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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 892: debated on Tuesday 13 May 1975

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Defence

Expenditure Reductions

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will give details of the extra defence cuts announced in the Budget.

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether the cuts in the Services' equipment and works programmes which are to form the bulk of the £110 million defence cuts announced by the Chancellor on 15th April will be made good by additional expenditure in the future.

21.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the implications for defence of the reduction in expenditure by £100 million as a result of the Budget.

I have nothing to add to what I told the House on 6th May.—[Vol. 891, c. 1230.]

Do not these cuts make nonsense of the Secretary of State's grandiose claim that the Government's defence review was based on a fundamental and rational assessment of Britain's needs? Will he now give the House an assurance that there will be no further cuts of this kind?

The Secretary of State for Defence can never give that assurance in reply to the final question which the hon. Gentleman posed, and I should be foolish to do so. The main strategic decisions that we took on the defence review still stand. The cut for 1976–77 will not impinge upon that posture.

Does the Secretary of State know what he proposes to cut? If he knows, why will he not tell us?

I told the hon. Gentleman and the rest of the House last week that, because of the cut of £110 million planned for 1976–77, it is likely that equipment purchases will have to be adjusted, that works and building programmes will have to be deferred and that some job prospects will have to be lost.

Before the right hon. Gentleman presented his White Paper there were consultations with our allies. Were there any consultations with our allies before the further cuts were made?

Of course, there could not be consultation on this because it was a budgetary matter. However, our NATO allies were informed immediately after my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his statement, and there will be opportunity for full discussions at the Defence Planning Council meeting next week.

Employment (Dockyards And Shipbuilding)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what will be the effect of recently announced cuts in defence expenditure on employment in the Royal dockyards.

23.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what estimate he has made of the effect on employment in naval shipbuilding yards and naval dockyards of the recently announced additional £110 million reduction in defence spending.

The reduction of £110 million in the defence budget for 1976–77 should not affect employment either in the yards building ships for the Royal Navy or in the Royal dockyards.

Does that mean that there will be no unemployment in Rosyth dockyard as a consequence of the recently announced cuts in defence expenditure? Does my hon. Friend recognise that more than 6,000 people are employed in this naval dockyard, which is one of the biggest employers in the whole of Fife? Has he made any estimate of the number of jobs that would be cut there if the nuclear programme were abandoned and the cuts recommended by some of my hon. Friends were implemented in full?

I assure my hon. Friend that we have quite enough practical problems at present to deal with without indulging in hypothetical considerations of the kind he has outlined. It remains the policy of the Government to maintain dockyard capacity at about its present level and to use capacity which is temporarily released from warship refitting for other productive purposes.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Can he assure me that the recent £110 million reduction in defence spending will not mean any unemployment or any reduction in the labour force in the Vosper Thornycroft dockyard in Southampton?

I assure my hon. Friend that the cut of £110 million is not expected to cause any reductions in the employment of the warship building firms in general, especially as there is a shortage of labour in the warship building industry at present. Royal Navy and overseas orders are likely to take up the available capacity in the main warship building yards for the foreseeable future.

I know that the Minister must have gone into this matter very carefully. Can he give us an indication of what sort of other productive work he has in mind?

I presume that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is referring to the naval dockyards. In the foreseeable and immediate future, the yards will be fully taxed dealing with naval work.

Is it not the case that if the nuclear servicing at Rosyth were removed, Rosyth could once again be very competitive in the commercial servicing of ships?

Rosyth Dockyard is doing outstanding work in the service of the Fleet. I am sure that the whole House would like to pay a tribute to the workers at all levels who make this work possible.

Persian Gulf (Secretary Of State's Visit)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on his recent visit to the Gulf area.

I visited Saudi Arabia and Oman. In Saudi Arabia I was received by King Khalid and had talks with him and leading members of the Government. In Oman I visited British troops in the Dhofar region and had talks with Sultan Qaboos and the Deputy Minister of Defence.

Was there any discussion of the future use of Masirah or other bases in that area by the Americans? Did my right hon. Friend gain any impression of the attitude of the local people towards increased American involvement, particularly after Dr. Kissinger's statement earlier this year about the conditions in which the United States would use force in the case of an oil embargo? Would such involvement still be welcome?

My hon. Friend refers to Masirah, and not to my talks with Sultan Qaboos of Oman. Those talks were confidential, but I can say that the question of Masirah was not raised, neither have we had any detailed representations from the Americans for the use of Masirah.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to clarify the statement he is reported to have made during his visit to the Gulf to the effect that in the foreseeable future British forces might be withdrawn from Oman? Is that withdrawal foreseen because of the imminent defeat of the Dhofar Marxist rebels or because he cannot appreciate the possibility of defeat by his own Left-wing rebels?

If the hon. Gentleman reads the defence review statement, he will see that we have no intention of withdrawing our forces in present circumstances. That still stands. Secondly, the Sultan's armed forces, with assistance from Her Majesty's Government and the Jordanians and Iranians, are having success and are driving the rebels back to the South Yemen frontier. They are professional and trained rebels from Communist sources crossing into the Dhofar province from the Yemen. Gradually, as we succeed and Omanisation takes place, our forces can be lessened in numbers.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what communications he has had with NATO about the maintenance of the British commitment in the light of the cuts in defence expenditure announced in the recent Budget Statement.

I have nothing to add to the reply which my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence gave to the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) on 28th April.—[Vol. 891, c. 15.]

Does the right hon. Gentleman expect that our allies will greet the latest cuts with a song in their heart, if I may coin a phrase?

I have had no response from my NATO colleagues since we transmitted to them the statement resulting from the Budget Statement. When I met the NATO Defence Ministers last week the question was not raised, but it may be discussed at the Defence Planning Council meeting next week.

As the Secretary of State said in his White Paper that NATO is the linchpin of our national security, and as NATO has made it very clear that it strongly disapproves of the cuts the right hon. Gentleman has already made in our defence budget, can he give an undertaking that the extra £110 million cut will in no sense fall on our commitment to NATO?

I tried to indicate in reply to an earlier question that the cut will not impinge upon our present defence posture and that NATO remains the linchpin of our security. By deferment of equipment procurement and by works and buildings programmes being deferred in the year in question, we may be able to save the money without interfering with our NATO commitment.

Have any of my right hon. Friend's NATO colleagues indicated to him their desire to bring their defence expenditure up to our level?

It is interesting that both the Italians and the French have decided to take a more prominent part in naval activities in the Mediterranean, where we had planned to withdraw.

Employment (Yorkshire And Humberside)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what further effects on employment in the Yorkshire and Humberside Region he envisages because of the further cut in defence expenditure of £110 million.

No major projects will be cancelled as a result of these further savings, so their effects on employment in Yorkshire and Humberside should be minimised.

Is my hon. Friend aware that that statement will be received with much pleasure, particularly by the Yorkshire aircraft workers in the Brough area, who have petitioned him and many, if not all, of the Yorkshire Members?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he knows, these are very difficult matters. We do our best to meet the need for saving at the same time as minimising the consequences for employment, but it is not easy.

As Brough is in my constituency, will the Minister confirm that it is the Government's policy to cause unemployment by not allowing Brough to compete for orders for Buccaneers for South Africa?

That is as topsy—turvy as it was intended to be. We shall do all we can to provide employment in the aircraft industry, consistent with the wider policy considerations that all Governments have followed from time to time.

Can my hon. Friend give the House details of any assessment he has made of the improved export potential resulting from the defence cuts because our industrial structure is better able to compete with countries such as Japan, which do not squander resources on providing arms for export?

I wish that I could bring such comfort to my hon. Friend. I cannot do so at this stage, but I shall do my best to help him later.

As the Government spokesman in another place told that House recently that if we could afford to buy the maritime Harrier now we would do so, can the Minister say whether failure to place an order for the maritime Harrier is because of economic constraints or uncertainty about defence needs? Will he confirm that if maritime Harrier orders are not placed that will amount to another defence cut?

I gave a very careful assessment of the whole question of a decisison on the maritime Harrier in the defence debate on Wednesday evening. I should like to rest on that for the moment.

Tied Houses

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if it is Government policy to continue to evict tenants from tied defence houses.

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

We resort to eviction only when unavoidable and when all other expedients have failed.

While I entirely understand the reasons why the Government must secure their own houses for Service personnel on such occasions, and why the hon. Gentleman has had to evict one of my constituents from a Service house, how can it be that the Government are at the same time making noises saying that other people should not have tied houses and that tied houses should be abolished in the private sector?

The hon. Gentleman will know that his constituent's case is to be heard in court for the first time on Thursday. Therefore it is not fair to say that the constituent has already been evicted.

On the question of tied houses, I would wish all other landlords of tied houses to be as considerate as the Services were towards their tenants, as the recent Shelter report on tied accommodation fairly points out.

Does not my hon. Friend think it ridiculous that some councils still insist on the Services taking a court order against their tenants before they will rehouse them in council accommodation? Will my hon. Friend have discussions with the local authority associations to see whether there is a way round this long and arduous procedure?

It is unfortunate that the stress for tenants who are likely to lose their accommodation should be heightened by insistence on court orders or even, in some cases, warrants of possession before consideration is given to rehousing. My right hon. Friend will shortly be issuing a circular on the question to local government. I hope that the circular will be helpful in dealing with the point my hon. Friend has made.

Milan Anti-Tank Weapon

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether it is his intention to purchase for the British Army the Milan anti—tank weapon from the French.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I hope he will resist any pressure put on him by the Chiefs of Staff to buy Milan when we have systems developed and produced in this country and when it is vital to the workers in constituencies such as mine that they are proceeded with in preference to buying weapons from another country.

I must remind my hon. Friend that we cannot achieve overall defence savings—I know that he wants us to go further—unless we are very hardheaded about our decisions on equipment procurement. I set out last Wednesday evening, I think to the general approval of the House, the considerations which we must bear in mind. Certainly the question of employment is one, but operational necessity and timing are others.

Is the Minister aware that Milan has serious limitations in that its warhead is smaller than that of Vigilant, which has been in service for more than 11 years, it has difficulties about nighttime operation and it is vulnerable to counter-measures? Will he consider whether purchase of the weapon would undermine the credibility of our own Swingfire in export markets?

If I had to choose between the assessment of the hon. Gentleman and that of my advisers, I would choose the assessment of my advisers.

In this whole matter of choosing between foreign and domestic military equipment, will my hon. Friend confirm that his Department still has greater confidence in the Rapier antiaircraft missile than in the Franco-German Roland? Will he confirm or deny the report in the Sunday Times last Sunday that a very important sale of the Rapier missile to the United States was lost in competition with Roland as a result of the failure of the British Government to exercise any kind of pressure?

I can answer "Yes" to both questions. We have very great faith in the capacity of the British guided weapons industry, but I must stress again that many considerations come into the purchase of this kind of equipment. I do not believe that the cause of our Armed Services and the country is best served by remarks which are unreasonably critical about equipment which the Armed Services are considering for purchase whatever its origin.

Does not the falling value of the pound make it even more important to get valuable offset agreements if we are to purchase foreign military equipment?

I think that the word used by the hon. Gentleman in the debate the other evening was "reciprocity". I entirely agree with him.

Malaysia

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many British Forces and ancillary personnel are at present in Malaysia.

There are about 130 members of the British Forces and ancillary personnel in Malaysia at present, of whom some 80 are on training courses.

In view of the increasing troubles in Northern Malaysia, which could flow over into Thailand, and of the importance of the British not getting mixed up in them, will my hon. Friend give an absolute guarantee that no members of the Special Air Services Regiment are engaged in activities in either of those two countries?

I share my hon. Friend's very proper concern that we should not get involved in operations of this kind which are the responsibility of the Malaysian authorities. I think he will find that those we have in Malaysia at the moment are comparable to the sort of training teams we have elsewhere in the world.

In the event of the Malaysian Government requesting our help, would it be forthcoming?

Raf Display Teams

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to cut back the activities of display teams in the RAF.

I have no plans at present further to curtail the activities of the RAF display teams beyond the significant reductions imposed last year by the need to conserve manpower, money and fuel.

Will my hon. Friend say how many such display teams there are and what is their total cost? Will he confirm that the cost of running the Red Arrows last year was more than £800,000? One appreciates the technical skill of the Red Arrows, but is it advisable at the present time to continue their flying at that cost? Do these display teams have any significant effect upon recruitment?

Six flying teams are at present organising and there is one ground display team. As for recruiting and value for money, without going into the precise costs at this stage I can assure my hon. Friend that we are satisfied that such displays of great expertise have a significant effect on recruiting and are worth while. However, we are always looking at ways of securing greater value for money.

Does the Minister appreciate that his announcement is very welcome particularly in areas which have had the benefit of seeing these displays including events on the coast? Does he agree that it does a good deal for the RAF's prestige and a good deal to encourage youth to join the Royal Air Force?

We believe that the exercise is worth while in terms of public relations for the Royal Air Force and in terms of recruitment.

Hawkswing Anti-Tank Missile

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he proposes to equip the British Army with the Hawk-swing anti-tank missile.

Does the Minister agree that there is a tremendous potential in export markets for the Hawkswing allied to Lynx helicopters, as there is for the Sea Skua weapons system? Does he agree that the Hawkswing is far superior to the French rival system Hot? Would it not be a good idea for the British Army to place its order for Hawkswing so that we can look would-be purchasers in the eye when we are asked why we have not ordered it for our own purposes?

I agree about the export potential for Hawkswing. I do not want to enter into an argument about the competitive merits of different systems. Our concern must be, bearing in mind our operational needs, to buy the right weapons at the right time and at the right price. These are the considerations which must govern any decisions we make.

Does the Minister agree that it is important that a decision should be made? Is he aware that the general impression of those in the field who know is certainly in favour of Milan?

I do not think that the hon. Member's supplementary question is directly related to the options on this Question. I agree, however, that we must make the decisions as soon as possible bearing in mind all the considerations I have set out, and, of course, and very properly, the consequences for our industry of a whole series of decisions which are pending.

Textile Purchases

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many applications he has received for the post of consultant to progress textile contracts in South-East Asia.

None. No such post exists or is contemplated.

I am pleased to hear that answer. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a need to look at defence contracts, particularly in the light of the recession in the British textile industry, to make sure that as close to 100 per cent. of orders as possible is placed with British textile firms?

Order. I must ask the Minister to face this way so that I can hear too.

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I agree with my hon. Friend's statement, but I cannot be drawn on the subject since Question No. 17 is related to this matter.

Multi-Rôle Combat Aircraft

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to consult with the Italian and German Governments on the progress of the MRCA.

Has my hon. Friend taken note that both our partners have substantially reduced the number of aircraft in proposed orders since the start of the project? Is there no message for the United Kingdom in these reductions? Does my hon. Friend concur with the estimate of the Controller of Aircraft that the development cost of this project will be 25 per cent. more than would have been the case with a national project? What political and diplomatic advantage does my hon. Friend see in this collaboration to offset the additional cost?

I am certainly aware that there were some reductions in the earlier stages, but I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that there have been none lately. We have to make up our own mind on the issue and decide on the number of aircraft we want to purchase. No final decision is required for at least a year. I am not aware of the statement which has been attributed to the Controller of Aircraft, but here again we have to weigh the advantages of collaborative projects, which the House has wanted over many years, against the prospects of going alone. Standardisation is important and in the long run what we are doing is the best way of ensuring the sort of economy in defence expenditure which I hope we all want to see.

Does not the Minister agree that this aircraft, which is the product of three countries combined, is being eagerly looked forward to by many members of the RAF?

There was never any decision that it should. The most important thing is to get this aircraft through its development stages as fast as possible. I think that that is in our mutual interest.

Will the Minister bear in mind that, quite apart from the desirability of these collaborative projects, it was a Labour Government which cancelled the TSR2, abandoned the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft and cancelled the F111A? If anything goes wrong with the MRCA now in the form of the Government going back on their intentions, the RAF will have been without a major aircraft for a very long time.

The hon. Member seems to want to live in the past. I have given a very firm commitment about our interests in providing the RAF with the aircraft it requires in the future.

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the purchasing policy of his Department with regard to textile goods.

Our purchasing policy for textile goods follows our general purchasing policy of calling for competitive tenders wherever possible with the primary objective of obtaining what is needed and getting value for money, while at the same time having regard to industrial objectives.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the recent decision, announced in the Press, to set up a quality control department in Hong Kong dismayed the workers in the textile industry in the north-west of England? Does he accept that while his Department may be buying these goods cheaply, the net cost to the Exchequer of redundacy payments and unemployment benefits, and of seeking to close mills throughout the country, makes these the economics of the madhouse?

I would have hoped that the appointment of a serving professional and technology officer for a limited period of two years would not have caused any alarm among textile workers. I sincerely hope that we can keep this matter in perspective. The total Ministry of Defence purchase of textiles amounts to £33 million per year. The purchases abroad account for £1·7 million, or 4 per cent. of this total. However, I emphasise that only ½ per cent.—that is, £160,000 worth—was bought direct from overseas suppliers. In terms of textile imports into this country, the Ministry of Defence accounts for 0·2 per cent.

Employment Redundancies

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many workers will be declared redundant as a consequence of the recent additional cuts in defence expenditure.

The extent of redundancies amongst defence contractors at any one time must depend upon management decisions, but we do not expect the recent further savings to affect significantly the employment situation.

Is my hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members on this side will welcome the statement which he has just made? Will he further resist pressures from some of his hon. Friends to increase the level of unemployment arising from the defence cuts?

My right hon. Friend, other Ministers and I have consistently said that none of us can have it both ways. If we are to have substantial savings on defence expenditure, for good and sufficient reasons, we must not try to persuade others that there is not a price to pay in a potential substantial loss of job opportunities.

As the Minister stated, the Secretary of State has been forthright about this, and the Government have told us that there are no easy alternatives, such as manufacturing spin driers, caravans or filing systems, on which to employ people who lose their jobs as a result of the defence cuts. Will the Minister consider publishing a White Paper and spelling this out, for the benefit of those of his hon. Frinds below the Gangway who are either too stupid or dishonest to explain this to their constituents?

Those remarks were totally uncalled for. This is an area in which strong feelings are aroused and genuine opinions are held. The hon. Gentleman knows that there is no need to publish the sort of White Paper he suggests. I think that we should continue to discuss these matters calmly in the House, as most of us choose to do.

Is my hon. Friend aware that those of us who have pressed for defence cuts are every bit as concerned as others about the need to fight unemployment? Will he make it clear that it would be absolute madness for us to maintain defence contracts merely to keep people in work without any consideration of why this was done?

I think that there is a point of view, and a sober point of view, which the House may feel is right, that we should never seek simply to maintain employment if it serves no adequate purpose. The need is to redeploy skills in areas where they are principally needed.

When considering his defence cuts, will the Minister bear in mind the frightening effectiveness of the Soviet weapons displayed in the 1973 Middle East war, especially by the Egyptians and the Syrians? This is an important matter. Will he ensure, in view of this modern weaponry now held by the Russians, that he does not cut down on research and development on the most modern weapons? That is an important side. Will the Minister ensure that that is maintained?

I agree entirely that it is an important side. I am not sure whether a large amount of employment is directly involved in this.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what arrangements he is making designed to ensure that civilian workers displaced as a result of the defence review are helped to transfer to productive civilian jobs; and whether he will make a statement.

Wherever possible, reductions in Ministry of Defence civilian personnel will be achieved by normal wastage, but for those made redundant every effort will be made to provide alternative employment. We expect defence contractors to recognise similar responsibilities.

May I invite my hon. Friend to go further? Will he confirm that some of the largest trade unions with members employed in the defence industry are in favour of substantially cutting arms spending provided that alternative civilian work is made available? [Interruption.] Ignoring the guffaws of the gunboat diplomatists on the benches opposite, will my hon. Friend accept the responsibility for his Department and do what he can to ensure that there is a phased switch from defence to civilian work to ensure that people are put into work which can aid our national recovery and help exports?

I agree with my hon. Friend that some trade union leaders, though not all, want to see further substantial defence cuts. It is nevertheless true that a number of their shop stewards visit other Defence Ministers and me telling us about the difficult consequences of reduced defence spending. These are issues in which we must show a sense of balance and proportion. I ask for recognition of the fact that if we are to make major defence savings we cannot overnight guarantee other job opportunities in place of those which are lost.

What is to be the future of the more than 1,000 highly skilled aircraft production workers in the Hawker Siddeley Woodford and Chadderton plants who will be made redundant as a result of the Government's defence cuts? What alternative employment will be provided for them? Certain of the Minister's hon. Friends below the Gangway have suggested caravan production. How does that square with the 25 per cent. VAT rate?

I hope that the redundancies will not amount to the figure mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. As he knows, that depends a great deal on management decisions, and I cannot anticipate what they may be.

Will my hon. Friend advise the House what consultations have taken place with trade unions, management, the Department of Industry and the Department of Employment about the prospects of providing alternative employment?

Following my right hon. Friend's statement of 3rd December 1974, we made it clear that we were willing to receive representations from management and trade unions about the likely consequences which would follow. We have received a number of those representations. I saw the representatives of Hawker Siddeley Aviation and discussed with them what best could be done. We shall continue to lend our services, and those of the Department of Employment and the Department of Industry will also be available to discuss such a range of alternative jobs as may be available during difficult times.

The hon. Gentleman has asked us to discuss this matter calmly. Would it not be in keeping with that request, and much more straightforward for those involved, for him to say clearly that the massive defence cuts imposed by the Government will throw thousands of people out of work? Would not the Government do better to admit it?

No, it would not be better to say that, because we have made it clear—[Interruption.] The House should listen carefully to this, because this could cause real anxiety where we should seek to avoid it. We have said plainly—we said it in the White Paper—that as a consequence of the cuts then made there might be 10,000 job opportunities at risk in the next five years. How many may become redundant we cannot tell, because that depends upon alternative work which may come forward and upon management decisions. Nevertheless I think it is wrong to exaggerate what I have always conceded to be a difficult problem.

Disaster Relief

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what consideration he has given to the peaceful uses of the Armed Forces on such occasions as when public disasters occur in the United Kingdom or elsewhere.

The provision of Service personnel and equipment, if called upon in the event of a disaster or emergency, is a recognised means of helping the civil community both in the United Kingdom and overseas.

Will my hon. Friend give an indication of the most recent cases of involvement of Her Majesty's Forces in civil disasters? Will he also give consideration in some of our units to the setting up of special teams trained to cope with severe disasters such as at Flixborough and the London Moorgate Underground train disaster?

Help was given during the heavy flooding in East Anglia and the Home Counties in November last year. At Flixborough we provided very quickly bedding and mattresses. At Moorgate we provided overalls and a bath unit for the emergency services. Overseas, help was given in Belize and Honduras after hurricane Fifi in 1974. I have noted my hon. Friend's point about special training.

Hydrographic Surveys

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on which hydro-graphical surveys are being undertaken and where.

Full details of hydrographic surveys are given in the annual report by the Hydrographer of the Navy. Priority is given to surveys in the waters around the United Kingdom. These surveys are made for defence and commercial shipping purposes and special attention is also being given to the requirements of our energy programme, for example in surveys of tow-out routes for moving rigs.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Is he able to give a progress report on this important work and tell us the financial implications?

The work of the Hydro-graphic Study Group has been completed and its report is under consideration, but the House will appreciate that I cannot at this stage anticipate the decisions which may be taken as a result of that report. The finance for hydrographic work not for defence purposes is a matter for interdepartmental consultation, but clearly it cannot be financed out of the limited defence budget.

Does the Minister agree that the resources available for hydro-graphic survey are totally inadequate? Will he please consult the Secretary of State for Energy, who will draw his attention to the fact that most of the waters around this country have not been surveyed this century?

The fleet of the Hydrographer of the Royal Navy is manned by professional men of the highest calibre and they are meeting more than adequately the programme which has been provided for them. The size of the programme in the future is a matter for consultation between various Government Departments.

United States Polaris Bases

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he anticipates that the United States Polaris bases will be closed.

As I stated in my answer to my hon. Friend on 11th March—[Vol. 888, c. 255.]—we may be able to initiate multilateral disarmament negotiations once the conference on security and co-operation in Europe and the talks on mutual and balanced force reductions are concluded. It may then be possible to seek the removal of the United States Polaris base as a first step in such multilateral negotiations.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the trade union and labour movement is concerned that these weapons represent a grave threat to the safety and peace of the country? As he is devoted to carrying out the terms of the election manifesto, as I am, will he use his best endeavours to ensure that, starting from the basis of the multilateral negotiations he has mentioned, we shall get rid of these Polaris bases as soon as we possibly can?

Yes. My hon. Friend should not propagandise on the first point. If there were a conflict between East and West, even if there were no nuclear weapons based on English soil—

—or in the United Kingdom, we should not be able to escape any launching of nuclear weapons from abroad. The country would be a vast base, a feeder to the Continent, full of conventional weapons, and irrespective of whether there was a nuclear base here we would be hit. My hon. Friend and I, as well as my other hon. Friends, fought the election on a manifesto commitment which I am honestly carrying out. Starting from the basis of the multilateral disarmament negotiations, we shall seek the removal of American Polaris bases from Britain. That is the commitment, and that is what we are empowered to do.

Are not these bases in part an element of our alliance with our friends of the United States? If they were moved, would not the only people to rejoice be Russia and Labour supporters below the Gangway?

The bases certainly form part of the alliance, yes, and it is right that until we have concluded the other two major negotiations in Europe we should maintain them. Only thereafter, in alliance with our American friends, shall we be prepared to start multilateral talks on their removal.

As the Minister is under the impression that there are some nuclear bases on English soil and he does not seem to mind that, may we offer him the Polaris base for transfer to the River Thames, if he has no moral objection, as the Scottish National Party has? Is not the Polaris deterrent simply old scrap iron now? It is nothing but a danger, particularly to the industrial belt of central Scotland.

I do not think that the countries belonging to the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union regard it as scrap. They regard it as a real deterrent, and because of it we have managed to maintain between East and West 30 years of peace.

Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the results of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference.

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister what discussions he had with the Heads of Commonwealth Governments concerning Great Britain's continued membership of the European Economic Community.

Q8.

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference.

Much of our time was spent on economic matters and on the problems of Southern Africa, and on both a substantial measure of agreement was reached. I have already presented to the House a White Paper setting out in detail the proposals on primary commodities which I put to my Commonwealth colleagues. The outcome of the discussions on these and other subjects is described in the communiqué issued at the end of the meeting and published as a White Paper today.

I did not raise the question of Britain's membership of the EEC and there was therefore no mention of it in the communiqué but after the matter had been raised by a number of Prime Ministers it was agreed unanimously that the Prime Minister of Jamaica, as chairman of the meeting, should issue a separate statement recording that all the other Commonwealth Heads of Government had placed on record their firm opinion that Commonwealth interests are in no way prejudiced by our membership. His statement added that many Heads of Government had emphasised that it was of positive advantage to their countries that Britain should remain a member of the EEC: and that the strong view had also been expressed that British membership was of value in encouraging the Community to be outward-looking towards the rest of the world.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a striking achievement in Jamaica, but is he aware that there is still deep concern about the exclusion from the Lomé Convention of many developing countries, such as India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka? Will he convey that deep concern to our partners in the EEC and urge them to include those Commonwealth members in their assistance programme?

I thank my hon. Friend. In my speech to the conference, which has been published as a White Paper, I said that we hoped to build on the Lomé Convention so as to cover the countries of Asia to which my hon. Friend has referred. He will see from the communiqué that the Commonwealth Heads of Government supported the extension of the Lomé Convention—which they warmly welcomed—to cover the relevant countries of Asia.

Would the Prime Minister care to expand on his statement and tell us what was the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' attitude towards our membership of the EEC? In particular, will he comment on Mr. Gough Whitlam's view that if Britain were to withdraw she would be in danger of lapsing into the position of Spain in the seventeenth century?

I have said, and I repeat, that my right hon. Friend and I did not seek any statement, and we said that we did not consider that one was necessary. Nevertheless, the Commonwealth Prime Ministers pushed on with it. Various Prime Ministers at outside Press conferences as well as in the conference meeting expressed the views I have recorded. Mr. Gough Whitlam expressed them particularly strongly. I do not go along with the remarks made by Mr. Gough Whitlam which have just been quoted, but I go along with the rest of what he said. I emphasised there, as I have emphasised in this country, that, inside or outside the EEC, Britain's future depends upon our own efforts and our own restraint, and the other matters are important to us but not decisive.

I welcome the statement of my right hon. Friend as regards the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' acceptance of our position in the EEC and their reluctance to see us become the Albania of the West. Will he, however, tell the House what steps he intends to take within the EEC in particular to see that the Commonwealth countries of Asia are included within the Lomé Convention?

I do not remember Albania being mentioned at any point during the conference, although I think the Prime Minister of Malta mentioned Libya once or twice. As regards the extension of the Lomé Convention, I tried to answer that question in response to the supplementary question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley). The position is that we and the Commonwealth support the extension of the benefits of the Lomé Convention as regards access to the EEC of the Asian countries. It is also recognised, as I told the conference, that negotiations in Lomé and outside Lomé have begun. An extension, for example, of the general system of preferences would benefit all the Asian countries.

Is the Prime Minister aware that many of us welcome the restoration of identity of views with the African Heads of State as regards policy in Southern Africa? Has any member of the Commonwealth indicated a view against British membership of the Community? There was a suggestion that the Ugandan Government had reservations.

As regards Southern Africa I welcome what the hon. Gentleman says. It is very important. This was by far the best Commonwealth Conference that any of us can remember. I think that was so mainly because the situation in Southern Africa and the prospects there have changed. As regards the question of whether any Commonwealth countries have reservations about our membership of the Community, the answer is "Certainly not". Quite apart from discussion round the table during the communiqué session to which I have referred, I and my right hon. Friend made it our business to talk to the heads of every Commonwealth delegation as to their attitude on the matter. As we know, the President of Uganda did not see fit to be present in the circumstances of this meeting. Therefore. I was not able to seek his views. I was, however, able to seek the views of the head of the Ugandan delegation. I think the hon. Gentleman can be sure that the head of the Ugandan delegation was speaking only within the general context of the President's policy and not outside it.

In his main answer my right hon. Friend said that the question of the Common Market was not included in the final communiqué because he did not raise it. Why did he not raise it? Why was it not part of the communiqué? Why was it not discussed officially?

I am sorry if I have disappointed my hon. Friend. The Common Market was discussed officially at the conference on the initiative of other Minister and Heads of Government. I think that was right. I was certainly not going to ask them for a statement on this matter.

I understand the interruption of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). It was always possible that some would say that they did not want to interfere in a matter on which the British electorate are taking a decision. Indeed, the Prime Minister of Guyana, who took the initiative in raising this matter, was very much supported. His message, strengthened by the President of Tanzania, the Prime Minister of Canada and others, said that they were not in any way trying to interfere with the voice of the British people expressed through the ballot box, but they felt it right to state what the position of the Commonwealth was as it affected their own countries and the Commonwealth as a whole.

Is the Prime Minister aware that most of us welcome very warmly the spontaneous initiative of the Prime Ministers in their statement on the EEC? Secondly, is he aware that we welcome his initiative on commodities at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference? Thirdly, as economic discussions played quite a large part in the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference and as we have certain problems in that direction at home, is it the right hon. Gentleman's intention, before the House rises, to make a statement about the general economic position of this country or to ask his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make such a statement?

I am most grateful to the right hon. Lady both for her comments on the voluntary and unsought decision of the Commonwealth on the EEC and particularly for what she said about the initiative on commodities. It was at first thought that that initiative might face heavy weather because of the very strong views of some of the Third World countries, which rather suggested that they wanted to pull down the whole of the world's economic machinery, including the IMF and the Bank. It would take a lot of time before anything was found to replace it. There was, however, very warm support and the matter received a warm wind in the communiqué as I may say it did in Washington when we discussed the matter there. The right hon. Lady is right: a very important part of the conference was on economic discussion and on Southern Africa. As regards the economic situation in this country. I understand that the usual channels have had a discussion this morning I suggested that they might do so—and that we shall be debating the matter in the House next week if the right hon. Lady agrees.

Zambia

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make an official visit to Lusaka.

When the Prime Minister last met President Kaunda, will he tell the House whether he discussed the question of compensation to Botswana and Mozambique in the event of their imposing sanctions against Rhodesia? Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on Press reports that Britain has agreed to provide the bulk of the foreign exchange requirements of Mozambique resulting from the imposition of sanctions? Will he state what amount the Government envisage will be required?

In the first place, I reject the phrase that the hon. Gentleman used—I am sure that he did not mean it technically—about compensation. We did not talk about compensation. What we said was that, in the situation which is likely to occur after the last few days of June when the new Government of Mozambique take over, we are prepared as a Government to give aid to the economic position in Mozambique. We are also prepared to consider aid in relation to Botswana and to Zambia. And we discussed the matter with President Kaunda. We are prepared to do that. It is not a question of compensation. We did not say that we would provide the bulk of their foreign exchange. We will do it as part of what I think will be the United Nations programme. The hon. Gentleman will also be aware that when we were asked whether we were prepared to provide either arms or money for guerrilla activities, my right hon. Friend and I gave a flat rejection. We said that we would in no circumstances be involved in such activities.

Will my right hon. Friend indicate whether any of the 10 experts indicated in the communiqué have yet been named and what sort of timetable is envisaged for the report of their deliberations on further economic co-operation?

Yes, discussions are going on about the names. We have made suggestions. Certainly Britain will be represented on this very important committee. The chairman has been named. I do not think that the remainder have been named publicly, but the relevant Governments, on a representative basis, are being asked to suggest names. I hope that there will be a statement in the near future. The terms of reference of the committee are set out in the communiqué.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many people find it most poignant and astonishing that when they would have expected him to be concentrating the whole of his abilities, such as they are, on constructing a rescue package for the United Kingdom, he seems to have spent much of his time in Jamaica constructing a destructive package for Rhodesia? Surely something better than that should be done.

I think that the hon. Gentleman is out of sympathy with the general position taken by all parties in this House on the importance of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is a unique institution which I thought was supported by everyone. I remember the great part played not only by some of our own previous Prime Ministers but by Mr. Harold Macmillan in the creation of the Commonwealth as it is today. It is remarkable that we can still, because of the former British connection, meet and express views representing every region and ocean of the world on every kind of economic development. I am disapopinted that the hon. Gentleman has not realised the importance of this.

This was the best Commonwealth Conference that any of us can remember since the Commonwealth Conferences started. [Interruption.] That is worth saying again so that the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) can understand it. I cannot accept the view of the hon. Member for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd) about the situation here. That matter will be debated next week and any relevant comments that the hon. Gentleman has, which I very much doubt, will no doubt be taken into account by the House and discounted at their full value.

South-East Asia

Q3.

Will the Prime Minister tell the House how it is that on behalf of the British people he has not expressed one word of condemnation of the naked aggression by the Communists in Vietnam against the South Vietnamese?

I discussed the situation with President Ford. There was no disagreement between us in any of our discussions. My right hon. Friend also spoke to Dr. Kissinger in my presence on these matters. We expressed exactly the same view privately and publicly. If the hon. Gentleman wants to be more American than the Americans, perhaps he will tell us what he would have liked us to have said.

If my right hon. Friend visits South-East Asia, he will probably have to go to Singapore. Will he convey to Lee Kuan Yew how much he has raised the status of both himself and his country by his forthright remarks to Congress in the United States of America? Will he also inform him that he would raise his prestige even further if he were to let out of gaol those people whom we put in gaol 13 years ago when Her Majesty's Government had responsibility for internal affairs in Singapore?

On the first part of the question, the Prime Minister of Singapore always makes a tremendous impression on Commonwealth Conferences because of his deep perception of world affairs. The last conference was no exception. I agree with my hon. Friend on the second part of the question.