House Of Commons
Wednesday 24 October 1990
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Shard Bridge Bill
Read the Third time, and passed.
Standing Orders (Private Business)
That the Amendments to Standing Orders relating to Private Business set out in the Schedule be made.
Standing Order 1
Leave out lines 72 to 75 and insert—
`the term "water company" means a company appointed to be a water undertaker or a sewerage undertaker under Chapter 1 of Part II of the Water Act 1989'.
Standing Order 4A, as amended in 1986
- Line 7, leave out 'a London borough or',
- Line 16, after 'county' insert "metropolitan district or London borough'.
- Line 23, after 'counties' insert 'metropolitan districts or London boroughs'.
- Line 35, after 'county' insert 'metropolitan district or London borough'.
- Line 38, after 'county' insert 'metropolitan district or London borough'.
Standing Order 7
Line 2, after 'specify' insert `by reference to the deposited plans'.
Standing Order 10
- Line 12, after 'county' insert 'metropolitan district or London borough'.
- Line 20, after 'county' insert `metropolitan district or London boroughs'.
- Line 29, after 'county' insert `metropolitan district or London borough'.
Standing Order 27
Line 62, after 'Office' insert 'one copy at the Health and Safety Executive'.
Standing Order 29
Line 6, leave out from 'thereon' to 'shall' in line 8.
Standing Order 32
Line 11, leave out from 'the' to 'and' in line 12 and insert 'principal regional office of the National Rivers Authority for the area containing the river or estuary affected'.
Standing Order 33
- Line 4, leave out 'which is subject to the jurisdiction of a water authority'.
- Line 9, leave out `office of that authority' and insert 'principal regional office of the National Rivers Authority for the area containing the river affected'.
Standing Order 36, as amended in 1986
Line 11, at end insert 'with the proper officer of the district'.
Standing Order 37
Line 8, at end insert 'and another at the Department of the Environment'.
Standing Order 39
Line 18, leave out from beginning to 'at' in line 19.
Standing Order 42
- Line 3, leave out `within the area of any water authority'.
- Line 7, leave out 'office of the authority' and insert 'principal regional office of the National Rivers Authority for the area containing the water course affected'.
Standing Order 43
Line 7, leave out from 'the' to 'and' in line 8 and insert `principal regional office of the National Rivers Authority for the area containing the river or estuary affected'.
Standing Order 45
- Line 2, leave out from 'Office' to end of line 11.
- Line 12, leave out from first 'bill' to second 'in' in line 13.
- Line 16, after 'estimate' insert 'signed by the person making the same'.
- Line 19, leave out from beginning to 'and' in line 21. Line 33, leave out subsection (4).
Standing Order 46
That the Standing Order be repealed.
Standing Order 64
Line 17, after 'that' insert—
Standing Order 99
Line 1, leave out 'water authority or other'.
Standing Order 155
That the Standing Order be repealed.
Standing Order 156
That the Standing Order be repealed.
Standing Order 156A
Line 6, leave out from 'might' to 'under' in line 7 and insert 'be taken into account in determining the sums payable by way of Revenue Support Grant'.
Standing Order 156B
That the Standing Order be repealed.
Standing Order 159
That the Standing Order be repealed.
Standing Order 162
That the Standing Order be repealed.
Standing Order 191
- Line 7, at end insert—
- '(c) any community charge, or the non-domestic rate; or'.
- Line 8, leave out 'Rate' and insert 'Revenue'.
Standing Order 198
- Line 7, at beginning insert 'In the case of a bill originating in this House'.
- Line 9, leave out from 'time' to end of line 13.
Standing Order 235
Line 6, at end add 'and no Petitions other than those so deposited shall be received'.— [The Chairman of Ways and Means.]
City Of Dundee District Council Order Confirmation Bill
Zetland Masonic Sick And Widows And Orphans Fund Order Confirmation Bill
Read the Third time, and passed.
Oral Answers To Questions
Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs
United States Of America
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next plans to visit the United States of America to discuss American-European relations.
I have no firm plans for my next visit to the United States. I am in frequent touch with Mr. Baker, and last met him in New York on 2 October during the meeting of CSCE Ministers.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree with his American counterpart that, in the light of the end of the cold war in Europe, NATO is increasingly likely to become a political rather than a military alliance? If so, what steps does he intend to take to further that change?
Those steps were clearly set out at the July NATO summit held in London. We set out the military essentials of the alliance. We—and, of course, the Americans and all the allies—intend to maintain the integrated command, the presence of substantial American troops on the continent of Europe and a sensible mix of nuclear and conventional weapons. We then went on to illustrate the change, in particular by holding out the hand of co-operation to eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
Will my right hon. Friend go a little further? Does he realise that the North Atlantic Assembly is the only governmentally accepted body where American members of Congress and European Members of Parliament can meet? Although much consideration is being given to the military structure, the future of a body in which American members of Congress, Canadian Members of Parliament and European members can get together is of the greatest importance and is worthy of serious consideration.
I know the importance of the Atlantic Assembly and the part that my hon. Friend plays in it. I certainly agree that such contacts, forming part of the political side of NATO's work, are extremely important.
As the IRA has extended its activities into many countries of the European Community, and as much of its funding comes from the United States—some of its blood money was probably used this morning in the atrocious attack on the Royal Irish Rangers in Newry and on another regiment in Londonderry, which no doubt the Foreign Secretary will take the opportunity to condemn—has the Foreign Secretary ever raised the question of funding by Americans for the IRA in Europe?
Of course, I condemn this morning's tragic events in Newry and in Londonderry. We have often raised this point. When I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I raised it when I visited the United States. The present Administration and the Reagan Administration before them, have taken as strict a line as they can within United States law to ensure that such contributions are not given in a way that could help the outrages about which the right hon. Gentleman is concerned. I agree that we need to keep those reminders constantly before the United States.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that relations between America and Europe could be seriously undermined because of the failure of the EEC to put forward realistic proposals on agricultural expenditure? Does it worry my right hon. Friend, as Foreign Secretary, that, despite all the pleas that were made for strong action, the EEC is planning a substantial increase in its agricultural spending next year and that, once again, food mountains are growing to all-time highs?
Yes, indeed. I made the first point strongly to my colleagues in Luxembourg on Monday. It is not sensible for the European Community and its leaders to suppose that they will attract much credibility when talking about economic and monetary union or, indeed, political union if they cannot produce a reasonable offer for the GATT negotiations. At the moment, the European Community is isolated. I believe that when examined at the negotiating table, the American offers will prove to have a good deal of fustian in them, but we cannot examine them at the negotiating table until we have a position of our own.
When replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), the right hon. Gentleman referred with approval to the declaration made at the July NATO summit, which the Prime Minister signed. Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that in that declaration NATO endorsed a new NATO strategy making nuclear forces
and that those are the words of President Bush himself? Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why, in her speech in Helsinki on 30 August the Prime Minister said:"truly weapons of last resort",
As the Prime Minister signed that declaration and as she has disgracefully repudiated it, will the Foreign Secretary now uphold President Bush and repudiate the Prime Minister?"Our first task is in reality to preserve the essentials of the present order. That means … continuing to station nuclear weapons in Europe, without putting new constraints on them such as … 'weapons of last resort'"?
The right hon. Gentleman has earned his reputation for selective quotation. He omitted—[Interruption.] I see that some of his text is highlighted, but I am not sure whether that is the bit that he left in or the bit that he left out. I recall clearly our discussions at Lancaster house on this point and the balancing sentences and phrases that were used to safeguard the position of the Alliance. One thing that it must preserve is a sensible mix of nuclear and conventional weapons.
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next intends to meet the Foreign Minister of Israel to discuss the middle east peace process.
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next plans to visit Israel to discuss the middle east peace process.
I met the Israeli Foreign Minister on 16 October. We had a thorough discussion of middle eastern issues. I have no firm plans to meet Mr. Levy again, but we agreed to stay in closer contact in future.
Did my right hon. Friend congratulate the Israeli Government on their actions in deactivating the Basra reactor? Without that action, the bloodthirsty butcher of Baghdad would have been able to threaten the whole world with a nuclear disaster.
I take my hon. Friend's point, but I am not sure that the world would be a safer place if everybody acted as Israel did in that respect. Nevertheless, I take note of what I believe is my hon. Friend's point for the future. Iraq has obligations of great importance under the non-proliferation treaty and it is of crucial interest to the whole community—not just to Israel—that those obligations should be respected.
Given the disastrous results of the Foreign Secretary's attempts to clarify the Government's position with regard to the Palestinian problem when he was in Jerusalem recently, will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to make a clear and unambiguous statement to Parliament on the Government's commitment to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the west bank and the Gaza?
As the hon. Lady knows, we have never had such a commitment. What we are saying and have said for a long time is that the Palestinians have the right to self-determination and that that right can be exercised only in the context of a negotiated settlement, which must also include provision for the security of Israel within secure borders. That has been the position for a long time, and I restated it in Jerusalem. I am sorry that, for one reason or another, the way in which it came out prevented Palestinian leaders from meeting me a week ago as I had hoped. That would have balanced my visit to Israel.
When my right hon. Friend met the Israeli Government did he raise with them the horrendous and appalling massacre of hundreds of Lebanese Christians by the Syrian army? If he did not, will he join me in inviting the United Nations to pass a resolution condemning that outrage to prove to the world and the parties in the middle east that it is not the one-sided, biased organisation that it sometimes appears to be?
We made it clear with regard to the killings on Temple Mount, the later killings in Jerusalem, and what happened in the Lebanon, that we condemn all acts of violence of that nature. They are separate problems and neither will be resolved by political violence.
After his visit to Israel, does the right hon. Gentleman feel that he now has a better understanding of the legitimate sensitivities and anxieties of that democratic country? If Britain is to help in the peace process, it must be seen to be even-handed and balanced. That means continuing its opposition to the Arab boycott. If he believes that that is right, will he speak to the Secretary of State for Energy about the reported compliance of National Power with that boycott, which I am sure he would regard as intolerable?
One of the purposes of my visit to Israel was to get into close touch with not only Israeli Ministers but people such as Mr. Peres and Mayor Kollek. Israel is a democratic society and I hope that within the democratic debate in Israel there is a growing realisation that its security cannot satisfactorily rest on a regime of occupation. It is neither a just nor a sustainable basis for the security of Israel, about which Israelis, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said, are rightly anxious and sensitive.On the hon. and learned Gentleman's second point, we deplore boycott efforts and campaigns of that nature. How specific British enterprises respond to them is not a matter for me.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the presence of the Iraqis in Kuwait is totally unacceptable, as is the presence of the Israelis in parts of the Lebanon, Syria and Jordan?
Yes, in parts of Jordan. The presence of both forces is unacceptable for exactly the same reasons—[Interruption.] My hon. Friends have had their say and now they should let someone else have theirs. They are in defiance of the United Nations resolutions against invading and occupying the territory of their neighbours. Will my right hon. Friend also confirm my understanding of the position? The reason why we, the Americans and others are in Saudi is that we were invited there by the Saudi Government, in the same way as the Syrians are in the Lebanon because they were invited there by the Lebanese Government. Am I correct in that assumption?
The right answers to both the problems which my hon. Friend mentioned have been set out in Security Council resolutions. In the case of Kuwait the resolutions are very clear because they respond to a clear act of aggression and require the unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi troops. In the case of Arab-Israel, another set of Security Council resolutions, in particular Nos. 242 and 338, require the sensible reconciling of Israel's need for security—a particularly sensitive matter because of its geography and recent history—and the right of the Palestinians to self-determination. Those two things must be reconciled. They can be reconciled only through negotiations for a comprehensive settlement.It is not sensible to draw too many exact comparisons between the positions in Syria and Kuwait but my hon. Friend is right that originally, whatever one's view of their later activities, the Syrians went into Lebanon at the request of the Lebanese Government.
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent representations he has made to the Government of Romania about the development of democracy there.
Neither I nor my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs plans to visit Romania at present. However, I hope that Ministers will be able to discuss economic matters with the Romanian deputy Prime Minister in the United Kingdom next month. My right hon. Friend discussed Romania's troubled progress towards democracy with his Romanian counterpart in New York on 2 October.
Despite 40 years of paranoid tyranny and the many betrayed hopes of the past nine months, will the Government now respond to the genuine encouraging trends in Romania with the first prosecutions of the miners who participated in the June repression and the fact that recent opposition demonstrations have not been harassed? Is not there a grave danger, however, that unless we take action now and acknowledge in a practical way the advances that have been made to the flawed but genuine democracy of Romania, we shall give encouragement to those sinister forces seeking to recreate the country's previous isolation?
I certainly agree that we must reward the steps forward, but we must not ignore those things that are still going wrong. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that we and our European colleagues were right to sign a trade agreement with Romania. However, we are holding back from further steps because there is evidence of further secret police activity of the old style and of the harassment of dissidents. I spoke to Doina Cornea about that when we met recently. It is a policy of carrots and sticks and both, I am afraid, are still necessary.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that whole-hearted political and economic co-operation with the Government of Romania will be difficult as long as that Government appear to have a less than healthy commitment to human rights and freedoms? Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is still a great deal of fear among the ordinary people of Romania that the secret police, the Securitate, are still up to their old tricks? Have we made it clear enough to President Iliescu and his Government that we want to see further progress towards a truly free society before there is real co-operation?
I believe that we have made that pretty clear. The Romanians are anxious to present the progress that they have made in as clear a manner as possible. As I said to the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), we must not forget that other things still need a great deal of improvement. The meetings that we were able to have in Bournemouth with a number of principal dissidents under Ceausescu warned us that, as yet, all is far from being in order.
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent conferences on the international aspects of AIDS have been attended by Ministers or officials; and if he will make a statement.
Officials have attended eight conferences on AIDS issues this year. AIDS is a global threat, and international co-operation is required to control its spread. Our strategy is highly regarded internationally, and we play a leading role in international meetings on the subject.
It is reassuring to hear that officials are being sent to attend those important international gatherings, but does the Minister accept that ministerial involvement is also important? He should pay particular attention to the worrying increase in the number of AIDS cases in the heterosexual community, particularly those cases that have been contracted as a result of foreign travel. What will Ministers do in future to ensure that business men and holiday makers are given the proper information that they need to protect themselves?
This is a very important matter, and ministerial involvement is constant. With regard to the spread of AIDS through heterosexual contacts by travellers abroad, the World Health Organisation runs co-ordinated national AIDS programmes in almost every country and has published a booklet, "AIDS Information For Travellers", which is widely available.
I support what the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) said. I have just come from a meeting of the all-party group on AIDS and the key message that we must get across is the danger faced by the heterosexual community. Given the worrying figures already mentioned, will my hon. Friend undertake to consider ways in which to increase awareness of the dangers in that community?
Of course. We are very much aware of the increase in AIDS in the heterosexual community. I shall certainly undertake to reconsider these matters to see whether there are any further initiatives that we can take.
AIDS is a terrifying problem which has serious implications—the likely death of millions of people throughout the world. What support has been given to WHO so that the spread of AIDS in other countries can at least be combated by publicity and that research done in Britain and the United States can be shared with the poorer countries, which are suffering just as badly, if not worse than ourselves, from the problem of AIDS?
The World Health Organisation is leading the action against AIDS. The United Kingdom is the third largest donor and we have pledged £16·83 million so far.
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions are taking place within the European Community regarding the implications of German unification for weighted majority voting in the Council of Ministers and for the size of the European Parliament.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who will be aware that weighted majority voting in the Council of Europe bears little relationship to the populations of the countries involved. However, we now hear that following unification, both the Chancellor and the Foreign Minister in Germany have said that they do not require any increased representation "for the time being." May I take it from my hon. Friend that his reply "none" is 100 times more encouraging than "none for the time being"?
The German Government undertook not to request EC treaty amendments to accommodate German unification. They have made no proposals to amend qualified majority vote weighting or the number of Members of the European Parliament, both of which would require treaty amendment. But, as my hon. Friend says, it is clear that a number of small member countries, with Luxembourg a prime example, have made a not able contribution to the Community despite their size.
Although we must welcome the extension of the Community by the inclusion of what was, before this October, a separate country, is not it inappropriate that the other countries of central Europe that experienced similar democratic revolutions and are at a similar economic stage—Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland—should be kept out of the Community while the former German Democratic Republic is allowed in?
There is no intention on behalf of the Government or the Community to keep anyone out of the Community. The Prime Minister has made it clear that we would welcome the day when those new, emerging democracies in the east are in a position, because of their internal politics and their economies, to apply to join the Community.
I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to his new position. Is it likely that such matters will be discussed at the intergovernmental conference and what position will Her Majesty's Government take?
There is no reason why those matters should arise in the intergovernmental conference. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his warm welcome.
Was the Minister of State in favour of weighted voting when he was Deputy Chief Whip?
As the hon. Member will know, in those days I was in favour of hon. Members supporting their party—a lesson that he might take.
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any plans to meet the European Community Foreign Affairs Ministers to discuss aid to eastern Europe.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State regularly meets his European Community colleagues to discuss the Community's relations with the countries of central and eastern Europe. We strongly support the Community's policy of making aid to those countries conditional on progress towards political and economic reform.
Although I recognise the vital importance of aid, in terms of trade credits and direct aid, to eastern European countries and the importance of exchanges of personnel through seminars and courses, is not it equally important to set up educational institutions, such as business schools, in eastern European countries so that people there can learn the sort of commercial skills that they will need in a newly competitive world? Will he ensure that the know-how fund is used to that end?
There have been some such projects under the know-how fund. In general, it is better to try to develop institutions in the countries involved rather than bring them here, which is what they ask for on the whole.
Will the Minister acknowledge that it would be daft for Britain to provide aid to eastern Europe if that would result in the displacement of British jobs, particularly in the textile and clothing industry? Therefore, will he take this opportunity to acknowledge, on behalf of the Government, that they do not regard the British textile and clothing industry as expendable and that there is absolutely no question of the multi-fibre arrangement being abandoned or phased out too quickly unless proper and adequate safeguards are put in place to protect the best interests of the textile and clothing industry and the British workers whose livelihoods depend on it?
Similar arguments can be made in relation to every sector of the economy where we are trying to liberalise trade with the rest of the world—for example, agriculture. There must be some respect in which, if we are serious about opening our markets to poorer countries, we are willing to stand against our sectoral interests sometimes.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that last week I had the opportunity of visiting the headquarters of the Stasi in east Berlin? Is not it perfectly clear that the Stasi hopes to return to power by establishing massive slush funds at home and abroad? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that when he talks to Community Ministers he discusses the recycling of looted Stasi funds into aid to eastern Europe?
However much money was deployed by former members of the Stasi, I do not think that they would return to power in a democratic society.
Does not Britain set a particularly bad example on this in the EC? The Prime Minister and other Ministers perambulate around Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland promising all sorts of help, but is not the sad reality that the total amount of know-how help for central and eastern Europe in this financial year adds up to £15 million, that all of it is already committed and that, despite the growing demand, desire and need for it, no new projects can possibly be sanctioned before April next year? Does not that show up Tory concern for the new democracies as the sanctimonious propaganda that we all know it to be?
The answer is no. There is still no parallel among other European countries for the know-how fund and I welcome the fact that the rapid spread of democratic and free enterprise societies in eastern Europe has meant that we can move much quicker than expected this year, and negotiations are already under way for next year. Such help has been far more effective than the huge generalised soft loans, many of which have not been taken up, which hit the headlines but do little good.
Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that contributions of know-how and other non-financial kinds are being co-ordinated in the same way as financial contributions within the EC?
Yes, we try to do that, but I am sure that there is always room for co-ordination to be improved. Our view has always been that if we have a good project we should back it first and try to co-ordinate later, rather than be too bureaucratic.
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement about the peace process in Ethiopia.
As a result of recent contacts in the United States, there is a prospect that the negotiations between the Ethiopian Government and the Eritrean People's Liberation Front may resume.
Given all the talk about a new world order, does the Minister agree that that new world order should try to inject some urgency into peace negotiations within Ethiopia, because until peace is established within Ethiopia there is little hope of effective aid reaching the large numbers of people now starving in Government-held areas and in areas held by the various liberation fronts? Will the Government use all their offices to get some action, rather than simply talking about talks?
I agree with the link that the hon. Gentleman makes between the establishment of peace and effective aid. Until there is peace, there will never be an end to the hunger crisis in that country. The principal responsibility must lie with the warring factions, who too often in recent years have seen the mirage of a military victory and therefore broken off negotiations again, but it is somewhat more encouraging that they are talking again.
Does not my right hon. Friend consider the disastrous situation in Ethiopia to be yet another example, in economic and human terms, of Marxism in action?
Certainly the Ethiopian Government have had a terrible record in the past both on human rights and in the competence of their economic and social doctrines. They are now jettisoning those doctrines very fast, which gives some hope for progress.
Ec Intergovernmental Conference
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress he is making in preparation for the intergovernmental conference in December, with particular reference to the issue of political union.
I attended the Foreign Affairs Council on 22 October, which discussed preparations for the intergovernmental conference on political union. The Italian presidency will report on progress to the special European Council—the summit—on 27 and 28 October. Our aim continues to be a more efficient, effective and democratically accountable Community.
Has the Secretary of State read reports of the rather bad-tempered presentation at the European Parliament yesterday of the Commission's document on political union, which will ultimately go before the intergovernmental conference? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the document confirms that, as the Community was established by international treaties agreed by sovereign states, it is perfectly possible to deepen and widen its integration and to create greater cohesion without crucially altering its legal basis? Does not the Commission's document point to the model for the future being not federalist but confederalist?
I have not read the Commission document, but Mr. Delors outlined it at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting on Monday. Having heard that outline, and subject to my studying the document, I do not believe that it offers a way forward that my Government would want to follow. In all the discussions in the intergovernmental conferences beginning in December on economic and monetary union and political union, we shall be arguing—for example, in the GATT round—about many of the issues confronting the Community. We shall argue not from an un-European or anti-European stance, but for a Europe that is liberal and open. There will be considerable discussion of those points.
What specific gains does my right hon. Friend think will emerge from the intergovernmental discussions? Would not it be helpful to Britain if they could be clearly explained ahead of the meeting, rather than merely expressing a generalised commitment to a better Community?
I tried to offer such an explanation when the House debated that subject in the summer. The gains can be easily summarised. We want to improve co-ordination between the Twelve on foreign policy and the role of national parliaments—including that of working together in controlling and monitoring the Council's activities. We want to improve also the work of the European Parliament, not by extending its legislative powers but by encouraging it to be more effective in monitoring and invigilating the Commission's work and expenditure. We should like to find a sensible definition of subsidiarity which would establish clearly where Community action is necessary, and what action should best be left to national Governments—particularly as it is national Governments who decide among themselves what the role of the Community should be, and not the Community which decides the role of national Governments.
Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear at the intergovernmental conference that it is no part of the Government's policy to countenance a two-speed Europe, with Britain on the outside track, which would be a disaster for our country?
It would be a disaster not only for this country but for Greece, where I discussed the matter last week, for Portugal, for Spain, and for many other countries. I hope very much that those in charge of the discussions on economic and monetary union in particular will bear that point in mind. It is most important that we travel at a speed and in a direction which commands consensus.
Can my right hon. Friend say yet what the Government's attitude will be if the 11 other members of the Community accept the Delors proposals?
The Delors proposals deal with economic and monetary union, which is beyond the scope of the question. As to the intergovernmental conference on political union, there can be no change to the treaty unless all 12 member states agree.
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the forthcoming CSCE summit in Paris.
My right hon. Friend will attend the CSCE summit in Paris. We envisage that a conventional forces in Europe agreement will be signed. The conference should consolidate the recent progress in Europe by strengthening democratic and economic reforms. We believe that the rights won in the reforms should be enshrined in a magna carta for Europe.
Given that all but three of the European CSCE participating states now send parliamentary delegations to the Council of Europe and that the remaining three—Romania, Bulgaria and Albania—expect to do so shortly, does my right hon. Friend agree that next month's summit need look no further for its proposed assembly of Europe, as suggested by the NATO summit in July, than to the existing Council of Europe? Will he ensure that the Government put that proposal forward at next month's summit?
The problem is that the United Stales and Canada are participants. I go this far with my hon. Friend—the infrastructure of the Council of Europe may well provide the basis on which a new assembly could meet, but we must pay attention to the importance of maintaining American participation in these meetings.
Is it not the proposal of the chairman of CSCE that the European assembly from the Atlantic to the Urals should be a completely separate assembly? What efforts will the Government make at the next summit to ensure that there is a coming together, which I believe that the people of this country and of Europe will see as a positive step towards the unification of Europe in ways other than the old-fashioned ideas of the EEC?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is right that we should not proliferate entirely new assemblies, and if we can build on what already exists in a way that is acceptable to the north Atlantic partners, that is very sensible.
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made during the past three months about Palestinian refugees to the Government of Israel.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State discussed the situation in the occupied territories, including conditions in the Palestinian refugee camps there, with members of the Israeli Government during his recent visit to the middle east.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. He will be aware of the great concern in all parts of the House about recent events in occupied Palestine. The intifada goes on; the violence continues. Does not he therefore believe that it is now time for a major international conference to be convened, possibly under the auspices of the United Nations, to discuss the occupied territories and the refugee problem?
We have always made it clear that at the right time an international conference will probably be necessary to help to produce the comprehensive settlement that my right hon. Friend spoke of earlier. I do not think that the time is yet right for that, unfortunately, and we continue to urge that contacts be built up between the Palestinians and the Israeli Government in the way they appeared to be about to begin to do before the present crisis in the Gulf.
Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to confirm to the Israeli Government that the United Kingdom Government's position is that east Jerusalem is occupied territory, and therefore that the provisions of the fourth Geneva convention on the protection of civilian persons in time of war apply absolutely and without exception? Will he also confirm that Israel's purported annexation of east Jerusalem is illegal and as such has no effect on the status of east Jerusalem as occupied territory; and that any measures that Israel purports to take to change the status of east Jerusalem are null and void?
That is the position of the British Government, yes.
Is not it strange that Israel's oil-rich Arab neighbours have never thought it right to improve the standard of living of their Arab brothers in the refugee camps?
That is rather unfair. One of the many legitimate accusations against Saddam Hussein is that his invasion of Kuwait has destroyed a country which was generous in its support of the Palestinian people. The consequences of that, and of the loss of remittances from Palestinian workers in Kuwait and elsewhere, are now causing even more problems for already hard-pressed people in the occupied territories.
In view of the news this morning that the occupied territories have once again been completely closed off by the Israeli Government, and given what we know that the Israeli Government are prepared to do when they are in public view, will the Minister take this opportunity to call the Israeli ambassador to the Foreign Office and insist that the occupied territories be open at the very least to the United Nations observers, who are not even allowed to go in and see the way in which people in the refugee camps are treated?
We have made it clear that the Secretary-General's mission, which the United Nations has been attempting to send, should be received in Israel. We deplore the continuing cycle of violence described by the hon. Lady. It is our belief—a belief that I believe is held on both sides of the House—that no amount of military action against the Palestinians will suppress their desire for self-determination. The sooner the Israelis accept that, the more chance that there is of the two peoples living together in peace.
Is my hon. Friend aware of some of the excellent work to help physically and mentally handicapped children that is going on in some of the Palestinian refugee camps? If he is not, will he take the opportunity to find out about it to see whether we can do more to help that work?
I am aware of the work, and my right hon. Friend is up to date on it as he visited one of those projects. I saw other work of this kind when I was in Gaza. Like the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East and other countries, we support this valuable work. I particularly mention the work at St. John's eye hospital, which has become excellent in dealing with the kind of injuries suffered in such situations.
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next plans to meet the United States Secretary of State to discuss European-American relations.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State expects to meet Secretary Baker in November when they are due to sign a declaration on EC-United States relations at the CSCE summit in Paris.
When the Foreign Secretary meets representatives of the American Government, will he discuss the question of burden sharing—something on which the Americans are quite keen—in the context of the Gulf crisis? Having discussed it with the Americans, will he then dicuss the same issue with his Cabinet colleagues and get from them some intervention in those parts of the country, particularly my constituency, where substantial contracts with Iraq have been lost as a result of sanctions and major redundancy rounds have ensued? This is a problem that affects the north-east and Scotland, but so far there has been no response about domestic burden-sharing from the British Government. When can we expect one?
The hon. Gentleman is right in one sense—the contribution that the United Kingdom has made to the international peace-keeping force in the Gulf is second only to that of the United States. We lose no opportunity to invite other like-minded Governments to make a contribution. The matter of what happens within the United Kingdom is not for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Will the Government continue to remind the United States not only of the need for self-determination for the Palestinian people but of their right to have their own state?
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has already answered that question, and it would not be wise for me to add anything to what he has said.
When the Foreign Secretary meets the United States Secretary, will he take the opportunity to discuss the recent Dublin Supreme Court decision and the constitutional imperative under which Irish Governments are required to work for a united Ireland? Will he seek the support of the United States Secretary in asking the Irish Government to remove this territorial claim and thus enable compliance with the Helsinki agreement, thereby denying the IRA and terrorists any right to exist and operate?
The British Government lose no opportunity to make clear to the United States the seriousness that we attach to IRA terrorism. As to the constitutional matter that the hon. Gentleman raised in connection with the Helsinki agreement, it would not be right for the United States to intervene in the constitution of a foreign state.
Does my hon. Friend recall Winston Churchill's statement that the supreme fact of the 20th century is that Britain and America have marched together upon the basis of shared values" Does he further recall that at the time of the Gulf crisis on 2 August and in the following weeks it was Britain and America who stood together to prevent Saddam Hussein from taking up the position that he would undoubtedly hold at the moment, had he been allowed to do so—that is to be in Saudi Arabia? Does he further agree that the most important action that we have to take is to encourage our European partners to play a full part in making sure that we maintain peace in the middle east?
I agree with my hon. Friend that our alliance with the United States, through NATO, must remain the mainstay of our position. That does not run counter to our wish for a closer co-ordination of security and foreign policy within the Community. My hon. Friend, however, is absolutely right, that our relationship with the United States is crucial to the United Kingdom in terms of both defence and other matters.
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions, and with whom, he has had about policy towards South Africa; and if he will make a statement.
I visited South Africa from 19 to 21 September and met a wide range of political figures, including both President de Klerk and Mr. Nelson Mandela. I was encouraged by the commitment I found on all sides to move speedily towards negotiations aimed at ending apartheid.
Will the Minister support Nelson Mandela who warned the South African Government earlier today that unless the new South African constitution guarantees the right to vote for all black people in South Africa, the probability is that violence will continue and escalate? Will the Minister also support the efforts that are being made to arrange a meeting between Nelson Mandela and Chief Buthelezi, with a view to bringing an end to the continuing violence in the townships, where more than 700 people have been killed since the beginning of August?
On the first point, I found no one among the main-line politicians in South Africa who had any doubt whatever but that the constitution must be based on one man, one vote. The hon. Gentleman need have no fears on that score. On the hon. Gentleman's second point, I strongly agree with him. When I was in South Africa I met the secretary-general of Inkatha and urged that such a meeting should take place. I hope that it takes place soon and that it leads to an end to the violence in the townships. We all want to see that.
When my right hon. Friend holds discussions with representatives of other African front-line states will he emphasise to them that a great deal of the fighting in the townships is on a tribal basis between two groups who in the long term are seeking to have power in a future democratic South Africa? Will he urge those representatives to look in depth at the problem and see what they can do to bring the two sides together to end the fighting in the townships and hasten the march towards a free democratic South Africa?
There is something in what my hon. Friend says, but it is a little more complex than that. A great deal of fighting is taking place between Zulus who are ANC members and Zulus who are Inkatha members. It is not, therefore, simply a tribal matter, although there is a tribal element to the fighting. Clearly, ruthless jockeying for political position is taking place.
Is the Minister aware that a South African delegation that recently saw Foreign Office officials was peddled the dangerous and disastrous line that there is no role now to be played in South Africa by external forces and that it is all down to the people inside the country? Will the Minister deny that that is the Government's position? Does he accept that there is a strong role to be played by Governments outside South Africa and that pressure must be maintained on President de Klerk to move faster towards the negotiating table rather than delaying that move, as he appears to be doing now?
I profoundly disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I think that it is the ANC which is having difficulty in keeping up with the pace of movement towards negotiation. As a result of meeting external organisation representatives who over the years have honourably put a great deal of hard work into supporting the abolition of apartheid, I have the very strong feeling that they are increasingly being left behind. They often come to see me urging points of view which they believe are held by the ANC but which have already been abandoned by the ANC. I must urge that the lead being taken by major politicians in South Africa, both black and white, should continue. It is the most optimistic thing of all about South Africa at present and represents the best hope for the future.
As my right hon. Friend once again expressed his disapproval of economic sanctions while he was in South Africa, will he now express the same disapproval of sports sanctions and boycotts? It is nonsense that although, with the full support of this side of the House, we rightly advocate the abandonment of economic sanctions, we still retain the sports boycott. When are we going to come out of the ridiculous Gleneagles agreement?
With respect my hon. Friend is perhaps making the mirror image of the mistake made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) as there are now senior ANC spokesmen saying that the abolition of the sporting boycott is coming near. It is better to leave the joint leadership being developed between the South African Government, Inkatha, the ANC, Azapo and others to tell us about the timing on some of these things. The ANC is moving well ahead of some of its alleged external supporters on this.
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last met representatives of the Government of China to discuss the future of Cambodia.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs discussed Cambodia with his Chinese colleague, Mr. Qian Qichen, at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on 28 September.
Will the Minister comment on continuing reports that the SAS is involved in training the Khmer Rouge to lay land mines in Cambodia? In view of the excellent reputation of John Pilger, the journalist who is making these reports, and the way he has spoken the truth about Cambodia for years, does the Minister realise that the public are horrified by the prospect that the British Government are supporting militarily the return of the Khmer Rouge?
The British Government have never given support or help of any kind to the Khmer Rouge.
Will my hon. Friend accept that it is time that the free civilised world entered into meaningful discussions directly with the Administration in Cambodia and stopped playing around with Prince Sihanouk and the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot? That man is a tyrant and must never be allowed to set foot in the capital of Cambodia again to do what he did to the people of that wonderful country.
That man was a cruel tyrant and we condemn him. I urge my hon. Friend to recognise the work of the five permanent members of the Security Council in their new initiatives and the formation of the supreme national council which has membership from all the different leading figures in Cambodia.
Further to the question of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), will the Government make it clear to the Chinese Government and to the House that they will oppose the continued illegal representation of Pol Pot at the United Nations and any representative of any coalition which includes Pol Pot? Will they make it clear that in the foreign policy of the United Kingdom the genocide of the killing fields will never be forgotten?
Most certainly, the genocide of the killing fields will never be forgotten. The Cambodian seat at the United Nations is not at present occupied. The supreme national council is supported by the five permanent members of the Security Council and all the factions in Cambodia. That is the new initiative and it will be up to the supreme national council to appoint an ambassador to the United Nations.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the interests of the people of Cambodia are not best served by exaggerations and distortions which can appear in television programmes, and nor will they be served by the return of anything which included Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge? Does my hon. Friend agree also that the only part of Cambodia that has any sort of normal life now is that under the control of the Phnom Penh Government? Will he do what he can to ensure that the world community recognises that and pours into that part of the country the aid and investment that is so necessary?
Britain has committed up to £2 million worth of humanitarian aid to Cambodia. The new development quite different from what prevailed in earlier months of this year is the resolution of the United Nations permanent five—supported by the United Nations General Assembly, the Hun Sen Government and all the factions in Cambodia—to make progress in discussions to form the supreme national council. We should all be pushing for that because we all wish to see an end to the suffering in that country and for those wretched people to be able to live life in peace and determine their future.
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent meetings he has had with other Foreign Ministers regarding German reunification; and if he will make a statement.
On 12 September in Moscow, with his German, French, American and Russian colleagues, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs signed the treaty on the final settlement with respect to Germany. On 1 October in New York, they signed a declaration suspending four-power rights and responsibilities with effect from German unification on 3 October.We welcome the unification of Germany in peace and freedom. We will be working with the united Germany as a friend, ally and partner for the peace and prosperity of Europe and the wider world.
Is the Minister aware that it will not be lost on the British people, who are suffering from high interest rates, rocketing unemployment and a massive trade deficit, that in the next two years, in order to carry out the German takeover, not reunification, this lousy Tory Government are to hand out £32 million of taxpayers' money to bail out shipyards in East Germany while shutting down shipyards in Sunderland and Birkenhead? The whole thing stinks to high heaven.
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman's question was reached this afternoon as it enables me to offer him an apology for suggesting that his voting record in support of his party was not what it might be. Not only did he vote against the last Labour Government more than anyone else—he also had one of the highest voting records in their favour because of his consistent attendance in the House.As I explained to the hon. Gentleman on Friday, the cost of German unification to the United Kingdom this year will be nil, and next year it will be £32 million. That is considerably less than the British taxpayer has spent subsidising the coal industry over many years. I realise that he and many of his hon. Friends are unable to give unification the welcome that we can because they still aspire to a Trabant-owning autocracy.
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on developments in the middle east since the emergency debate on 6 and 7 September.In that debate, the House endorsed the Government's policy, which is that of virtually the entire international community: Saddam Hussein must leave Kuwait and the legitimate Government of Kuwait must be restored. Iraq must release our hostages. Since the House met, at the United Nations we have applied growing pressure to Iraq. Negotiations are under way in New York for a further resolution to hold Iraq liable to pay compensation for the damage resulting from its actions, including the maltreatment of foreign nationals and property. Sanctions have been enforced, in particular by the effective blockade by allied ships that are operating in the area. More than 100 ships from 12 countries are on constant patrol enforcing the embargo. The Royal Navy has challenged more than 1,100 vessels and has taken part in 10 boarding operations. The House will want to pay tribute to the courage and professionalism of the Royal Navy. The United Nations must continue to tighten the screw of sanctions. We cannot relax our determination to ensure Saddam Hussein's complete and unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait. Since the House met, there have been many more examples of his tyranny. All the available evidence suggests that, far from being under strict orders to behave with discipline in Kuwait, Iraq's soldiers have been allowed complete licence. The House will be aware that many Kuwaitis who have been able to escape their occupied country have testified to wanton destruction of property and to cruel and inhuman treatment of Kuwaiti citizens, including several murders carried out in front of wives and children, rape and torture. We must remind the Iraqis once again that at all levels of authority, whether they be military or civilian, they are personally responsible under the Geneva convention for illegal acts committed as occupiers in Kuwait. In those circumstances, one of the first concerns must be the welfare of the 800 British people still in Iraq and of the substantial British community remaining in Kuwait. In Kuwait, our embassy—now one of the last to stay open—is staffed by the ambassador and one colleague. They will continue, through the warden system, to help Britons in Kuwait as long as that is physically and practically possible. We welcome the release of British nationals in response to the humanitarian appeal by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). But I must add that I find it grisly and repulsive that the Iraqis should set about deciding who is so sick and who is so old that he or she should be released from a position in which no human being should ever be placed and in which hundreds of human beings remain. All our nationals—all foreign nationals—should be allowed to leave Iraq. I admire the courage of those of our people who are detained or hiding in Iraq and Kuwait and of their families here. Our embassies have helped to organise the evacuation of more than 900 women and children and we are doing what we can to ensure that those who remain in Iraq have the money and comforts that they need. The situation is particularly agonising for families here at home. We are working closely with the Gulf Support Group to provide as much help and information as we can. We cannot work miracles, but the staff in the Foreign Office and the staff at the embassy in Baghdad are working round the clock on these problems. Where complaints have been made, we are investigating them urgently, and where there is room for improvements, we are making those improvements as quickly as we can. We should not forget that the plight of these people—of our hostages—has been caused by Saddam Hussein. It is Saddam Hussein who is playing cat and mouse with them, and the British Government and this Parliament would not wish to be blackmailed. On the other side of the question, the United States and Britain, in particular, moved fast immediately after the invasion of Kuwait to protect Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries from the threat of attack. Since then, a unique coalition of forces from 25 countries has been established in the Gulf. On 14 September, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence announced the deployment of the 7th Armoured Brigade and of more Tornado aircraft. This will bring the total number of British service men committed to the Gulf to about 16,000. I believe that President Hussein will seek to cling to the country that he has acquired by force, or perhaps to negotiate his way out so that he can claim some gain for his aggression. He has tried, and is trying, to sow disunity in the coalition ranged against him, with a variety of bogus peace plans, delaying tactics and smoke screens. One of them is his presentation of himself as the champion of the Palestinian cause. In fact, the Palestinian cause has been set back by Iraq's aggression and the credibility of the PLO has been damaged by its ambivalent—to put it politely—response to that aggression. Some have suggested that Saddam Hussein should be persuaded to withdraw from Kuwait in exchange for an international conference on the middle east as a whole. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the other countries of the Gulf and the Government of Kuwait have all firmly rejected that suggestion—because Iraq's withdrawal must be complete and unconditional. Hon. Members and British Governments have long argued the urgent need to find a lasting settlement in the middle east—including the Arab-Israel dispute. Once Iraq is out of Kuwait, we must return to that issue. The policy of the British Government is clear. It has been restated today and was restated during my recent visit. It involves self-determination for the Palestinian people and the right of Israel to live in peace behind secure borders. The killing of 21 Palestinians on the Dome of the Rock, or Temple Mount, on 8 October and the later murder of Israelis underlines the tragedy of the Arab-Israel dispute. The cycle of violence is now repeating itself. I hope that the Government of Israel may yet agree to accept the Secretary-General's mission to investigate those killings because to do otherwise would risk diverting the Security Council from what ought to be its main task—getting Iraq out of Kuwait—and will give Saddam Hussein a cause which he will exploit ruthlessly. Our aim remains as it was when we debated the matter: Iraq's complete withdrawal from Kuwait and the restoration of Kuwait's legitimate Government. At a meeting of the Kuwaiti ruling family and their people in Jeddah earlier this month, there was an impressive display of the loyalty of all Kuwaitis and of the unity which the crisis has produced. The Kuwaitis announced at the conference their intention, when the legitimate Government is restored, to implement in full the 1962 democratic constitution. Many will welcome that decision which was taken freely by Kuwaitis. In the meantime, the pressures on Saddam Hussein remain diplomatic isolation, the economic blockade and the threat of forcible expulsion from Kuwait. Saddam Hussein has a simple choice—retreat or defeat. The Government and the House strongly hope that the restoration of Kuwait will be achieved without further bloodshed, but the daily destruction of Kuwait and the murder of its people continue. We are tightening the screw of the peaceful pressures, but we cannot shirk our part in the alternative course if that course finally becomes necessary.
I am glad that the Foreign Secretary confirms that the Government continue to share the objective that we in the Labour party also uphold: that all the United Nations Security Council resolutions on Kuwait must be implemented and that Iraq must withdraw from Kuwait unconditionally.Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the first of those resolutions, No. 660, provides for negotiations between Iraq and Kuwait to resolve their differences, but that those negotiations can take place only once Iraq has withdrawn unconditionally from Kuwait and the hostages have been unconditionally released? We are glad that the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) has been able to bring home some hostages with him from Baghdad. However, I share the Foreign Secretary's view that it is a degrading spectacle to witness Saddam Hussein haggling and bargaining over misery that he has created. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that unconditional withdrawal by Iraq from Kuwait does not mean partial withdrawal and cannot be conditional on a change of Government in a freed Kuwait? The internal government of Kuwait is a matter for the Kuwaiti people and we welcome the indication of greater democracy in a free Kuwait. Will the Secretary of State confirm that it is our objective that sanctions should achieve the liberation of Kuwait, with force an option to be invoked by the international community only if there is clear evidence over a sufficient period that sanctions cannot achieve that United Nations objective? Will he confirm that there should be clear United Nations authority if force was to be invoked and that that authority must be obvious not simply to legalists invoking article 51 of the United Nations charter, but to the judgment of the world community? In that connection, will the Secretary of State explain what he meant on BBC radio on Sunday when he said in connection with the possible invocation of article 51:
It is important that the Secretary of State clarifies what he meant by those words. Will the Foreign Secretary, on behalf of the United Kingdom in the Security Council, lay stress on the implementation of existing resolutions rather than be tempted to pursue distractions such as war crimes trials, which are neither relevant nor pertinent at this stage? Does the Foreign Secretary accept that I do not join those who criticise him for having gone to Israel, as I believe that it is essential that all possible efforts be made to resolve this tragic and increasingly lethal conflict? The Opposition condemn the shootings by Israeli security forces on Temple Mount the week before last. We deplore the killing of other Palestinians and also of Israelis in recent weeks. Did the Secretary of State tell the Israeli Government that the use of live ammunition to deal with disturbances is not only wrong, but, as the former Labour Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Mr. Rabin, has said, ineffectual as a means of quelling such disturbances? Will the Secretary of State continue to emphasise that, if others are expected to observe Security Council resolutions, Israel cannot ignore them? Did the Secretary of State meet leaders of the Israeli Labour party? They represent the other Israel—the Israel that advocates receiving the Secretary-General's mission, the Israel that wants to talk to the Palestinians and to trade land for peace, and the Israel that accepts that the Palestinians must have the right of self-determination and that that right does not exclude a state. The Secretary of State says that he was misrepresented in Israel about this attitude to a Palestinian state. Will he therefore take this opportunity, which he did not take in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) at Question Time, to state with the utmost clarity the Government's attitude on a Palestinian state? Does self-determination include or exclude the right of the Palestinians to choose a state? Will the Foreign Secretary endorse the wise words yesterday of Teddy Kollek, the Labour mayor of Jerusalem? He said that security and peace can come about only through peace negotiations. Mr. Kollek declared:"We have requests from the Government of Kuwait"?
Finally, does the Foreign Secretary agree that everyone killed in Israel and the occupied territories—Arab and Jew, Israeli and Palestinian—is paying the unacceptable price of the failure to advance the peace process, and that anyone who refuses to participate in that peace process must accept a share of responsibility for those deaths?"When there is not even a faint light at the end of the tunnel, there is despair."
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. He stated exactly the position that we all take. It is a great strength to our foreign policy and to the Foreign Secretary that, on all the basics throughout these anxious months, there has been a degree of national consensus. I confirm in particular that partial withdrawal, such as is floated from time to time, perhaps through misinformation from the Iraqis or by people of misguided goodwill, is not acceptable.I confirm also that our aim is to increase pressures, including the pressure of sanctions, and to review the effect of those pressures before there is any question of the military option, the existence and importance of which the right hon. Gentleman also endorsed. On 6 and 7 September we discussed the legal position. The right hon. Gentleman asked me not to dwell on that, so I will not, except to say that we are satisfied that the combination of article 51 and the repeated appeals for help which we have had from the Government of Kuwait would provide an adequate legal basis. If it were decided that the military option was inevitable, how that would be implemented and what the timings and procedures would be is obviously not decided. But, as I said, I believe, in September, and as the Leader of the Opposition confirmed then, it would be important to do it in a way that maximised the support that the international community and the coalition that I have mentioned are giving to the enterprise against aggression. Meanwhile, we want to increase the peaceful pressures to ratchet up the strength of the Security Council resolutions. We are considering a new one, as I said. The point about the individual responsibility of Iraqi officials and officers for acts that they may be ordered to carry out is important, and should not be lost sight of, as the matter is considered. It was right to go to Israel. One of the things that I discovered there was the strong feeling in Israel that too many people neglected to visit the country as they swung around the middle east. I had an awkward and difficult time last Wednesday, for reasons that have been amply but not always accurately described. I was able to achieve a serviceable relationship with Israeli Ministers of a kind which I have not had before, but I was unable to balance that, as I hoped, with listening to the views of authoritative and respected Palestinian leaders. I met Mr. Peres who, as always, spoke as a wise Leader of the Opposition. I realised again that there is a healthy debate in Israel on matters that perplex us and make us anxious here, including the nature of the regime in the occupied territories. We believe in the right to Palestinian self-determination, as I have stated for some time. We have never advocated a specific outcome and we have never specifically advocated a Palestinian state, as opposed to other outcomes that are conceivable and have been canvassed, such as a confederal link with Jordan. It is not for us to specify that. We say that that right exists and will have to be respected as part of a comprehensive and negotiated settlement, which must also include provision for the security of Israel. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman's last point. After the killings in Jerusalem and the renewed cycle of violence, it is unfortunately inevitable that the Security Council will need and will be determined to devote time to this matter in the remaining days of our presidency of the Security Council and thereafter. It will be necessary for the Security Council to deal with both those issues in tandem for the time being. We must riot allow the international community to forget that anyone who is seriously interested in peace and tranquillity in the middle east must place the expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait at the top of the agenda.
Order. The House knows that we have two other statements this afternoon and an important debate on European legislation. I propose to allow questions on this statement to continue until 4.20 pm. I shall not call today those right hon. and hon. Members who spoke in the emergency debate, but shall give precedence to the 56 hon. Members who were unable to be called on that occasion. It would help me if hon. Members who were called to speak in the emergency debate did not rise now.
Will my right hon. Friend take his mind to the situation that might exist if the United Nations resolutions were acted upon? A leader who would have feelings against the west and against America and who would probably be willing to use atomic weapons as a bargaining counter in the years ahead would be unsatisfactory for peace in the middle east. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the only way of bringing Iraq back into the international concomitance of nations would be a major change of regime within Iraq——
and that the people of Iraq should consider that most carefully?
They may well consider that, but it is riot a matter on which we can be decisive. My hon. Friend is entirely right to say that even if Saddam Hussein or Iraq were to comply fully with the Security Council resolutions, we would not have solved all the problems, and that when considering matters such as the retention of sanctions and the retention of forces, we would have to take into account the dangers that my hon. Friend has described.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that some misguided people are coming close to awarding medals to Saddam Hussein for releasing some of the hostages, whom he should never have seized in the first place? Is not it intolerable that people should suggest negotiations about territory that was seized illegally?
I agree with both the right hon. Gentleman's points, which he put clearly.
As a result of Iraq giving away overnight to Iran all the things over which they fought wars for years and lost hundreds of thousands of lives, is my right hon. Friend certain in his mind that the border between Iran and Iraq will not become an area of sanctions busting?
I discussed this with the Iranian Foreign Minister in New York who said, realistically, that there will always be a certain amount of traffic over those mountains. It is clearly not in Iran's interests that Saddam Hussein should succeed in this adventure. It is in Iran's interests that the adventure should be checked and reversed, and I believe that Iran will act accordingly.
The Foreign Secretary has spoken throughout his statement of the necessity for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, but he has not gone as far as several others in his party, including the Prime Minister, who have said that it is also necessary to destroy Iraq's nuclear weapons bases, chemical weapons and biological weapons. Has that part of the determination been dropped? How would we carry that out if Iraq withdrew from Kuwait?
Our commitment is to the three requirements of the Security Council, which the Prime Minister and I have often enumerated. I have already dealt, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), with the situation that would arise and the steps that would have to be taken if the three requirements were peacefully accepted by Saddam Hussein. Even if that happened there would remain a job ahead of us.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one weapon that may have been underdeployed so far in the area is the weapon of information? Has he observed the reports that some Iraqi soldiers appeared to think that hostages were there as volunteers? The lack of information appears to go right to the top. The leadership of Iraq may underestimate the determination of the allies to use force if necessary. Therefore, will he work with the BBC and other such news agencies, which have a unique integrity throughout the world, to see whether more can be done to promote truths in the area in the right languages?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. We are doing precisely that. We are also working with friendly Arab Governments. When I went to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and when I discussed these matters again with the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister, I stressed exactly my hon. Friend's points. It is particularly important that Kuwaitis should bear witness to what is happening in Kuwait. I do not know about the House, but British people do not seem to have absorbed the nature of the horrors taking place in Kuwait. It would come best from eye witnesses and from Kuwaitis, with whom we are in touch. The Kuwaitis are conscious of the need to put the information across to us and to their Arab brethren.
Is the Secretary of State fully aware that there are now almost 500,000 Iraqi and allied service men in the region and that there is a high risk of accident and possible action? Is he satisfied that the rules of engagement are strictly understood, bearing it in mind that engagement might be the final option, and the subject of a determined decision by the forces' commanders? To what extent does he see signals that give more hope that sanctions are beginning to work?
The rules of engagement are always important, for the reason that the hon. Gentleman stated. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and his colleagues in other countries are working the matter out satisfactorily.Sanctions are creating shortages. The hon. Gentleman will have seen the announcement about petrol rationing. Shortages are building up. I cannot say that those shortages will be decisive in the short term. However, the sanctions have been effective in the sense that the oil trade has stopped. I gave the figures for the Royal Navy. Other trade is down. Sanctions are effective and shortages will build up. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman at what stage they are likely to be decisive.
Will my right hon. Friend comment on the extremely vulnerable yet crucial position of Jordan in the particular problems of the Gulf? Is he satisfied that there is sufficient support for the Hashemite monarchy to remain a staunch ally of the west as it has been for many years? Would he care to comment on the risk should the mob in the streets take over and Saddam be invited in?
That has caused us a great deal of anxiety for the reasons that my hon. Friend gave. The Jordanian Government are making strenuous efforts to enforce sanctions. I believe that they accept and impress upon the Iraqis the need for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. There is a great deal of misunderstanding and, indeed, bitterness between Jordan and the Arab states in the coalition against the aggression. However, I believe that the two facts that I stated were accurate. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is hard to imagine anyone ruling Jordan better and more effectively than King Hussein does.
The Foreign Secretary has provided us with a welcome opportunity to reaffirm the determination of the British people that the withdrawal from Kuwait by Iraq must be complete and unconditional. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the unanimity of view expressed by the international community in the resolutions of the Security Council is the most hopeful development for peace as it can betoken further healthy developments in the middle east?Although the right hon. Gentleman is entirely right to emphasise the primacy of the withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait, the Palestinian question is also a proper subject for the attention of that international consensual approach. Can the right hon. Gentleman also report to the House on the visit of the Russian spokesman, Mr. Primakov, to Baghdad? Has he had any helpful information on the progress of those discussions?
I agree that the coming together of the Security Council, particularly of the permanent members, offers a more general hope for the future. We want to keep that unity going on one subject after another, provided that that is realistic.Mr. Primakov has spoken to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about his visit to Baghdad and also spoke to me about it on Saturday. The Soviet Union respects sanctions and its Government have spoken clearly and strenuously to the Iraqi Government about the need for withdrawal. There is no ambiguity about Mr. Primakov's stand on either matter.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that outside this House the public fear that the western nations are losing the propaganda war? Saddam Hussein has freed 33 very sick and old hostages, or what I would call prisoners, but as he holds about 10,000 people, that is scarcely an achievement about which we can be proud.My right hon. Friend has spoken of the terrible tragedies that have occurred in Kuwait and one must ask what type of Kuwait we shall liberate. Will it be back to the desert? Will the Iraqis have scattered everyone and taken advantage of the weakness in the west to face up to responsibilities?
We must know from my right hon. Friend how long he believes that it will take the sanctions to bite so that Saddam Hussein capitulates.
I agree with my hon. Friend's first point and that is why I commented as I did earlier on the release of the hostages and the promised release of French hostages, about which we heard this morning.My hon. Friend will be aware that our Government, together with the President of the United States and all his allies, must keep under review the working of sanctions. We must make a judgment about whether those and the other peaceful pressures will be effective or whether we must have recourse to the alternative. It is neither possible nor sensible to start setting deadlines for that—one must exercise continual judgment.
Why is there such a transparent contrast between the immediate condemnation of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, which has resulted in 25 countries sending their armies to that region so that the force now totals a quarter of a million men and women, and the passive acceptance of the occupation of Jerusalem, the west bank and the Gaza strip for 23 years? In the past three years alone more than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed and tens of thousands have been injured. How is it that, after all that, the Secretary-General of the United Nations has sent only three assistants from his office to inquire into such matters? Could it just be that the difference is that the Palestinians have no oil?
The difference is that the two matters are different. Kuwait is occupied by Iraq as a result of an Iraqi act of aggression against Kuwait. The occupied territories are occupied by Israel as a result of an attack upon Israel. The occupation is wrong and does not provide a basis for Israel's legitimate request for security. However, the historical background is different and the Security Council resolutions are different.In the case of the Arab-Israel question, when the suitable time comes we must reconcile the two things that arise out of geography and history, but for now we must get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. In the future, however, we must reconcile the rights of the Palestinians, which the hon. Gentleman rightly champions, with the natural anxieties of Israel for security that arise from her geography and history.
While not seeking to make the same mistake as the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East, (Mr. Nellist), may I say to my right hon. Friend that many of us would like the Israeli Government to realise how many friends they have lost during the past few years? Will he take every possible opportunity to impress on the ambassador here and the Government there that they can help to isolate this madman Hussein by acting honourably with regard to the Palestinians?
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is a matter of wisdom, which would involve some flexibility in the attitude of the Israeli Government, for example to the Secretary-General's decision to send a mission. I hope that that wisdom and flexibility will appear.
What is happening with regard to the United Nations' inquiry? We know that it is not going into Israel because that Government will not co-operate, but will the Foreign Secretary say whether there will be an inquiry? I ask that question because I am aware that a party of 16 black social workers, lawyers and others witnessed the shootings at Temple Mount. They have film and recordings of it and would like to submit them to the United Nations' inquiry.
They should do so, because whether or not the Secretary-General's mission gains entry to Israel, he will certainly wish to present a report to the Security Council. Discussions and ideas about how representatives of the Secretary-General might visit Israel are still going the rounds, so the idea is not a lost cause, which is why I made my appeal. The hon. Gentleman should advise his friends to submit their evidence to the Secretary-General.
Will my right hon. Friend tell us something about the measures that have been taken in relation to the financial aspect of sanctions? At the beginning of the debate on this subject reference was made to the importance that we all attach to ensuring that Iraq does not gain financially, and that credit and other financial measures are withdrawn from Iraq. What international co-ordination has there been to ensure that Iraq is totally cut off financially?
I believe that the stringent financial measures are effective and right across the world, particulary in the financial centres, Iraqi accounts are frozen. She does not have access to foreign reserves or other resources, although she took a certain amount from Kuwait which is keeping her going for the time being. If my hon. Friend or any other hon. Member has evidence of attempts by financiers of any kind to get through the regulations I hope that they will let us or the United Nations sanctions committee know.
Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to place on record the praise of the House for the humanitarian and generous way in which the kingdom of Saudi Arabia has responded to the plight of Kuwaitis forced to flee from their country by providing free accommodation, food and clothing for them? Those of us who met the Association for Free Kuwait yesterday were told by its members that it was impossible to find adequate words to thank the Saudis for their help. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that when Kuwait is finally restored to the Kuwaiti people it will, through punitive reparations on Saddam Hussein, be in the same physical state as it was before the invasion?
That second point is the main reason why we are pressing ahead at the United Nations with the specific draft resolution on compensation. I agree with my hon. Friend's first point and saw evidence of it when I visited the Kuwaitis in Taif last month. The Saudis are practising the genuine version of Arab hospitality as compared with the ghastly distortion of it practised by Saddam Hussein.
Is the Foreign Secretary aware that some—albeit a minority of us—in the Labour party are, quite simply, dismayed at his statement? Supposing military victory were attained, what would happen in the long term, after thousands of casualties and the oil fields burning from Basra to Kirkuk? What long-term assessment has been made of the number of casualties and of the effect in the rest of the Arab world, not least in Egypt, if blood were spilled? Some of us are profoundly unhappy, and frankly think that there should be diplomacy and talking and that peace plans should not be dismissed as necessarily bogus.
Diplomacy and talking have been going on for some time, and I suppose that I am in charge of that on behalf of Britain. It is crucial to build up the peaceful pressures, a lot of which is diplomacy and talking, to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, and there is still a possibility that that will happen, provided that among those peaceful pressures is the knowledge that if he does not go in peace, he will be forced out. The hon. Gentleman would take away that certainty. He is blurring it, and if he were to blur it from a position of authority, such as that of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), he would be diminishing the peaceful pressures on Saddam Hussein, which he does not want to do. I put this point seriously to a serious intervention. It is important that there should be a growing certainty in Saddam Hussein's mind that, one way or the other, it is either retreat or defeat; either he goes in peace or he is forced out.Of course, the military option would bring destruction, dislocation and suffering, but the hon. Gentleman is not facing the alternative, which is to allow a simple, clear act of aggression to prevail and the aggressor to benefit from it. Behind all his talk, that is what he is prepared to contemplate. That is not safe. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Egypt, but if he talked to President Mubarak about that exact point, as I did last week, he would find that the President of Egypt's view is my view, not his.
How close are we to war in the middle east? What will be the military and political consequences, and what estimates have been made of the potential loss of human life, if such a war takes place? If it was unseemly for Saddam Hussein to haggle about hostages, will the Minister at least grant that it was as not unseemly for the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) to haggle, because he achieved something?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was present when I made my statement, but I did cover that point. It is not possible for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence or for me to give specific estimates of what the course or consequence of the military option might be. I have stated the general considerations and why it is clear in my mind, and that of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), that the military option cannot be discounted. It exists—it must exist in reality—and that fact is a crucial part of the peaceful pressures to reverse the aggression.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that all the forces in Saudi Arabia are on a high level of alert because there is no assurance that Iraq will not invade? If my right hon. Friend were to respond to the call from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) by telling Saddam Hussein that we would not use military aggression against him until we had gone back to the United Nations, would not that allow the Iraqi forces to relax until such a resolution was passed by the United Nations?
I have been careful to give no such assurance, as my hon. Friend knows. He is right to say that all the forces in the Gulf have to be in a high state of readiness. The immediate danger which existed in early August of a further attack on Saudi Arabia is now, obviously, less likely, but one cannot rule out any action by this man.
When the right hon. Gentleman next meets members of the Kuwaiti royal family, will he obtain from them a commitment that the children who were illegally adopted by Kuwaiti citizens before Iraq's occupation of Kuwait will be returned? Although they are small in number, and appear to have been forgotten about, the mothers of those children are distraught because they see no hope, even after the Kuwaiti Government has been re-established, of their children being returned to Britain. Will the Secretary of State secure a commitment from the Kuwaiti royal family that one of their first actions, in return for freedom being restored to their country, will be to return British children who were illegally adopted by Kuwaiti citizens before the invasion?
I am not familiar with the situation to which the hon. Gentleman refers. If he has not already written to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I shall be grateful if he will do so.
Since full and effective enforcement of the economic embargo is important in achieving a satisfactory outcome to the crisis in the foreseeable future, and as front-line states such as Jordan, Egypt and Turkey are vital to that purpose, can my right hon. Friend bring the House up to date on the further steps taken, notably by Japan and Germany, to increase financial contributions to the front-line states, to which such support is vital if they are to play an effective part in applying economic embargoes?
My hon. Friend is quite right. On 1 October, the European Community decided to make provision from the 1990–91 budget for 1·5 billion ecu of support for Egypt, Turkey and Jordan—always provided that Jordan continues to make strenuous efforts to apply sanctions. I expect that additionally Germany will make an individual contribution. It has already announced that it will. When I visited Japan, I urged that country's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister to do more, and a few days later they announced a doubling of Japan's contribution. Germany and Japan are barred by law from sending ships, aircraft or men,, but are now making substantial financial contributions.
Many of my Bangladeshi constituents have relatives who fled Kuwait, and who are now destitute in transit camps on the Jordanian and Turkish border. Has the Secretary of State visited those camps, and are there any plans to aid the people who remain in them? My Bangladeshi constituents feel that all the attention has centred on European refugees and that their relatives are being ignored.
The hon. Lady's constituents may have that impression, but it is not an accurate one. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development, at my invitation, visited the frontier and the camps a few weeks ago. Britain was among the first to give help—particularly to the International Office of Migration, which has been co-ordinating flights out of Jordan of the refugees to which the hon. Lady referred. A substantially smaller number of refugees remain, and the movement of people homeward to countries such as Bangladesh has been speedy. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that the burden of Saddam Hussein's aggression on Bangladesh and other poor countries is very great.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his skilful and robust handling of the crisis, which has greatly enhanced our country's standing in that important part of the world. Although I appreciate that my right hon. Friend cannot set a timetable for how long it will be before economic sanctions are deemed ineffective and the military option will have to be exercised, he will be aware of the high state of readiness of British forces in the Gulf—whom I and a number of my hon. Friends have visited. Does he agree that the situation cannot be allowed to drag on, and that, although Saddam Hussein must be given the shortest possible time to do the right thing, we must then exercise the military option?
I agree that the situation cannot be allowed to drag on indefinitely, which is why the President of the United States and the British Government, among others, will have to take stock of the effectiveness of the peaceful pressures to which I referred and then take a decision, which will not be easy. Nevertheless, it is not a decision that can be shirked.
How does the Secretary of State react to the evidence that Saddam Hussein has developed terrifying weapons against which our allies have no defence? I refer to the fuel air explosive weapon, whose effect has been described as being as devastating as that of a small-scale nuclear weapon, and to biological weapons whose effects cannot be confined to the battlefield and will continue for decades. Will he investigate as a matter of urgency whether the assistance given by China in supplying lithium hydride to Iraq, by the firm of lndustrias Cadoen in Chile, which has been helping Iraq with the FAE weapon, by our country, by Holland and by Germany has finally come to an end, and assure us that, when the crisis is over, he will make it a main plank of his new campaign to build a new world order to try to banish these terrifying weapons from the face of the earth?
We take this very seriously and we follow up all reports such as the one that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. He will know of the precautions that have been taken in this respect. He will also have heard the answer that I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), who tackled me on this in a more general way in the first supplementary question on this statement.Supposing that Saddam Hussein complied with the three existing Security Council resolutions, withdrew from Kuwait, let the hostages go and restored the Kuwaiti Government, we should still have a problem on our hands.
Order. I am sorry that it has not been possible to call all hon. Members who have been rising, but I think that every one of them was called during Question Time——
Not my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan).
He was called on Question 16 and also in the emergency debate. We shall undoubtedly return to this subject.
Social Security Benefits (Uprating)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the uprating of social security benefits. This will take place for most benefits in the first full week of the tax year—that is to say, the week beginning 8 April. The necessary statutory instruments applying both to Great Britain and Northern Ireland will in due course be laid before the House for debate.As is customary, I will deal first with the main national insurance benefits, including most notably the retirement pension which now goes to some 10 million people. The basis for the uprating is the latest available figure for the increase in the retail prices index: the 10·9 per cent. rise recorded for the year to September 1990. The retirement pension will accordingly rise by £5·10 per week for a single person, from £46·90 to £52, and by £8·15 per week for a couple from £75·10 to £83·25. This increase alone will cost about £2·3 billion, underlining once again our clear and continuing commitment to maintaining the pension's value. Unemployment benefit will rise from £37·35 to £41·40 for a single person and from £60·40 to £66·95 for a couple; and sickness benefit from £35·70 to £39·60 for a single person and from £57·80 to £64·10 for a couple. National insurance invalidity benefit will go up in line with the retirement pension. There will also be a 10·9 per cent. increase in all other non-income-related benefits for disabled people or those who are sick for a long period—severe disablement allowance, industrial injuries benefits, war disablement pensions, invalid care allowance, mobility allowance and attendance allowance. The 615,000 people now receiving mobility allowance will see it rise by nearly £3 per week, to £29·10. For the 750,000 people now receiving attendance allowance, there will be an increase of £2·75, to £27·80 in the lower rate, and of over £4, to £41·65 in the higher rate. The age-related additions known as invalidity allowances, currently confined to those receiving invalidity benefit but being extended in December to give up to £10 per week extra to some 100,000 people receiving the non-contributory severe disablement allowance, will rise further in April to a maximum of £11·10. Similarly, 10·9 per cent. increases will take place in widows pensions including widowed mothers allowance, war pensions, and all public service pensions, together with the special Ministry of Defence payment to the pre-1973 war widows, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will raise from £40 to £44·36 per week. For the income-related benefits—income support, housing benefit, community charge benefit and family credit—the uprating will be based, again as usual, on the RPI less housing costs. This is because, for those receiving these benefits, help with rent is available through housing benefit or help with mortgage interest through income support itself. This index rose by 8·1 per cent. in the year to September 1990, and the relevant benefit rates, with one exception to which I will come later, will go up accordingly. Thus, income support for a single person under 25 will go from £28·80 to £31·15, the rate for an older single person from £36·70 to £39·65, and the higher pensioner premium from £17·05 to £18·45. For a family on income support with two children aged 10 and 12, benefit will rise by £7·75 per week to £103·30, plus full mortgage interest if they have been on benefit for more than 16 weeks, or full rent if they are tenants, and 80 per cent. of their community charge. As the House is aware, statutory sick pay and statutory maternity pay are both paid through employers. The link between the two schemes is frankly somewhat artificial, resting more on considerations of administrative convenience than on consistency in either structure or purpose. I have concluded that the sensible development of policy in both fields would now be better served by treating them separately. First, I propose to build on the restructuring of SSP undertaken last year, taking account of the considerations that I outlined to the House at that time. Occupational sick pay schemes have grown to such an extent that more than 90 per cent. of the work force now work for employers providing this cover, reflecting what is in my view a proper acceptance by employers of a much greater responsibility to cover short-term sickness among their employees. This in turn means that, for the great majority of those in work, the rates of SSP bear little or no relation to the amount that they actually receive when sick. In those circumstances, it is better for additional resources from the taxpayer to be concentrated more clearly on those least likely to have occupational provision, or in other areas of social security for which employers cannot be expected to provide. Therefore, I propose to uprate fully, from £39·25 to £43·50, the lower of the two SSP rates, which goes to the lower-paid employees who are generally less likely to be covered by occupational schemes to extend the coverage of this rate across the whole range of earnings bands within which employers pay lower rates of contributions, which currently covers employees earning less than £175 a week, and to leave the higher rate of SSP unchanged at £52·50. These changes will reduce expenditure by about £100 million in 1991–92, while fully protecting the lower-paid and with little or no effect for the great majority of others. I intend also to adjust the arrangements under which employers are fully reimbursed, by deduction from their remittances of national insurance contributions, for the whole of their expenditure on SSP plus an amount to cover payments of such contributions on SSP itself. I propose instead to move to 80 per cent. reimbursement. This will reduce public expenditure in this area by about £180 million in 1991–92, in addition to the £100 million to which I have just referred. At the same time, however, I propose to make some offsetting reductions in the rates of employers' national insurance contributions. Full details will be given in the normal statement about contributions which is made at the time of the Chancellor's autumn statement, but I can say now that my intention is to reduce each of the lower rates—those which currently apply in respect of employees earning up to £175—by at least one quarter of a per cent. and to reduce the standard rate by 0·05 per cent. These changes will reduce employers' contributions by over £200 million, and take account also of the compensation employers currently receive for contributions paid on SSP itself. They will go a considerable way in helping employers, particularly smaller employers who tend to have lower-paid employees, to meet any extra costs which might otherwise arise from the new arrangements. Legislation will be required. The arrangements for statutory maternity pay, where occupational cover is very much less extensive, will be left entirely unchanged except for any minor modifications needed in consequence of the separation from SSP. That separation, however, enables me to go further on the standard rate of statutory maternity pay than I have proposed for SSP. I intend not only to increase it by the RPI, which would take it from £39·25 to £43·50, but by a further £1 a week to £44·50. An additional £1 will also be added to the national insurance maternity allowance, taking it from £35·70 to £40·60 instead of the £3960 which an RPI uprating alone would have indicated. There will thus be a real increase in benefit for some 315,000 mothers-to-be in the course of a year, at a cost of about £5 million . Apart from this increase in maternity pay, my proposals on SSP, which I believe strike a sensible new balance in the partnership between the state and employers which has developed in this field, open the way to a number of other important improvements, both small and large. In turning to those improvements, I should make one point clearly to the House—that support for families does not relate only to families with children, important though that is. It must acknowledge responsibilities towards the old as well as the young, and not least the particular pressures that families can face arising from disability, or the need for special care. In framing my proposals I have sought to take account of all those strands. I come first to the needs of disabled people and their carers. We are already carrying through the major programme described in my uprating statement last year. Last April we made real increases in the disability premiums in income support, housing benefit and community charge benefit, including in particular those for children, extended mobility allowance to the deaf-blind, and extended attendance allowance to disabled babies under two. This month we have introduced a carers' premium in the income-related benefits, and extended attendance allowance to meet the special needs of the terminally ill. In December we shall make the increases in severe disablement allowance to which I have already referred, and we are preparing new benefits for introduction in 1992 to help those disabled people who wish to work and further to extend help with disability costs. Against that background, I cannot of course propose today further measures on the same scale, but what I can and will do is to make five more specific improvements particularly directed at the needs of some of the most severely disabled people and their carers. The independent living fund, now providing extra help—averaging £74 per week but in some cases several hundred pounds a week—to some 6,000 severely disabled people in the community, will have its resources nearly doubled to £62 million next year. It will thus have risen twelvefold, from an initial £5 million, in only three years. We shall make an additional grant to Motability of £1 million per year to enhance the assistance that it can give with the expensive adaptation of cars which severely disabled people often need. I intend, too, to modify the mobility allowance regulations to help those particularly unfortunate people who suffer the amputation of both legs. The House will be aware of two recent cases—Mrs. Sandra Stones in Durham and Sergeant Andy Mudd in Colchester—where either mobility allowance was withdrawn or doubt was cast on continuing entitlement. While cases in doubt may be resolved by review or appeal, as I am glad to say has already happened in the case of Sergeant Mudd, we ought to do everything possible to avoid this sort of uncertainty and the distress that it can cause. I therefore propose an amendment to put the payment of mobility allowance in such cases beyond doubt. I propose also two further useful improvements for carers. The amount which can be earned without affecting entitlement to invalid care allowance, increased last year from £12 to £20 per week, will in April go up by a further 50 per cent. to £30 per week. I intend to provide that the carers' premium, just introduced in income support, which as things stand would cease immediately on the death of the person being cared for, can continue to be paid for up to eight weeks thereafter. With regard to pensioners, as I have said on a number of occasions in the House and elsewhere, in welcoming the rise in pensioners' real average net incomes which has taken place as a result of the spread of occupational and personal pensions and the growth of savings, we must not overlook those who have not yet gained from those trends. I therefore propose to make this year a real increase in the basic pensioner premium for those aged 60 to 74 in income support, housing benefit and community charge benefit, which will go up by £1 per week more for a single pensioner, and £1·50 more for a couple, than in a straightforward uprating. It will thus rise by £1·95 from £11·80 to £13·75 for a single pensioner and by £2·95 from £17·95 to £20·90 for a couple, contributing to total increases of £4·90 and £7·60 respectively in their income support. This will cost nearly £80 million. It will assist some 400,000 pensioners directly through income support, and well over 1·5 million through housing benefit and community charge benefit. Taken together with the premium increases for the older and more disabled pensioners which took place in October 1989, it means that over 18 months there will have been a real increase in every one of the premiums applying to around 6 million less well-off pensioners, at a total cost of about £300 million. I am making a major upward adjustment in income support in a field which brings together the interests of both elderly and disabled people and the families to which they belong—the limits relating to residential care and nursing homes. The survey of costs we commissioned from Price Waterhouse to give us additional information in this field is being placed in the Library today. In brief, it shows that, while the limits for residential care are reasonably close to median costs across the country, those for nursing homes are significantly too low; but it does not provide evidence of a sufficiently clear pattern of geographical variation, except for Greater London, to justify the introduction of further such variations at this stage. What I now propose takes account both of the Price Waterhouse results and of the many other representations to us by voluntary and charitable bodies and organisations of home owners, as well as by many hon. Members on behalf of their constituents. For residential care, the basic limit will rise by £5 per week to £160. There will be larger increases of £15 to £185 per week for the category covering the very dependent and blind elderly, which includes, for example, Alzheimer's disease cases; and for those covering mentally handicapped, mentally ill and physically disabled people. For nursing homes, the increases will be much larger—£45 per week, bringing the total to £255 per week, for the main category catering for the elderly, and also for the mentally ill; an increase of £35, bringing the total to £260 per week, for the mentally handicapped; and an increase of £35, bringing the total to £290 a week, for the physically disabled. On this occasion, the increase for terminal illness homes will be somewhat smaller, an increase of £15, bringing the total to £275 a week, taking account of the fact that this type of home received the largest increases last year, that the distinction between these homes and others is becoming increasingly artificial, and that voluntary hospices—many of which do not seek to make use of income support anyway—are now receiving extra financial help specially geared to their needs under the arrangements introduced this year by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health. Additionally, I propose to introduce a special further nursing home supplement in Greater London to take it from £23 to £33 per week. Thus for an ordinary nursing home in Greater London the overall increase will be £55 per week. The total cost of the increases will be some £225 million. Together with those made in April and August this year, income support expenditure on those in homes will have risen by more than £400 million per year in quite a short period—over and above the more than £1 billion that it had already reached by the end of March this year. As the House knows, pending the changes now planned for 1993, the income support limits in this field are, and always have been, designed to help towards not only income maintenance but also housing and care costs. It has never been the intention, nor is it sensible, that in the generality of cases housing benefit itself should be available as an alternative to income support. An anomaly exists in the regulations, which has enabled such claims to be made, and in the light of the large increases in limits which I have announced, I intend to consult on amendments to re-establish the policy intention more clearly. Last, but not least, I intend to make an increase in child benefit, which is and will remain a strong element in our policies for family support. It will not, however, surprise the House, in view of what I said earlier about considering the needs of families more broadly and the major improvements that I have just announced, that I am not able simply to uprate it across the board, which would have a gross cost of some £500 million and a net cost of some £380 million. In fulfilling my statutory duty of review, I have therefore looked not only at whether there should be an increase but at the form it should take to make the most effective use of the resources that I am able to make available. I have concluded that the right course this year is to make an increase which gives a worthwhile amount to all mothers, and which will be particularly welcome to new mothers because it recognises that for the great majority of parents the arrival of the first child has much the largest impact on their finances, not only because of the initial costs that they incur but because, in a world where the great majority of women work while they are childless but where most feel it necessary or right to give up work, or to work less, for some considerable time thereafter, it is frequently associated with a sharp reduction in the family income. I therefore propose this year an increase which acknowledges that fact by making an additional payment for the first or eldest eligible child of £1 per week, normally payable to the mother, of course, and in addition to the continued payment of £7·25 per week for each child. As it will go to every family, and will be larger than a retail prices index increase in one-parent benefit—itself, indeed, defined as a payment for the first or eldest child—would have been, I do not propose on this occasion to increase that benefit as well. The measure will complement what we have already done in recent years to steer some £350 million of real extra help to low-income families through income support and family credit. It will give an extra £1 per week in child benefit to every mother in nearly 7 million families, at a gross cost of more than £350 million and a net cost of £260 million. By choosing what I believe to be sensible priorities, I have been able to make a number of important improvements in social security, especially for families, without adding overall to what is in any case the very large cost this year of maintaining our uprating commitments. What I have announced helps families with children and families-to-be. It helps large numbers of less-well-off pensioners. It will ease the anxieties of families concerned with the care of elderly or disabled relatives, and of those relatives themselves, and it builds on what we are already doing to give greater help to disabled people. In short, it carries forward the reshaping of our social security system, which was conceived in the 1940s, to meet the needs of the 1990s.
I welcome the small but useful increases in statutory maternity pay, in independent living fund resources and in the basic pensioner premium. Those are long overdue and will certainly bring some relief to a number of hard-pressed groups. Welcome as they are, however, they will not appease the deep anger felt by people with disabilities that these various minor improvements are being funded by much deeper cuts in the budget for disabled people over the period ahead.We unreservedly welcome the significant increase in nursing home income support, which is necessary to prevent the increasing level of closures and evictions already occurring. Those are important additions, but they must be balanced—and, indeed, have been largely paid for—by the cuts in statutory sick pay, which amount to £280 million a year. For child benefit, I cannot give the same welcome. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to recall that in the Tory party manifesto for the 1987 election he and his colleagues gave an unequivocal pledge that
Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that, having broken that explicit promise for the fourth year running, the Government have forfeited any claim not only to be the party of the family but even to basic honesty? Will he confirm that, had child benefit been raised each year as the Government promised, he would today be announcing a rate of more than £9·50 per week for each child—£2·30 per week higher than the rate at which it was frozen four years ago? Will he confirm that an average family with three children, even after taking account of the extra benefit for the first child that has just been announced, will this year be deprived of more than £300 which the Government promised and have since withheld? That sum is equal to almost 3p on income tax for a family on average earnings. Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that paying an extra pound a week for the first child only, with nothing for the others, is a mere fig leaf to cover the Government's deeply unpopular policy of perpetual freeze and, moreover, has been prompted by by-election panic? What is the principle behind it? If, as the right hon. Gentleman said, it is to compensate the mother for the drop in earnings at the birth of the first child, what compensation is £1 per week for a loss of earnings of perhaps £100 per week or more? Is it not clear that the Government's real motive for this bit of window dressing is that it is cheaper? By letting child benefit wither on the vine, is it not manifest that the Government still have no family policy worth the name? Uprating child benefit for all children, at least in line with inflation, is the litmus test of commitment to the family because the Government cannot be in favour of the family while cutting benefits for children. By that test, the Government have failed. Is the right hon. Gentleman proud that for the 12th year running the Government are denying any rise in living standards to the 2 million poorest pensioners, who are wholly dependent on the basic retirement pension? Is he proud that, as a result, the basic pension, which represented almost a quarter of average earnings in 1979, is now, even after his announcement, worth only a sixth? Will he confirm that had the Government not broken Labour's uprating link with earnings he would be announcing today a single person's pension of not £52 per week but £65 per week and a married couple's pension of not £83 per week but £105 per week? Will he admit that, as a result of the breaking of the pensions link with earnings a decade ago, the Exchequer has cumulatively saved no less than £22,000 million at the expense of pensioners? Does it not reveal the Government's real priorities when they choose to remove more than £20 billion which should have gone to pensioners, and which under Labour would have gone to pensioners, and to use it instead to fund a cascade of tax relief for the rich? In particular, will the right hon. Gentleman further consider the plight of two of the poorest groups in society, who will remain vulnerable following his statement? The first consists of the 100,000 frail and disabled——"Child benefit will continue to be paid as now, and direct to the mother."
Order. Not in the middle of questions on a statement.
The first consists of the 100,000 frail and disabled elderly people in private residential and nursing homes who depend on income support. As I said, we welcome the increase in income support that the right hon. Gentleman announced, but is he aware that the Independent Healthcare Association estimates that maximum state support levels currently fall short of by more than £100 per week fees actually charged for a nursing home and by nearly £40 per week for a typical residential home? Is it not, therefore, clear that the announced increases of only £5 per week for residential homes and £15, £35 and £45 for nursing and other homes will still leave many thousands of frail elderly people desperately worried about problems of growing debt and possible eviction?Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that 130,000 claimants in desperate need are entirely omitted from his statement? They are the losers from the Fowler social security changes in 1988 who are on transitional payments and who, next April, will enter their fourth year running without any increase in benefit at all. How can the Government justify giving discounts on electricity bills this year to investors in the privatisation while pensioners and low-income families are struggling to pay fuel bills and some get no rebates and no increases in their benefits either? There was one other important omission from the right hon. Gentleman's statement. Will he now recognise that pensioners and others on income support who for the first time are being made to pay 20 per cent. of their poll tax are not being fully compensated as Ministers claimed that they would be? That is partly because of clawbacks, partly because the poll tax turned out to be higher than forecast, and partly because of large regional variations. As the Prime Minister has said that income support claimants are meant to be fully compensated, will the right hon. Gentleman now undertake to make good that shortfall, and will he also ensure that the poll tax compensation element is separately identified within income support and uprated each year in line with the average increase in poll tax? Several polls have detected a clear change of mood in the country, which is now rejecting the endless enrichment of the better off at the expense of the less well off and the poor. The inadequacies and the gaps in the statement made by the Secretary of State today illustrate clearly the extent to which the Government are failing to meet growing public concern about the indefensible extremes of wealth and poverty in our society today.
It was almost with a sense of relief that I noted, by the end of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, that he was back to his usual overheated form. I was quite taken aback by the muted nature of his earlier comments, which seemed to suggest that he thought that I had done some rather good things. I am grateful to him for recognising that at the outset.The hon. Gentleman raised a wide variety of questions, and I will deal with as many as I can. First, he made the ludicrous suggestion that my proposals on child benefit somehow breached the pledge that he accurately quoted. No one has seriously contended that the number of occasions on which there has been no increase in child benefit has been inconsistent with the pledge.
We have said that.
The Opposition may have said it, but they have never managed to get anyone else to believe it. Given that fact, it is beyond belief that now that we propose to increase child benefit we are accused of breaking the pledge.Another of the hon. Gentleman's suggestions should be knocked firmly on the head—the suggestion that what I have announced today, whether in respect of child benefit or in any other major respect, is in some way the result of a sudden change that has taken place in the past few days, let alone since last Thursday. The proposals are precisely what I agreed with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury nearly a fortnight ago—[Interruption.]
The third major suggestion that the hon. Gentleman sought to make was that the Government were not interested in the needs of families. I think that I had the support of a large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House when I said in my statement that family policy is not only a matter of helping families with children. Important though that is, we must also take into account the needs of elderly and disabled people and their families. As the whole of my statement showed, we have sought to make changes that help families across the whole spectrum of their need and in a sensible and balanced way.It is rich for the hon. Gentleman to talk about pledges to pensioners. If I remember rightly, he was a social security Minister when the last Labour Government fiddled the way in which they uprated pensions, precisely to avoid fulfilling their commitment to uprate in line with earnings or prices, whichever were the higher. So I am not prepared to listen to lectures from the hon. Gentleman on that. I await with interest the next occasion on which the hon. Gentleman quotes from an organisation of private home owners to justify the suggestion that what they would like by way of increases in the residential care and home limits—although of course I understand that that is what they would like—is to be preferred to the evidence that the hon. Gentleman can read for himself in the Price Waterhouse survey. The increases in the limits for nursing homes are the largest ever made. They will greatly reduce anxieties and the hon. Gentleman should welcome them as warmly as others will.
Order. I know that the House is put in great difficulty by the fact that we have three statements on one day—especially on a day on which the main business has to end at 7 pm. As the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure is here, it may be worth suggesting that we might look into whether statements of such great importance should be printed and placed in the Vote Office so that hon. Members may study them before asking questions.As we have another statement today, as well as a very important debate on the scrutiny of European legislation, and as the contents of the statements are debatable and could perhaps be discussed during our debate on the Queen's Speech, I propose to allow questions on the social security statement to go on for no more than 20 minutes—until 5.20 pm.
What would the figure be if the current benefit levels this year were uprated by 10·9 per cent? Would they come to more or less than the package announced this afternoon? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, for an additional £120 million net, he could have uprated child benefit across the board? Is it not hypocritical for a Government who have had £100 billion-worth of proceeds from oil and gas and £40 billion-worth of privatisation proceeds, and who profess an interest in promoting family policy, to refuse year after year to uprate child benefit fully?Also, it is profoundly unsatisfactory to have crisis Downing street summits as a way of managing this country's benefit policy. Far too many people depend on it for that. What was the Prime Minister's impact on the policy change? What is the future for child benefit in the Secretary of State's hands?—[Interruption.]
I am afraid that I missed the hon. Gentleman's last phrase in the slight hubbub. I can only repeat that what I have announced on all the major points today is precisely what I agreed with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury nearly a fortnight ago.With regard to the hon. Gentleman's other points, I can only say that of course I should have liked to do all sorts of other things, as any Secretary of State for Social Security would, but if I had adopted the policy that the hon. Gentleman has been urging on me in respect of child benefit it would have been much more difficult for me to do what I have done for residential care and nursing homes. In balancing the needs of families, I believe that I have struck about the right balance.
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has helped the family through the whole age range. That is extremely important. He will not be surprised to learn that I welcome in particular the uprating of the family allowance, as I still think of it, for the first child. That will be of enormous assistance to mothers when they have to stop work and if they wish to stay at home and look after children. On behalf of them, including my daughter who is to have a child at any moment, I thank my right hon. Friend.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I reciprocate her good wishes by sending my good wishes to her daughter.
How much have families lost as a result of the Government not indexing child benefit fully during their stewardship? Does he agree that if it has been politically expedient at this distance from the election to pump an extra £230 million into the child benefit scheme—and I welcome that—it would be folly for a party to enter an election advocating the abolition of a scheme which is clearly popular among one third of the voters unless that party was drawing up a suicide note for the voters?
First, the calculation which the hon. Gentleman is inviting me to make, which his hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) tried to get me to make earlier, is artificial in the extreme. As with some of the pension calculations, had those sums of money been put into social security instead of being deployed in other ways, contribution rates would have been higher and tax rates would have been higher including taxes paid by the selfsame families about whom the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) is concerned.With regard to the other point raised by the hon. Member for Birkenhead, I can only refer him to the sentence in my statement which states:
"child benefit … is and will remain a strong element in our policies for family support."
Contrary to what the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) said, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his statement today? May I particularly congratulate him on the extra support that he has provided for families? Will he clarify and perhaps emphasise one point? Will he give an assurance that there is no intention to change the general child benefit system to which we as a party and as a Government have been committed?
I have just underlined the relevant sentence in my statement in answer to the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field):
Of course that does not exclude consideration of other ways of helping families. However, that should give my right hon. Friend—whose views in this area I obviously greatly respect, having worked rather closely with him for six years—the reassurance that he wants."Child benefit … is and will remain a strong element in our policies for family support."
Is today's statement the last word before next April on the subject of improved community charge benefits, which are so important to so many people on low incomes, particularly disabled people? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many disabled people who used to benefit under the old rate rebate system for adaptations are suffering and are as much as £400 worse off as a result of the community charge system? Does he accept that RADAR has dozens of cases of people who are worse off in that respect? That issue must be seriously considered.
I am obviously aware of the point that is frequently made in that area. Equally, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the concession in respect of the rating system was specifically related to adaptations for disabled people's houses. It is difficult to accommodate that within the community charge system. I will draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, but I am not planning a further statement.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his uprating in respect of the disabled and particularly the extra money for the independent living fund will be welcomed by Conservative Members? Will he therefore consider modifying his White Paper proposals and make the ILF a permanent statutory feature of our total form of help for the disabled?
I do not think that I can undertake to do the latter, but we shall be looking with great care at the arrangements for 1993 when local authorities will take over new responsibilities for community care and care for disabled people and others.
Why did the right hon. Gentleman decide to recoup part of the cost of the child benefit change by refusing to uprate the single-parent additional premium when those are usually the poorest parents? Will he explain the thinking which led to the selection of the figure of £ 1 for the eldest child when he said that it was partly to compensate for the loss of the woman's earnings? Women's wages are low, but not that low.
I am not, of course, suggesting that the problem to which I referred in my statement can be met entirely through the social security system. However, it is sensible to recognise within that system the obvious contemporary reality of what happens to family incomes when the first child is born. As for the £1, that relates to the large sum of money which I felt able to make available in that area alongside the equally large sums of money that I wish to deploy in other areas which are also important to many families.
I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on his partial uprating of child benefit while deeply regretting that it has not been uprated in full. What my right hon. Friend has done is a great deal better than nothing. As the only countries in the world which give more for the first child are Malta and Iran, can my right hon. Friend explain what particularly persuaded the Government to follow their example?
I cannot speak for the rationale in other countries. However, it may well be that that goes back, as ours did with the old family allowance system, to a different world in which many women gave up work when they were married, not when they had children. The world has changed dramatically in recent years and over the last generation or so. I believe that it is sensible to recognise that in the social security system.
Is the Secretary of State aware that, in the social security review to which he referred, many severely disabled people lost the additional supplementary benefit payments which were suitable for their special needs and they have now become heavily dependent on the independent living fund? Despite the doubling of that in the Secretary of State's announcement, that is still neither adequate nor permanent and that is causing deep distress among the most disabled people. Can we consider something more permanent?
I have obviously been aware for a long time of the right hon. Gentleman's concern in this matter and I very much respect him for that. However, the independent living fund has, to a very substantial extent, met not only the problems about which he was concerned at the point of transition to the new scheme, but has gone well beyond that to help people who would not have been helped under the old scheme. I have said that we intend to deploy additional resources in it and I believe that that will maintain its value as an important source of assistance for the people with whom the right hon. Gentleman is rightly concerned.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, by the arrangements that he has announced for increasing payments to those in nursing homes, he will have laid to rest a tremendous amount of anxiety, particularly in the south-east? He will not only have brought immediate relief to the anguish of relatives but he will have built some base on which homes can plan their financial futures, particularly in the interim between now and the implementation of the community charge.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I hope that she will think it right for me to acknowledge that, in referring to representations by hon. Members on behalf of their constituents in considering these matters, she was one of those whom I had very much in mind.