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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 888: debated on Tuesday 11 March 1975

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Defence

Service Personnel (Rent And Rate Rebates)

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence to what extent members of Her Majesty's Forces are having to claim rent and rate rebates.

The total number drawing rebates under the Forces' rent and rates rebate scheme on 31st December last was just under 7,500.

Is my hon. Friend aware how disturbing— indeed, shocking— I find his statement? Will he at the earliest possible moment call this matter to the attention of the Armed Services Pay Review Body to see whether we can get better remuneration in what I believe to be a most unsatisfactory state of affairs?

I do not agree that it is shocking. It is wrong that anyone should feel there is indignity involved in getting a rebate. The figures show that Service men do not live in a privileged position. I certainly agree that these figures are relevant to the decisions that the independent review body will be making in due course.

Multi-Rôle Combat Aircraft

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a further statement about the orders for, and supply of, multi-rôle combat aircraft for the Royal Air Force.

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the latest position concerning the order for the multi-rôle combat aircraft, including revisions of numbers, delivery dates and costs since the original plan for 385 at £·4 million each.

We plan to order 385 MRCA aircraft and firm orders will be placed at the beginning of the series production phase. The delivery programme is under discussion.

So far as costs are concerned, I have nothing to add to the answer I gave the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) on 27th February.— [Vol. 887, c. 225–6.]

Is it not a fact that both the German and Italian requirements have been reduced on two occasions and that although the Royal Air Force requirement has not been reduced it is now to spread its order over a longer period? In those circumstances, does the figure of £3·4 million at September 1973 prices still hold good, or has the Minister any other estimate to offer the House?

On the first two questions the answers are "Yes" and "Yes ". On the third, if the hon. Gentleman will refer to my answer on 27th February he will see that I said it was now £3·9 million, the extra figure being accounted for by inflation.

Will my hon. Friend tell us approximately how much extra, on top of the £3·9 million, the RAF version will cost? Is he aware that in West Germany estimates of more than twice £3·9 million are being given? Is there not a considerable point in the supplementary question asked by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson)?

The definition of the RAF version is at an early stage. Therefore, I cannot help my hon. Friend with the figure that he would like to have. I am aware that there has been a great deal of speculation about the figures, but those that I have given this afternoon and on previous occasions in this House are not disputed by the authorities in Germany and elsewhere which are responsible for the aircraft.

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that not only are the prospects for the MRCA looking encouraging at present but the cost estimates throughout its life, so far, have been very accurate and that the rise has been almost entirely accounted for by inflationary factors?

The phrase "almost entirely" is about right. It is difficult to make calculations which can be defended against all those who might criticise them. The best estimates that I can make are that at constant 1969 prices and exchange rates the anticipated cost, at a very early stage, of about £1·5 million would be about £1·9 million now. Therefore, the increase attributable to changes in design is very small.

North Sea Oil Rigs

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence to what extent the proposals he announced in his statement on 11th February provide a defence of individual rigs and platforms, as opposed to a patrol and surveillance exercise.

The number of rigs and platforms in the North Sea is expected to grow to about 100 and it would clearly not be practicable to provide each of them with individual protection. The ships and aircraft referred to in my statement will provide essentially a surveillance capability.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the considerable criticism of the Government's proposal amongst independent defence experts? Does not the recent incident concerning a Soviet trawler in the area suggest the need to have naval helicopters available in the area? Will he reconsider his proposal in the light of the wide range of criticism directed at it?

I think that the hon. Gentleman is being less than generous. Of course, there is a continuing public debate about this difficult question— I would not quarrel with that at all— but to say that there has been considerable criticism is wrong. There has been widespread understanding of what we are seeking to do. If experience demands, or new circumstances recommend, some change of plan, we shall be willing to consider it, but on our best assumptions at present, what we are proposing makes good sense.

Does the Minister of State agree that if our Armed Forces were in charge of anything as valuable as an oil production platform, they would guard it day and night?

That is a very interesting question. I am not quite sure about the conclusion which the hon. Gentleman himself would draw from that.

Her Majesty's Ships (V/Stolaircraft)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many ships in service with the Royal Navy are at present capable of operating vertical take-off aircraft.

A number of ships in the Royal Navy would, to a varying degree, be capable of operating V/STOL aircraft.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will he say how many ships he expects will be able to operate such aircraft by 1980?

By 1980 HMS "Invincible" should be commissioned. Possibly HMS "Hermes" will still be in commission by that time. Platforms on Royal fleet auxiliaries could be quickly converted for short-term operations.

Does the Secretary of State realise how important it is that the Navy should continue to have ships that can operate vertical takeoff aircraft, from the point of view of the prevention of war rather than waging war, because it is in this respect that manned aircaft have such an advantage over a missile?

As the hon. and gallant Gentleman will realise, with the introduction of the new class of Invincible through-deck cruisers, the platforms will be there if necessary.

I recognise the difficulties that the Secretary of State is having with certain of his hon. Friends, but is it not clear that British employment interests and British export and balance-of-payments interests require a very early go-ahead for the V /STOL aircraft required for these ships?

That is a different question, and one which arises later on the Order Paper. The hon. Gentleman should also understand that I do not have difficulties with my hon. Friends. There are occasional misunderstandings, but on the whole we get on well together.

Helicopters (Rescues)

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement on the number of people rescued by Royal Naval helicopters in each of the past five years.

Complete figures are available only from 1972 and are as follows: 1972, 25; 1973, 62; 1974, 160— making a total of 247.

These statistics cover only those Royal Naval helicopters within the United Kingdom search and rescue region; rescues by ship-borne helicopters are not normally recorded.

Is the Minister aware that the information that he has given suggests a very real achievement? Does he not feel that all those involved in these rescue activities deserve great commendation and wholehearted approbation?

I am certain that I speak for all of my colleagues when I thank my hon. Friend for those very appropriate remarks. Certainly we wish to pay a warm tribute to all those who operate this service, in not only the Royal Navy but the Royal Air Force.

Does the Minister appreciate the efforts that some of us have made to ensure that this service is maintained, particularly in the South-East? After these figures, will he give an assurance that no one will be able to persuade him to stop the service?

This service will remain as important in the future as it has been in the past.

Cyprus

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many Service men have been satisfactorily resettled in the United Kingdom home base since their return from Cyprus in August 1974; and if he will make a statement.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force
(Mr. Brynmor John)

Relatively few Service men returned to the United Kingdom in August, although 3,657 Service families came back to the United Kingdom at about that time. All the families have been satisfactorily resettled, either in Service accommodation or through private arrangements.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. What consideration is being given to withdrawing from the base completely? Is it not necessary for us to think in terms of an international peacekeeping force in the area, so that the families of all Service men there can be brought back to Britain?

My hon. Friend will know that in the defence review consideration is being given to the future of the Cyprus base, among other considerations, and I cannot possibly anticipate that review.

Will the hon. Gentleman say whether satisfactory arrangements have been made to reimburse families who lost property through looting or other causes during the disturbances in Cyprus? What steps are being taken to safeguard properties which have not yet been subject to looting?

As I understand it, the situation regarding future looting is satisfactory. On the arrangements for the compensation of families, the hon. Gentleman will know that they have been subjected to quick and sympathetic consideration.

Recruitment

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what was the total net recruitment to the Armed Forces in January; and what were the comparable figures for January 1974 and January 1973, respectively.

The number of recruits, all ranks male and female, joining the Regular Forces in January 1975 was 4,037. The comparable figure in January 1974 was 3,745 and in January 1973, 4,529.

Does the Minister agree that the figure is very encouraging, showing a marked increase in recruitment? Will he give an assurance to the people of Glasgow that if an approach is made to the Government to assist those people with moving 50,000 tons of accumulated rubbish, the Government will give it sympathetic consideration?

On the first part of the question, certainly the recruitment this year, which has totalled 36,000 so far, as compared with 27,000 last year, is very encouraging. The hon. Gentleman's second question is a matter for the Scottish Office and for my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who is, I understand, discussing the matter today.

Will my hon. Friend state what is the estimated wastage arising out of this recruitment, after the recruits have entered the Services?

The question of wastage can never be properly quantified. All that we are concerned to do by the frankness of our recruiting material and the knowledge which we disseminate about Service life is to ensure that the wastage of trained recruits is as low as possible.

Northern Ireland

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received concerning the payment of compensation to the dependants of members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces who have lost their lives as a result of terrorist activities in Northern Ireland; and what replies he has sent.

Since the beginning of the year, I have received six representations about the payment of such compensation. In my replies, I explained how sizeable lump sums and pensions are paid to dependants, and how these payments have to be taken into account by the courts in assessing the compensation.

Despite the fact that he has had only six complaints, does the Minister not agree that there is widespread unease on this matter, in that under the existing 1968 legislation the amount of compensation payable is often pitifully small and in some cases almost nothing, that it is based on wholly inadequate criteria and that it often requires very distressing questionnaires to be completed by widows immediately after bereavement? What does the hon. Gentleman propose to do or to recommend his right hon. Friends to do to improve this rather scandalous situation?

I am aware that there is considerable feeling on this issue and, equally, that there have been what have been regarded as a number of offensive questions. But the operation of the Criminal Injuries to Persons (Compensation) Act (Northern Ireland) 1968 is, as the House knows, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I shall most certainly draw to his attention what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Will the Minister ensure that whenever the announcement is made of sums of compensation, steps are taken to present them in the context of the full benefits to which there is entitlement, thus avoiding the widespread misunderstanding and unjustified indignation which arise from the apparent disparity between these and civilian awards?

I shall certainly give consideration to the point that the right hon. Gentleman raises. Whether it would be desirable in every case to say precisely just what compensation and benefit a widow should receive is something that we would have to consider. Clearly, that is, in effect, what the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting. But I shall certainly consider this matter.

Will the Minister now carry out a thorough-going review of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act to the extent that it affects Service men, as there is widespread dismay about the way in which Service widows are interrogated and about the sums concerned?

As I have already said, this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and no doubt he will be apprised of all that has been said here this afternoon. I can give the assurance that some of the more offensive questions, or the questions which have been regarded as offensive, to dependants are under consideration at present.

Aviation Industry

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received from workers and management in the aviation industry with regard to the effects of the proposed defence cuts.

We have received a number of representations aimed at clarifying, and in some cases modifying, the effects of the proposed defence review measures on individual companies. I have also received a deputation of workers from Hawker Siddeley Aviation.

When my hon. Friend was carrying out his welcome and necessary defence review, did he regard part of his responsibility to lessen as much as possible the impact on jobs in the aviation industry? If he did, will he consider setting back the delivery dates of some of the aircraft ordered from Hawker Siddeley Aviation by his Department so that a more even level of employment may be maintained in the industry? Further, will he consider discussing with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry the possibility of reconsidering the position of the HS146? That would provide a welcome job extension for the men who are affected by possible redundancies due to the defence review.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will bear in mind my hon. Friend's later remarks. I am sure that my right hon. Friend is fully aware of the views that have been expressed in the House about the HS146. As regards my hon. Friend's earlier remarks— yes, at all stages of the defence review my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has had in mind the likely employment impact of the savings which he has sought to achieve. I must say again what I have said before, namely, that it is not possible to achieve the sort of savings that we have chosen to make, and about which we have been pressed, without there being some painful consequences in employment terms. We shall do all that we can to soften them, but I cannot give an undertaking that despite the consultations we shall maintain an aircraft programme which is unrelated to needs as we see them.

In view of the growing number of unemployed in Northern Ireland, will the Minister make an effort to save the jobs of 200 people at RAF Sydenham who will be made redundant before the end of this year? Will the Minister ensure that the Buccaneer contract, which was filched from RAF Sydenham and given, as I understand it, to St. Athan, in the constituency of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force, will be returned to RAF Sydenham to protect employment at that base?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish the House to misunderstand the implications of his remarks. However, I have taken note of what he said, and so has my right hon. Friend.

Does my hon. Friend agree that at the end of the war much larger numbers of men engaged in the munitions industry were successfully redeployed? Is there any reason for our not being able successfully to redeploy these men when so many products could be made which could be usefully disposed of on both the export market and the domestic market?

Historical parallels are always very difficult to sustain. I am not convinced that the parallel which my hon. Friend draws is valid. Of course, Ministers have been concerned all the time that those who might lose their job opportunities as a result of the defence review will find other useful things to do. For that reason we are consulting my right lion. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.

Will the Minister confirm that the representations he has received from the shop floor have been very strong and that they have focused on the danger of loss of defence sales overseas which may follow if projects on order for our Services are cut? Do the calculations of likely redundancies include the redundancies that must flow if these defence orders do not materialise?

It is true that the representations have been very strong. It is not true that they have been principally concerned with export orders. It is true that if we were to lose export orders there would be consequences for employment.

Maritime Harrier Aircraft

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a further statement about plans for the maritime Harrier.

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is now in a position to make a statement on the future of the naval Harrier.

I have nothing to add to the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Watkinson) on 11th February by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence.

So that the Government may come to an earlier decision to go ahead with the maritime Harrier, will the right hon. Gentleman consider two points in particular? First, will he bear in mind that without the Harrier the future all-round effectiveness of the Royal Navy will be much less? Secondly, will he bear in mind that unless the British Government show faith in this aircraft its great export potential will not be realised?

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, the Royal Navy has always recognised that if the maritime Harrier received the go-ahead it would be an added operational capability, especially as regards the new through-deck cruisers that will be coming into operation in the 1980s. Export potential will be entirely dependent upon whether anyone is prepared to purchase a type of vessel that will be able to act as a landing platform for the maritime Harrier.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is intense anxiety about defence cuts amongst the workers of North Humberside? Thousands of Hull men in that area work at Hawker Siddeley. Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that they want a chance to build not only the HS146, which is a civilian plane, but the Harrier jump-jet?

I can well understand the feelings of my hon. Friend on this matter. He will know that my hon. Friend the Minister of State and others have received deputations from Brough, Hull. The project has not been abandoned; it is still alive. The design is going ahead and it is being funded by Her Majesty's Government. In present economic circumstances I cannot at the moment go ahead with a new military project likely to cost tens of millions of pounds.

Is it not the case that the Shah of Iran is prepared to purchase both the aircraft and the through-deck cruiser to take them? Is he not most anxious to do so? Would not that be most advantageous to British industry? The Government arc spending tens of millions of pounds on workers' cooperatives that produce uneconomic goods. Would it not be better to spend the money on aircraft that we really need?

I want positive proof that there is a distinct order being placed for an expensive through-deck cruiser with a full complement of maritime Harriers. Such an order is not yet before me. That is obviously one of the distinct possibilities of a sale if we decide to go ahead with the combination of both.

Is my right hon. Friend able to say what total cost would have to be added to public expenditure if we decided to go ahead with the maritime Harrier? Will he make it clear to Conservative Members, who are continually pressing for cuts in public expenditure, that they must face very clearly what that means in these terms?

It is far too early to give the House an estimated cost of the development of the maritime Harrier. It is much too soon in its design stages. As soon as we have taken a decision I shall be able to give the House the figures that it requires.

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that he will give due weight to the fact that this is not any old aircraft project but a unique aircraft which has nothing else in the world to compete with it? Is he aware that it has been working for some time to the complete satisfaction of the United States Marine Corps, on the other side of the Atlantic? Will he reconsider his expression "tens of millions of pound "? Does he not agree that that is a bit of an exaggeration? Will he bear in mind that the Government appear to think it perfectly all right to spend £25 million a year on free contraceptives for all? It is incredible that they cannot afford to spend the money on the maritime Harrier.

I hope that the hon. Member has not now decided to describe this as the "contraceptive Harrier ", or we shall never breed any more. I offer him congratulations upon having become the official defence spokesman for the Opposition. I hope that as he questions us on these matters he will get his facts correct in future. This aircraft has not yet been completed, and therefore it has not been operating on the other side of the Atlantic. First, I have to recognise the military necessity for the go-ahead of the maritime Harrier. Secondly, I have to recognise that we are ahead of the world in this branch of technology, thirdly, that there may be prospects for exports and, fourthly, that it may be a valuable new project for an aircraft industry which is badly in need of work. I have to consider all those factors, but as yet I have not come to a decision.

Royal Air Force (Training Aircraft)

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement on the aircraft requirements for future Royal Air Force navigational flight engineer and pilot training.

We plan to meet our future requirement for these kinds of training by a mixture of existing and new types of training aircraft, ground simulation techniques and, possibly, some use of civil resources.

Is my hon. Friend aware that many Labour Members are in favour of even bigger defence cuts? Does he realise that the conversion of four of the 14 Argosy aircraft is almost complete at Hawker Siddeley Bitteswell, and that it would be more expensive to cancel them than to complete them? If we are to save even more on defence expenditure, is this the right way to do it?

I am aware that my hon. Friend and others would like even bigger defence cuts. I am not aware, however, that it would be more expensive to cancel than to complete, and I assume that if it is necessary to cancel, this would be consistent with my hon. Friend's views about defence cuts.

Will the Minister say what type of new training aircraft he has in mind?

Not at this stage. We are reviewing all the possibilities, and there are some existing aircraft which might be suitable for this rôle. We shall do our best to provide for the RAF's needs at a lower cost than now.

Is it not a fact that modification of these Argosy planes at Bitteswell would provide the capacity to train engineers and pilots much more economically than can be done at present?

That is something that I shall look into. However, I must rest at what I said before. Whatever decision we reach about the Argosy— our consultations will continue, and I have taken note of the representations made by the trade unions concerned— it would be more expensive to go ahead than to cancel. That is the choice which Ministers would have to make, and whatever decision we make it will not be popular with some hon. Members.

Expenditure Cuts (Redundancies)

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he can yet state what redundancies will occur in North Staffordshire and South Cheshire as a consequence of cuts in defence expenditure.

It does not seem likely that these areas will be much affected in terms of redundancies or loss of job opportunities.

Is my hon. Friend aware that I am delighted with that answer? Will he make certain that whatever pressure he comes under from our hon. Friends to increase defence cuts, North Staffordshire will not be affected, in employment terms?

As always, I shall do my very best to draw a fence round my hon. Friend's constituency.

In view of the prospect of rapidly rising levels of redundancy in the aircraft industry in the Greater Manchester area, will the hon. Member say what estimate was made of the loss of jobs in the industry nationally, prior to going ahead with the defence review?

The hon. Members gets too angry too often, and he shows too little patience. We gave an overall figure and we are now examining the detailed implications of the review. As I said, I have had representations from workers and management in the aircraft industry, and consultations are continuing. The Defence White Paper will be published shortly, but some of these consultations will be continued thereafter. We are trying to find the best possible accommodation, and it takes time.

24.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many redundancies he now expects there to be as a result of his proposed defence cuts.

The Defence White Paper will give details of the likely scale of redundancies amongst Service men. So far as redundancies or loss of job opportunities affecting civilian employees of the Ministry of Defence or of defence contractors are concerned, our consultations are continuing. Much will depend on how our proposals are worked out in detail.

Because of the tremendous concern amongst all the forces about continuing employment, will the Minister prior to the publication of the White Paper make a statement about possible redundancies and where they are likely to occur?

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is present and it is for him to decide whether, at a busy time, given publication of the White Paper next week, it will be possible to meet the hon. Gentleman's wishes.

Is the Minister aware that many of the engineers who met a deputation of Labour Members of Parliament at two aircraft factories last week would greatly prefer to work on civil rather than military contracts— for instance, on the HS146 and the civil version of the HS748, which would be of great value to the developing nations? Are these workers, who rightly want work, entitled to expect civil alternatives from the Government for their factories?

Certainly not from the Ministry of Defence, which is not concerned with civil versions of aircraft. My hon. Friend may be right in saying that the workers involved in the aircraft industry prefer work on civil contracts, but I can say that they would prefer work of some kind to no work at all The representations made to me in recent times have been for such modification as we can secure within the budget fixed by the defence review which will enable them to look forward with less anxiety to their future.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to complete the consultations with the NATO allies to which he referred in his statement to the House on 3rd December 1974.

The consultations with our NATO allies are nearing completion and I expect to publish details in the Defence White Paper later this month.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say what representations have been made to him by our NATO allies about the strength of British forces on the mainland of Europe?

I do not think that at this stage I can reveal that to the hon. Member. The White Paper is now being printed, and the conclusions of our consultations with our NATO allies will be embodied in that review. For the information of the House, it will be published next Wednesday 19th March.

Will my right hon. Friend say what consultations he has had with our NATO allies about the removal of the American Polaris bases? When does he intend to carry out this aspect of the Labour Party manifesto policy?

On the first part of the question, at this stage there has been none. On the second part, as I have said many times, it will not be possible to have these multilateral talks on the removal of the Polaris bases until we have established conclusions on the conferences of CSCE and MBFR. After that, we may be able to start multilateral talks on the nuclear weaponry that we hold.

Will the Minister make clear in the White Paper whether there are any disagreements between ourselves and our allies on what should be done?

I think there will be indications of what our allies wish us to do, and of the extent to which we have acceded to their requests.

Fuel Conservation

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement outlining the measures he is taking to conserve fuel.

In last winter's fuel crisis measures were introduced to reduce fuel consumption, and since then we have made every effort to economise in accordance with the general policy of Her Majesty's Government on energy conservation. The measures adopted include restrictions on Fleet consumption, flying, certain types of training, and the use of transport. Close control is also being exercised on the use of fuel for such purposes as heating, lighting and cooking. The Property Services Agency, in consultation with the Ministry of Defence, is also implementing a programme of work to improve the heating efficiency of defence buildings.

I thank the Minister for that interesting answer. Is he aware that those parts of the country which have been most severely affected by the Government's fuel conservation measures and by the increase in the price of petrol are, unhappily, those rural areas which are used regularly for overflying on these low-flying exercises? Will the Minister say what quantity of fuel is used on these exercises, and what is the mileage per gallon of these aircraft?

I shall write to the hon. Member about the total consumption and mileage per gallon. The total consumption of oil fuel by Her Majesty's Forces is 4 per cent. of the total bill. Low flying is already restricted to the minimum necessary to retain an operational commitment, and no perceptible reduction in this type of training can now be expected.

The hon. Member will have heard the question asked last time and will have heard my answer to it. He should put down a Question on this subject to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy.

Raf Tern Hill (Helicopter Training Facilities)

21.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the future use of the helicopter training facilities at RAF Tern Hill.

No, Sir. I must ask the hon. Member to wait until the publication of the statement on Defence Estimates.

Even so, will the Minister confirm that when the defence review has been put fully into effect some helicopter training facilities will be maintained at RAF Tern Hill?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has just announced that the statement will be made on 19th March The hon. Member must await that statement.

Middle East

22.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many officers and men of the British armed forces are currently serving with the armed forces of other countries in the Middle East; and for what purpose.

There are 429 volunteers from Her Majesty's forces serving on loan to the armed forces of countries in the Middle East in training, advisory and executive positions.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I entirely support the role of the armed forces in the Middle East, in so far as they are involved in United Nations peacekeeping operations and in other operations under the authority of the United Nations? Is he aware, however, that I do not support in any sense the involvement of British armed forces in foreign civil wars such as in Oman? Will my right hon. Friend put an end to that involvement?

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for the first part of his remarks. I indicated that these volunteers were active in six different Middle Eastern countries, including Oman. I am aware of the feelings of my hon. Friend and other hon. Members about our activity there, but it has been long-standing practice to allow loan volunteers to friendly nations, especially to help in training, advisory and executive positions, and this we are continuing to do. The matter may well be covered in the Defence White Paper.

Will the right hon. Gentleman make clear that our forces in Oman are there at the request of the Sultan, and that this so-called civil war would collapse in a matter of weeks if it were not fomented on the side of the so-called rebels from South Yemen?

There are bound to be two sides in a conflict. I agree partly with what the hon. Gentleman says. I do not want to deal specifically with Oman, because that would be to pre-empt a Question on that country which appears on the Order Paper.

Diego Garcia

23.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what expansion has already been made to the base facilities at Diego Garcia.

I understand that as United States legislative procedures have yet to be completed the United States Government are not in a position to start work on the expansion to which our agreement was announced on 3rd December.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the United States Congress has been informed that $65 million was spent on this project during 1973–74 and that a further $95,000 is budgeted for expenditure in 1974–75? Is that massive expenditure compatible with the modest expansion which my right hon. Friend indicated to the House? Has he seen recent Press reports that after this extension the base will have nuclear capability for nuclear bombers? Does he appreciate that that would be contrary to United Nations resolutions and the expressed wish of most States around the Indian Ocean?

First, I must inform my hon. Friend that what we agreed to in the statement of 3rd December was work additional to that which was agreed in 1972. Secondly, the cost of that additional work, at the most, is $35 million. Thirdly, there are no plans to base ships or aircraft on Diego Garcia, and there will be no facilities of any kind for nuclear weaponry.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give recent figures concerning the number of Soviet ships visiting the Indian Ocean area?

I cannot, off the cuff, give the figures. The hon. Gentleman must know, and the House is fully aware, that in recent years there has been increasing Soviet naval activity east of Suez, particularly in the Indian Ocean.

In the discussions that took place in the Foreign Office last week, between Mr. Wilford and representatives of the Indian Government, were the objections of the Indian Government noted? What is the attitude of the Ministry of Defence?

Although I was not involved in the discussion to which my hon. Friend refers, I can say that we took notice of what the Indians and the littoral States said about Diego Garcia and the possibility of a nuclear-free zone in the Indian Ocean. As my hon. Friend realises, the United States and the United Kingdom are prepared to consider an Australian proposal on how best to ensure a nuclear-free zone in that area.

Social Contract (Minister'sspeech)

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if the public speech by the Secretary of State for the Environment on 21st February on the social contract and the railwaymen at Grimsby represents Government policy.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister whether the public speech by the Secretary of State for the Environment on 21st February in Grimsby on breaches of the social contract represents Government policy.

Q6.

asked the Prime Minister if the public speech by the Secretary of State for the Environment to the North Lincolnshire Society of Quantity Surveyors in Grimsby on 21st February on inflation and the social contract represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Edward Short)

In the absence of my right hon. Friend in Dublin for the meeting of the EEC Heads of Government, I have been asked to reply.

Yes, Sir.

If the Secretary of State for the Environment's remarks are in line with Government thinking, does not the Leader of the House agree that as British Rail made a loss of £51·6 million last year, any extra money needed for wages will have to come from a further injection of public money? If the social contract is to have any respectability in any quarter, does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that to ask taxpayers to pay more taxes to meet a wage claim and then to charge them higher rail fares will be intolerable?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment made an excellent speech, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister carried it a stage further this weekend. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was saying that to price the burden of costs of the railways beyond what the traffic can stand will inevitably lead to cuts in services, and that would lead to whole areas being deprived of a rail network, with all that that means in terms of unemployment in the industry and in social and regional terms. In 1975 we are providing £490 million to maintain passenger lines which are uneconomic.

In that speech the Secretary of State for the Environment also referred to the control of public expenditure and one or two other budgetary matters. Will the Lord President tell us whether the Budget Statement to be presented to the House on 15th April will be the product solely of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's economic judgment or will owe something to the proposals for clobbering the self-employed and small business men now being put to the national executive by the Labour Party?

Will my right hon. Friend take into account the fact that there is an agreed trade union/employer negotiating machinery to deal with these matters and that it is not for Members of Parliament or Ministers to interfere with that agreed machinery?

Yes, indeed, there is agreed machinery, and we have set the unions and employers free to negotiate their own wage rates. At the same time, we are in a difficult stage of changeover from a statutory system— which brought the country to the verge of ruin a year ago— to a free system. Of course there are problems. All that my right hon. Friend was doing was to urge negotiators to stay within the TUC guidelines.

Have the Government any contingency plans if the railways reject the advice of the Secretary of State and settle outside the social contract?

That is an entirely hypothetical question which I would not venture to answer.

I welcome the speech made by the Secretary of State for the Environment, but may we know why he was not the subject of a subsequent attack by the Secretary of State for Employment?

Because he was saying precisely the things which the Secretary of State for Employment has been saying for a long time.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is great resentment among trade unions about the social contract that exists? Does he further agree that the Opposition have devoted most of their time during the past week to defending excessive wealth, property and privilege?

I certainly agree with the second of my hon. Friend's propositions, but not with the first. The social contract was negotiated over a two-year period— [HON. MEMBERS: "Social contrast."] In that case, I fully share my hon. Friend's view.

Tuc (Meetings)

Q2.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which my right hon. Friend gave the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) on 6th March.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he could do a really good patching-up job this week while the Prime Minister is away in Dublin taking part in the current charade that some people call renegotiation? Instead of meeting the TUC leaders, he could meet the pickets assembled outside the House of Commons. He could take with him their pay slips, showing that for a 40-hour week skilled craftsmen earn only £28·3. He could meet many others—

Order. That is the third statement the hon. Member has made. He must ask a question.

I am just finishing. Is my right hon. Friend aware that he could resolve the problem by recommending an interim award to put before the meeting which is taking place on Monday with the Lord Privy Seal?

My hon. Friend's question is based on two wrong assumptions. The first is that there is something to be "patched up "while my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is away. There is nothing to be patched up. The second is that there is a charade going on in Dublin. There is a very serious piece of renegotiation taking place. It was on that basis that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) fought the last General Election—

On the main part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, as I pointed out yesterday this is an unofficial strike, negotiations are going on with the union, and they have not broken down. I hope that it is my hon. Friend's desire— a desire shared by all hon. Members— to persuade the men to go back to work and to listen to their union leaders.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that another aspect of the situation is that the meeting may take place before the former head of the KGB comes to Great Britain as an apparently honoured guest of the TUC? If it takes place before then, will the right hon. Gentleman make clear the revulsion of hon. Members on both sides of the House at the visit?

If the hon. Gentleman tables a Question on that topic to the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend will be very pleased to answer it.

Education Expenditure (Prime Minister's Speech)

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech on educational spending on the 21st February at the opening of the Lipman Building of the Newcastle-on-Tyne Polytechnic.

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend did so on 24th February, Sir.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in that speech the Prime Minister talked of education spending overtaking expenditure on defence? Will he assure the House that this does not mean that the present euphoria resulting from the Prime Minister's latest visit to Moscow will lead to another massive cut in defence expenditure?

There is no connection at all between the very successful visit of my right hon. Friends to Moscow and the Defence White Paper.

Will my right hon. Friend accept from me that he and I very much welcome the visit of the Prime Minister to Newcastle-on-Tyne? Will he also confirm that a section of my right hon. Friend's speech dealt with the Open University? Does he agree about the great value of the university in educational terms to this country and, indeed, to the rest of the world, and think that it should have a high priority in Government policy?

Indeed, like my hon. Friend, I listened to my right hon. Friend's speech, which I thought excellent,.especially the passage which dealt with the Open University, particularly since my wife obtained a degree at that university I thought it was a first-rate speech.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of the educational advisory services duplicate the work of Her Majesty's inspectors and overlap with the work of the county education officers, and that there is great scope for a saving in money and staff on some services? Does he agree that many of those engaged in those services would do much better work as teachers?

Speaking personally— my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is not here and therefore I am venturing my own opinion— I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I think there is a case for examining the whole field of advisory services, and also a case for local authorities getting together to provide advisory services. There is a good deal in what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said.

Central Policy Review Staff

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister if he will appoint an expert on parliamentary government to the Central Policy Review Staff.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Mr. Stanley) on 6th March.

Is it not time that an expert took a long, hard look at some of the existing parliamentary anomalies, such as the "usual channels ", appointments by the Whips' Office to Select Committees, and the bad old continuing practice of appointing only one woman to Committees, and so on? Should not such a person come up with a reform which allows democratic worker participation in the running of the House? Is it not nonsense that although we rank as Members of Parliament for worker participation in industry, we accept such churlish and unsatisfactory situations for ourselves as back benchers?

I should hate to inflict on the Central Policy Review Staff a "long, hard look" at the "usual channels ". This is not a matter for the review staff. It is certainly a matter for the Procedure Committee. If my hon. Friend would care to come and discuss the matter with me, I should be happy to talk to her. I think we are arriving at a point where in a Session of Parliament in the near future the Procedure Committee could examine our procedure depth.

In addition to taking such an expert look at these anomalies— I have the utmost sympathy with the point made by the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mrs. Colquhoun)— does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that since two new Parliaments are about to be set up we shall require two such experts, and that because of those new Parliaments it may be necessary to eliminate some of the anomalies?

I hope that before very long two elected assemblies will be set up in the United Kingdom. I also hope that they will profit from the very long experience of this Parliament.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that an expert on parliamentary government, whether or not he is a member of the CPRS, would be able to explain that a referendum on the Common Market or on anything else can only be consultative, and not binding? Would it not be helpful for that to be made clear to the public as a whole?

The House will debate that subject today. I have said before, as has my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, that the referendum is not binding on Parliament. It cannot be. The Government have agreed that they will accept the result of the referendum. It will be binding on the Government.

Middle East

Q7.

asked the Prime Minister when he next intends to visit the Middle East.

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend has at present no plans to do so, Sir.

Did my right hon. Friend note that the discussions which recently took place in Beirut between Lord Carrington, as the political representative of the Conservative Party, and Yasser Arafat, the PLO leader, were followed by a terrorist attack on a Tel Aviv hotel, in which 16 people died? Will he confirm that is not Labour policy to negotiate with terrorist organisations?

In fairness to Lord Carrington, there is no connection between the terrorist outbreak and his visit. Also in fairness to the noble Lord, he did not go there to visit Yasser Arafat. He went there to visit Heads of State. I think I am right in saying that while in Beirut Lord Carrington was asked to meet Yasser Arafat.

Since some of us have had the good opportunity of getting to know Yasser Arafat and his policies, and of appreciating what a social democrat he is, is it not time, since the Prime Minister's contacts in the Middle East seem to be solely Israeli ones, that he should make some effort to get to know some of the Arab Socialist leaders?

We tolerate the hon. Gentleman, but it is a bit much to ask us to tolerate his friends as well.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the assurance asked for by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) that it is not the policy of the Government to negotiate with terrorist organisations?

The Government stand ready to do anything they can to help in this difficult situation. No one wishes to do or say anything which would make it more difficult.

That remark was not very helpful. He should remember he is Leader of the House— and deputy leader of our party, God help us.

Certainly, the Government condemn terrorist attacks, from whatever quarter they come.