Service Establishments (Closure)
asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he now expects to be able to list the Service establishments to be closed and the individuals to lose their jobs as a result of the implementation of his defence cuts.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force will be making an announcement, in answer to a later Question, about the 12 RAF stations which it is proposed to close. It is too early to say whether any other Service establishments will be closed or to give details of the civilian and Service manpower reductions.
Does the Secretary of State accept that that is a disappointing reply to those who will be affected? What have they done wrong? They have never been on strike; they have never sat in. Why do they not get the same consideration as the workers at Meriden or Ebbw Vale? Are they not members of the social contract? Are they not useful? Does the right hon. Gentleman not have the muscle in Cabinet that the Secretary of State for Industry has?
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman takes such a pessimistic view. All the workers and firm involved were informed on 3rd December, when I made my statement, that there would be proper consultation and that we hoped that the redundancies which would flow from the firms which may be affected, or the Service establishments, would be manageable in the time scale that I proposed.
asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make it his policy to delay closures of defence establishments until alternative work has been found for the workers involved.
I regret that it will not be possible to delay closures until alternative work has been found for the employees if the Government are to meet their commitment to make substantial reductions in defence expenditure. However, I am fully conscious of the social implications of closing establishments. I am in close contact with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Employment and the Secretary of State for Industry on this aspect of the defence review, and we shall do everything possible to alleviate the problem.
Is the Minister aware that his answer will give great disappointment to many people in the localities, and particularly to union branches? Is he aware that the Government should treat full employment and high employment as a priority greater than that of cutting defence expenditure?
I fully recognise that point of view, but, because of the grave economic circumstances the Government faced, we had no alternative but to review defence expenditure. In making those cuts, we recognised that they would affect jobs and job prospects. I hope that, as a result of our planned time scale of cutbacks in defence expenditure, the effect on jobs will be manageable.
Does the Secretary of State realise that he is putting himself in a very unfavourable light? Will he tell us why, apparently, it is right to delay closures in the steel industry, where people's jobs are threatened, but wrong to delay closure of defence establishments where, equally, many people's jobs are affected and where there is little other employment for them? Will he look again at that?
Yes, and I am hopeful. Many people employed in defence establishments are skilled craftsmen. They will be more able to find work in industries than will some of the workers to whom the hon. Gentleman has referred. I think our time scale is right. I hope we shall be able to manage it without too many redundancies.
What is the point of cutting Government expenditure on defence while increasing it in paying out unemployment benefit?
I think the small expenditure on unemployment benefit will be marginal in this context. However, it is essential to be able to release resources or investments for the export drive and also to release some of the skills from these industries to take up more productive work.
Recruits (Cadet Forces)
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what proportion of recruits to the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force have been members of their respective cadet forces.
Taking the last three years, the cadet forces provided at least 25 per cent. of all entrants to the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, 19 per cent. of entrants to the Army and 25 per cent. of those to the Royal Air Force.
That is a considerable proportion of the recruits for all three Services. Will my hon. Friend tell the House what proportion of subsidy, in terms of government support, is involved, respectively, for the State and the private schools concerned?
The total cost of the cadet force, which goes rather wider than the schools, is just over £10 million. Not only does it provide a recruiting base—although I would say that we do not primarily regard it as being for that purpose; it demonstrates the value of a Service career to the youth of this country.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Opposition welcome the very good figures of recruitment, but urge him to resist any suggestions by his hon. Friends that this vital work should be discontinued?
There has not been any suggestion that this vital work should be discontinued. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the value of cadet forces goes rather wider than the questions which have recently been raised.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the combined cadet forces are good not only for recruiting but in themselves. Will the Government do everything possible to encourage the formation of cadet units in State schools?
The latest figures show that LEA schools provide one-third of the CCFs—about 90 out of 269.
asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he can yet estimate what effect the recent defence review will have on the naval construction work undertaken at Vosper-Thorneycroft yards in Southampton.
Consultations about the defence review are taking place with the warship-building firms, including Vosper-Thorneycroft, but it is still too early to say what the effect of the proposed reduction in planned new ship construction would be for individual shipbuilders. I assure my hon. Friend that in arriving at final decisions the Government will take full account of industrial and employment considerations.
I thank my hon. Friend for that encouraging reply. If he took the advice of some of his hon. Friends and made a drastic cut of £1,000 million a year in defence expenditure, as has been suggested, what would be the effect on naval construction?
Raf Civilian Employees
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what number of civilians are employed by the Royal Air Force in development areas.
There are about 10,750 civilians currently employed by the Royal Air Force in development areas, which represents about 40 per cent. of the civilian work force on Royal Air Force stations.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. When he is looking at particular areas where defence expenditure cuts should fall, will he take into account the employment problems of development areas and make sure that as far as possible employment in those areas is protected?
I assure my hon. Friend that the regional aspect of the defence review is an important consideration. However, we must bear in mind that in terms of achieving reductions in defence expenditure it is not the only consideration.
Can any reliance be placed on the figures given by the Minister? In view of the information given by his hon. Friend the Minister of State in a Written Answer on 5th February that the Royal Air Force at Brawdy is not an establishment employing more than 250 civilians and Service men, will he state who is employing the 300 or more civilians and the 1,200 or so people dressed in Royal Air Force or United States military uniform who appear to be operating there, flying Hunter jets and carrying out other noisy military occupations?
The hon. Gentleman can have no doubt about the consideration which the people in the area of Brawdy have received as a result of the opening up of this station.
Firth Of Clyde (Accident Hazards)
asked the Secretary of State for Defence, in view of the proximity of the torpedo testing range in Loch Long, the munitions quay serving Glen Douglas, the BP super tanker terminal at Finnart, the British Polaris base at Coulport, the US Polaris base at Holy Loch, and the British nuclear submarine base at Faslane, what analysis he has made of the compounding of the associated risks; and who is responsible for co-ordination following any major nuclear or oil accidents in the Firth of Clyde.
Full account was taken of safety considerations in the siting of these establishments. The chances of a public hazard arising at any of them is extremely remote, and there is no risk of an accident at one resulting in a further accident at any of the others.In the highly unlikely event of a naval nuclear incident in the Firth of Clyde, the Commodore of the Royal Navy base at Faslane would co-ordinate action. Primary responsibility for dealing with oil spillages rests with the Department of Trade the local authorities, the Ministry of Defence, the Clyde Ports Authority or the oil industry, according to where the spill occurs; co-ordination is achieved by joint contingency plans which exist to ensure that any major spillage is combated as quickly and effectively as possible.
Is my hon. Friend aware that it is rubbish to say that there is no compounding of risk? Will he say why no combined exercises have been carried out to test the warning system and safety measures?
The establishments were deliberately sited to ensure that even in the most unlikely event of an accident there would be no effect on large centres of population. The chances of a particular location being affected by accidents occurring at more than one establishment are exceedingly remote. I am personally completely confident of the arrangements that exist.
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what savings to public funds he hopes to achieve through his proposals to reorganise and move SRDE Mudeford to Malvern and RRE Pershore and part of Malvern to Farnborough and Bedford.
I have nothing to add to the answer I gave the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) on Wednesday 5th February.—[Vol. 885, c. 523–4.]
I thank the Minister for that not very informative answer and for the attention he has paid to this matter on a number of occasions. Did I understand him correctly to say that there were savings of £1·5 million? What will be the costs of this unpopular game of military musical chairs? As I understand it, the latest published figures amount to about £1·5 million. Other people say the figure is £4·5 million. Does he agree that the net benefits of this exercise do not seem to be very considerable?
I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's proper concern with the personal and human problems which inevitably rise from this rationalisation. These are the figures for which he has asked. The investment we have in mind arising from this is about £5·5 million, and the annual benefit is about £1·6 million. I think that that is a substantial saving, and is of the sort that we should seek to achieve.
Does the Minister accept that social costs are involved in these propositions, and that if those moves were recommended in respect of organisa- tions which are the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Industry, the Labour Party would never allow them to take place? Is he aware that in my constituency there is total opposition to this merry-go-round arrangement? Will he have a final think before he takes the step which will deprive my constituency of many jobs?
Changes always involve a degree of social cost. That is unfortunate. The original proposals for stage one of the rationalisation plan were made in October 1972 and the date for the final implementation is approximately 1979. That is a long period. There is no prospect of a change of policy now. I hope that we shall find a solution to these real personal problems.
Polaris (Replacement Contracts)
asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will end all contracts for replacement nuclear weapons for British Polaris submarines.
I have nothing to add to the Written Answer I gave to my hon. Friend on 14th January, and those which my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence gave in December to Questions by the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter).
Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that his answer does not represent a breach of Labour Party policy, in that these new warheads are not a new generation of nuclear weapons? Does he accept that the cancellation of these contracts will save up to £200 million, which will benefit our balance of payments deficit, and that it will have no adverse effects on employment since these contracts are with the Lockheed Corporation of America?
I do not know from where my hon. Friend obtains his figures. I assure the House that we are not embarking upon a new generation of nuclear missiles. That is precisely what the 1973 programme asked us not to do.
I have a little doubt about the difference between the term "new generation" and "updating". Does not the Minister think that Britain's contribution and encouragement to nonproliferation is that we should not update Polaris missiles or warheads?
I am interested in the language my hon. Friend uses. Once again I give him the assurance which I have given the House on many occasions. We are not purchasing Poseidon. We are not MIRV-ing the warheads. We are not embarking upon a new generation of strategic missiles. But we are maintaining the effectiveness of the present generation.
By far the most important consideration is that our defence should be adequate and credible. If the Secretary of State has to make his left wing unhappy in the interests of keeping the defence of this country viable and credible, I hope that he will take the necessary action.
We respect points of view, whether expressed by Government or Opposition Members, but however sympathetic we are, we must assess the facts first. I put the facts on record in my initial reply. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that we are maintaining the credibility of the strategic nuclear deterrent.
Marine Harrier Aircraft
asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a further statement on the future of the Marine Harrier.
Not at the moment.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that cancellation of this project would be a further body blow to the aircraft industry? Will he indicate the export potential of this aeroplane? Is it the case that other countries are waiting to see what we do before placing orders?
I fully understand the wish of the aircraft industry to see this project go ahead, and certainly it has considerable export potential. Design work is continuing, and we shall be completing a full and careful evaluation before deciding whether to go ahead.
Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that it is the wish not only of the aircraft industry but of the Royal Navy which should be taken into account?
The Royal Navy has said that it would be a useful additional capability. We recognise that.
The hon. Gentleman will concede that it is not only the Royal Navy which has said this. The whole Defence Staff has said that it would be a useful additional capability.Is the hon. Gentleman aware that not so many months ago he and his right hon. and hon. Friends were taxing the Conservative administration for not having made a decision about this? Some of us thought that there was substance in the suggestion that there had been a long delay. Is there not even less reason for delay now? Why will not the right hon. Gentleman make a decision?
To the best of my recollection, I have never taxed anyone about any delay. This is an important project. The more important it is, the more important it is that decisions are made in due time.
General Elections And Referenda
asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is satisfied with the existing arrangements made for members of Her Majesty's Forces and their spouses to vote at General Elections and referenda by post or by proxy; and if he will make a statement.
Not entirely, but we take steps to ensure that Service families know and can take advantage of the existing facilities for Service registration.
Can the hon. Gentleman say whether those who have joined the Armed Forces since 10th October will be able to vote in the forthcoming referendum, assuming—which may not be the case—that the Government are able to carry through their legislation?
I cannot say that. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is to be a White Paper on the referendum procedure, which will be debated in the House before Easter. That will be the moment to pursue what I accept are very important questions involving Service voters.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that to hon. Members on both sides of the House with constituencies in Dorset and no doubt in other places where there are military installations, this is a matter of very great importance? Can he say, either now or later if I put down a Question, what percentage of persons serving in the Armed Forces entitled to vote did vote at the last or any similar election?
I can tell the hon. Gentelman that the percentage of those eligible who are registering is between 25 and 30, which is low. It has been agreed on both side of the House that the change in procedure in 1969 following the Speaker's Conference resulted in fewer Service people registering than hitherto. For that reason, recommendations were made to the last Speaker's Conference by the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office. Those were largely accepted. But it is not a matter for me to say how soon they will be implemented.
Will my hon. Friend make it clear that it is the desire of many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House that the rights of the Service voter in the referendum should be considered before the publication of the White Paper?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I undertake to draw the attention of my right hon. Friends to this exchange today.
Although we quite understand that the Minister is not himself responsible for this situation, does he accept that the whole House regards the present situation involved in Service voting as little more than a scandal? It is up to the hon. Gentleman to bang the table and to demand that those concerned with these matters ensure that Service personnel get back the right to vote, just like every other citizen.
Only this House, under its own powers, can give back that right. There is no disagreement between the two sides of the House. This is a matter upon which a decision should be reached, and I shall make suitable representations. I am sure that in the coming weeks hon. Members will find further opportunities to make their views known.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory and complacent nature of the Minister's replies, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.
Royal Air Force (Fuel Economies)
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what fuel economies have been achieved in the RAF during the past 12 months.
Notwithstanding the extra flying necessitated by the Cyprus emergency, it is estimated that some 125,000 tons of fuel will be saved over the 12 months ending 31st March 1975.
Can my hon. Friend be a little more specific about the areas where savings are taking place? Will he confirm that it remains Government policy that the effective air defence of the United Kingdom shall be an essential ingredient in preserving a free and decent society?
I assure my hon. Friend that the area in which economies are primarily being sought is in the transport force. These aircraft are being tasked to about 88 per cent. of their former level. Operational flying is not being interfered with.
Is my hon. Friend aware that last February the Conservative Secretary of State told me that in December 1973, 2·8 million gallons of fuel oil had been saved by the Services, or roughly 10 per cent.? Will he confirm my calculation that on the basis of those figures we are using for the Forces, in peace time, approximately 336 million gallons of fuel oil a year? Is not that rather a heavy cost for the country to bear?
I should not dream of trying to confirm or deny my hon. Friend's calculation, since my arithmetic is notoriously weak. The fact is that we are using only such supplies of fuel as are necessary for the defence of this country and are contantly reviewing our requirements to see that no unnecessary fuel is used.
Can the hon. Gentleman say how much of this is used on the Beira patrol?
That is a question which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Royal Navy is better equipped to answer than I.
Nato Eurotraining Working Group
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what was the British contribution to NATO's Eurotraining Working Group in 1971, 1972 and 1973, and to the latest available date; and if he will make a statement.
I assume that my hon. Friend is referring to the work of the Eurogroup in the field of training. The Eurotraining Working Group, set up under German chairmanship in 1970, has made solid progress in extending the range and scope of the joint training arrangements that had been developed earlier. It is now moving towards the next goal of one nation assuming responsibility for all training, in a particular area of activity.The United Kingdom has always attached great importance to the work of the Eurogroup and is playing a full part in the activities of Eurotraining. In addition to the offers which we had already made for the training of naval helicopter control officers and of personnel handling the Lance missile, I suggested at the last Eurogroup meeting a number of other areas which offer possibilities for profitable co-operative projects.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that very important reply. He will agree, I am sure, that this is an important area of co-operation. However, I am wondering about the extent to which we are training NATO forces in the United Kingdom.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend recognises the importance of my reply, because considerable savings can be achieved on defence expenditure within NATO if we can make progress in these activities. During 1974, the United Kingdom trained 800 students from within NATO.
Service Personnel (Organ Transplant Operations)
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what rules his Department applies to the conditions under which organs, such as kidneys, from Service men, who die in the course of duty, are donated to hospitals for use in transplant operations.
The basic rule is that the donor must during life have expressed willingness to donate the organ concerned.
What guidance is given to Service doctors and surgeons in this matter?
Service doctors will not normally be involved in such removal because, as my hon. Friend knows, the National Health Service regional transplant team has responsibility. This is entirely a voluntary matter, but we have taken all possible steps to make clear to Service people the real advantages to be gained.
I am not against this idea, but will the Minister give his attention to a much more urgent problem affecting Service men who lose their lives—namely, obtaining proper and generous compensation for their families?
I think that that is a totally different question, but the answer is "Yes".
Cyprus (Strategic Strike Force)
asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he now expects to complete the withdrawal of the strategic strike force stationed in Cyprus which was announced in his statement of 3rd December.
The Vulcans previously stationed in Cyprus have now been replaced by a detachment from the United Kingdom. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made clear in his speech on 16th December last, this move has been undertaken solely to ease the accommodation problem and is without prejudice to the outcome of the defence review.
Will my hon. Friend tell the House what function he hopes to find for the Vulcan bomber squadrons that have been withdrawn from Cyprus, and whether it is intended that they will continue to retain a nuclear capability?
As my hon. Friend will know, it is not the practice to give information about nuclear capability. We are satisfied that the Vulcan aircraft perform a useful rôole in the Royal Air Force today.
Will the Minister confirm that the operational squadrons that have been or are being withdrawn from Cyprus are being withdrawn because of lack of accommodation? In doing so, does the hon. Gentleman agree that we have jumped the gun, in view of the White Paper that is to be published?
No, because the considerations which prompted the two matters are entirely different. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the squadrons have been replaced by detachments. The negotiations leading up to the White Paper on the long-term rôle in Cyprus still have to be completed.
Is it not crazy at this time, in the No. 1 danger spot in the world, to withdraw a strategic peacekeeping force such as the Vulcan squadron? Will it not encourage other countries which want to do so to proliferate nuclear weapons now with a reason for doing so?
Long-term policy matters must await the Defence White Paper. Given present conditions we believe it would be much more difficult if we were to retain an overcrowded presence in Cyprus. That would demoralise our Service men there quicker than anything else.
"Queen Elizabeth 2" (Luxury Cruise)
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what was the cost of the Royal Marines Band playing at the departure of the "Queen Elizabeth 2" when the latter started its luxury cruise on 4th January; and what was the cost of the helicopter fly-past on this occasion.
The Royal Marines Band took part at no cost to public funds; all incidental costs and a fee for the services of the band were paid by the Cunard Steamship Company. The brief helicopter flight is estimated to have cost about £100.
Does not my hon. Friend realise that during that weekend Opposition spokesmen were making gloomy speeches about the disastrous economic situation facing this country? Does he not think that it is rubbing salt into the faces of workers who are being asked to tighten their belts for a vulgar and ostentatious display of this kind to take place? In answer to an earlier Question it was said that no unnecessary fuel had been used. Was this an unnecessary use of fuel? Further, will he tell me whether they were workers or shirkers who were the passengers on the luxury cruise?
If my right hon. Friend is asking whether the helicopter flight was ill-judged, I must say that in my view it was. Methods of participation are always under review, forming part of the constant review which is going on to see that no unnecessary fuel will be used in future.
Will the Minister say whether the flight fulfilled a useful training function? Such flights may easily fulfil just as useful a training function for helicopter pilots as any other kind of flight, possibly even pulling an hon. Gentleman opposite out of the water if he were drowning. That might be in bad taste, too.
The hon. Gentleman's question has merit, in that any flight has a training value. Whether the flight in question was necessary and whether the training could have been fulfilled in another way are the questions that we must ask. That is why I have said that in my view this matter was ill-judged.
First, does the Minister agree that there is never anything vulgar or ostentatious about the Royal Marines? Secondly, does he agree that the contribution which they made helped to earn foreign currency for Great Britain?
It is tempting, but it would be dangerous, for the Minister for the Royal Air Force to comment upon the Royal Marines. It is true that they participated on the normal fee-paying basis, in the same way as other Service bands. I do not want to comment further on that aspect.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. For the avoidance of doubt, will you please arrange for the Table Office to encourage hon. Members who are tabling Questions about ships to refer to them as "her" rather than "it"? After all, proper respect for the feminine gender may soon become very topical.
No doubt the hon. and gallant Gentleman's point will be noted.
Vulcans, Phantoms And Mrca
asked the Secretary of State for Defence, on the basis of the figures referred to in his answer to the hon. Member for Stockport, North on 17th January, what is the fuel cost of flying the Vulcan and Phantom for a given period; and what, for the same period, will be the cost of flying the MRCA.
It is too soon to be sure, but we expect the MRCA to use about 40 per cent. less fuel than a Vulcan and 30 per cent. less than a Phantom on a comparable mission.
In view of the uncertainty that the Minister expressed on this occasion and on 17th January, is he convinced that the figures which were included in the defence review are of any value?
Yes, I am. There are always uncertainties about the future performance of sophisticated equipment, but I am sure that the figures we included were the best that we could have found.
Is there any truth in the statement that orders for the MRCA for the Royal Air Force are to be reduced?
Is it true that the British Aircraft Corporation is refusing to put money into the project while that company is under the threat of nationalisation?
I assume that that must be a legend, too.
Dockyards (Repayment Work)
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the current value of repayment work at present being undertaken in Royal Naval dockyards.
The value of contracts for repayment work currently in hand at the Royal dockyards is approximately £1½ million pounds.
Will my hon. Friend be a little more forthcoming and tell me the nature of the work and whether any cuts are likely to be to the long-term detriment of ports such as Hull?
A variety of work is being undertaken, including fairly substantial subcontracts for United Kingdom shipbuilders. I assure my hon. Friend that there is no intention of undermining work opportunities in ports such as Hull.
Is it good enough for the Minister to say that there is no intention of doing so? What machinery is he setting up to ensure that no work taken by a Royal Naval dockyard is taken at the expense of workers elsewhere in civilian yards?
The answer to that is clear. The Royal Naval dockyards take on what is called repayment work only when civilian firms are not available to carry out such work.
Hms "Daedalus" (Hovercraft Unit)
asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement on the purpose of the Royal Naval hovercraft unit at HMS "Daedalus".
The naval hovercraft trials unit is established to carry out trials and associated training in support of the possible development of hovercraft in the mine countermeasures rôle.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Will he now tell me when the unit was set up, its size, and the rôle of hovercraft in mine control measures?
The unit was set up last month. I was privileged to attend the commissioning ceremony. The unit comprises nine officers, 61 ratings and three civilians. The rôle of hovercraft is envisaged to be in mine countermeasure activities.
Arms Expenditure (Review)
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received about his review of arms spending.
asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement about the progress of his discussions on the defence review.
I have received representations from a number of quarters. In particular, we have had debates in both Houses following my statement on 3rd December, and we are in the middle of extensive consultations with our NATO Allies. These are due to be completed in February and I expect to publish a White Paper in March.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that since it has emerged that he is increasing rather than decreasing the arms bill protests have been flowing in to Transport House—[Interruption.]—from constituency Labour parties and trade unions, including the Transport and General Workers' Union, which has thousands of workers involved—[Interruption.]—and that 91 Labour Members of Parliament, and the national executive of the Labour Party—[Interruption.]
Order. These groans merely waste time.
—are pressing for real and substantial reductions to be made in the arms bill?
I am aware of my hon. Friend's encouragement of this lobby, but he must be aware that even during the course of this Question Time anxieties and concern have been expressed on both sides of the House, and that even on our present defence review, trade unions, shop stewards, companies and firms are worried about the redundancies that will flow within the next four years. Substantial reductions are to be made, and people will be affected. At least 15,000 people in defence establishments and 10,000 in defence industries will lose their jobs over the next four years. We have tried to do this on a manageable scale, and I hope we shall succeed, but if my hon. Friend encourages those who want more cuts he must recognise that trade unions will see all their hopes and aspirations for full employment jeopardised.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at least one Parliamentary Private Secretary on his side has accused him of cheating and cooking the books? Can he remember any other occasion on which a Parliamentary Private Secretary has made a similar accusation and not been asked to resign?
I am not aware either of what my hon. Friend said or on the occasion on which he said it, but I have always told the House that we planned our defence review on the expenditure that we inherited. We are making substantial reductions, and these were set out in the statement of 3rd December. They will be more clearly defined in the White Paper, but we have been honest with the House, with the country and with those who elected us on our manifesto.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have not received one letter from any worker in Rosyth Dockyard asking the Government to expedite the closure of that dockyard? As its main work is the servicing of nuclear submarines, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that when the Prime Minister visits Moscow later this week he will seek to engage in talks on multilateral disarmament rather than take the unilateral action that is proposed by Conservative Members?
I think I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. If this matter happens to come forth in the talks during my right hon. Friend's visit to Moscow he will take into consideration the manifesto commitment, which states that there shall be multilateral negotiations before we embark upon the removal of Polaris from Holy Loch.
Raf Stations (Closure)
asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he proposes to publish the names of the 12 Royal Air Force stations to be closed as announced in the defence review.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence intends to publish the names of the stations which the Royal Air Force proposes to vacate in the Statement on Defence Estimates. The associated process of consultation will be initiated with the publication of these proposals in the White Paper.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that considerable hardship has been caused to many people because of the statement in November that 12 Royal Air Force stations were to be closed? If the Secretary of State for Defence could say in November that 12 stations were to be closed, how comes it has taken him three months to decide which they are?
I dare say I see more Royal Air Force stations throughout the country than the hon. Gentleman does, and I am bound to say that they are taking a responsible and reasonable attitude to this matter. They realise, as we do, that the implications of the major policy decisions in the support field have to be considered in detail. We are seeking the views of other Government Departments which are concerned with regional policies.
When will the Government publish the Defence Estimates? Secondly, if the Secretary of State does not know which 12 stations he is to cut how can he possibly estimate what the saving will be?
The statement on Defence Estimates will be published during the second or third week of March, and if the hon. Gentleman will contain himself until then he will see how the proposed savings will be arrived at.
Will my hon. Friend ensure that local authorities in the areas of stations that are closed are given first opportunity to bid for the use of any vacated buildings?
As my hon. Friend knows, there is an agreed procedure whereby other Government Departments, including the other Services, are offered vacated airfields for their own use but, subject to that, they are offered to local authorities, and I hope that some of them will be taken up.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that every Royal Air Force station throughout the country is full of anxiety as a result of this delay? Will he, therefore, publish the list of stations to be closed as soon as he has come to his conclusion and not wait for the Statement on Defence Estimates, particularly since, it having been decided in November that 12 stations were to be closed, it is inconceivable that his right hon. Friend still does not know which 12 these are?
I think that the statement, which the right hon. Gentleman cannot have studied with his usual care, said "about 12". The answer is that the stations to be closed will be announced in the Statement on Defence Estimates to be issued during the second or third week of March.