policeman of the world. If it is to maintain that role in a way that is acceptable to the free western world, it can do so only on the basis of moral superiority, and that cannot be enhanced by the destabilisation of the Governments of small countries. That view is held by many of my American friends.

The events in central America inevitably take the world's attention away from atrocities that are being committed by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and in other areas, where it is actively engaged in trying to destabilise regimes. That must continue to be an impediment to peace talks between the super-powers.

I was delighted to read on the tapes this morning that the Soviet Union has given a favourable response to the suggestions of the United States for umbrella talks. Talks will soon begin between Secretary of State Shultz and Mr. Gromyko. That must be right, and it must also be right to have umbrella talks, enabling the overall situation to be examined, rather than being bogged down by arguments about fine detail. I wish the talks well, but we must do more in Britain in case those talks flounder.

We are in an ideal position to act as an intermediary between the United States and the Soviet Union. There is a need for a third party. There is the five continents' peace initiative, involving six Heads of State in the non-aligned world, trying to act as an intermediary between the two super-powers, both politically and from a technological point of view, to see where the lowest common denominator can be drawn in finding the greatest consensus between the two super-powers. The initiative can also be taken by an individual country, such as the United Kingdom.

We do not have the resources for developing emerging technology in terms of "star wars", so we can take a detached view of that question. In my judgment, that enhances our ability to stand between the two superpowers and ensure that negotiations continue. I also believe that our retention of the nuclear deterrent enhances our ability to take that individual line.

It seems strange that, apparently, it is not the perception of Labour Members that unilateralism—far from rendering us more independent and capable of adoping an intermediary role—makes us that much more dependent on the United States. It gives us no choice but to rely entirely on the United States nuclear umbrella as a deterrent. I find the Opposition's argument illogical, and I hope that in due course they will take a different view. We can speak far more authoratively to both super-powers if we are a nuclear weapon state. I have no love of nuclear weapons and would like to see their removal from the face of the earth, but we have to be realistic. Let us at least use our possession of nuclear weapons to good effect by seeking to act as a mediator between East and West.

My remarks have been in part prompted by the words in the Gracious Speech that the Government
"will work for the resumption of negotiations where these have been broken off. They will work continually for a greater atmosphere of trust between East and West."
We can play a positive role. We still have a fine reputation in the world for diplomacy and negotiations. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has enhanced that reputation by the agreement over Hong Kong's future, which has been generally and rightly hailed as a success.

The visit of Mr. Gromyko next year and of Mr. Gorbachev later this year will give us the opportunity to act as a catalyst between the superpowers in achieving peace. It is perhaps appropriate that we should be talking in those terms when, this Sunday, most of us will be attending a church service to commemorate those who gave their lives in the war. We must ensure that future generations do not have to make that sacrifice.

1 pm

I am pleased to find myself agreeing with the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) particularly with reference to the Government's statement and the statement this morning from the Foreign Secretary about the elections in Nicaragua. I was distressed about the wording of that statement because it could be construed as an attempt by the British Foreign Office to de-legitimise the Government after the elections in Nicaragua. It might be seen to be covert support for the apparent moves towards military intervention in which the United States is currently involved.

For those reasons I ask the Minister to consider carefully the text of what the Foreign Secretary told us earlier to see whether he can, in the light of remarks that have been made by hon. Members, ensure that the British Government do not say anything that might be seen to be destabilising the democratic process in central America—the most democratic process that we have seen in a central American country for some years.

The United Kingdom's relationship with UNESCO has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke). I received an answer from the Foreign Office this morning saying that British policy towards UNESCO is still being reviewed. It would be helpful if the Minister when he replies, or in a letter to those who have raised the issue, could say what the parameters of the review are and when the Government expect to decide. Those who are members of the national commission in Britain of UNESCO discussed the issue this week and they are deeply worried about what they see to be a trend towards withdrawal in the Government's discussions.

The speech of the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) was another of those speeches from Conservative Members who seem to be fascinated by weapons systems without being able to talk about the political context in which they are deployed. They seem to talk about the deployment of new weapons systems by the West as if they were an automatic contribution to the enhancing of deterrence. They, of course, criticise the Soviet attempt to catch up with that weapons technology as abhorrent and a threat to the West.

We must learn to recognise that no nuclear weapon increases nuclear security. We are told time and again that the Western defence strategy's objective is purely defensive—we heard it again this morning—and that the policy is to enhance deterrence. That is, presumably, honestly believed by Conservative Members. I believe the hon. Member for Ynys Môn when he says that he has no love for nuclear weapons. It is equally the view put forward by strategists in the Kremlin.

We must realise that one side's defensive deterrent is a growing threat to the security of the other side. For those reasons, it is essential that we say that all weapon deployments and potential deployments are an increase in insecurity. In that context, I was worried by the recent discussions that have been going on between the parties of the alliance about the purchase of the sea-launched cruise missile as a new Alliance deterrent. Whatever may be the advantages of a sea-launched cruise missile programme in terms of patching up the defence policies of the SDP and the Liberal party—a fudging of defence policy may suit the alliance—if they decide on that policy without considering the arms control implications of the sea-launched cruise missile programme they are failing to see the grave threat posed by that programme.

I have raised the matter before, and I do not apologise for taking time on it again, because we have seen the way in which the sea-launched cruise missile programme has already been deployed and developed in its conventional capacity. From the point of view of the military, it is a wonderfully efficient weapon. The Tomahawk version can be fired from a standard torpedo tube. It is, therefore, possible to extend the cold war embrace of nuclear deterrence to any part of the world. The weapons can be fitted with nuclear, chemical or high explosive warheads. They have great accuracy, so strategists can spend their time working out elegant, surgical strikes.

Can it be in the interests of security worldwide to turn any naval manoeuvre in any military or political crisis into what can be perceived as a nuclear threat? In international affairs, we have always to look at what is the perception of the intention. Can we increase security by placing the capability to launch a nuclear weapon into the hands of more and more military personnel? Is our security increased with an increase in the accuracy of destroying military targets in so-called counter-force strikes? Do we increase security by acquiring a weapon such as Tomahawk which, if fired in the conventional way, will appear to the enemy radar to be a nuclear weapon and will be assumed by the other side to be deployed on all vessels, and, according to the principles of SALT II, will have to be counted? The implication for verification of arms control of this enhancement of deterrence should be taken seriously.

If we believe in nuclear disarmament, whether unilateral, bilateral, trilateral or whatever, it must be an objective of arms control policy that we should not be deploying new weapons that will make a veritable minefield of arms control verification. I shall quote from Ambassador Gerard Smith, who negotiated with the Soviet Union in the previous American Administration. In talking about the sea-launched programme he said:
"It is too often forgotten that progress we have made on arms control to date has depended very importantly on the fact that the weapons systems involved have been relatively very visible to the kind of surveillance technology we have developed. This all important visibility may end with the deployment of the sea-launched cruise missiles. The naval cruise missiles, therefore, stand a very good chance of increasing the interdeterminancy of the strategic threat in the 1980s and 1990s and of undermining one of the key foundations of arms control."
I stress to hon. Members in the alliance who may be talking about acquiring new deterrents through the sea-launched missile system, and to the Conservative party, the tremendous dangers in terms of arms control posed by this new deployment.

There is a link between the proliferation of the arms race and poverty and injustice worldwide. The arms race leads to war, but it also leads to poverty and depression. It cultivates nothing except hunger. The poor in the Third world are subsidising the arms build-up of the First world. American militarisation has been financed by a massive federal budget deficit, which has pushed interest rates to record levels. High interest rates increase the cost of servicing the Third world's huge foreign currency debts, leading Governments to squeeze domestic consumption and contract economic activity. This results in heightened social conflict, which is met by brutal repression in many southern countries.

The nuclear military economy leads directly to food riots and the torture of the hungry. The confrontation of East and West is parasitical on confrontation of North and South, as the Brandt report and other reports have shown. Millions may die in Europe in a nuclear winter because millions are dying in Latin America and Africa. The Third world is paying for the third world war. As the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) has already said, the 500 million people who are suffering from malnutrition represent the way in which the south has already paid for the cost of the nuclear arms and the conventional arms used in the arms trade. Monetarism and Atlanticism, the twin poles of Government policy, contribute significantly to this conspiracy against the world's poor.

I hope that the Government will reply to my next point, either today or in a letter. It concerns the specific charges that have been made about delay by the Government in ensuring adequate aid to Ethiopia in its present crisis, before that crisis became a media issue. Serious charges have been made by Dr. Charles Elliott, whom I knew as a professor in Swansea, and who has recently been a director of Christian Aid. He referred to the fact that the Government have been delaying adequate aid for political reasons. He was quoted as saying that it was the United States, and therefore the United Kingdom, view that a disastrous famine would bring down the Marxist Government in Ethiopia.

I raised this with the Prime Minister on 30 October but she failed to respond adequately. She gave the House the impression that Ethiopia had received more aid than was the case. So far as I can gather, in 1983 the figure was only about £3·4 million—about the same as for the Seychelles. I hope that the Minister will set out the historical position and tell us whether the serious charges to which I have referred are indeed accurate and whether there was a delay last year and earlier this year in ensuring adequate unilateral, bilateral and multilateral aid for Ethiopia.

As a state with post-colonial responsibilities towards the southern countries, the proposed cuts in overseas aid put this country in an invidious position compared with nations that do not have those obligations. This is exemplified by our aid budget for 1983–84 of only 0·35 per cent. of GNP. I believe that the response of the British public to the situation in Ethiopia is not just a short-term emotional reaction to a crisis perceived through the media but a statement that there is still a spirit of internationalism and international co-operation in Britain. The Government must respond to that.

1.10 pm

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) who spoke so eloquently about Nicaragua. Having returned from that country only yesterday, perhaps I may give the House some details on what I found there and on the elections. I was there with the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland), a man whom I am happy to call my friend not least because, when I saw my luggage going to Costa Rica when I was going to Miami, he was most helpful in ensuring, I hope, the eventual return of the luggage tomorrow.

Despite its small size, Nicaragua is of the utmost importance in the whole central and south American context. It is an area of great trouble and one of the hot spots with which we must deal in a very careful, measured and considered way. It is a small country and its gross domestic product is tiny compared with many of the larger municipal bodies in this country. Before 1979, it was subject to the highly repressive regime of General Somoza. As a result of a popular revolution—it was indeed popular—a Government emerged who are patriotic as well as Left-wing. It is hard to say exactly what that Government consist of and what their views are. Some have described them as Marxist-Leninist. I do not believe that they are entirely Marxist-Leninist, but to describe them as very Left-wing would be quite adequate.

The new Government faced many problems when they came to power, not least a grave economic situation. Somoza had left no money in the kitty so they had to try to rebuild the economy. The high level of illiteracy has been dealt with by a major literacy campaign. They also tackled the serious health problems, including a lack of doctors, hospitals and so on. To do that, a great deal of foreign aid was required. Cubans are certainly present. I cannot say anything about Cuban military advisers, but I know that there are Cuban doctors and they are desperately needed. If there is to be a call for the withdrawal of all Cubans from Nicaragua, I hope that the free world will recognise that the doctors and nurses must be replaced and that it will provide the aid so desperately needed in that area.

The economic future of the country is perhaps one of the prime areas, on which one must concentrate. The Nicaraguan Government see the solution in terms not only of Nicaragua but of the region. That is where some of the problems arise. It is not only a Common Market solution for central America and the Caribbean, but a social solution, which they see as a Socialist solution. Therefore, to that extent one must recognise that the United States has a real problem. It would help us all to look at the problem in a realistic way as well. That does not mean that Nicaragua is not a sovereign country that has a right to determine and decide its own future, but one must recognise at the same time that America went through the Cuban crisis in the 1960s and does not want to see repeated what was so nearly a catastrophe for the world. I do not think, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn said, that we have reached anything like that situation in Nicaragua, but realising that there is a cause for concern by the Americans would help us to try to resolve the problems of Nicaragua.

One must also realise that Nicargua has been bled by civil war in the north, south and central highland parts, at times coming close to the capital of Managua. The war has been supported by the United States to a great extent in both financial terms and arms and other technical support. It is almost a continuation of the revolution. These are the remnants of the Sandinista civil guard supported by peasants and others in the country who also oppose the Government. War is no solution, and financial support only helps towards the continuation of that war. It places that small country in a desperate situation.

If anyone says that there is no civil war, I tell them that I went to the Atlantic ports, including Porto Cabezo, which is on the Caribbean side, where I saw five coffins being nailed down and two more being put into a lorry. That army is composed of people aged 16 and over. Seven young people had died. Nicaragua has a population of only 3 million, half of whom are under 16. Seven people from that small town had been killed, which means that in real terms the civil war is having an enormous effect on the country.

If one goes to towns such as Esterli, one finds many families in which one member has died, which at least have had close contact with the civil war, or with people who have been severely wounded. They are all involved. One must look at Nicaragua in that context as well.

Nicaragua has been having a civil war, with the patriotic forces being both revolutionaries and extremely nationalistic. It has also been almost a one-party state over the past four years. Almost all the apparatus of state is controlled and held by the Sandinistas, the FSLN, which is the party. The army is the Sandinista army. The police are the Sandinista police. There is rationing in Nicaragua, and anyone wanting a ration card has to apply to the local Sandinista committee. The Civil Service is controlled by the Sandinistas. It is impossible to go into the office of a civil servant without finding an FSLN flag on display. For the last four years of the revolution, there has been complete control of the state apparatus by the party.

Coming to the democratic state of the country, it is apparent that during the past four years there has been party campaigning. A form of press censorship has also been in force in Nicaragua. In some respects, it is not unnatural to have press censorship, especially when a country is at war, as Nicaragua is, but the press censorship has gone beyond that at times, and it is to be deplored.

However, there was an election in Nicaragua on 4 November, and that election is important for the country. I was one of the observers. I was allowed to observe all aspects of the election. Her Majesty's Government did not send observers to the election on the ground that it could not be free and fair. The Italian Government did not send observers on the ground that the preparation for the election was not satisfactory. I think that that is a far better way of describing that election.

We have to ask ourselves, however, whether the preparation could have been satisfactory in the prevailing circumstances. The apparatus of state being in the control of one political party meant that there was a lack of freedom of choice. But political parties have been in existence for a considerable time. They were not allowed to campaign in the way that the FSLN was prior to the beginning of the electoral campaign in August. To that extent, they lost ground. After the beginning of August they were free to campaign, but they started with a disadvantage.

In democratic terms, I always feel that elections are simply the icing on top of the cake. I would be happier to see the democratic organs of government existing before elections are held. It is more important to divorce the army, the police and the civil service from the party apparatus before elections if they are to be entirely free and fair. It is equally important that there should be a lack of anything but the most essential war censorship.

The election cannot be discounted. For 40 years the Nicaraguans did not have free elections. They did not know what they were like. Under the Somozista Government, no one could be clear that the secret police would not know how one had voted in an election. Elections were looked upon with the greatest suspicion. No one who opposed the Government in Nicaragua felt that elections would be secret.

I went round on election day. I had complete access. I drove in a four-wheeled vehicle into the tiniest villages. I was able to go into any polling station. I was able to observe and to ask questions. People told me that they thought that the election had been free, fair and secret. I found that somewhat surprising. But I feel that it augurs well for the future of Nicaragua that people should have found that, almost for the first time, they have had elections which were secret and in which they can have confidence. I wonder whether—despite the background of the Sandinistas and the fact that the Government had total control of the organs of state—if an election had taken place two weeks later, the results might have been more favourable to the opposition parties. Certainly, people were very surprised. The country now has some democratic history, and, provided that there is no going back on the advances made so far, there is hope for that troubled and divided country.

I could speak about the elections for a long time, but I shall mention only one other point. The lack of opposition parties was considered to be one of the defects of the elections. The PLI—the Partita Liberale Independante—behaved rather like the Liberal parry in this country. It could not make up its mind where it stood. It withdrew from the elections but did not tell anyone that it had withdrawn. However, it received a sizeable number of votes.

The largest opposition group was the Co-ordinadora, led by Mr. Arturo Cruz. His campaign was rendered very difficult by the activities of a number of Sandinistas who tried to break it up. But what is not fully appreciated is the fact that the outdoor rallies where the worst disruption took place were held before the beginning of August and to that extent were against the law. Outdoor rallies were permitted only after 5 or 10 August. None the less, Mr. Cruz faced many difficulties and the Co-ordinadora was not given complete freedom.

I believe that Nicaraguans expect a perfection that we do not expect. Mr. Cruz complained that the press did not always report what he said. The press seldom reports what I say. He complained about heckling at his meetings. I have experienced heckling at my meetings. It has been a source of regret to me that I have sometimes been heckled by all the five people who have attended one of my meetings. Perhaps the Nicaraguans expected too much. They did not realise that the democratic process is difficult.

Something very important is taking place in Nicaragua. A national dialogue is taking place outside the political arena, involving the whole social structure and the political parties; The first subject of discussion in the dialogue is the elections that are to take place in a year's time.

Yes, but people are asking for national elections, too, in a year's time, on the basis of an agreement about how elections will take place.

The dialogue may prove to be nothing but a talking shop, like earlier dialogues, but if all the free nations of the world accord that dialogue the importance that it should have, we may be able to resolve the problems which are all too apparent in that unhappy country and part of the world. If, after that dialogue, we can say that we expect that there will be free elections, conducted on the basis of those of 4 November, that there should be satisfactory preparation for elections, that we expect a separation of the apparatus of the state from the party and that political parties should be able to continue to exist after the elections as well as shortly before, that country will be returning to the kind of democracy that we would wish to find anywhere.

1.30 pm

The speech of the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) demonstrates why the Government were so wrong not to send official observers to the elections in Nicaragua. It would have been much better if the hon. Gentleman's report and that which I hope we shall hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) had been made officially on behalf of the House and the Government. It is not good enough for the Government to sit back and say that they consider the Nicaraguan elections to have been inadequate or undemocratic when, not long ago, they were happy to send observers to clearly inadequate and undemocratic elections in E1 Salvador. That is a measure of their political judgment of the region.

About seven hon. Members have visited Nicaragua at some time. Each has been impressed by what he has seen and each has been moved by the enthusiam of the Nicaraguan people towards the Government and the political and social process in that country. We must compare what we have heard and what I hope we are about to hear about the terrible dangers and the crisis in central America with what the Government stated earlier this week as their foreign policy objectives for the coming year and the appalling complacency and self-satisfaction with which the Government pursue foreign policy. They support utterly the United States and accept expenditure of about £17 billion on arms and the acceleration of the nuclear arms race. That should be compared with the limited words of comfort for the starving people of north Africa and Ethiopia and the limited amount of foreign aid that has been made available.

We should also bear in mind that we heard yesterday from yet another Cabinet leak that there is to be a cut in the foreign aid budget in the coming year. That is appalling. We should remember that people are starving in north Africa and many other parts of the world, yet a wealthy country such as ours can find so much money to spend on nuclear and other weapons and on supporting an arms race and cut its funding of foreign aid, emergency food aid and development aid.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food told the House recently that, as of 18 October, the EEC intervention fund held in store more than 4 million tonnes of wheat, more than 1 million tonnes of barley and 330,000 tonnes of rye. That food is being stored at public expense to keep up the price of those commodities while people are starving a couple of thousand miles away in north Africa. That shows the contempt in which many people hold Britain and the Government for our refusal to help the poorest people in many Third world countries. In addition to desperately needed food aid, we should also consider long-term development aid and the promotion of trade policies to assist north African countries.

In the Foreign Secretary's speech today and in a speech made by the Prime Minister earlier this week I detect a continuation of policies that support the United States' global objectives and the European Community's continuing to bloat its agricultural policies and to deny food, development and trade to the rest of the world. These are key and crucial matters. The Government are blinkered by their obsessions with Europe and Washington resulting in denigration of the rest of the world.

The Government's relations with other Governments and peoples show an appalling degree of double standards. They have a touching interest in trade union rights and freedoms in Poland, which is not echoed among trade unions here or in other oppressed countries. The Government continue to refuse to condemn the many violations of human rights that occur in Turkey, a fellow NATO country. They continue to sell arms to both sides in the Gulf war and to support the United States' policy in central America. They accepted the United States invasion of Grenada a year ago.

Many people thought that that invasion was unlikely, if not impossible, and believed that even President Reagan and the Republican party would not go that far. But Grenada was invaded. They destroyed what was happening in Grenada—indeed, they had planned to for years. They said that Grenada was a threat to the rest of the world. It is a credit to the people of Grenada that a country of 300 million people finds 100,000 people such a terrible threat to their security. They planned to destroy the social process in Grenada from the moment that the New Jewel movement formed a Government. The British Government have not condemned the invasion adequately, but have accepted it, along with the destruction of a Government who were doing magnificently for the people of Grenada.

The news on the BBC World Service about apparent preparations for military action in central America by United States forces is disturbing. I hope that the Government will respond adequately to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and tell us what the American preparations are and what the representations of the British Government are to the United States.

I understand that the military hospital of Fort Bragg in North Carolina has been closed to civilian patients; it is normally open to them. That was done a year ago, before the invasion of Grenada. The 82nd airborne division is apparently on the alert. It took part in the invasion of Grenada. There are many signs that the United States is planning a form of military action in central America. What is the Government's approach to this terrible threat to world peace, which we may be on the eve of?

Many hon. Members have spoken about what is happening in central America. Essentially, central America is an extremely poor region, which has been marauded by United States' commercial interests for many years and which has sought independence often. On even more occasions the United States has either sent in its own troops, surrogate armies or friendly dictators to suppress the people there. The list of occasions on which United States forces have been in Nicaragua and that the United States' Government have destabilised Governments in central America, such as that in Guatemala in 1954, is endless.

The area has only 16 million people, yet since the present conflict started 150,000 people have died. That is an appalling death toll, but it does not appear to merit the same anxiety from the Government as do some aspects of eastern European policy. It is disgraceful that the Government are not prepared unreservedly to condemn the United States' approach to that region.

That is a continuation of crass, reactionary attitudes from the United States Administration and from Right-wing forces in America. In 1980, a group calling itself the Council for Inter-American Security Incorporated published "A New Inter-American Policy for the Eighties". It was the background document to the incoming Reagan Administration, and described the need for American resources to be removed from central and Latin America. It described a hatred of many social movements in that region, and it laid down a blueprint for the Reagan Administration. That blueprint has been largely carried out, with the continuing destabilisation of Nicaragua, the militarisation of Honduras and the denial of human rights in Guatemala.

Anyone who visits Nicaragua must be impressed by what he sees. Since 1979, when the Frente Sandinista took over the Government, there have been fantastic improvements in all aspects of society, including health care, education, transport, the economy, democracy, human rights, the rights of women and the rights of minorities. If those improvements had been in what one might describe as a normal Third world country, everyone would be impressed. There has been a great reduction in illiteracy from more than 50 per cent. to about 14 per cent. Anyone would be impressed by the school, hospital and health centre building programme, by the concept of a health policy rather than a sickness policy, and by the concept of full education for people in a poor country. One would be impressed if that had happened in a country that received massive foreign aid, but Nicaragua does not. It has been encircled by the United States military machine, denigrated by American and European media, and isolated as far as possible. However, it has still made those achievements.

As the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West said, Nicaragua is a country at war. There are shortages of manufactured goods, medicines, fuel and many other items. In all the border regions, villages and farms have been destroyed and people and animals killed. The ports of Corinto and Managua have been bombed, along with several other ports. The CIA is deliberately and openly determined to remove or destabilise the Government of Nicaragua. It is surprising that, in those circumstances, so many social achievements have occurred and that there is such complete support for the Government, as was emphasised in the results of the recent election.

Not long ago the Government sent representatives to witness the elections in El Salvador, where there was a 47 per cent. turnout in a compulsory poll. However, on a voluntary poll in Nicaragua, the turnout was 75 per cent. The results showed 67 per cent. support for the FSLN, and several parties obtained varying support from 13·5 per cent. down to a much lower figure. In contesting the elections, the Sandinistas made clear statements about their achievements and record since 1979, and about what they see for the future.

The basis of the American attack on Nicaragua and central America generally is that Nicaragua is a threat to security and a danger to the American way of life. Not by the wildest stretch of imagination could one suggest that a poor country with a population of 2·5 million could be a threat to the United States. It is a poor country that is determined to defend itself and its integrity, and that is something which everyone should admire.

I quote briefly from a statement on the political platform put forward by the FSLN:
"For 161 years the United States used its military might to dominate and oppress Nicaragua. The United States created the National Guard to replace the US marines as an occupying force, and installed the Somoza dictatorship. After the triumph of the revolution, the United States began to reorganise and rearm the National Guard, using it as a new instrument of aggression and terror against our people."
It explains how, since the Sandinistas came to power in 1979, they have had to defend their country against the aggression of the United States and protect their borders and integrity. Nicaragua is a threat to no one, except the threat of inspiration, in that many other people in Latin America admire what Nicaragua has achieved and will continue to achieve.

It continues:
"In the face of United States' policy of aggression and military escalation in Central America, we have searched responsibly for peaceful solutions and dignified paths for dialogue; at the same time we have unwaveringly defended our national sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Sandinista Front pledges to continue to develop a dignified foreign policy of nonalignment that responds, above all, to the interests of Nicaragua and the Nicaraguan people, without encroaching on the rights of other nations."
That clearly states its long-term aims and policies. Nicaragua wishes to be a free and independent country. It wishes to be non-aligned. The United States Government wish to perpetuate the Monroe doctrine of control of the Caribbean and central America for their own interests. Given the seriousness of events in Nicaragua, the British Government should even now seriously join with other European governments in giving practical and intelligent support for the Contadora process, in resuming aid to Nicaragua and proper relations with Nicaragua instead of standing idly by and watching the militarisation of region continue, watching Honduras become the military base for the United States in the region and allowing the American exercises there to continue.

The situation in central America is desperately serious and extremely dangerous. The British Government have a role to play in supporting other European Governments that have condemned American military manoeuvres and militarisation of the region. They have a role to play in promoting trade and aid with Nicaragua rather than continuing the sales of military equipment to Honduras and their close relationship with the militarisation of Honduras.

There has been a desperate effort by the people of Nicaragua to remove themselves from the grinding cycle of poverty and debt into which so many Third world countries are forced by the policies of the United States and other great powers.

Many of those who have been to Nicaragua have admired what they saw. They admire the progress that has been made and the democracy that has gone with it. It is said that the British Government should stand by. In answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) on 29 October, a Foreign Office Minister replied that the Foreign Office had attended the meeting at San Jose in Costa Rica on 28–29 September but was not able to give the figures on expenditure on aid. It added that the matter was being considered by the European Community.

We need a change of direction and heart from the British Government so that we resume aid, support and supplies to Nicaragua. If we do not see that change of heart and if we do not join other Governments in supporting Nicaragua's right to self-determination and independence, we might well be on the brink of witnessing another Vietnam war.

Will American troops march into Nicaragua and attempt to destroy the democracy and freedom of that country and embroil themselves in a conflict in which hundreds of thousands will eventually die? This is a critical time, and I hope that the House will at least express the view that it wishes to see peace in central America. We shall see peace in the region only by respecting the borders and integrity of Nicaragua. The people of Nicaragua have had enough of destabilisation, bombing raids and blandishments from the United States. They are searching desperately for peace so that they may continue with their social and economic progress. The House must make its view clear. If it does not, it will be ignoring an extremely dangerous situation.

There is much else that I could say, but I shall conclude by saying that we shall return again and again to the situation in central America. So long as the Government align themselves so closely with United States foreign policy in that region and its domination in the region, we shall for ever be on the wrong side of the poorest people in central America.

1.48 pm

My comments will have to be extremely brief because of the shortage of time, but I shall record my view about an important subject that has not yet been touched upon in the debate. The Gracious Speech contains a reference to the Government working

"for the early conclusion of the negotiations to enable Spain and Portugal to join the Community."
I regret that the reference is cast in that way instead of "satisfactory negotiations on acceptable terms".

It is remarkable that never have the Government set out comprehensively or in detail their case for the enlargement of the Community. The only recent reference that I could find was in a written answer. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office—my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind)—stated:
"The benefits which the Community will derive"
from the enlargement of the Community
"are above all political—the consolidation of democracy and political stability in Europe. It is impossible to quantify precisely the economic consequences."—[Official Report, 19 March 1984; Vol. 56, c. 342.]
I do not believe that it is self-evident and obvious that the enlargement of the Community will be politically beneficial. Ireland is neutral and outside NATO, although in the Community; France has remained formally outside NATO, although it is a member of the Community; and Spain will hold a referendum on its membership of NATO independent of whether it becomes a member of the Community.

The costs of the agricultural policy relating to olive oil and wine are substantial. We must consider also the costs that will be incurred in the budget, which have already been admitted, with the net transfer of assets from this country to Spain. We cannot quantify the potential costs of the reorientation of the Community towards the south that will result from bringing in Spain and Portugal, and from a potential alignment with Greece, and Italy. There is also the possibility that France, when it makes a decision, will alter the direction of policy-making in the Community. Those aspects have not been considered sufficiently. We have been asked repeatedly to accept as self-evident the case for enlargement of the Community. I hope that the Government are not committed to enlargement of the Community willy-nilly, but will always bring before us the case for that enlargement. I hope that, if the case for Gibraltar is not made sufficiently well and if the extradition agreements with Spain are not sufficient, we shall be unable to support the enlargement of the Community.

1.53 pm

We have had a useful and well-informed debate. The debate was not as well attended today, a Friday, as it might have been on another day, but it was of general interest to both sides of the House. I stress especially the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) on UNESCO. His theme was not taken up by other hon. Members; none the less, it was of great importance.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) drew our attention exhaustively to the problems of St. Helena. I think that several hon. Members are well aware that there is increasing concern that St. Helena will be neglected and forgotten—much as one of its former inmates felt when he was there.

The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Johnston) spoke of the importance of the Government following their words with deeds in Ethiopia. The hon. Gentleman spoke also of the arguments about food surpluses.

The hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) have both been in Nicaragua and seen with their own eyes the problems faced by that country.

I hope that the Minister for Overseas Development will reply to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) on whether he will release what would have been our IDA contribution for allocation to the international fund for agricultural development.

The position in Ethiopia and in Nicaragua has been reflected by most hon. Members in this debate. Over Easter, I was in Eritrea in the northern part of what is presently Ethiopia and saw on the ground the practical way in which the distribution of food aid can be tackled. It is clear that the real issue in Ethiopia is not the total quantity of aid—there may be as much as 200,000 tonnes of food in Addis Ababa—but whether it can be distributed. The Dergue Government in Addis Ababa do not control between 75 and 85 per cent. of the areas most affected by drought. In practice, those areas are Tigré, with a population of 4·5 million, where the Relief Society of Tigré can and does play a very active role, and Eritrea, with a population of 3·5 million, where the Eritrean Relief Association can play an active role. There are also Wollo and Gondar, with populations of 2·5 million each. At present, 30 times more food aid has gone to the Government in Addis Ababa than to the Relief Society of Tigré or the Eritrean Relief Association.

There has been a remarkable response by the British public in making voluntary contributions to aid. At one stage, it exceeded the contributions made by the Government. It is the responsibility of the House to ensure that the Government are doing everything within their power to enable that aid to reach quickly the areas most in need.

Can the Minister say whether the Dergue Government will respond to the initiative taken by the Tigréan and Eritrean Liberation Fronts, which have offered to accept a ceasefire and allow safe passage of food aid into the areas which are in their control rather than the Government's control?

The Minister has already allocated two Hercules and two other aircraft to distribute food aid within Ethiopia. I should be glad to have his confirmation that they are now in Djibouti rather than at Makele. Unless they are at Mekele and unless it is possible in the coming weeks to use the food aid coming from the port of Massawa, it will be very difficult to distribute food aid into the worst affected areas.

If we are to move beyond the flying in of emergency relief in the very short term to the road transport of food aid, and if the port of Massawa is to be used—it is nearer than Assab, which has been choked by other traffic — there is a specific route available. It is not via Asmara; it is a route not under the control of the Government in Addis Ababa. It runs from Massawa to Adi Caieh and through to Makele. It is in those areas that children are dying; it is there that thousands, if not tens of thousands, of deaths could be prevented. Are the Government prepared to talk to the Relief Society of Tigré and the Eritrean Relief Association about those problems?

I went into Eritrea at Easter from Port Sudan. The Sudanese authorities are glad to have the co-operation of the Eritrean Relief Association in aiding that food distribution. Port Sudan has an international airport and is easily reached. South of Port Sudan there is a base which is being used by the Eritrean Relief Association at Suakin. It takes about eight hours by passenger transport and about 12 hours by lorry to move from Suakin into Eritrea.

The Eritrean Relief Association has about 100 trucks available to carry food aid. They will not be sufficient over the longer term to cope with the fundamental problem of food aid relief, but they are sufficient to move considerable resources into Eritrea and, if necessary—if the other routes cannot be opened—into Tigré.

The famine will last until October next year. It is clear—the Minister has admitted this outside the House—that the long-term development problems of the region must be faced. Perhaps he will tell us now what action he will take to ensure that such problems will be faced.

I found it depressing, having earlier visited drought areas in the Sahel Chad, Niger and Upper Volta to see the way in which the cycle there as in Ethiopia recurs because of the inadequacy of programmes to develop, for example, water drilling and other kinds of irrigation schemes to help agricultural production.

In the short term, transport is the key. Will the Government provide, as my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West said, or seek to secure, sufficient Leyland trucks to ensure that we can reach those areas? Ideally, they should be 10-tonne trucks. It would be feasible for the Government to acquire an additional 200 to 300 trucks. They will be critical for food aid distribution. Or does the Minister feel that he cannot grasp the nettle of dealing with the relief agencies of the liberation fronts? That is the political issue. It is a key issue for the British public who have raised so much and want to see it distributed quickly to those who are most desperately in need.

The main enemies of Ethiopia are drought, disaster, deprivation and death, not the Dergue Government in Addis Ababa or the liberation fronts. If there is to be any practical change for the 85 per cent. of the population in the afflicted areas who suffer so much, the Government must act now.

Will the Government take the initiative to try to reach agreement with the Ethiopian authorities—on what has already been offered by the Eritrean and Tigrean Liberation Fronts — to allow safe passage, without troops, for food aid into Eritrea, Tigré and Wollo? If safe passage is negotiated, can the Government allocate more aircraft immediately to help with the food aid?

Has the EEC Council of Ministers endorsed all the Commission's proposals for its latest aid package —£19·3 million plus £1·8 million for emergency aid and the extra £15 million for extra food aid? What additional resources will be committed by the United Kingdom Government beyond what was already in the overseas aid budget? What share of the budget is being taken by the Hercules programme?

The links between Ethiopia and Nicaragua are greater than a drought disaster in one country and a threatened disaster in another. They raise issues of alignment and non-alignment. The policies of non-alignment sought by the Eritrean and Tigrean Liberation Fronts are directly relevant to Ethiopia and Nicaragua, given the Soviet Union's backing of the Dergue Government, and the Nicaraguan authorities' commitment to non-alignment. This is not being taken seriously by the United States, and it should be.

There is then the problem of the MiGs, which is clearly preoccupying attention in Nicaragua. It is important to stress that the first reference to the MiGs—I grant that they generate a nervous reaction—occurred in a press interview that President-elect Daniel Ortega had some weeks ago. He was asked by a journalist how Nicaragua could defend itself against American attack when it does not have a modern air force. The hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West will confirm that what we saw of the air force in Nicaragua might be traded in for its cash value to a war museum. There were biplanes and push-me-pull-you planes, inherited from the Somoza era. We both thought that the subsonic jet that we saw taking off was a Gloster Meteor, which is just about the first jet aircraft ever built, about the end of the war.

The Nicaraguans do not have supersonic jet aircraft. The Honduran air force does. The Nicaraguans do not have ground attack fighters, nor jet bombers. The Honduran air force does. We hear about the military arms build up in Nicaragua, but the army is not the dominant factor in quantitative terms—it is the militia and the volunteers that give the higher total. We should bear in mind the fact that, in modern warfare, the crucial role is played by aircraft, not the army.

When Mr. Ortega was asked if he would buy supersonic aircraft from abroad, and, if so, whether they would he MiGs, he replied that Nicaragua is a sovereign state and as such is entitled to purchase aircraft anywhere in the world, whether they are Soviet MiGs or French Mirages. The United States has argued that there is evidence that there are MiGs in Nicaragua, but there is no such evidence.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the crews for these aeroplanes have been training in Bulgaria for some time and if they have been training on the MiG 21 it is highly unlikely that that country will buy another aircraft.

My point is that there is no evidence that there are MiGs on the way to Nicaragua.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that at the moment there does not appear to be any airfield capable of taking MiGs in Nicaragua? The civil airfield might just take some, but that would be obvious to everyone, and, as far as one can see, the military airfield is not yet ready for aircraft.

The airfield on the other side of Lake Managua is not yet ready. The presence of MiGs is not seriously at issue, as the United States is already accepting the assurance that they are not on the way.

However, allegations about MiGs have been made and may provide a pretext for what President Reagan has described as severe consequences for central America. But in earlier allegations about the supply of arms from Nicaragua to El Salvador, the United States Administration have not been able to provide any evidence. In the exchanges on this the US ambassador in Managua, Mr. Bergold claimed that arms had been delivered on an El Salvador beach. I asked him last week whether they were uncrated, and the arms seen. No, he replied, the arms were not uncrated and remained in their boxes. I asked him how he could tell that the box carried arms, and tried to help him. I suggested that perhaps the smaller boxes contained arms as they were heavier. "Yes, that's it," he said.

I had the same impression that I get when I ask my daughter where half the bar of fruit and nut in the kitchen has gone to. I felt that the sheer invention in some of the explanations given by the United States was remarkable. It is incumbent on a major power to be sure of its allegations if they are not to be seen simply as a pretext.

Like the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West I was in Nicaragua for the elections. I went to Chinandega, Corinto Leon and Managua itself during the elections and I confirm his judgment that the elections were well-run. Indeed, in the view of Norwegian observers the elections were impeccably held, better even than those in Norway. So that is not the issue.

The issue is the context of the elections and whether there was an overwhelming advantage to the Sandanistas during the run-up period. Certainly there were abstentions, just as there were abstentions of some 45 per cent. in the United States election. In Nicaragua, timing has also been an issue. Some say that the elections were held too soon, others that they were held too late. Some, like Mr. George Shultz, maintain that there were both too soon and too late. In fact, they were called in February for a date in November—4 November—on which they were indeed held, and during the several weeks of the election campaign press censorship was lifted.

Having been to Nicaragua three times in the past 12 months, I have pursued the issue of press censorship very carefully. It is clear that 85 per cent. of the material censored is military material or material affecting the incursions of the Contras into Nicaragua. I should make it clear that in our view there is no case for press censorship in any society at peace. But Nicaragua is not at peace. It has to face the devastating consequences of 8,000 to 9,000 armed troops aided and abetted, overtly or covertly, by the United States. Again, I asked Ambassador Bergold in Managua last week whether there was any denial that the Contra troops in Nicaragua were being supplied by air from United States-built bases in Honduras. He said that it was not in contention.

Sovereignty also is an issue. Earlier today, the Foreign Secretary referred to the right of the Falkland islanders
"to live peacefully under a Government of their own choosing."
Do the Government accept that the Nicaraguans have the same right? Is the Minister or the Foreign Secretary prepared to make that commitment? The Nicaraguan Government are committed to a policy of non-alignment, political pluralism and a mixed economy in basic needs. The economic effects of the war may have cost Nicaragua $550 million while the British Government are giving it only a few thousand pounds per year. The Nicaraguan Government have committed themselves to the Contadora process and to the elections, but as soon as they make those commitments the American Administration move the goal posts, change the terms and put the Nicaraguans in an impossible position. A responsible super-power leads by example rather than by force, by care rather than coercion. The United States is not doing that. When does the Foreign Secretary intend to bring pressure to bear on the United States Administration on these issues?

Finally, will the Minister for Overseas Development now tell the House whether indeed there are to be cuts in aid budget and whether the cuts will amount to £150 million, bringing the total down to 0·28 per cent. of gross national product?

2.13 pm

What I can tell the House will be severely limited by the time left to me to tell it.

I agree with the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) that we have had a useful and well-informed debate. Many points from both sides of the House were well worth listening to. In the limited time available, I wish first to pick up briefly some of the general points raised by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and others and then to deal with the aid programme and Ethiopia which are my special concern. I shall comply with the request of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Johnston) and try to answer by letter the points that it is not possible to deal with in my reply.

There have been many perceptive speeches. I should have liked to refer to those of my hon. Friends the Members for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) and for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), for example, but I am afraid that I shall have to leave them for the record. I hope that they will be well studied.

In opening the debate, my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary made it clear that he sees the East-West relationship as the centrepiece of our foreign policy and the problems that we face. I think that it would be fair to say that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East did not dissent from that. He put one or two specific points to me, and I shall answer them briefly. We welcome the tone of Mr. Chernenko's interview with the Washington Post, as do the Americans. There are no new points of substance in it, but it seems to us that it is something that is, as it were, designed to help a bit in creating the right climate.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about the so-called "star wars", the strategic defence initiative. We are studying that carefully. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as anybody that the implications are far-reaching, but the United States' programme is long-term and limited to research. Decisions on whether to deploy defences against ballistic missiles would be several years away. We heartily endorse the United States' willingness to discuss with the Soviet Union research programmes on strategic defence. SDI relates to research in that area, as do the long-established Soviet programmes.

With regard to whether we shall sign the test ban treaties, we continue to pursue a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing, but first we have to resolve the substantial problems associated with detecting and identifying underground explosions. The Soviet approach would sidestep that issue and ignore peaceful nuclear explosions. Therefore, we continue to work actively on those problems in the conference on disarmament.

With regard to whether the British system should be included in the INF START negotiations, I remember answering the same question by the right hon. Gentleman when I wound up the foreign affairs debate the best part of a year ago. We have a strategic nuclear force. It represents less than 3 per cent. of the strategic nuclear forces of the Soviet Union. It would be absurd, as things stand, for us to seek to trade reductions with a super-power, but we have never said "Never". If the Soviet and United States strategic arsenals were to be substantially reduced, and if no significant changes had occured in Soviet defence capabilities, Britain would want to review her position and consider how best she could contribute to arms control in the light of the reduced threat.

One or two hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber, mentioned the Iran-Iraq war. One horrifying aspect of the conflict is the use of chemical weapons. The House will therefore wish to know that, in order to ensure that chemicals that can be misused to make such weapons do not reach the combatants in the Gulf conflict from the United Kingdom, the Government have decided that the existing export controls imposed in the light of the United Nations report earlier this year should remain in force indefinitely. The permanent solution lies in early agreement at the Geneva negotiations on a total worldwide ban on the use of such weapons.

The House has also discussed Nicaragua. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary gave in his speech our view on the elections. We heard the careful report from my hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby). I must underline the fact that, however fair the administrative arrangements for polling were on the day, the campaign conditions left much to be desired. Opposition leaders were harrassed and there was continuing censorship. We must bear those factors in mind.

With regard to the CIA manual, the United States Government, as President Reagan made clear, disapproved of the contents of the manual. This is particularly important. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary made it clear that, in the general situation, Her Majesty's Government believe that there is a great need for restraint on all sides in the area.

I was asked about Lomé. The negotiations are on the right track. They are near completion, but one or two questions connected with human rights have not yet been negotiated. We have taken the view that the correct sum for the next Lomé is 7 billion ecu. That remains our position. It was agreed by the Community, and we believe that it is right.

I was asked by a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James), about the position of the aid programme in the public expenditure discussions which have been taking place. As the House knows, I cannot anticipate the public expenditure statements which are about to be made.

The right hon. Gentleman has been Chancellor of the Exchequer. He knows that perfectly well.

On many occasions when I was Chancellor of the Exchequer we announced certain expenditure decisions in advance of a mini-Budget. There is not the slightest reason, as we are debating this matter today, why the right hon. Gentleman should not have sought and received authority to make a satement about it.

I can easily imagine what the right hon. Gentleman would have said as Chancellor of the Exchequer if one of his colleagues had anticipated his statement in that way. I do not propose to do so.

Our aid figure last year was in line with the average for OECD countries. It was 0·35 per cent. as opposed to 0·36 per cent. for OECD. The characteristic of our aid programme is the bias towards the poorest countries, and it is to the poorest countries we give grants and not loans. In a world where debt is a major problem, that is of enormous value. It is one of the most positive aspects of our aid programme.

The famine in Ethiopia has moved us all. Television has brought it into everyone's home in a way never perhaps seen before. Even those whose job it is to know and to act in aid matters have had what is happening brought home to them with a vividness and intensity that reports on paper cannot match.

Aid is an area where ordinary people can respond to events, and they have done so by giving with great generousity. The voluntary agencies have risen to the occasion, as have Her Majesty's Government, other donor Governments, the international organisations, the Ethiopian Government and the other Governments of the countries concerned. The charge is made of its being too little and too late. When we discuss a catastrophe as grave as the one we see, that in itself is a very serious charge and it has to be answered.

I, too, have seen the films and I intend shortly to go to Ethiopia to see what is happening on the ground. I do not say that everything has been done by everyone in all circumstances. I cannot say that all has been done for the best of all possible worlds. We have a very important job of analysis. It is a vital job. We have to look at what has happened and what is happening and come up with the right answers. Some of them must be immediate answers to the immediate problems. Some of them mean standing back and reflecting about the longer term—for example, about development strategies and so on.

I must make some facts clear. It is simply not true to say that we have done nothing about providing food until the last few weeks. We and the other donors have of course known for a long time that Ethiopia was at serious risk, even though it may be true that the full gravity of the situation has become clear only recently. What is more, we are not talking only about Ethiopia.

We have been providing food aid on an appreciable scale. In 1982 the United Kingdom provided £5·2 million worth of food aid to Ethiopia. In 1983 our bilateral food aid to Ethiopia constituted 19,000 tonnes of cereals. In 1984 the figure has been 26,500 tonnes of cereals, and we made an announcement a few days ago.

Even more important in terms of food aid than our national contribution is our share in the food aid of the European Community. We all know that food aid is a vexed subject. It has weaknesses in developmental terms, and no one is happy about the mountains except perhaps some farmers. But in famine conditions food aid is crucially important, and the mountains are reserves which can be and are drawn on very quickly, although they have to be paid for, as delivery has to be paid for, and that can be a very costly business.

Overall, the Community is providing more than 1 million tonnes of cereal food aid a year. In the past 12 months 117,000 tonnes of grain have been given to Ethiopia by the Community. The development committee which I attended on Tuesday confirmed food aid worth another 25 million ecu, and it is expected that the remainder of the 1984 programme will go to meet emergency needs in Africa—not just in Ethiopia.

That is all substantial action, but at the Development Council meeting this week I stressed the need to do two things. First, we need to decide that the Community's food aid should be concentrated on the areas of real emergency rather than on lower priority schemes elsewhere, as sometimes happens at present. Secondly, we must take decisions as soon as possible about the allocation of the 1985 food programme.

If the right hon. Gentleman recognises that there is an emergency and that it is particularly bad in Tigré, how is the food aid to be distributed, and how will the Government contribute to that?

The hon. Gentleman is right about Eritrea and Tigré, where there is a great deal of starvation. Our view is that we can best provide aid there through the reputable British and international agencies. The experience of such agencies is that they can work effectively there. What concerns us is whether it is right that there should be highly publicised agreements with the representatives of the liberation movements. Will that make any easier the task of getting the food through?

I am advised that the voluntary agencies do not want to see any spectacular political changes at a high level. They just want the job to be done. We are making sure that the aid that goes to Ethiopia is reaching those in need. I do not want to have to try to do that in a hyped-up political context.

I am sorry, I have three minutes left.

The other decision which I have pressed on the Community is that we should allocate the 1985 food aid programme. It is necessary that those who are providing food aid—and there has been a good response across the world—should be able to do so in a co-ordinated manner.

On the the overall question of donor cooperation, something valuable has happened. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recently made it clear to the Secretary-General of the United Nations that we needed a better system. The Secretary-General has now appointed an experienced representative, Mr. Jansson, to co-ordinate the operation in Addis Ababa and we shall work closely with him. We have an excellent ambassador in Addis Ababa and a good team here at home. A machine is being constructed. It will of course encounter difficulties in operating in such a country, but I believe that we are doing an effective job in conjunction with our partners.

We have provided all sorts of supplies which are desperately needed. I have had two talks with the commissioner of the Ethiopian relief and rehabilitation committee, and we have agreed that the transport problems must be given a high priority.

The Royal Air Force's Hercules aircraft have been operating to good effect ferrying supplies back and forward. They will remain in Ethiopia initially for three months, and during that period their costs will not fall on the aid budget.

The long-term problem remains. We are concerned with getting food and medicines through as quickly as possible. We and our partners are doing a good job, and the Communist bloc has at last been shamed into doing something, too. However, the vital matter is long-term development. There are great difficulties associated with development work in Ethiopia. We have largely withdrawn from development work there because conditions are difficult and the political and governmental climate is a difficult one in which to work. The Community has run a development programme. Indeed, Ethiopia is the largest recipient under the Lomé convention. We must now ask whether we can get from the Ethiopian Government a change of heart in regard to long-term development that will make it possible to operate effectively in the future. Those are the important long-term issues that must be faced. Our work is important and valuable and it is appreciated by the Ethiopian Government. The European Community's role is of the greatest importance and—

It being half past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Monday next.

Leeward Islands Air Transport

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Archie Hamilton.]

Order. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his point of order takes time out of the Adjournment debate?

Yes. Yesterday I was tabling questions to the Home Secretary. I tried to table a question asking whether he would call for a public report to include names and evidence of the—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is not allowed to read a disorderly question.

I wish to raise an important point of order with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would ask you to listen to it as there has been a massive distortion—

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot repeat the text of his question.

I shall not do so. My point of order concerns the existence of a public report that includes names, and evidence of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis's statement in which he said that there are people in national life and local government who are trying to make foul and dishonest attacks on the police.

Order. If the Table Office has refused a question, the hon. Gentleman must pursue the matter with Mr. Speaker and not in the Chamber.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that you should hear me out. I am asking you to consider the distortion of a question that I wanted to ask. I was merely allowed to table a question suggesting that the Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis should be dismissed. That is a long way from the question that I wanted to ask. Will you investigate and stop this bureaucratic distortion of what hon. Members want to ask?

The hon. Gentleman must take up that matter with Mr. Speaker, not in the Chamber.

2.32 pm

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about the development of aid for Leeward Islands Air Transport. I know that the Minister strongly supports what I have to say but I am worried that the Europeans are influencing the decision. The Minister must have an inexperienced young man behind him as his Parliamentary Private Secretary, as he tried to stop me intervening in our earlier debate. I was trying to help the Minister. The Minister is an old friend. We are political opponents but share a common conviction on this matter.

I am worried that decisions in Europe do not take account of the interests of the people who want aid. The Lomé convention demands that when aid is given, the interests of the recipients should be taken into account. The people who receive aid are entitled to state their views. They are entitled to say that they are grown up, that they are men, that they know what they want and could they please have it. The Minister is not a grandfather yet but I am and I know that grandchildren make demands that are sometimes easier to meet than are those of one's children.

The ten countries in the Leeward Islands make a plea which is reasonable, well-considered and which should be met. Someone is standing in the way of that request being met. I speak without notes because I feel strongly about the issue. Between 1939 and 1945 I flew aircraft in that area. I am a member of the executive committee of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I have met people in the eastern Caribbean who are extremely well-informed and say that they want and need the Super 748. I should like the European Commissioner to hold my hand and fly with me in the aircraft which he proposes should be used in the eye of a hurricane and see whether he is frightened.

The Leeward Islands Air Transport company, the 10 Governments involved and the Caribbean bank involved all want the Super 748. We demand nothing more than that. I know that the Minister for Overseas Development is on my side. Why are the Europeans being so foolish in their first decision about aid to the Caribbean? I wonder whether they are being foolish or sinister. The French are a nice people. As a Welshman I find them nice on the rugby field, but I am not sure whether they are nice when it comes to economic decisions. Does the Minister think that the decision has been made wisely?

All 10 Governments involved want the Super 748. The airline operates in difficult circumstances. The Minister would be frightened if he had to land four times a week in the airports in that area. British Aerospace has been generous. It has told Governments that LIAT want the aircraft and that it approves it. If LIAT wants advanced technology as distinct from appropriate technology British Aerospace is willing to accept a delayed decision. Indeed, British Aerospace is prepared to say, "All right, take the 748 advanced version. Let us support the islands in their need for tourism. If, at the end of the day, we are wrong, it can be undone and the money which is available can be used later for an advanced technology." I have never heard of such a reasonable and generous offer.

The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) was courteous enough to say earlier that I could intervene in his speech. As chairman of the Conservative party's aviation committee, may I associate the Conservative party with his remarks and say that it would be wrong if the professional and technical selection of the Super 748 by the Leeward Islands Air Transport company were overturned by the diktat of the EC aid authorities?

What a lovely intervention! It shows the Minister that all hon. Members agree completely on this matter. We are worried that a decision is about to be made that is completely opposed to what the people of the area require.

I repeat that all 10 Governments and the airline involved want the Super 748. It is a very difficult area in which to fly aircraft. In 1979, I was involved in rescue operations after hurricanes and I flew in such an aircraft, which is superb and the best available. If the Super 748 is not chosen, there will be anxiety on both sides of the House and a demand for an inquiry.

I wonder whether the Minister would be willing to fly with me and say, "All right, mate, you and I can go together because we have been involved for a long time in the problems of disability and technology". Will he fly with me—he is young and I am old—together with the European Commissioner, in the French aircraft into a hurricane, shall we say next week? I should tell him that the eastern Caribbean requires the new aircraft next week, because the existing one, which has already made between 60,000 and 80,000 landings, is clapped out by any standards. The aircraft that will fly in tomorrow has already done 60,000 landings and tomorrow it will have done 60,000 plus one. Would he be happy with that? That is what he is imposing upon the people of the area.

When the Minister presents his case in Europe, I hope that he will remember that the Caribbean countries need an aircraft that is reliable and sturdy, that can land in all circumstances, no matter how difficult, and that can carry full loads on time at all times.

To digress for a moment, I should tell the Minister that I am not happy that the eastern Caribbean depends upon tourism. However, that is the way that the cookie has crumbled. The Minister and others before him have made the eastern Caribbean a tourist area, and we must accept that, however reluctantly. But having accepted it, we must ensure that the new aircraft meets the needs of tourism not in 1986 or later, but now. The decisions that are being made in Europe are either silly or sinister. Will the Minister invite the responsible Commissioner to join us in the moment of great difficulty when we fly in the eye of a hurricane in the untried, unproved and unknown airccraft which Europe wants us to accept for the Caribbean, or will he support us strongly in Brussels by saying that the aircraft that everyone wants is known and has been operated in the area? That aircraft is the HS748. The various options can be considered and decided upon later to everyone's advantage.

2.45 pm

It is useful that the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) has raised this topic, which has attracted considerable publicity in recent weeks.

The interest shown in the aircraft replacement programme of Leeward Islands Air Transport, LIAT, obviously reflects the vital role that this airline plays in the development of the Caribbean. Development aid is not normally used for re-equipping airlines. LIAT is an exception because it provides a public air transport service between the islands of the eastern Caribbean.

The present company is owned by 11 shareholding Caribbean Governments and was formed in 1974. LIAT is incorporated in Antigua and its operating area covers 15 island states and territories in the eastern Caribbean.

With no scheduled passenger boat services between the islands, air transport is the only means of transport for business, family and tourist travellers. The tourist industry in the region is heavily dependent on LIAT. Without a reliable air service this industry could not continue.

Before examining the details of the European development fund project for replacing LIAT aircraft, I think it is important to establish the role of the Commission and member states on procurement matters. The choice of contractors for projects financed by the European development fund is a matter for the Commission, which has to act in conjunction with the recipient states in accordance with the rules laid down in the Lomé convention. Under the terms of the convention, the Commission must ensure that the economically most advantageous offer is accepted. Member states expect these rules to be fully and fairly applied in all cases, but are not themselves involved in the examination of tenders and the placement of contracts. Member states play their part much earlier when they approve the project proposals which give rise to the placing of contracts.

I shall set out the history of this project. In 1983, following an EDF-financed study, EDF aid totalling £3·4 million was provided for improving LIAT's operational and financial performance with an "immediate needs package".

The EDF project is intended to follow this earlier investment in equipment as part of an overall programme of improvement. It results from an EDF-financed study in 1983 on LIAT's aircraft requirements. This concluded that LIAT's aging 48-seater British Aerospace 748s should be replaced by four new turboprop short haul aircraft of similar passenger capacity.

Following a request from the Caribbean Economic Community, the European Community agreed to finance the procurement of these new aircraft at a cost of 26 million European currency units. Of this 16 mecu would be loaned by the Commission to the Caribbean Development Bank for on-lending to LIAT; and 10 mecu loaned by the European Investment Bank to LIAT's shareholder states to finance new share capital and shareholders' loan to the company.

The Commission and EIB project proposals were approved by member states in February 1984. Approval was on the clear understanding that the three European manufacturers of suitable aircraft—British Aerospace, Fokker of the Netherlands and Aerospatiale/Aeritalia, a French/Italian joint venture — should be allowed to negotiate with LIAT for the aircraft to be procured. It was also agreed that the Commission would engage independent consultants to observe the negotiations between LIAT and the manufacturers. The exact specifications of the aircraft to be supplied would be subject to negotiation, but the aircraft finally selected should represent the economically most advantageous offer.

Negotiations between LIAT and the three manufacturers were opened in April. The independent consultant—Lufthansa—and the Commission delegate in Barbados took part as observers in the proceedings of the LIAT selection committee. In July this committee made a unanimous decision in favour of the British Aerospace Super 748. Its choice was subsequently endorsed by the LIAT board and the Caribbean Development Bank, which communicated this decision to Brussels.

Following meetings in Brussels in September and October, the Commission informed the CDB and LIAT that their choice could not be considered to be economically the most advantageous offer. The Commission claimed that the economic and financial analyses carried out both by their technical services and by the consultant favoured the French/Italian ATR 42 offer. LIAT continued vigorously to contest this decision and the Commission agreed to reconsider its position if LIAT could demonstrate that some crucial factors had been left out of the Commission's analysis. A detailed economic rebuttal of the Commission's case was presented yesterday to the Commission by the Caribbean Development Bank. Caribbean representatives are planning to discuss this submission with the Commission next week and a final decision on the selected aircraft is expected shortly after that.

I share Members' concern about the problems in reaching agreement on the placing of a contract for new aircraft. When this project was approved by member states in February, it was hoped that the first aircraft could be delivered within six months. LIAT still remains in need of an immediate solution to the problems of its aging fleet. This was apparent during my visit to the Caribbean last month. Everywhere I went Ministers made clear to me their overwhelming preference for the Super 748 and their dissatisfaction wih the Commission's analysis. I urged the LIAT board to present any additional information it had to the Commission, and I am glad that that has now been done.

I understand that LIAT wants Super 748s because these are available for early delivery and will therefore lead to an immediate improvement in its financial position. Super 748s have proven reliability, and since LIAT already operates similar aircraft, their choice would avoid the retraining and maintenance problems of operating a different aircraft. Moreover, I understand that the British Aerospace offer contains a guarantee to buy back the aircraft at any time up to four years after their acquisition for the amount paid for them. This would give LIAT the possibility to consider new technology aircraft as and when the latter were proven and if the airline decided they were right.

On 5 October the annual general meeting of LIAT's shareholders resolved not to purchase unproven new technology aircraft at present and thus rejected the ATR 42 offer, since the aircraft will not be commercially available for 18 months. The airline also has doubts about the operational suitability of the ATR 42, especially over the number of refuelling stops required.

The Commission's task in reconciling the requirements of the airline, the competing claims of the manufacturers and the need to ensure value for money from EDF investments is not easy. The Commission wisely sought expert assistance. Having received the report of the independent aviation consultants on the economically most advantageous offer, the Commission could hardly ignore it. Its subsequent decision in favour of the French/Italian offer was made after considerable economic and financial analysis. The Commission took the view that it could not be expected to re-examine its decision unless objective counter-evidence was produced to demonstrate shortcomings in its analysis.

However, LIAT has now produced this counter-evidence. Its detailed analysis apparently concludes that the British Aerospace 748/ATP solution is economically superior to the ATR 42 solution when realistic assumptions concerning aircraft scheduling and traffic growth are made. In addition, LIAT claims that the analysis confirms that the various operational arguments already deployed against the ATR 42 remain valid.

In recent weeks I have spoken about LIAT both to Commissioner Pisani and to the Director-General for Development, expressing my concern over the problems the Commission has encountered in reaching agreement with the recipient Caribbean Governments over replacement aircraft. I wrote to Commissioner Pisani last week following my visit to the Caribbean. I indicated the concerns of the Caribbean Governments and others who have expressed their deep anxieties about the future of LIAT, for whom this project represents so much. I informed Commissioner Pisani that LIAT would be sending a further detailed economic analysis in support of its choice of aircraft. I know that he will review this most carefully. He has always respected the developmental needs and wishes of Community aid recipients. I believe he could be persuaded by objective analysis showing that the Super 748 offer is economically the most advantageous.

The House is understandably united in its desire to see British Aerospace secure the EDF contract for supplying new aircraft to LIAT. I share that wish, but we must respect the Commission's authority in this matter and the Lome convention rules on placing EDF contracts. Those rules were designed to ensure that aid gives value for money. Adherence to them is essential to our long-term aim of improving the quality and effectiveness of EDF aid. The House should also be aware that insisting that the Commission rigorously applies the Lome tendering rules has worked to the United Kingdom's commercial advantage.

We are all in total agreement about this matter. All we want is for the Commission to say that it will make an honest judgment. The Minister must realise that he has support from both sides of the House, but some of us will say to the Commission, "If you cannot make an honest decision after honest surveys by expert people, and you allow your prejudice to show, do not be surprised if the Brits are very unhappy about the way in which decisions are made in Europe."

I shall press for a full-scale inquiry into the way in which the Commission makes decisions about matters such as this. I am in total agreement with the Minister and I support him all the way, but I reserve the right to say that I want a full-scale inquiry.

The hon. Gentleman has summed up the position by saying that we want an honest judgment. I have made it clear to Commissioner Pisani that the United Kingdom expects the procurement rules to be fully and fairly applied in the case of the LIAT contract. However, I believe that Commissioner Pisani will ensure that that is done. The force of the debate and the points that LIAT has made must be considered with great care.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at three minutes to Three o'clock.