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Commons Chamber

Volume 894: debated on Tuesday 24 June 1975

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 24th June 1975

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

James Hugh Maxwell (Naturalisation) Bill Lords

Read the Third time and passed, without amendment.

Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill (By Order)

Read the Third time and passed.

Eastbourne Harbour Bill Lords (By Order)

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered upon Thursday next.

Brookwood Cemetery Bill Lords (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday next.

Fraserburgh Harbour Order Confirmation Bill (By Order)

Considered; to be read the Third time tomorrow.

Oral Answers To Questions

Defence

Policy Assessments

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is Her Majesty's Government's assessment of the threat on which current defence policy is based.

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is his latest assessment of the military balance between NATO forces and those of the Warsaw Pact.

I would refer the hon. and gallant Gentleman and my hon. Friend to the assessment of the threat in Chapter I and the assessment of the military balance given in Chapter II of the Statement on the Defence Estimates.

While not seeking to embarrass the Secretary of State about the secrecy of his sources, may I ask him to confirm to the House that his intelligence organisation remains sufficient to enable him to make a good and proper assessment? Secondly, will he say whether his assessment at the moment is that the potential threat to NATO is increasing or decreasing?

Concerning the first question, I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that our security and intelligence are adequate for the purpose that we require. As to the threat, the Warsaw Pact conventional threat is still very strong and has not decreased since I published my Defence White Paper.

Will my right hon. Friend, while realising that détente must be the basis of our policy vis-a-vis the Eastern Powers, take into account the great build-up as against our forces in Europe, and also take into account that recent disclosures clearly show that Russia not only supplied weapons to the Middle East but was fully cognisant of the attack that was to take place on Israel two years ago?

I would not detract particularly from the latter point that my hon. Friend makes, but it has nothing to do with the original Question on the Order Paper concerning the military balance between the NATO forces and those of the Warsaw Pact.

In view of the Secretary of State's remark that the strength of the Warsaw Pact forces is not decreasing, will he continue to do his best within the Cabinet to see that our forces do not decrease to danger point?

I valiantly struggle, on behalf of the House and the security of the State, to ensure that our forces are not reduced and that the security of the State is not endangered. So far I think I have managed, within the public expenditure reductions, to be able to make sure that the military involvement is not impaired.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that both NATO and the Warsaw Pact Powers have enough weapons already to blow up the world a hundred times over? Since it will need only to be blown up once, what is the purpose of adding further to our defence programme?

As my right hon. Friend already knows, because of the recent visit of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the Soviet Union we are earnestly seeking détente between East and West. There are two major conferences in being, one the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the other the Conference on Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions between East and West. If we can succeed in both those endeavours, tension between East and West can be lessened and forces reduced.

Will the right hon. Gentleman please answer the question asked by my hon. and gallant Friend? Is it the Minister's information that the threat is at present increasing? If the answer is "Yes", does not it seem a very odd time at which to be reducing our contribution to NATO?

I repeat the reply that I gave to the hon. and gallant Member. The defence posture of the Warsaw Pact remains as it was prior to my defence review, and the threat is exactly the same.

British Army Of The Rhine

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he plans to reduce the strength of BAOR in the next 12 months.

The strength of BAOR is constantly subject to marginal change as a result of unit changeovers and the need to meet commitments elsewhere, such as in Northern Ireland. We will not, however, make any reduction below our Brussels Treaty commitment in advance of mutual and balanced force reductions.

As the recent fall in the value of the pound has added close to £25 million to the cost of the British Army of the Rhine since publication of the defence review, can the Minister say what negotiations the Government are having with the West German Government about offset agreements?

Does not my hon. Friend agree that one reason for the fall in the value of the pound is the enormous contribution to the deficit in the balance of payments which the British Army of the Rhine causes? After all these years, is it not time that the Government concluded an effective offset agreement with Germany, the country which wants us to stay there and the country most able to help us in our balance of payments effort?

This matter will be discussed in the new offset agreement which comes in, I believe, in 1976.

Suez Canal

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the strategic significance for Great Britain and NATO of the reopening of the Suez Canal.

The Royal Navy will continue to deploy from time to time in peace time outside the NATO area and, in common with other navies, will benefit from the increased flexibility of deployment resulting from the opening of the Suez Canal. All maritime trading nations stand to benefit. As for NATO, the Suez Canal lies, of course, outside the boundary of the NATO area.

In view of the massive increase in the strength of the Soviet Navy in recent years and in view of the fact that, as the White Paper points out, this is out of all proportion to the needs of Soviet trade, can the right hon. Gentleman say what consequences flow from the reopening of the Suez Canal and whether this is the right time simultaneously to withdraw our forces from NATO ports in the Mediterranean area, which would be a new sea route, and deny ourselves the facilities of Simonstown?

The balance of influence in the Indian Ocean will not be significantly altered. It will grant increased flexibility to both sides. For the Soviet Fleet, the reopening of the canal will mean a reduction of 24 days in sailing time to the Indian Ocean, and we shall be able to be there 10 days sooner. It is flexible for both sides.

As for the Mediterranean, we still allow the Royal Navy to deploy occasionally in the Mediterranean with the naval on-call forces, and the hon. Gentleman will have noticed that since our statement about lessening our presence in the Mediterranean the French and the Italians have increased theirs.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way of enhancing our status in the Mediterranean and the Middle East is never again to embark upon policies which would bring world hostility, close the Suez Canal and make the British nation look foolish, as happened some years ago?

I hope that the House learned that lesson long before my Defence White Paper. Even if it had not, the new defence posture brings us more into line with what we can do. We intend to maintain our presence in the central region of Europe. We intend to play a part in the approaches of the Eastern Atlantic. We intend to make sure that the home base is secure. Therefore, we shall have few opportunities to become involved in exercises of the kind which sucked us into international conflict elsewhere.

Is it not true that the Soviet Union enjoys a factor of two and a half times in the reduction of sailing time over our own as a result of the reopening of the Suez Canal and, therefore, that the greatest strategic advantage attaches to the Soviet Union? As a result, is not the maintenance of the base at Gan, which commands the exit to the Red Sea, now of primary importance to this country.

Gan has nothing to do with shipping and port facilities. It is mainly an air station in the Indian Ocean. We shall still have transit and communications facilities in Diego Garcia.

North Sea Oil Installations

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the result of the meeting of NATO Ministers on 5th June 1975 regarding the defence of North Sea oil installations.

I assume that the hon. Member is referring to the meeting, not under the auspices of NATO, which was held in The Hague between officials of a number of countries with an interest in the protection of offshore installations. This was a wide-ranging initial discussion on this important and complex subject and it is expected that a further conference will be held later this year. I have arranged for a copy of a communiqué issued following the meeting to be placed in the Library.

Is it not likely that Western Europe will become more concerned with the bringing ashore of energy resources from the North Sea and that it is important that NATO should keep its eye on all present and planned installations there, including Norway's? What does the right hon. Gentleman intend to do to encourage NATO to show more activity and concern in this matter?

All NATO nations would not agree with the viewpoint of the hon. Gentleman that NATO should be involved primarily in the defence of the North Sea installations. Those who take a keen and detailed interest in defence affairs will know that there are countries on the northern flank which would hesitate to operate in that way. This was a meeting of officials of a number of countries—Dutch, German, French, Norwegian, Danish, Belgian and ourselves. We were trying to find how best to measure ways in which all our resources could be used against the threat of accident or malicious damage in the North Sea in peace time.

In the right hon. Gentleman's talks, did he get down in detail to what we are meant to be defending these installations against? He mentioned accident. Does he mean fishing hazards? Does he envisage that there will be any state of open war against these installations? Is it not essential to ascertain these facts before we can know how we can defend them? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the view of military authorities in Scotland, openly expressed, is that these installations are not defensible and that there is no way in which they can be defended?

I hope the hon. Lady will not try to build this up into a scare story. The North Sea rigs and installations are there, easily to be seen. Soviet naval gatherers occasionally come along to photograph and to measure them. If I were advising the House, I should say that this was not any military threat. It is because the Soviet Union needs commercial information to deal with undersea drill rigging itself. It wants to embark upon this. It lacks the technology. Our intelligence leads us to believe that, when the Russians carry out aerial photographic reconnaissance or when their intelligence-gathering vessels go nearby, it is to find out how commercially and technologically we have tackled this task.

Is not the suggestion that North Sea rigs are not able to be defended simply preposterous? What rôle do the Government see for Nimrods in North Sea defence?

As my hon. Friend probably knows, already we have two vessels patrolling the North Sea. We have another five vessels under consideration for contract especially for that purpose. We now have Shackletons, Vulcans, Buccaneers and also Nimrods on occasional surveillance activities for North Sea rigs.

Multi-Role Combat Aircraft

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a state- ment on progress of the MRCA development programme.

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

Progress continues to be generally satisfactory.

Is the Minister aware that that is a short statement for a long programme? Is he in a position to comment on and preferably deny the reports which are abroad that the flight test programme is now something like six months behind and that it is to that extent delayed because of the late delivery, the non-delivery and the scarcity of flight test engines from Rolls-Royce Ltd.?

Clearly in an advanced technological project some difficulties are always experienced during the development stage. There were some hold-ups from Rolls-Royce due to industrial action, but delivery of the engines has now been resumed.

Does my hon. Friend accept the view put forward in the Second Report from the Expenditure Committee that as a result of the collaboration on the MRCA the costs are 25 per cent. higher? Does he accept that figure, and does he anticipate that all such collaborative projects will involve such a premium?

No, I do not accept it. From the figures I have had, this is clearly the most sucessful international collaborative project ever, in which the real escalation of costs has been minimal and has been carefully controlled.

The hon. Gentleman's unexpected interest in military matters gives me great satisfaction. Clearly any defence of this country is based on a combination of the economic health of the country and the measures taken to support it. Without economic health, no defence would protect these islands. However, no economic health in itself would protect us if we did not show the will to protect ourselves.

I am grateful to the Minister for educating the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) on his first incursion into defence matters. Will he deal with the persistent rumours that the MRCA engine still has serious teething troubles? Can he particularly say what action we are taking to obtain wider markets for the aircraft by selling it elsewhere in Europe, where the demand exists?

As I tried to point out earlier, in any advanced technological programme there are always problems in the development phase. What is unique about this programme is that it has taken place in such a spotlight of publicity. There is nothing untoward about the difficulties so far experienced. We will take whatever opportunities are open to us to commend the MRCA to a wider public.

Ship Repairing (Merseyside)

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many ships, RN or RFA, will be overhauled, repaired, etc., in the Merseyside shipyards from the present date to the end of 1975.

Royal Navy ships are normally refitted and repaired in the Royal dockyards. None is presently scheduled to be dealt with in a commercial shipyard.

It is planned, however, to refit about 15 Royal Fleet Auxiliaries in commercial shipyards during the remainder of 1975. Tenders for these refits will be invited from suitable shipyards, a number of which, like the Merseyside shipyards, are located in development areas.

While I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information, may I ask him whether he is aware that there has been a serious shortage of this type of work in Merseyside with the result that at one time in the recent past there was the possibility of lay-offs and closures? Is he further aware that the way in which this work is distributed is unfair to Merseyside? Will he look at the questions raised about contract prices and delays, all of which have been strongly refuted by unions and management in Merseyside shipyards?

While I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern, I am sure he will recognise that a reduction in defence expenditure inevitably has consequences in this area as in others. We are at pains to put work of this kind with firms situated in development areas. When deciding how to award tenders, we have to take into account points like price, delivery dates, the loading of the shipyards concerned and the previous performance of shipyards.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it shows how ludicrous is the argument of those who seek to do away with all our defence forces that they start bleating only when they do not get work in their own areas? Would he not have expected my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) to be delighted that we do not have any naval ships which require to be repaired on Merseyside?

Expenditure Reductions

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he has any plans to make any further cuts in defence expenditure additional to those already published in the latest White Paper and announced in the Budget Statement.

No public expenditure programme can be guaranteed irrespective of the development of the economy, but our planning continues to be based on the broad level of capability decided on in the defence review.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is an extremely cagey answer which will do nothing to increase Opposition confidence in the Government's serious intention to maintain our defence ability?

I am sorry that my reply disappoints the hon. Lady and others. It happens to be a fact of life. If there are major public expenditure cuts, defence must be involved. What perturbs me is that the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends keep pressing me to spend more on defence while I see that their economic and financial spokesmen are calling for public expenditure cuts of £4,500 million.

Does the Minister admit that our arms spending in both real and cash terms—much more so in cash terms—is going up and not down? Will he clearly dissociate himself from Conservative Members and, I regret to say, one or two on the Labour side who are arguing for cuts in industry, housing, education, health—in everything except arms expenditure, which they wish to increase? If there is any doubt about this, let my hon. Friend refer to Hansard to see that hon. Gentlemen said precisely that in last week's debate.

I hope my hon. Friend will realise that defence has certainly played its part in the public expenditure cuts that have so far taken place. I hope he appreciates that in 1975–76 we shall save £300 million, in 1976–77 we shall save £380 million, in 1977–78 £350 million, in 1978–79 £500 million and in 1979–80 £660 million. Therefore, we shall save a total of £2,190 million on planned expenditure on defence at 1974 prices over the next five years.

Does the Minister realise the concern that the Government are causing among young people in the South-West who contemplate a Service career? Is there any future for young people in the Services?

The savings I have announced to the House arise mainly because we have decided that we can no longer police the world. Our international posture is at an end. We are therefore withdrawing from Singapore, Gan and Mauritius and lessening part of our commitment on NATO's flanks. That is how we have been able to effect these savings. Young men who join Her Majesty's Forces know that their future will be geared towards the new alignment with Europe. In that we certainly have a rôle to play.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that any further defence cuts would be immensely damaging to the cause of multilateral disarmament? May I congratulate him on his firm decision to order the maritime Harrier for the Royal Navy? Can he say what rôle he envisages for that aircraft in the Eastern Atlantic, where the Russians are building up their forces?

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for raising the subject of the maritime Harrier. This is indicative of the recognition of our new rôle in Europe and the Atlantic. We recognised that there was a threat from airborne surveillance by the Russian Bear aircraft. We have decided to fit our through-deck cruisers with the maritime Harrier, which will be able to stop and harry the Bear aircraft, preventing it from carrying out its surveillance activities, in the course of which it communicates information to long-range missiles at sea.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman have to admit that it is now the unanimous and publicly-expressed view of our NATO allies that the cuts he has announced are gravely damaging to the alliance? With that in mind, is not the least we can ask him to do to undertake that there will be no further cuts, for the sake of our country and of the people in the Services?

I agree that our NATO allies were seriously disquieted during the course of our defence review and at its conclusion. They publicly expressed their views. I am sorry that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman and the House a categoric assurance that defence cuts will not flow from any other public expenditure reductions. Obviously I cannot give that assurance. As far as I am concerned, if I feel that it will impair our rôle or the security of the State I will try to help.

Service Establishments (Northumberland)

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether any reduction in Service personnel or civilian employment at RAF Boulmer, the RAF Acklington helicopter squadron or the Otterburn Training Area will occur as a result of the reductions in defence expenditure recently announced.

No reductions in Service or civilian employment will occur at these units as a result of the recently-announced cuts in defence expenditure.

That news and that assurance will be welcome in the communities concerned, whose relations with the people manning the Service installations are good. Does the Minister agree that in locating defence installations operational needs are paramount, but that an important consideration is the employment which the installations provide in areas where there is little alternative employment?

Yes. That is why we have tried to take account of development areas in framing the review which we have just announced.

Recruits (Wastage)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will investigate the amount of wastage among young recruits to Her Majesty's Forces; and if he will make a statement.

Investigations are already under way into the extent and causes of wastage. At this stage, therefore, I have nothing to add to the reply I gave my hon. Friend on 11th March this year.

Does my hon. Friend consider that one of the probable reasons is the unrealistic and misleading recruitment advertising campaign on television, which projects a picture of Army conditions which are more in keeping with Billy Butlin's holiday camp than reality? On reflection, as many young persons are anxious to leave the Services, will the Minister please consider allowing these young people to interrupt their apprenticeships after, say, three years and leave them the option of leaving or staying on?

I do not know where my hon. Friend has seen the advertisements to which he has referred. If, however, he seriously thinks that there are advertisements which are misleading, I hope he will refer me to specific examples. It is my experience, having looked at all the recruiting material recently introduced, that the Forces are, as never before, giving a realistic picture of what life will be like in the Services, for the Services' self-protection, to avoid the wastage which my hon. Friend obviously wants to avoid.

We have gone a long way towards providing a more flexible career for young people entering the Services. However, I shall be glad to look at my hon. Friend's suggestion and let him have my views on it.

Does the Minister accept that there is great disillusionment among young Service personnel following the recent pay review? Owing to the extra charges which they must suffer at the same time, young Service people receive nothing like the amount of increase that was announced.

If there is disillusionment, I am sorry. That is not my experience after talking to probably as many young Service men as the hon. Gentleman. We set up an independent pay review body. Our commitment—the commitment of any Government—is to implement the results of that review. That is exactly what we did.

Tactical Missiles

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what proposals he has for standardising the next generation of tactical missiles throughout NATO.

As with other equipment, I should like to see a much greater degree of standardisation of the various kinds of tactical missiles in the next generation. We for our part will be looking for cooperation of one kind or another to meet most of our future requirements for such missiles.

Is the Minister aware that the European nations of NATO are producing no fewer than 18 different kinds of surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles and 16 anti-tank weapons, all of which duplicate each other? The real problem is one of basic design study. Will the Minister give consideration to NATO undertaking this study for all of us, since we are now all fighting the same war?

Yes. I appreciate the authority of the hon. Gentleman in view of his rapporteur activities on this subject at Western European Union. I can tell him. however, that the conference of national armaments directors is now attempting to achieve standardisation of the next generations of weapons, and meetings are being called solely for that purpose.

Will my right hon. Friend take note that many Government supporters hope that there will not be a new generation of tactical missiles? Is it not stupid that mankind should continue to embark on this never-ending arms race, which represents a tremendous threat to humanity in military and economic terms? Is it not time that we heard more about disarmament and détente than we hear on these occasions when we discuss military matters?

I am sure that my hon. Friend was present when I spoke about détente in answer to an earlier Question. Let him not think that when we talk about tactical missiles they might be nuclear missiles. At the moment Her Majesty's Government are considering four new types of missiles, which include helicopter-launched anti-tank guided weapons, crew-portable anti-tank guided weapons, undersea guided weapons and helicopter-launched anti-ship guided weapons—all of which, I know, British industry would like. I doubt whether it will get them all. Many thousands of jobs are at stake in the aircraft, aeroengine and missile industries as a result of these conventional missile weapons.

On the assumption that this country will need to co-operate with our NATO allies in the defence of the Western world, may I ask whether any estimate has been made of the savings to this country of standardisation within NATO?

No, I do not think that an estimate has been made of the savings that could be made. Obviously they are considerable. That is why the Eurogroup within NATO—a group of nations involved in trying to bring together equipment requirements for the Western Alliance—is so essential and why its work should be processed. That is one of my intentions as chairman.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the balance of advantage of specific tactical nuclear weapons to the West is something of the order of three to one? Is not this an area in which we could easily afford to take an initiative at the Vienna talks to achieve a reduction of the presence of these weapons, which are of extraordinarily devastating power, on both sides?

I do not agree with the figures quoted by my hon. Friend. No doubt his latter point will be taken into consideration in the course of that conference.

Aircraft Procurement (Europe)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if, in view of recent purchases of American military aircraft by some European NATO countries, he will now initiate a meeting between NATO members within the EEC to discuss the establishment of a policy for production of aircraft within the EEC member countries, for miliary and economic reasons.

The European member nations of NATO will be considering the implication for European defence industries of the recent decisions by four of them to acquire the American F16 aircraft. They will doubtless hold joint consultations, but the precise form and scope of these remains to be considered.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the French tactics in the recent battle for this order tend to show that no single European nation seems able to meet and beat the ruthless competition of the American aircraft manufacturers? If he accepts that, and if he accepts the overriding economic and military importance of a powerful and successful aviation industry, will he now take steps to launch such an initiative as is described in the Question?

First, if the House wants to draw a lesson from the recent exercise, European countries with airframe and aero-engine industries must cooperate, otherwise in future we must buy cheaply off the American shelf. The result will be that the European aircraft industries will gradually wane and will not be able to survive.

Secondly, I am keen to move towards the next stage of the two-way street of moving more defence equipment between American and Europe. To do so satisfactorily, however, the European industrial armaments industry must be prepared to co-operate so as to get more defence equipment from Europe on to the American street.

Will my right hon. Friend explain to me the paradox between the so-called claim of the Common Market that by combining together we should be able to compete with the super-Powers—namely, America and Russia—although here is an example, only days after the referendum result, in which, after 18 years of co-operation, even France and Belgium cannot agree whether this competition should take place or whether they should buy their arms, as was the case with Belgium, from America?

If my hon. Friend were more conversant with the Treaty of Rome he would know that it excludes the consideration of defence problems.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the decision of the Belgian Government concerning the replacement did not appear to correspond with any laid-down operational requirement? The French aircraft appeared to be an interceptor while the American was an inadequate ground attack aircraft. What efforts were made by British industry, or by the Minister's Department, to put forward the advantages of the Jaguar, which exists, or the MRCA, which, though more expensive, would exist on the same time scale as the American aircraft?

I personally placed the Jaguar aircraft concept before the Eurogroup on two occasions, and the concept of the two-rôle requirement for the F104 replacement came out of the Eurogroup. As the right hon. Gentleman must know, the four NATO nations were looking for an aircraft that would satisfy the two rôles, ground attack and high intercept. The Jaguar will satisfy the former but not the latter. Therefore, the four nations decided that the F16 was better placed to satisfy those two rôles than was the Jaguar or, indeed, the Mirage Fl. The MRCA has a longer time scale of decision, and it would be far too late for the four nations to take a decision. I hope in the next generation, when we have the three-nation trilateral co-operative effort in Europe—Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom—to be able to bring about more standardisation in our aircraft for the NATO Alliance.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the French would do better for themselves if they were full members of the Eurogroup, as they are fully entitled to be?

As I have indicated, the concept grew out of the Eurogroup. France is entitled to sit as a member of the Eurogroup. I am sorry that there is a vacant chair to be filled. If the French feel that they can play a part in helping us within NATO and the Eurogroup to cope with our common defence requirements, there is a part they can play inside the Eurogroup.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is more important to preserve and improve Europe's aerospace manufacturing capability than to waste time on announcements of the costly nationalisation of British industry? Will he get his priorities right?

The hon. Gentleman, who as usual is jumping in without having done his homework, must fully realise that even before we came to office there was a proposal on the board for the merger of Hawker Siddeley and BAC. We are only taking the logical step to streamline our industry and make it more competitive, if necessary within Europe, but certainly against the United States.

Special Air Service Regiment

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will list in the Official Report those countries in which members of the Special Air Service Regiment are currently operating.

I have nothing to add to my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) on 20th May 1975.—[Vol 892, c. 355.]

Is my hon. Friend aware that I am not in the least surprised that he has nothing to add to his previous reply? As his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said that it was no longer his aspiration to police the world, and as no doubt my hon. Friend is helping his right hon. Friend to go through the estimates with a fine-tooth comb to try to find something else to cut, will be consider the SAS as a candidate? Many Government supporters do not consider that the activities of the SAS in Northern Ireland, Oman, Malaysia, Thailand or wherever the SAS might be are any credit to this country.

First, I must put my hon. Friend right. The SAS is not involved in Northern Ireland. The House was told in the Statement on the Defence Estimates that it was the Government's intention to continue to give military support to the Sultan of Oman. The level of our assistance is kept under regular review.

is the Minister aware that many Opposition Members are getting increasingly bored with the totally uncalled-for attack on what is perhaps the finest regiment in the British Army? It is a volunteer regiment which is probably the best-equipped and best-trained in the Army. Will the hon. Gentleman point out to his hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) that the regiment has also an important rôle in the defence of Western Europe?

Yes, Sir. I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. The SAS is a fully volunteer regiment and it is a fine regiment which is doing a fine job. In spite of what my hon. Friend said, the main rôle of the SAS is in the NATO context.

Brazil (Naval Visit)

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the official visit of Her Majesty's ships to Brazil in May 1975.

A visit to Brazilian ports was made between 7th and 14th May by a group of Royal Naval ships led by HMS "Ark Royal".

At present six frigates and three submarines are being built for the Brazilian Navy both by Vosper Thorneycroft and by Vickers. That goes ahead.

Chieftain Tanks

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether the Chieftain tanks in service with BAOR will be retrofitted with the new Rolls-Royce diesel engine that is to be fitted to the Chieftain tanks to be supplied to Iran.

The Army has no plans to re-engine its Chieftain tanks with Rolls-Royce engines.

Does not the Minister agree that it seems to follow that we have not learnt from the German experience that it is important to have good engines in our tanks? Will he say how far the trilateral tests that have been going on are likely to affect the Anglo-German battle tank proposals?

I do not agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said. Even the experts do not agree on the precise size of engines for tanks. The tests are still going on and have yet to be evaluated.

Secretary Of State For The Environment (Speech)

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if the public speech of the Secretary of State for the Environment concerning the need of policies to combat inflation made at Grimsby on 8th June represents Government policy.

Q7.

asked the Prime Minister if the speech by the Secretary of State for the Environment on economic matters at Grimsby on 8th June represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

With permission, I will answer Question No. 01 and Question No. 07 together, Sir.

I have nothing to add to the reply which I gave in answer to a supplementary question from the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) on 12th June.

Does the Prime Minister recollect that that was the speech in which the Secretary of State for the Environment criticised Government policies as having put this country on a disaster course, indeed a suicide course? Is he aware that since then, on Saturday last, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that there were only six weeks to that disaster? Is he further aware that today there are only 39 days left to disaster day? When will he act?

The hon. Gentleman has totally falsified what my right hon. Friend said. He did not say that it was the consequence of Government policies. If the hon. Gentleman had studied Government policies he would know which Government to blame. On Saturday I spoke on exactly similar lines to those of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He referred to the need for the urgent action that we are working on. He said "at the time". He did not say that we were six weeks from disaster. The hon. Gentleman should look at what my right hon. Friend said and not falsify it in this manner.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, whatever actions are taken by the Government to combat inflation, he will ensure that the Government's priorities will mean that the sick, the old and the disabled who need a compassionate society to care for them will not be in the front line of suffering as they have been in past attacks on inflation by the Conservative Party?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to stress that. What we have said, and what I said on Saturday, is that anyone who tries to get and in future succeeds in getting more money than the country can afford will be causing the greatest suffering of all to the people who cannot look after themselves, such as those mentioned by my hon. Friend.

As last month the Prime Minister delayed taking anti-inflation action because of the referendum and this month his reason for delay appears to be the Woolwich, West by-election, may I ask him to recognise that the nation is coming to feel that he is unfitted, unwilling and unable to take any counter-inflation, action whatever? If that is so, will he now resign?

The hon. Gentleman is wrong in both his hypotheses. What is important is to get the right answer, and the right answer must be on the basis of consent and consensus.

Does my right hon. Friend still agree with the statements that he and many of his colleagues made during the last General Election campaign when he said that to help the old, the sick, the unemployed and those in the bottom strata of our society we should need the Industry Bill and associated measures of public ownership? Has he noticed that, notwithstanding the local difficulties with which we are beset, so full of contradictions are the Opposition in the Woolwich, West by-election that the local candidate has had to have his election address rewritten three times to comply with the statements made by the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. guru of the Tory Party?

My hon. Friend correctly recalls what I said in the election campaign and what I have said ever since on this question. He will, I know, be the first to agree that, as I have just said, since there are limited real resources available in this country from production and we have to allow for exports, oil prices and so on, if more is taken out by some who have power at least to attempt to take it out, those he has described suffer. The Industry Bill is going ahead and a number of amendments are being tabled tonight for Report which will fulfil what has been said by my right hon. Friends who have been in charge of the Bill up to now. I refer to my right hon. Friend who was in charge of the Bill and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.

With regard to what has been happening at the Woolwich, West by-election, I was not so much concerned with the position of the Conservative candidate as with the fact that on two successive days this week radio and television, not to mention the Press, have been full of total contradictions between leading Privy Councillors under the command of the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition.

As responsibility for the economic position of the country is that of the Government, and as further delay and uncertainly serve only to damage the pound daily, will the Prime Minister say when he expects to be in a position to bring a package of economic measures before the House for its approval?

As I have said, what is important—[Hon. Members: "Answer".] What is important, as I have said, is to get the right answer and the right package. That will not be the package that the right hon. Lady proclaims even without support from her colleagues. It is more important to get the right answer on the basis of consent —[Hon. Members: "When?") It is more important to get the right answer on the basis of consent and consensus, which takes time—the Opposition tried to do without that when they were the Government and, of course, they failed—than to get the wrong answer on a basis that divides the country. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer set a timetable. I hope that the answer will come considerably quicker than the timetable he has set.

Will the Price Minister at least undertake to bring measures before the House before it rises for the Summer Recess?

Yes, Sir. Any measures brought before the House—and I stress the important, with which I hope the right hon. Lady would agree, of getting consent and consensus from those concerned—should be reported to the House, I entirely agree with the right hon. Lady, before the recess.

Surely the Prime Minister will confirm that for Privy Councillors to disagree on policy matters is nothing new and that he is not experiencing it for the first time. To revert to the speech of the Secretary of State for the Environment, does the Prime Minister remember that his right hon. Friend said that the Government's most urgent task was to bring about basic changes in the social contract to make it an effective weapon? Does the Prime Minister agree with that priority? If so, what changes would he like to see?

Yes, I agree with that priority. That has been stated both by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and by myself before the speech was made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. The changes that there should be in the social contract are currently being discussed, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, by the TUC. The TUC and the CBI are meeting today for discussions on these matters. I and my colleagues have had a number of meetings with both organisations.

Tuc General Council

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his most recent meeting with the TUC General Council.

I have had no recent meeting with the TUC General Council, although I am in regular touch with TUC leaders whom I have met on four occasions since the recess.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that many trade union leaders have already expressed their readiness to co-operate with the Government in policies aimed at stemming the rate of inflation? Does he accept that the good will which the trade union movement is showing towards the Government stems in large measure from the consistent manner in which the Government have carried out their side of the social contract? Does he accept that continued trade union co-operation must depend upon the Government having policies aimed at keeping down the cost of essential items in the family budget? Therefore, will my right hon. Friend look again at the policy announced by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and its effect on council rents?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the extent to which trade union leaders are showing tremendous courage, and particularly in the proposals they have put forward for relating wage settlements in future to the target rate for price increases and not to any past period. This is a very big step forward and I know that Conservative right hon. and hon. Members will welcome this fact. One would like to hear them say it from time to time. This is a very important matter and it is certainly the fact, going back to the original agreement about the social contract in 1973, that the Government have fully carried out what we undertook to carry out in the social contract. In those circumstances, we are entitled to expect a response, which we have substantially obtained, and particularly in the latest proposals put forward by the TUC.

My right hon. Friend dealt with rents in considerable detail on 16th June. Having referred to the fact that we froze rents last year and have moderated rent increases this year through additional subsidies, he went on to give figures showing the increase in rents compared with other costs during the past two years. He said, of course, that while rents are an important part of the cost of living, the contribution of rents to housing costs has been steadily falling over the past few years.

Instead of the rather absurd charade of warning the TUC that if it does not agree to a tougher so-called social contract there will have to be further public expenditure cuts, would it not be better for the Prime Minister to tell the truth—namely, that there will have to be further public expenditure cuts anyway?

The question of public expenditure is always under review at this time of the year by every Government. Indeed, I think that it was under review by the previous Conservative Government although they never carried out their promises in that regard. It is under review with a view to the publication of the National Expenditure White Paper in the autumn. This process is always going on. I made no threat to the unions as the hon. Gentleman suggests. I stated what is fact in relation to the position of the Government as the paymaster and the treasurer, on behalf of the taxpayer, of the publicly-owned industries—namely, that where there are income settlements or wage settlements which take too much out there is a limit. We shall not allow it to be met now by subsidy, by taking it out of the public or by borrowing. That must mean either a more economical use of labour, with all that that means for jobs, or accepting incomes which are related to what is available within public industry. That is what I said last Saturday, and said very clearly.

Will my right hon. Friend further qualify the answer he has just given—namely, that high wage settlements have enabled the British people to take out more than they have put in? Does he not agree that if the Government were to replace the free market price mechanism by a planned pricing strategy, and at the same time replace free trade externally by planning imports, it would not be possible, whatever wage settlements were made, for the British people to take out more than they were putting in?

No, Sir. I made it clear that if in any industry or concern, public or private, more is taken out than can be afforded by that undertaking, be it a nationalised concern or private industry, the result is bound to be, sooner or later, an effect on jobs unless we are prepared to subsidise. As regards a pricing strategy, we have had a strong price strategy from the time we came to office. It is a fact that traders, particularly in food distribution, have suffered very considerably as a result of the tightening of the price strategy. As regards import controls, apart from those which we apply at any time where there is evidence of dumping or unfair trading practices—and we are considering a number of allegations—I do not believe that a large trading nation like Great Britain will succeed in keeping up its exports along with other countries in this chronic world depression by taking such action. I do not believe that we have anything to gain in starting a rat race by cutting down international trade.

Council Of Ministers

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister what proposals he intends to put to other EEC Heads of Government about democratising the Council of Ministers.

I see no need to make such proposals. The Council consists of Ministers of the Governments of the member States, each of whom is accountable to a democratically-elected Parliament, each of whom is concerned with his own principal national interests; and the same—I can tell the House from my own experience—is certainly true of the now regular Heads of Government meetings.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the present system is totally unsatisfactory to a very large number of people? Because so many different interests have to be resolved, the horse trading that goes on means that certain important interests for the British people may well be undermined. This Parliament can only ask questions of Ministers when they return from Brussels. The decisions made in Brussels stand, and we cannot undo them. Does my right hon. Friend think that there should be a change? Will he look again at this matter?

As I have made clear at the Council of Ministers, this is happening increasingly, and it is also the case that at meetings of Heads of Government national interests are strongly pressed by individuals. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is in Brussels today for meetings of the Council of Ministers. He may not be a horse trader, but he is a successful cattle trader. I have every confidence that he will be fighting today as he has always fought, and as the country acknowledged in its recent vote—for British interests. The only criticism I have heard put forward by the German Federal Chancellor is that he feels that the Council of Ministers should be more centralised in the hands of one Minister, the Foreign Minister. He feels that sometimes Agriculture Miniters tend to represent European bloc farm policies rather than the policies of their Governments.

Does the Prime Minister appreciate that there are two functions in the Council of Ministers? In addition to the function which the hon. Lady has, with characteristic elegance of idiom, characterised as horse trading, there is also the important legislative function which paradoxically the Community vests in the Council of Ministers and not in the legislature. Cannot that function be exercised in public? Will Her Majesty's Government so recommend?

I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the Council of Ministers is a policy-making body. It is not engaged only in negotiations. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about law-making functions?"] Yes, it is also to some extent a lawmaking body. It has been an increasing development in the last few months that when the Heads of Government meet the Commission leaders are present, and when the Heads of Government take a decision the Commission representatives go away and try to work out how best it can be carried out.

As for meetings in public, whether of the Council of Ministers or of Heads of Government, I can see certain advantages for the entertainment media. I have a feeling that the fight put up there for national interests would cause those meetings to go much further into the night and, indeed, to take more days than they do at present.

Does not the Prime Minister think that the Council of Ministers would be more democratised if his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland were to attend it regularly in view of his known anti-Market views and considerable responsibilities for many aspects of decision-making in respect of 5 million Scottish citizens?

I assure the hon. Lady that if there were any meetings at which the interests of Britain, of this House or of Scotland would be best served by my right hon. Friend attending, he would certainly go.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is just as important, if not more so, to democratise the European Assembly and to make the Ministers accountable to that body as well as to respective national legislatures? Will he say when he will be in a position to make a statement on the possibility of a firm Government view on direct elections to that Assembly?

Not yet, Sir. But my hon. Friend will be aware that, within a few hours of the result of the referendum being known, I said in public that the Government would be making a recommendation to the Parliamentary Labour Party that we should now take up the scats available to us in that Assembly. My hon. Friend will be aware of the decisions taken by my Labour colleagues which should lead to the selection of Members later this week to attend the Assembly. This is now taking place.

Changes in the powers of the Assembly require deep consideration. My hon. Friend will know that these matters have been continually discussed in Strasbourg and also that the Belgian Prime Minister, who is coming to this country in the very near future, has been charged by his fellow Heads of Government to make proposals about future political developments within the Community.

From a United Kingdom point of view, would not the best way of making the Council of Ministers more democratic be to allow this House better opportunities to discuss EEC matters with the Ministers concerned instead of our having perfunctory debates in the middle of the night, which is all the Lord President has so far allowed us?

This is a difficult problem. Nobody is satisfied with the present position. We now have available to us the report of the Select Committee which has made certain suggestions. I should point out that the Labour Government have allowed considerably more time—I appreciate that it is not to everybody's satisfaction, and admittedly the debates take place late at night—than was allowed by the Conservative Government in debating subordinate European legislative proposals.

Since the Paris statement issued last December by the Heads of Common Market States indicated that it was unanimously agreed that the veto was likely to be undermined in future, and secondly that the permanent representatives were to get greater powers, will my right hon. Friend say whether there will be resistance by the British Government to both these suggestions?

No, Sir. I think I have already answered that question. Following my statement after the Paris summit last December, the reference in the communiqué to the veto was simply a declaration that so far as possible we would not use the veto unnecessarily. That was what it was really about. There had been occasions in meetings of specialised bodies where the veto had been used rather frequently and where, after consideration and reference back, the matter had not been pursued. But nobody said anything at the summit—I did not do so and the communiqué did not record any such decision—to imply that the unanimity rule was breached in any way or that the right of what my hon. Friend calls the "veto" had disappeared. The situation is exactly as it was in that respect. But it was felt that the veto had been used a little too much, particularly in specialist gatherings.

Scottish Estimates

Ordered,

That the Estimates set out hereunder be referred to the Scottish Grand Committee:

Class VII, Vote 2, Housing (Scottish Development Department).
Class VIII, Vote 4, Other Environmental Services &c., Scotland.
Class XI, Vote 3, Social Work, Scotland.
Class XIII, Vote 22, Other Services: Scottish Office.
Class XVII, Vote 2, Rate Support Grant to Local Revenues, Scotland.—[Mr. Edward Short.]

Questions To Ministers

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is becoming increasingly apparent that unless one has tabled a Question within the first three Questions to the Prime Minister, it is becoming impossible to have one's Question answered. Is it not possible to limit or discourage the length of answers, or to limit the number of supplementary questions—or, alternatively, without wishing to be accused of masochism, may I suggest increasing the length of time available for Prime Minister's Questions, otherwise many of us who wish to question the right hon. Gentleman will have no opportunity to do so?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may have noticed that when Parliament was to be broadcast one of the articles in Radio Times suggested that about 15 Questions could be expected to be taken on Tuesdays and Thursdays—I am referring to ordinary Questions rather than to Questions to the Prime Minister—and 20 Questions on Mondays and Wednesdays. Is this now your ruling, Sir, or can we hope that perhaps a rather higher number of Questions can be taken in future?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. When reviewing the policy of Questions to the Prime Minister, will you also review the ridiculous convention which ensures that we have to ask strange Questions in order to have any hope whatever of their even being answered?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I put a slightly different point of view—namely, that many of us feel that the increasing wish of the Chair over the years to take Question Time as fast as possible, and the practice which has tended to grow up in recent years that no backbencher is ever allowed a second supplementary question, works very much to the benefit of Ministers of the day, and that we do not wish to see Question Time taken any faster than it is at present?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the exchanges which have already taken place, will you take it from me that I take the opposite view, because I tend to get the impression that Question Time is pretty much as it has been over the past five years? In contrast to the point made at the beginning of these exchanges, could I remind the House that today Questions Q1, Q2 and Q3 to the Prime Minister were taken with Q19, which is in my name, because Mr. Speaker had the good sense to link it with 01, though the Prime Minister had refused to link it in accordance with previous rulings? Therefore, on this occasion, Mr. Speaker, I think that you can leave well alone.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Does it improve one's chances of being called if one does not wear a tie?

Without attempting to take sides on this issue, may I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that you look back on the number of Questions that have been answered at different times? You may find that when the Prime Minister was away and the Lord President was answering, we dealt with Questions very swiftly and on several occasions my hon. Friends and I actually received answers.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the Prime Minister has studiously avoided answering any Questions, perhaps I may suggest that his Question Time should be shortened rather than lengthened.

Without taking sides in this matter and without stigmatising any hon. Member, is it not a historical fact, Mr. Speaker, that years ago we dealt with 80 and sometimes 90 Questions daily and that on one historic occasion we reached three figures?

Further to that point of order Mr. Speaker. May I congratulate the Leader of the Opposition on playing her part by asking a few questions as possible?

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has evaded an important question about matters which are likely to be dealt with at a late hour of this day namely, the 12 Members of this House who are to be selected by a body which is not constituted as part of this House to represent the opinions of this House in the European Assembly. I should like to know why we have not been allowed to ask questions about this matter and whether there will be an opportunity to do so on a future occasion?

That is rather a different point of order.

First, I shall deal with the various points of order about Question Time. The one sound answer is: short questions and short answers. However, the idea that the House of Commons can discharge its duty of questioning the executive by dealing with Questions very quickly makes matters very easy for Ministers. The fewer the supplementary questions, the quicker we go and the better it is for Ministers. I have always taken the view that one should try to probe the position of Ministers even if it means four or five supplementary questions. The mathematical argument about getting through 40 Questions, for example, with Ministers getting away with it apparently without having to give an answer at all, is not the right solution. I speak as one who answered Questions for quite a long time.

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. Kelley) about the European Assembly, Mr. Speaker. It is a matter for this House because the list has to be approved by this House. It has long been understood in relation to both the Council of Europe and other overseas assemblies that the names are selected by the individual parties concerned, but they require approval by this House and this will happen in this case.

May I conclude what I was trying to say? The possibility of lengthening the time for Prime Minister's Questions is a matter for the House and not for me. It may have been noticed that today I prolonged Prime Minister's Questions by seven minutes.

Prices And Incomes Board

3.45 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to re-establish a Prices and Incomes Board.
The history of legislation on the question of statutory control over prices and incomes is a somewhat chequered one. The 1966 Prices and Incomes Act of the then Labour Government was supported throughout from the Liberal benches and at one point, during a crucial stage of the passage of that Bill, it was supported by us when our votes were essential because it was opposed by both the Conservative Opposition and a section of the Labour Party led by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Secretary of State for Employment.

However, the passage of that Act and the creation of the Prices and Incomes Board under the chairmanship of a former Member of this House, Mr. Aubrey Jones, increasingly established a national reputation over the years during which it was in existence. It was, therefore, sad and foolish that the incoming Conservative Government of 1970 abolished the Prices and Incomes Board just at a time when it had achieved a national reputation and when it could have been of real assistance to that Government in controlling inflation.

However, within a couple of years the Conservative Government had repented of their folly, and they introduced the Counter-Inflation Act. They could not, of course, without losing face, recreate the Prices and Incomes Board, so they established instead a Price Commission and a Pay Board—two separate bureaucracies. Then the incoming Labour Government in February 1974 abolished the Pay Board.

We have to look at the situation as the country faces it today, and, as we have just heard during Question Time, there is a growing view in all parts of the House that it is high time the Government took positive action to attempt to control inflation.

I am encouraged in seeking leave to introduce the Bill by the words of the Prime Minister, when he was Leader of the Opposition, when he appeared on the BBC television programme "Twenty-four Hours" on 2nd March 1972. He said:
"A million unemployed: we cannot solve this without having some kind of anti-inflationary policy. We"—
meaning the Labour Party—
"would reinvoke our powers, the PIB."
Unfortunately, the Labour Government have not yet reinvoked those powers. My Bill is simply an opportunity for them to do so, because we have to look at the situation today in which, under the Healey formula—which was found so convenient at the last General Election—inflation is now running at a rate of 30 per cent., and in which most commentators believe that we are heading for an unemployment figure of over 1 million by the end of the year—the million which the then Leader of the Opposition thought was significant.

Most Governments are accused of promising jam tomorrow and never providing it today. This Government have stood that on its head. They threaten no jam tomorrow, and watch everyone helping themselves to large dollops of it today. Action is now required, and the Bill simply paves the way for a reintroduction of statutory controls over price increases and income increases.

The Board which the Bill would set up would have the powers which the old board had—that is, to undertake, at the request of the Government, specific investigations into areas of income; for example, the lower paid in certain industries. It would also have powers to receive specific remits from the Government.

We consider that it is the responsibility of the Government to take the political decision to say what percentage of growth either in prices or in incomes can be afforded by the country at any one moment. Those limits having been set, we would give powers in the Bill to Secretaries of State to refer to the Prices and Incomes Board any proposed increases which went above the norm set down by the Government at any time. The board would then undertake an investigation and would make a recommendation to the Government either to make exceptions or to restrict the increases to the figures already established by the Government.

At the end of the day the Government, who are responsible to this House, would take the decisions. In that respect the board would differ from the Pay Board established by the Conservative Government under the Counter-Inflation Act. The matter would remain a matter for political decision by the Government.

The Bill would be helpful in creating the machinery to establish a fair, expert and authoritative body which would help the Government when they finally come round to establishing statutory controls over price and income increases.

This House can delay no longer, and the Bill is happily timed to set up the necessary machinery.

3.50 p.m.

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

I rise to ask the House to refuse leave for the introduction of a Bill to re-establish a Prices and Incomes Board. From what the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) said, it is clear that he fully intends, if the Bill receives the leave of the House, not merely to reinvoke a Prices and Incomes Board but to endow it with all the rigmarle of statutory controls. He has said clearly that the proposed board would have powers of statutory control of prices and incomes. It is indicative of the fact that hon. Members who are supporting the hon. Gentleman and his Bill have learned nothing from the last 10 years that they seek the leave of the House to introduce such a Bill.

If we examine what has happened during the two periods when we have had statutory control of incomes, we find in those two periods the very causes of the kind of wage-led inflation we are experiencing today. For example, during the period of the previous Labour Government's incomes policy, one which many of my right hon. and hon. Friends supported at that time, we find that statutory control appeared to have worked particularly well in the public sector, but, while it was apparently working well there, there was a drift of wage increases of about 6 per cent. in excess of the norm in the private sector.

At the end of the period 1966–70 we found that the whole pattern of industrial disputes had changed. We found that the people who were getting involved in industrial action were people who had never resorted to such action in their history. We found that these were local authority manual workers, gas workers, Post Office workers, National Health Service employees, civil servants, teachers, and railway men—I could go through a long list—and every one of them in the public sector. The reason why we had that range of public sector disputes was that the incomes policy worked satisfactorily in the public sector according to the criteria laid down but it left the public sector far behind other areas of employment in the community.

It was then, when we had the massive round of industrial disputes, that we still found that during the period of operation of a statutory policy by the Conservative Government public sector employees got left behind. The reason why we had massive settlements for teachers, following the Houghton Inquiry, and for nurses, after the Halsbury Report, is that the statutory mechanisms of control could not adequately deal with the public sector.

Division No. 244.]

AYES

[3.54 p.m.

Biggs-Davison, JohnKnox, DavidTapsell, Peter
Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Freud, ClementMeyer, Sir AnthonyWainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Grimond, Rt Hon J.Morgan, GeraintWatt, Hamish
Grist, IanNelson, AnthonyWigley, Dafydd
Hawkins, PaulNewton, TonyYoung, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Hooson, EmlynPage. Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)Penhaligon, DavidTELLERS FOR THE AYES
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)Mr. A. J. Beith and
Johnston, Russell (Inverness)Steel, David (Roxburgh)Mr. Cyril Smith.
Kelley, RichardStewart, Donald (Wesern Isles)

NOES

Allaun, FrankCant, R. B.Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)
Anderson, DonaldCarter-Jones, LewisEvans, John (Newton)
Archer, PeterClemitson, IvorEwing, Harry (Stirling)
Ashley, JackCocks, Michael (Bristol S)Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.
Ashton, JoeCohen, StanleyFlannery, Martin
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)Conlan, BernardFletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Atkinson, NormanCook, Robin F. (Edin C)Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Corbett, RobinFord, Ben
Bates, AltCormack, PatrickForrester, John
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodCox, Thomas (Tooting)Garrett, John (Norwich S)
Bidwell, SydneyCryer, BobGarrett, W. E. (Wallsend)
Biffen, JohnCunningham, G. (Islington S)Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)
Booth, AlbertDalyell, TarnGrocott, Bruce
Bray, Dr JeremyDavies, Bryan (Enfield N)Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)Hardy, Peter
Buchanan, Richardde Freitas, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyHarrison, Walter (Wakefield)
Budgen, NickDempsey, JamesHatton, Frank
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Dunnett, JackHayman, Mrs Helene
Campbell, IanDunwoody, Mrs GwynethHeffer, Eric S.
Canavan, DennisEdwards, Robert (Wolv SE)Hooley, Frank

I also ask the House to oppose the motion not only because what lies behind it does not work but because it involves a self-deluding process. If we imagine that merely by creating a statutory body we shall be getting a panacea which will deal with many of the things about which the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles spoke—problems of inflation, of employment and of productivity—we are deluding the vast majority of the people as well as seeking to delude ourselves in the process.

I ask the House to acknowledge that the way that we shall deal with the problems of inflation is by grappling with the real problems of getting more productive wealth and establishing systems of industrial relations that get management, labour and capital to work more effectively together. We shall not do that by the mechanism of an industrial policy which has been directly responsible for industrial disputes.

I ask the House to reject the motion.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):

The House divided: Ayes 28, Noes 162.

Hordern, PeterMaynard, Miss JoanSpriggs, Leslie
Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)Mellish, Rt Hon RobertStallard, A. W.
Huckfield, LesMendelson, JohnStewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Hughes, Mark (Durham)Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)Stoddart, David
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)Stott, Roger
Hunter, AdamMorris, Charles R. (Openshaw)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Janner, GrevilleNewens, StanleyThomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Jeger, Mrs LenaOakes, GordonThomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)Orbach, MauriceThomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
John, BrynmorOvenden, JohnTierney, Sydney
Johnson, James (Hull West)Page, John (Harrow West)Tinn, James
Jones, Alec (Rhondda)Park, GeorgeTomlinson, John
Jones, Dan (Burnley)Parker, JohnTorney, Tom
Judd, FrankPavitt, LaurieTuck, Raphael
Kaufman, GeraldPendry, TomWainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Kerr, RussellPowell, Rt Hon J. EnochWalker, Herold (Doncaster)
Kilroy-Silk, RobertPrescott, JohnWalker, Terry (Kingswood)
Kinnock, NellPrice, C. (Lewisham W)Ward, Michael
Lambie, DavidRadice, GilesWatkins, David
Lawson, NigelRichardson, Miss JoWatkinson, John
Lewis, Arthur (Newham N)Roberts, Albert (Normanton)Weitzman, David
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Roderick, CaerwynWellbeloved, James
Lipton, MarcusRodgers, George (Chorley)White, Frank R. (Bury)
Litterick, TomRoper, JohnWhitehead, Phillip
Lomas, KennethSandelson, NevilleWhitlock, William
Loyden, EddieSedgemore, BrianWilliams, W. T. (Warrington)
McElhone, FrankSelby, HarryWinterton, Nicholas
Mactarlane, NellShaw, Arnold (liford South)Wise, Mrs Audrey
Mackenzie, GregorSheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)Woodall, Alec
McNamara, KevinShort, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)Young, David (Bolton E)
Madden, MaxSillars, James
Mahon, SimonSilverman, JuliusTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Marks, KennethSkinner, DennisMr, Joseph Dean and
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Snape, PeterMr, John Golding.
Mason, Rt Hon Roy

Question accordingly negatived.

Orders Of The Day

Supply

[21ST ALLOTTED DAY]— considered.

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

Royal Air Force

4.5 p.m.

It has been the tradition of recent years that our regular debates on the Estimates of the three Services do not end in a Division pressed by the official Opposition. As that tradition is likely to be broken this evening—unless the Government prove a good deal more amenable to argument on the subject of defence than they have so far been—I should explain why we on the Opposition side are so concerned about the present and prospective state of the Royal Air Force and why we feel we must press this motion in the Lobby tonight.

I hope the House will forgive me if in so doing I go over some of the ground covered in the debate on the Defence White Paper on 6th and 7th May. It is helpful in one way that the Government have just issued a pamphlet which might be called a mini-White Paper. All hon. Members will have a copy. I have mine here with its covering letter which describes the document as
"a pamphlet on British Defence Policy and the rôle of the Services. It provides selected information from my Defence White Paper"—
says the Secretary of State—
"in a popular form, and has been distributed to schools, universities and young people generally…. The aim is to interest not only those who might join the Services but to inform them about the Government's Defence Policy."
I have no quarrel with the first of these aims or with the pamphlet itself, which seems to be excellently produced, but, having read it carefully, I am tempted to suggest that some, at least, of the £1,764 which it is costing the taxpayer should be debited to Transport House because it repeats the same somewhat complacent, somewhat misleading statements of self-justification with which Ministers now try to sell their new defence policy to the nation.

We are told in the pamphlet once again that if the country's annual expenditure on defence is reduced to 4½ per cent. of the gross national product this will be more in line with the spending of our major European allies. We are told that the changes proposed in the new policy are being made in close consultation with all our allies, and we are told, finally, that the defence review emphasises the importance that the Government attach to the continued support of NATO. The object of these words is to persuade the impressionable reader that no one in this country or in NATO questions the reasoning of the Defence White Paper or its purported basis, although we here know that the spurious logic of the GNP argument was totally demolished by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) in his opening speech in the debate on 6th May.

In that debate the Under-Secretary of State for the Royal Air Force summed up his attitude and that of his hon. Friends in the same way, if not in precisely the same words, as the salesmen of a brand of shaving soap in praising their product: "Not too much, not too little, but just right." The Under-Secretary's argument may have this erasmic quality because he says, the Conservatives say the Government have cut defence too heavily, their friends of the Tribune group claim they have not cut it heavily enough, and therefore
"the middle course which the Government have steered is the only one".—[Official Report, 7th May 1975; Vol. 891, c. 1442.]
In this, for what it is worth, the hon. Gentleman was later supported by the Liberal spokesman, who does not seem to think too clearly about these matters. If he did he would soon see that the Government's self-righteous attitude depends upon the assumption that all the critics of the defence review can comfortably be dismissed as extremists. No doubt the Under-Secretary privately holds that view of his hon. Friends below the Gangway whom I am pleased to see represented here today. In the light of the Pavlovian reactions of the hon. Members for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) and Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) to the arrival of American U2 aircraft in this country last month, when they used words like "provocative" and "sinister", I shall not waste the time of the House trying to persuade the Under-Secretary that he is wrong in regarding them as extremists or in disregarding them as extremists.

I should like the House to consider the argument from a different and more intelligent point of view—that of our NATO allies. It was a marked feature of our debate on the Defence White Paper in May that almost every Minister who spoke went out of his way to avoid any reference at the Dispatch Box to NATO's reaction to the White Paper. I am glad that the Secretary of State was more frank with the House this afternoon in response to a direct question from my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr and admitted what he had previously been at pains to play down, the serious disquiet which our NATO allies felt, and still feel, at the cuts which the Government have imposed on our defence programme.

But it is worth while and important that the House should be reminded of the full text of the communiqué that was issued by NATO on March 21st, following the Government's publication of their White Paper, Command 5976. This is how the three opening paragraphs of that communiqué read:
"In accordance with the usual NATO practice, the United Kingdom Government, having reached provisional conclusions on their Defence Review, initiated the process of consultation with their NATO allies in December 1974. The implications of the changes proposed have been assessed by the NATO military authorities and there have been several exchanges of views in the Defence Plan Committee of the Alliance. These took place against the background of a statement that the British Government regarded their plan to reduce defence expenditure to 4½ per cent. of gross national product by the middle 1980s as a firm decision. The Alliance welcomes the assurance that NATO commitments remain the first charge on British defence resources; that no reductions are envisaged in advance of an MBFR agreement in the forces deployed in the Central Region; and that the United Kingdom will maintain the effectivenes of its present strategic and tactical nuclear contribution to NATO. The Alliance has nevertheless expressed its disquiet at the scale of the reductions proposed and their effect on NATO's conventional defence vis-à-vis the increasing capability of the Warsaw Pact. The changes of special concern are: the reduction of reinforcement capability in the Northern and Southern Regions; the removal of naval and air forces from the Mediterranean area; and the decline in maritime capabilities in the Eastern Atlantic and Channel areas."
The House reading between the diplomatic lines, will agree that that statement is highly critical. It expresses a criticism of the action of Britain as a partner in the alliance which ought to have been taken very seriously by the people of this country, if the Government were not prepared to take it seriously; and I fear it is a criticism that remains as valid now as it was when it was expressed. It is certainly not a statement that substantiates any claim at all by the Secretary of State or his colleagues that our allies think that our Defence Ministers have everything dead right.

It is on the basis of that NATO statement that I want now to try to identify the respects in which we find Government policy for the future of the Royal Air Force quite unacceptable.

The first is the reduction in our whole maritime capability which must flow from the drastic cut in the Nimrod force by 25 per cent. It is hardly necessary for me to remind anyone who takes an interest in these matters of the vast increase in Soviet naval forces in the past five years or so. Even hon. Members below the Gangway will have noted this Nor do I need to spell out the threat that this represents. I am sure that the Secretary of State understands it, and I hope his endeavours to make sure that the country understands it are not frustrated by anyone on his side of the House. We on this side will certainly not frustrate him in that.

It is worth recalling the comments made by General Steinhoff in March 1974, after he had served for three years as Chairman of the NATO Military Committee. I take these comments from the June 1974 issue of the NATO REVIEW:
"The growing Soviet strength at sea is possibly the most important military-political development of the second half of this century … I am almost more alarmed by Soviet power politics at sea than by the confrontation in Central Europe."
Those remarks are a year out of date now but they have certainly lost none of their force in the interval, and, since the NATO communiqué uses the word "increasing" of the Soviet naval strength, we can assume that the picture as General Steinhoff painted it has become darker in the intervening months.

Is it not astonishing that in the light of such comments the Government can ever have contemplated discarding one quarter of the Nimrod force, which is an integral feature of our maritime capability, particularly when we realise that the British contribution to NATO's maritime armoury is the most crucial of all the European partners in the alliance? Does not it become more extraordinary still when we recognise that
"the key to the deterrent power of our armed forces is our ability to obtain early warning of an enemy's intentions through reconnaisance, and to strike at his offensive forces from a distance in case of need"—
to quote from the White Paper on defence produced by the Labour Government in 1966, when they were able to take a more intelligent view of these matters? I put that point to the House with all the more conviction since I have recently had the good fortune to see how accurate and effective a weapon system Nimrod provides—and I must express my thanks to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force for his part in making it possible for me to do so, and my thanks to all concerned at RAF Kin-loss, and, in particular, to No. 7 crew of 206 Squadron, who, I shall see to it, will get a complimentary copy of the Official Report. So there is the first inexcusable decision.

The second comes in the proposals to leave the RAF with wholly inadequate resources, after the cut of 50 per cent. in the transport fleet, to meet NATO's needs for tactical reinforcement and mobility. I am content to leave aside this afternoon the fact that all the Comets and Britannias are apparently to be sold. More worrying for my immediate purpose is the fact that all the Andovers are also to be disposed of, and that the Hercules fleet is to be reduced to 40 aircraft, although we do not know the Government's intentions so far as the disposal of any surplus Hercules aircraft are concerned. This was curiously omitted from the Answer to a Parliamentary Question that was put down last week.

The RAF helicopter tactical transport force will also be reduced by about a quarter, and this in its turn must have a very serious impact on the mobility of the Army, even if the cut appears to be in part explained by a decision not to order medium-lift helicopters which have not in fact been ordered anyway. Disregarding that, we on this side of the House must once again endorse the reactions of our NATO allies. For my part, I must add that one of the most extraordinary parts of those cuts is that no attempt seems to have been made to consider the possible creation of reserves to compensate, if only partially, for the cuts in the front-line capability.

I put to the Minister and the House the question: is it really impossible, for instance, to expand the strength of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force in a situation such as this? We are told that the RAAF now consists of maritime units which would be required to support Regular formations in an emergency. The Defence White Paper also reminds us that the RAAF celebrated its fiftieth anniversary on 9th October last year. But in paying tribute, as I do, to the record of glorious achievement of that force over the past 50 years, I must put on record that its strength now totals 238 officers, airmen and airwomen, a figure which is almost exactly half what it was 10 years ago and very much below the strength it had when it rendered its greatest services, a strength to which I believe it could be restored if the Government would recognise the need to build up an adequate reserve.

Before the hon. Gentleman goes too far from that point, has he calculated the cost in terms of fuel, apart from anything else, of an enlarged Air Force reserve? All these people have to be kept up to current training standards, and, in terms of fuel, that is extremely costly. It is very easy to suggest that but training is vastly costly.

I hope I may be able to help the hon. Gentleman. I hope he will concede that there is no shortage of surplus aircraft, whether military or civilian types. The hon. Gentleman may know, if he has read the answer to a Question that I put down last week, that the Ministry of Defence is already spending £2 million a year on civil air charter contracts, to North-West Europe, Berlin and Australia and in Nepal. Does he consider it out of the question that a scheme might be worked out, using surplus aircraft or dry-leasing civil aircraft, which would enable a reserve of skilled transport pilots to be built up and preserved and kept in practice, flying what are evidently essential military tasks which will be paid for anyway?

If the hon. Gentleman finds it extraordinary that such a proposition should be put forward, perhaps he does not realise that it is something which our American allies have been doing for some time. I would not dismiss out of hand as either hopelessly expensive or hopelessly impracticable a scheme of that kind, which would enable a working reserve to be brought into being.

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. This is done in the United States in the Air National Guard. The Americans also have means of using such people in their coastguard. There is no reason why we should not have a Royal Auxiliary Air Force helicopter squadron. These things could be done very inexpensively compared with the Regular Forces or even commercial companies doing them.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reinforcing my point. My experience of the civil helicopter work done by charter companies in coastguard operations does not suggest that the service would be in any way inadequate if it were taken away from the Regular arm and handed over to an active reserve. I hope that the Minister will agree that this sort of question should be examined thoroughly and quickly.

In the meantime, the RAF is being left virtually without reserves. This is wholly unacceptable at a time when the strength of the Services is being run down by no less than 18 per cent. Against this alarming background, with the prospect of further defence cuts as ominous as it is now, and remembering that we have yet to hear how the cuts of £110 million announced in the Budget are to affect the RAF or the other Services, I still do not believe that what we seek is beyond the nation's resources. I am not saying that there must not be cuts in defence, that every aircraft must be retained and that every RAF station must be kept in being—far from it. My argu- ment is confined to the Government's own chosen ground, our contribution to NATO.

Labour Members should not seek to answer the case by introducing inflated or unrealistic costs and plans which I am not advocating. But if the Minister's response is simply that it must be a matter of share-and-share-alike when it comes to cuts, we cannot accept that attitude either. In our view there is a point at which defence can no longer be cut if it is to remain credible. NATO has already made it clear that this country has not merely reached that point but has passed it.

In the last resort—and that seems to be where this unfortunate country has been driven by this most inept of Governments—defence must have priority over less crucial spending.

Will the hon. Gentleman make the Position of the Opposition quite clear? Is he saying that more should be spent on defence than is being spent now? If a Conservative Government were in power, would they step up the amount spent on defence compared with that spent by the present Government? Would the hon. Gentleman therefore be prepared to have additional cuts in other public service expenditure?

I am sorry to have expressed myself so badly that the hon. Gentleman appears unable to understand me. What I said was that there was a point beyond which defence could no longer be cut if it was to remain credible, and that it is NATO's opinion that this country has not merely reached that point but passed it, and that we agree with this proposition.

If the hon. Gentleman is seeking to suggest that that inevitably means that the only possible source of extra funds to redress the deficit on defence is the National Health Service or something of that kind, I must remind him, as I reminded him when we last debated the matter, that there are some other candidates for the chop which come much higher in the list of priorities. Nationalisation is one, whether the hon. Gentleman likes that or not. There are priorities which must be got right. I am sorry to have had so little success this afternoon in persuading the Secretary of State that it is more important to maintain the strength of Europe's aero-space industry than to waste time and money in fooling about with nationalisation.

If the hon. Gentleman will do me the kindness of reading what I have said today and recalling what I have said previously, I do not think he will feel that the question has been dodged. If he does not like the proposition that less money could be spent on nationalisation, I am sorry for him, but the electors of West Woolwich are more likely to agree with me than with him.

We condemn the Government again today because their policy has put the security of the United Kingdom and the integrity of NATO in grave jeopardy. More than that, we condemn them because they have persisted in judging the scale and nature of our contribution to NATO in financial terms, rather than
"in terms of its total value to deterrence and defence throughout the Alliance".
Those are the words of the NATO statement. I believe that the Government have so weakened the conventional strength of the alliance that the scope for flexible response has been reduced.

If that is so—and the flexible response has been the aim of the alliance in recent years—there must be a corresponding increase in the danger that any conventional conflict or confrontation may escalate into a nuclear one. That brings us back to the days of the tripwire theory, with all that that entails. I hope that even the hon. Gentleman, who is so concerned with costings in these matters, will not welcome any development, particularly if his Government are responsible for it, which brings us closer to the danger of a nuclear conflict. Those are the reasons why we shall divide the House tonight unless the Government are able to satisfy us.

Before leaving the subject of money, I asked the Minister to clear up the matter of offset costs of British forces in Germany. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army told us this afternoon that this was a matter to be taken into consideration fairly soon. I was not clear what that meant, although I hope that the House accepts the need for action to be taken when we bear in mind the effect on the costs of our forces in Germany of the fall in the value of the pound, a matter that was underlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart). When can we expect a clear statement of the position, and particularly the effect of this increased cost, on the money available to the defence budget?

I turn briefly to other serious matters which concern the RAF and which I know some of my hon. Friends are anxious to raise in the debate. The first is the subject of procurement, and in particular the status of three projects that are vital to the future capability of the RAF—the MRCA, the airborne early warning requirement and the short-range air-to-air missile.

Can the Minister tell us what decision has been reached about an air-defence version of the MRCA? Can he expand upon his earlier answers about technical teething troubles? What is the effect on costs of the proposed slow-down by one-third in the delivery rate to the RAF? How far have our talks with our German and Italian partners got on securing that slow-down?

Why is the RAF apparently to be the only air force without a short-range high-g missile for air-to-air combat, or can it look forward to the placing of an order fairly soon?

On the subject of airborne early warning, what is being done to ensure that the fullest consideration is given in NATO to the development of a Nimrod-based AWACS system, which would by all accounts be a much cheaper and entirely adequate alternative to the Boeing E-3A project?

Those questions bring me straight to my next main point, which concerns defence sales. My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr has described the situation here as a complete shambles. If it is not a complete shambles, the House has certainly no information on which to base a conclusion, because it is extraordinarily difficult to obtain hard or worthwhile information from Ministers about anything connected with defence sales. I realise the difficulties of confidentiality and commercial negotiations. However, I should have thought that the Government might have been ready to be as forthcoming to the House as they appear to expect the rest of industry to be to the world at large under the provisions of the Industry Bill.

Please may we soon have a statement on accountability in defence sales? It may be in the form of a White Paper, but certainly we want a statement—not just as sauce for the gander but so that we can know the standards by which the Government and their agents, MODPE, are prepared to be judged, and the objectives that they have set themselves. Unless and until we know that, the House can do nothing to exercise its duty of trying to keep the administration up to the mark. I fear that we are operating in a vacuum, with all the undesirable consequences that flow from that.

In the meantime, may we please have from the Minister today a clear outline of the relationship, as the Government see it, between the search for standardisation in equipment purchases by NATO and the preservation of a British or a joint European industrial capability in the developing technology of defence equipment of all kinds? There are openings here which must not be missed. It is even possible that the outcome of the so-called "Sale of the Century", with the contract going to an American firm for the Starfighter replacement, will be that there is a French requirement for the MRCA. It is doubtful, to say the least, whether the Eurogroup has the authority or, indeed, the political momentum to operate successfully in this very difficult area.

I believe that part of the reason why MRCA did not get the fullest possible consideration in a strip-down version, or whatever, in the recent competition was that there was nobody there who was really charged with seeing that all the facts were put forward at an early enough stage to keep the project in contention. It is no use bringing it forward at the last minute—it should have been there at the first. I am sure that this important subject will be raised again and again today by Opposition Members, if not Labour Members.

I turn to another subject which in its own way is just as vital, namely, the current state of the morale of the RAF and particularly of those who are facing the bitter prospect of redundancy. The Defence White Paper tells us that there are to be 4,000 RAF personnal made redundant in the next 18 months or so, including 800 officers. A high proportion of these must be transport aircrew, not helicopter pilots who I understand have been told that they may not even apply for redundancy even though there is to be a 25 per cent. cut in RAF rotary-wing aircraft strength. Very few of them can have any hope of finding civilian jobs in aviation, at least in the air—although they may be able to get jobs on the ground.

Dealing with flying, we know that there is already a world surplus of airline pilots. There are a great number of ex-Court Line pilots who are still unable to return to a flying career and there is some doubt whether some of them will ever be able to do so. The White Paper tells us:
"Full facilities for resettlement advice and assistance will be promised for those returning prematurely to civilian life."
That is an unlovely phrase. It is vital that these facilities should be really effective. We owe a moral debt to the men whose chosen careers are to be destroyed. This debt must be paid in full, not merely for their own sake or for that of their families, but for the morale of the Service as a whole and the reputation of the House as their employers.

This is a matter which has already caused concern to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) and to other hon. Members who have RAF stations, such as Brize Norton and Thorney Island, in their constituencies. Those hon. Members may find it rather ironic that the Armed Forces of the Crown are evidently the only areas of public employment where overmanning is not tolerated, let alone encouraged. It may be right that the judgment should be as it has been in this case, but if it has to go that way there is most certainly a duty which must be discharged, and we look to the Minister to tell us this afternoon what he has done and what he intends to do—it may be that this will need to extend over a year or so ahead—to keep faith in this matter and to ensure that those who are to be declared redundant get the fullest possible chance of a second start in their working lives.

Only two matters remain. First, I should briefly but sincerely like to commend the Secretary of State on his success in persuading his Cabinet colleagues to approve the order of Harriers for the Navy. I realise that discussion of this should be deferred until we debate the Navy Estimates, but it would be ungenerous of me to miss this opportunity of telling him what a very sensible decision Conservative Members believe he has taken, even if we are not necessarily convinced that it is totally in accord with the strategy in his Defence White Paper. However, that does not make it any the less sensible, and in some respects it makes it even more sensible.

Secondly, I must put on record our sincere thanks to the men and women of the Royal Air Force for all that they have done to serve our country since we last had the chance to debate this Service. In particular, I should like to pay a tribute to all who were involved in the difficult business of the Cyprus emergency. The RAF played a leading part in the relief operations and in the evacuation of British dependents and civilians—as the Defence White Paper says—
"with the highest order of efficiency and professionalism".
It is ironic that the aftermath of those unhappy events has been to leave Akrotiri as one of the RAF's smallest stations when once it was the largest.

However, perhaps that is all the more reason for our praise of those who have served there and everywhere else at home or overseas in the RAF. It is certainly no fault of theirs and no reflection upon them in any way if we find ourselves compelled to vote against the Government tonight.

4.37 p.m.

At least at the start of my speech I can find myself in accord with the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) in that I should like to record my appreciation of the efforts and achievements of the RAF.

In the 16 months in which I have been in office I have tried to make it my business to visit as many stations and units as I could. I believe that I have succeeded in seeing and speaking to as many as possible of those who are serving in the RAF. Where ever I have visited, whether in Cyprus at the height of the emergency or in recruiting offices, where they have been superintending the entry of further young men into the RAF, the men and women of the RAF have impressed me enormously. They are intelligent, realistic, keen and dedicated and, above all, they are loyal. Though everyone is in some way affected by the uncertainties of the times, I believe that the young men and women who I have met have performed magnificently. In short, we are very lucky to have people of their calibre in our forces.

It must be said—because it is a restatement of positions that the hon. Member for Woking and I have taken up in past debates and will take up in future debates—that we shall not agree on our central view of the rôle of defence in modern society. I know that no one works harder at his spontaneous quips than does the hon. Member for Woking, but he singularly fails to recognise that defence in a modern society is always a combination of, on the one hand, the arms and the forces that are provided to defend that society and, on the other hand, the quality of the society itself. If one is unduly represented at the expense of the other, it fatally weakens the total defence effort.

This is why, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) said, it is no good the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner), in weekend speeches, in the vivacious way that we know so well, calling for cuts in public expenditure of £4,500 million, whereas in fact what he is calling for is a cut much nearer £5,000 million, the extra £500 million made necessary to cover the additional proposals for expenditure on defence instead of maintaining the present level of defence expenditure.

To make the position perfectly clear, is the House to understand that in the Minister's view nationalisation is a contribution to the quality of society?

If the hon. Gentleman wants me to be absolutely frank, yes, it is. In any event, it throws a curious light on his ability as a mathematician to suggest that we should immediately make cuts in public expenditure on proposals where no money has yet been nor will be expended for some years.

I had hoped that the previous defence debate had in a sense cleared away the more general areas of disagreement and permitted us to look at this particular Service.

I would rather develop this point. I will give way to the hon. Gentleman later, if he wishes.

Inevitably, as I said, the Defence Review has cast its shadow over this debate. I would merely point to the one decision which, in my view, is central to the whole argument today. That is the deliberate choice that we made in the Defence Review that henceforth we would increasingly concentrate our defence efforts where we conceived them to be most important to us—namely, the United Kingdom, the Eastern Atlantic and the Central Region of Europe. I believe that if the correctness of that judgment is accepted, everything which follows for the Royal Air Force is logical. I suspect that, whatever the hon. Member for Woking may say, it is his unwillingness to concede that central judgment which makes him so unhappy this afternoon. It must be so if the Opposition make, as they do, the reduction in the transport force such a central plank in their attack this afternoon.

I repeat that this reduction follows directly from our strategic decision, for so large a transport fleet was rendered necessary by our worldwide rôle. We shall therefore be making a 50 per cent. reduction in the fixed-wing element of this force in the next year, which will bring its total strength down from 115 to 57. The rundown will be synchronised with the withdrawal of forces from overseas and will take full account of the need to support that withdrawal.

The reduction in strength has already begun with the withdrawal from service of five Andovers and six Britannias, which will be followed by the Comets of 216 Squadron at the end of this month. The remaining Andovers and Britannias will follow towards the end of this year, and the rundown will be complete in the early part of 1976 with the withdrawal of part of the VC10 force.

Cutting by half, despite what the Opposition may pretend, is not the complete removal of the force, nor of the capability. We shall still have a large and powerful capability led by the remainder of the VC10s together with the Belfasts and, as the hon. Gentleman said, a Hercules fleet of 40 aircraft. I would comment, because it was absent from what the hon. Gentleman said, that, even after the reduction, we shall have the largest transport force amongst our European NATO allies. The Royal Air Force will therefore be able to discharge its future strategic and tactical transport roles. It will, as the hon. Gentleman said, be marginally less able to carry out some of the routine trooping tasks, though much of it will remain an RAF responsibility. We shall, however, be increasing slightly the rôle of civil charter in this area, and one new contract has already been put out to tender. The use of civil charter is not new. Certainly in North-West Europe we have used it for troops and families for some time, so there is no room for criticism on a matter of principle there.

Is the Minister aware that those of us who went on a recent visit to the Royal Air Force in Germany heard on a number of occasions how worried personnel there were at this cut-back in the Air Transport Command, bearing in mind the need to reinforce our troops in Germany quickly? Is it likely that air charter planes will be available at a short notice in an emergency?

As I said, we are talking about routine trooping of troops and families. If the hon. Gentleman will be patient for a moment, I think that I can satisfy him on that point. Basically, I have already assured him that we can carry out our tactical and strategic roles with our transport force.

Looking back at the airlift operations undertaken by the RAF in the last few yeas, I agree with the hon. Member for Woking that the magnificant Cyprus operation stands out as the major transport task. The precision and skill of that operation, which I was privileged to witness, earned us the plaudits of the world. I can think of no more graphic illustration of our remaining powerful capability, which we shall retain, than to say that I am advised that we could, if necessary, with a reduced transport force, mount this operation again without significant overstretch. In a large-scale emergency, of course, the RAF can be supplemented from civil resources. But there is nothing new in that. That is enshrined in the Civil Aviation Act, of which the hon. Member for Wokingham and I are fully aware.

I repeat, we retain a transport force which is capable of serving our needs, both actual and foreseen, given the new concentration of resources that we have adopted. I hope that that will take some of the synthetic heat out of hon. Gentlemen opposite.

If, as I have shown, the charge of destroying the capability of the transport force is untrue, there is not a scintilla of evidence to support that charge when the front line in the United Kingdom and Germany is considered. This is the contribution to the defence of the West which will make the greatest impression upon other countries, and it is one upon which I think any responsible Opposition would put most weight.

The present strength of these combat forces is not being reduced at all. Indeed, we are going on with improvements already planned, such as the replacement of the Phantoms by the Jaguars, which will mean that in quantity and in quality our Air Force in Germany will be improved. I do not think that anyone in this House will dispute that the Jaguar aircraft is outstanding amongst the present generation of aircraft in ground attack and reconnaissance rôles.

Coupled with this, the conversion of the Phantoms to the air defence rôle, the modernisation of the tanker force, the plan to introduce an airborne early warning aircraft and improvements in the United Kingdom air defence ground environment will put us in a better position effectively to defend the United Kingdom and the seas around.

My hon. Friend said that it is planned to bring in an airborne early warning aircraft. Is it to be Nimrod?

It is planned to be introduced. Both the Nimrod and the AWACS are being studied as part of the plan to see which is the most effective and most cost-effective aircraft to do the job which we require.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the AWAC, the Boeing E-3A, costs £26 million across the exchanges?

Without going into the figures, because I do not think that we have got to that precision in official discussions yet, whenever one buys foreign there are penalties across the exchanges. This matter will have to be considered in weighing up the suitability of whichever aircraft we choose.

I have just given way. I must be allowed to develop my points. I will give way at a later stage if the hon. Gentleman feels that he must intervene.

We have now redeployed the Vulcans and Lightnings from Cyprus. Although they have maintained their rôle to reinforce the base there, in the meantime, they are available to give direct support to NATO. That is another qualitative improvement in our contribution to NATO.

No. The right hon. Gentleman must be patient. He can make his own speech, and I will respond to it later.

The appointment of Commander-in-Chief Strike Command as a major subordinate commander under SACEUR will not only improve the lines of communication greatly but will enable us to allocate to SACEUR in an emergency significant additional aircraft, including an additional squadron of Harriers from the Operational Conversion Unit and, it is hoped, more Jaguars from their OCU in due course. Therefore, the picture being painted, contrary to what is being said, is one not of doom but of a strengthened capacity to help in defence where our help will be most effective in the Central Region of Europe and elsewhere in NATO.

I turn to our maritime rôle, which is another subject to which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Woking referred. Here it is true that there is a planned front-line reduction of strength of some 25 per cent., but that stems—I ask him again to cast his mind back—from the crucial decision we have made concerning the area in which we shall place our defence effort in the future. There are no surplus Nimrods at the moment, and there will be no Nimrods surplus until the agreement with Malta expires in 1979. It is only then—if and when no other role exists for those Nimrods—that there will be any surplus to RAF requirements and any possible sales considered. We already have 24 Nimrods based in the United Kingdom and will retain these numbers. Four more of the employment addition aircraft will be introduced into service and fitted for the maritime rôle.

I can see that the hon. Gentleman is puzzled, but we know that he has a low rate of puzzlement, and if he raises the question of the maritime rôle he must expect it to be dealt with fully and not in the rather grasshopper-like manner in which he flits from point to point.

I thought it was said in the Defence White Paper—and I think the Minister has just repeated it—that there was to be a 25 per cent. cut in the maritime rôle, but, if I understand him, he has just said that there is not to be any cut in the Nimrods. Can he reconcile these two decisions?

If the hon. Gentleman had allowed me to continue—he is rather quick on the trigger—I should have made it clearer that the surplus to maritime requirements is dictated by the expiry of our agreement with Malta. But I am not saying that those aircraft in another rôle would not have a use in the Royal Air Force. That is what I am trying to point out. As I have said, four employment addition aircraft will be fitted for the maritime rôle and four will be delivered without modifications for that rôle. But there are other possible uses for them, such as oil rig surveillance, where we are studying what is the most appropriate aircraft for the task, and possibly—and here I come back to my hon. Friend's point—airborne early warning.

We are proud of the position of Nimrod as a long-range maritime patrol aircraft, and to keep it in the forefront it will shortly undergo extensive modernisation. Improvements to its communications equipment have already begun, and for the purposes of cost effectiveness this work will be combined with major routine servicing. As the modernisation programme builds up, spare aircraft will therefore be needed to support the front line, and here, too, the Malta and employment addition Nimrods may have a use. Once again, as I have said, in this rôle there is a picture of planned improvements being maintained.

Is it not a fact that a very substantial proportion of the Russian submarine contacts in the Mediterranean are made by the Nimrod squadron based at Malta—largely because this is a very effective aircraft, as the hon. Gentleman says—and have we not gravely weakened the NATO Alliance by withdrawing them from Malta at a time of ever-increasing Russian naval activity in the Mediterranean?

The agreement ends in 1979 and not today. Secondly, there must also have been a feeling that Malta was dispensable when the noble Lord. Lord Carrington, in the previous Conservative administration, prepared to, and did, pull out all military troops from Malta. As I have said, the area in which we believe we can play the most effective part in the future is the Central Region and the Eastern Atlantic, together with our own air space. In those areas the Nimrod will be as effective as ever, and enhanced by the improvements being made to it.

The hon. Gentleman based his whole thesis earlier on the point that the nation's defence also depends on the quality of life in this country. I think he was trying to justify the reduction in expenditure on this force. Will he agree that it is not so much the quality of life in this country that matters as the force against which we are likely to be deployed? It is that which determines the size and efficiency of the force which we are required to produce to back up NATO.

This is a point which the hon. Gentleman constantly makes in defence debates, which is perhaps my reason for not giving way to him earlier. As the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said in the last defence debate, no Government in this country builds up a defence programme by totting up the possible threats to security and meeting the bill on such threats. A compromise is always reached, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said, between the needs of defence and the proper needs of other spending Departments. In fact and in practice all Governments carry out this sort of compromise, and if the hon. Gentleman disagrees with me on that he disagrees no less with his own party when they are in office.

The MRCA is to continue at the planning requirement of 385, and although its delivery is to be re-phased, it still occupies a central position in our plan. I will turn my attention in more detail to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Woking when I wind up the debate, but let me tell him that the air defence variant is still completing its project definition stage. We hope to be able to have an assessment of that by about the end of the year. Certainly that is proceeding.

As I tried to tell the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) at Question Time today, there are always snags with a new project, and it is perhaps unfortunate that all this is taking place in the bright glare of publicity surrounding this aeroplane. We hope that the difficulties encountered are in no way inordinate in relation to other comparable projects.

Another major plane project which will go ahead is our purchase of the Hawk, so that fast jet training in the Royal Air Force will now be planned around two aircraft, the Jet Provost and the Hawk. This debate is about the capability of the Royal Air Force, and the gravamen of the Opposition charge will be seen to have disappeared when the facts are studied—if they are to be studied—by Opposition Members. If they want to divide the House—thereby taking what is not only a very unusual step in a single Service Estimate debate but a unique step for the official Opposition—they will have to put up a very much more convincing case than they have advanced so far to justify them in their fit of spleen later in the evening.

Far from saying that the Defence Review has had no effect, I should like to single out two questions as being worthy of mention in this connection— first, the question of stations, and, secondly, that of personnel.

The closure of the 12 stations will concentrate more of the RAF activity on the larger stations, in which there has already been extensive capital investment, in order to maximise the use of those facilities. Although such measures can be overdone, it is part of a process which has been going on for many years. Looking back 20 years, hon. Members will see that the number of airfields then open was many more than it is now. It is a continuing process, and it has been accepted—albeit with some reluctance—by the localities concerned.

But again I make the point which has been made in previous debates that the closure of an RAF station does not necessarily mean the end of its Service use. The Army, in particular, needs to replace some of its hutted camps by modern facilities. The Services are examining their needs urgently, but even with the utmost good will, it will not always he possible to dovetail the requirements, and the RAF redeployment cannot be deferred if we are to achieve the Defence Review savings. However, I can promise that all three Services will do what they can to minimise the disruption and the interruption of civilian employment.

The most significant effect to the RAF, however, is the effect of the Defence Review on Service personnel. The Review led us to the conclusion that, with its new tasks, the RAF needed to reduce its manpower by 18,000. We were determined that redundancies should be kept to an absolute minimum, and therefore we started immediately to adjust our recruiting intakes in anticipation of the outcome of the Defence Review decisions. This has already reduced the strength from about 100,000 to 95,000, and we hope, by wastage and by restrictions on intake, to effect 14,000 of the total 18,000 reduction in personnel. But some redundancy, totalling about 4,000, was necessary because wastage and recruiting restrictions could not succeed by themselves within the time-scale and within the categories needed.

Our big surplus in aircrew came in the main from the reduction of the transport force. There, some 600 to 700 officers in the General Duties Branch and 100 airmen aircrew will be made redundant, in addition to some 200 other officers in ground branches and about 3,000 ground tradesmen.

For most categories, the scheme is based on an initial call for volunteers, with powers of compulsion should the numbers and types of volunteers prove to be inadequate. Most of the officers, all the airmen aircrew and about one-third of the airmen redundancies were included in the categories announced in March. For the most senior officers in the General Duties branch, redundancy was wholly compulsory. For the remaining categories—that is to say, officer aircrew of the rank of squadron leader and below, all ground branch officers and all airmen aircrew—I am pleased to say that the number of volunteers covered the redundancies required. There will therefore be no need to resort to compulsion in these categories.

The number of volunteers was by no means excessive, and this suggests to me that the redundancy terms offered were judged to be just about right. Moreover, the officers and men who will be leaving the Service represent a fair cross-section in terms of quality. There is no mass exodus of our most able officers and men from the Service. I will not disguise the fact that people who have been made compulsorily redundant will feel pain and will be going out into civilian life at a bad time, but I can assure hon. Members that in general a special effort is being made to resetttle aircrew and to prepare them for other careers.

As the hon. Member for Woking said, civil aviation is itself suffering from a surplus and it is not likely that many of the aircrew being made redundant or who have volunteered for redundancy will be absorbed in that way. Nevertheless, we are making special efforts to fit them for other careers. This is a continuing process upon which I hope to keep the hon. Gentleman informed as it goes along.

For the other Service men involved, we tried to remove uncertainty as quickly as possible by saying that no one below the rank of sergeant or who had served for less than 16 years would be affected, nor would any of the WRAF. So, although some uncertainty must persist, especially amongst chief technicians and to a limited extent in three officer branches, that is now at a minimum.

I must say frankly that some of the chief technician redundancies might have happened without a Defence Review. Over the years, and even during the period in office of the last Conservative Government, it was apparent that we were overborne in these ranks in the technical trades, which meant that they had to do jobs below their level of skill and that younger men were being denied proper career prospects because of the clogging at that level. I hope that these measures which the Government have taken will rectify the situation, which was probably as productive of premature release for younger men in the past as it is for chief technicians now. We have to bear in mind the number who were not allowed to extend their engagements beyond the 12-year category simply because there was no promotion ladder up which they could go as a result of the blockage in the chief technician rank.

I have spoken often on the subject of low flying, and I know that hon. Members, to judge from my correspondence, take a particularly keen interest in it. The fact is that, in order to perform the tasks which the RAF has to perform, to evade radar and to have a chance of completing missions successfully, pilots not only have to learn the skill when they are training but have constantly to exercise the skill so that they maintain a high level of proficiency. I believe, therefore, that the arrangements that we have made, which mean that low flying is carried out over half the surface area of the country but where only 5 per cent. of the population live, are necessary to take account first of our defence needs and secondly of the fact that people must not in peace time have their lives unduly disrupted. Additionally, minimum heights and maximum speeds reduce the nuisance that it causes.

These arrangements are kept under continuing review. Last year, a fatal accident occurred between an RAF Phantom engaged in low-level training and a civil crop-spraying aircraft. The accident has been investigated by the Chief Inspector of Accidents. But, none the less, I felt that the occurrence of this accident, although it was the first to happen within the low-flying system, called for a special review of procedures and regulations to see whether any changes could be made in the interests of flight safety.

I announced the result of my preliminary review on 13th June, and, as I said then, we have introduced certain new measures which I believe could be of real and immediate value in terms of flight safety. First we are inviting all civil pilots who are planning to fly at 500 ft. or below to give us advance warning of their intentions. All they will need to do is to telephone the Military Air Traffic Control Centre or one of a number of RAF stations specially nominated for this purpose. This information will in turn be passed to the military aircrew who will maintain a special watch for civil aircraft in the area concerned.

The new scheme will become operative on 17th July and will run initially for a trial period of 12 months, after which it will be reviewed in the light of experience. This will involve consultation with the civil flying organisations who will also be able to comment, should they wish, during the course of the trial period. As this will be a voluntary system, I should like to take this opportunity to express the hope that the civil pilots will cooperate fully with us in order to ensure its success. For its part, the RAF will be taking active steps to promote closer liaison. Major flying stations will contact civil operators and flying clubs in the general neighbourhood both to explain the new procedures and, where possible, to give advance warning of any unusual military activity.

As a further measure, I have decided that in future no military aircraft will undertake low-level training at weekends unless there is prior notification to the contrary, although this rule will not apply to elementary flying training carried out in the immediate vicinity of training airfields. Finally, we are at present engaged in a detailed study to see what can be done to make military aircraft more conspicuous in the air, such as through the introduction of an improved lighting system.

Clearly, the need to camouflage operational aircraft limits what we can do to make aircraft more conspicuous, but it may none the less be possible to improve upon their present conspicuousness. I hope that this scheme will represent a real step forward in the concern for flight safety which we all feel. I think that it would he wrong to underestimate the dangers, because any accident is one too many. But this was the first accident to have occurred within the military low-flying system, and I hope that hon. Members will not be tempted to exaggerate the danger.

This is the RAF as it stands after the Defence Review, faced with the differing tasks now placed upon it. The attitude of the Opposition is unique for a single Service debate. In the major areas of European defence and United Kingdom defence, our front-line and transport forces remain quantitatively strong and qualitatively improved by the measures we have taken. It would be wholly wrong for the Opposition to divide the House on the spurious grounds that they have so far given.

There must obviously be on the part of any Opposition the need intelligently to check and question the priorities which the Government have set. But since this House has approved the Government's central strategy and since the measures announced for the RAF follow that central strategy, I see no good and sufficient reason why the RAF should be singled out for this unique occasion. I hope that the Opposition will, even now, reverse their decision and allow the Estimates to go through unchallenged.

5.12 p.m.

We have been treated to what I would call a soothing speech by the Minister. I had the impression that he was acting like the wise father trying to sooth the nightmarish fantasies of an over-nervous child.

We meet against a particularly sombre background. We are aware that our main potential adversary is increasing in military strength on all sides. We are aware that in the Defence Review we have cut our capability to the extent that our NATO allies have seen fit publicly to criticise us. If they have said this publicly, I can imagine what more colourful language they may have used privately.

We had the even more sombre information this afternoon in response to a Question put by me that there can be no guarantee that there will not be further cuts if the economic situation demands it. I find this a most frightening reflection, especially as we were told that the Defence Review was so carefully planned to meet our requirements and to match our financial responsibilities. If we do have further cuts, it will make mincemeat of that assertion. I greatly fear that we shall place ourselves in an unenviable position.

I simply cannot understand the position of the Government who maintain that we should always bear in mind expenditure in other areas. It seems that defence expenditure falls into a category of its own. Unless we are able to defend ourselves and deter would-be aggressors, it matters little how elaborate the spending may be in other spheres. It goes for nought if we find ourselves being invaded or threatened. I do not understand why the Government do not learn the lessons of history. We have had only too many examples.

Did the hon. Lady take the same view in December 1973 when Lord Barber, the then Chancellor, made a wholly arbitrary cut in the defence budget? Did she vote for that?

We were starting from a higher level. The lower we go, the less room there is for manoeuvre because we are cutting nearer the bone and into the bone. I do not think that is a particularly valid point. I do not accept it at all.

Will my hon. Friend inquire of the Minister whether he thinks that the level of defence spending in those days was one upon which an arbitrary cut should not have been made? That is the point.

I turn now to two points I wish to make in connection with the RAF. The first concerns the Transport Fleet. We have received a number of assurances from the Minister that all is well and that we have no need to concern ourselves because our commitments have been cut down in the far-flung parts of the world and we are therefore able to meet present requirements. I emphasise the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) in his intervention. There is considerable concern in Germany. I was one of those who made the visit to which he alluded, when we dealt with the cuts in transport and the effect that they might have.

I do not pretend to any expertise in these matters. Therefore, the questions I put to the Minister may be considered somewhat simple and naïve. Let us suppose that there is an emergency in the central area and it becomes necessary rapidly to fly out X number of troops to reinforce our position. Is the Minister quite satisfied that this can be done without calling upon civilian aircraft? What length of time does he suppose this might take? As I understand it, the essence of modern warfare is the speed at which it moves.

I would like to know how many hours the Minister envisages it would take to move a given number of troops. Perhaps we can have an answer to that in the ministerial reply. The question of civilian aircraft was specifically mentioned since it was suggested that we could not take over civilian aircraft without some kind of order or permission. I would like to know how long that might take in an emergency.

I come now to the cuts in personnel. Looking at the figure of 18,000 in the Service, which represents an 18 per cent. cut, it can be seen to be a savage reduction in comparison with those being borne by the other two Services. For example, in the Navy and Royal Marines there is to be a 6 per cent. cut while the Army is to have an 8 per cent. cut. I do not imagine for a moment that the RAF was particularly over-staffed before. It has, therefore, taken a particularly severe blow. I suspect that it is suffering from its own earlier attempts to streamline. It is now being asked to make further cuts.

I am not very happy about the manner in which redundancy arrangements are being carried out. The Minister seems to suggest that there is a large voluntary element here. That is not what the White Paper said. The White Paper said that it was largely compulsory. I fail to understand why it should not be possible for the scheme to be made wholly voluntary, at any rate in the first stages, with the Government holding the trump card of making the final decision about who should go and who should stay. As it is, I suspect that we shall end with the extraordinary position of those who would not mind being made redundant staying put and those who desperately want to remain in the Force being made redundant. I hope that we can have some information about this later.

I would also like to know about what I describe as the hidden costs. As I understand it, training of RAF personnel is an extremely expensive business. I would be interested to know what it represents in training costs to make redundant the 4,000 men and 800 officers who are to go within the next 18 months. I would like to know what would be the additional cost of offering them redundancy payments.

I am not very happy about this question of recruitment. The White Paper says:
"We shall not therefore relax our recruiting effort and will continue to provide full and worthwhile careers for all those who enter."
I would suggest that any young man or woman thinking of entering the Service might well think twice in the light of the current redundancies.

I was not best pleased to receive an extremely glossy magazine sent out by the Secretary of State dealing with British policy and the rôle of the Services. It was apparently intended as an inducement to recruitment. I suggest that those made redundant would look askance at the point about offering a worthwhile and full career when they see their own careers cut off in full flight.

I am disturbed about the line we are taking with regard to the RAF. We are in danger of cutting not simply near the bone but right into the bone. If, as I hope, we decide to divide the House tonight, that will be an indication of the Opposition's deep concern about the effect of Government policy.

5.11 p.m.

At Question Time we heard the Secretary of State rebuke my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), saying that he should know that the Treaty of Rome had nothing to do with defence. At one level, that is true. I suppose that it is fair to score such points. At another level, we know that there are momentous arguments with which we should be dealing. This debate should be partly about the future of the European aircraft industry—whether, indeed, Europe will have an industry to talk about at all. Any military commitment and military expenditure is inextricably bound up with that crucial question, of industry and employment.

I should have liked to hear the Under-Secretary say a good deal more about the F16 episode and why there is to be a major European purchase of American aircraft. I hope that the Minister will deal with that subject when he winds up the debate.

Like others, I am increasingly fascinated by this episode of the late General Stehlin, at least as I read it in the European Press. This is an incredible story for those who started out of curiosity and who have become intrigued with it. Critical defence issues arise out of it, not least for us British.

I first ask why the Belgians have opted for an American aircraft rather than the MRCA. Did they do so because they supposed that the MRCA was deficient for its rôle? If not, why was MRCA not preferred?

I should like to know what is to be our future relationship with France. It is clear that the French, having received this rebuff, will try to sell the F1E in overseas markets. It would be uncharacteristic of the Dassault firm if it did not at least make the attempt. But the French will be faced with a very different issue if they go ahead with the ACF, the advanced combat aircraft, as a rival to the MRCA. I should think that it would be absurdly costly for the French to do that.

Granted the MRCA rôle is central to the RAF, what efforts are the Government making, in the light of the Belgian rejection, to bring France into the MRCA project? Of course, French industry would have to be involved with current and future development. Yet any rivalry between the ACF and the MRCA would seem ludicrous from the European point of view. Can we be told what has been said on these matters in the Eurogroup, of which my right hon. Friend is currently chairman?

My hon. Friend has boasted, probably rightly, about the technical success of the Jaguar project. In that case, in the light of that experience, why do we not cooperate with the French, on the basis of the Jaguar experience, over MRCA? Whether it was right to go ahead with the MRCA in the first place is a different question. However, we are now so far advanced that it is difficult to put the clock back, even if that were desirable which I personally doubt.

I relate my remarks to what the Secretary of State said at Question Time about the two-way stream between America and Europe. The existence of a two-way stream presupposes the existence of a thriving European aircraft industry, whose future must be in some question, in the light of the acceptance of the F16 by some of our partners.

My second issue is of a technical nature. It concerns the airborne early warning system. There exists a new generation of long-range Soviet aircraft. That is an uncomfortable fact. Some of my Friends and I find it distasteful to face the fact that there is an increased requirement for an airborne early-warning system. If that is not the case, we must ask the Russians why they are going to the expense of making a new generation of long-range aircraft. We must put this matter to our Russian contacts, who, while they are candid on many issues, are less than candid on this than on others.

The 12 Shackleton aircraft, which are old and vulnerable to electronic countermeasures, must be replaced. A question on that matter was asked by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow). I ask it again. Is there to be a replacement for the Shackleton? I know that Nimrod is being considered. Should we take the American option, AWACs, we would need between 30 and 36 Boeing 3A aircraft, which cost at least £26 million each. We can work out that figure in terms of foreign exchange and what such a purchase would mean to the European aircraft industry. Therefore I hope there is no question of going ahead with the purchase of American AWACS.

On a related Nimrod issue, the hon. Member for Woking said that the decision to withdraw Nimrod from the Mediterranean was inexcusable. Strong language! Was there any pressure from our NATO allies or from any European country against the withdrawal of Nimrod from the Mediterranean capability? If so, on what grounds was that objection lodged? I am sceptical whether our NATO partners even privately are as angry as the Opposition seek to make out. I do not regard this as a yaboo debate, and I cannot imagine why they are dividing the House.

Thirdly, we must take on board the point about the fuel costs of an aircraft with a convincing capability. Those costs are enormous. That is why I interrupted earlier when training was being discussed. Reserves must be trained and kept up to date. That is costly in terms of fuel alone.

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Woking about the availability of aircraft. But my point is that fuel costs are rising in terms of volume and price. This is the most important consideration.

What research is being done on aircraft fuel for the machines of the late 1980s and 1990s? What research is being carried out into liquid hydrocarbon fuel? Liquid hydrogen has been manufactured, handled and used safety in large quantities on manned space programmes. I understand that there are great difficulties in incorporating liquid hydrogen into existing small combat aircraft. On the other hand, I am told that it is within the range of possibility for bigger aircraft.

What attention are project design teams giving to this matter, especially in relation to wind tunnels, one of which McDonnell Douglas has already started. Liquid hydrogen is the cleanest burning of all fuels, and at any rate for larger aircraft should not be laughed out of court. But it has to be faced that the air forces of the world by the late 1980s or the 1990s will be in great trouble because of oil consumption. Not all of us have the geographical good fortune to be living over oil wells in the North Sea or anywhere else. I couple this with the hope that we shall hear in the winding-up speech something about the Government's philosophy on the training of reserves.

On North Sea protection, I realise that my hon. Friend the Minister did not have time to go into detail about the surveillance rôle of Nimrod. Those of us who have had the good fortune to fly in a Nimrod from either Kinross or St. Mawgan know the plane's capabilities. It is a major anti-sabotage aircraft which can be used to solve some of our worries about North Sea defence.

On VSTOL, I welcome the decision to go ahead with the maritime Harrier, but are we not on a technological plateau? What is being done to develop VSTOL techniques for civil purposes? Only five years ago many of us thought the VSTOL was a major project. Perhaps I might have my hon. Friend's attention. I take the view in these debates when comparatively few hon. Members wish to speak and the speeches are fairly short that we are entitled to put serious questions to the Minister. Given that there is a substantial potential for civil VSTOL, which was the darling proposition of the mid-1960s, what is being done to develop VSTOL techniques in a civil capacity?

I have two questions to ask on sales. Is there any proposal for the maritime Harrier to be sold to Iran? Would that he a package deal on the basis of the availability of a ship, for the Shah, such as HMS "Invincible". If so, will the Government tell us what they intend to do about it? It seems to some of us to be an exceedingly expensive operation for us to have a one-off through-deck cruiser, and that we might cover design and overheads by sales.

My second question is on the Diego Garcia base. Until recently we thought that this was simply a matter of allowing the Americans to use the mid-Indian Ocean atoll for their own purposes. Like many of my hon. Friends, I am strongly against the militarisation of the Indian Ocean against the will of the littoral States, particularly Sri Lanka and India. On the other hand, that is a message which might also be conveyed to the Russians. I hope that this matter will be put strongly to the Russians in our talks with them and that it is made plain that their policy as well as ours and that of the United States is against the wishes of the littoral States.

Finally, I ask a question of philosophy. These days we have unending competition to build on the latest scientific and technological knowledge in the effort to have weapons systems which will not be outmatched by those of a potential enemy. Every step that is taken becomes more demanding technologically than the one that has gone before. For a country such as ours, the line surely has to be drawn somewhere. We cannot go on to ever more sophisticated and more expensive techniques. So I ask my hon. Friend where he thinks the line should be drawn in relation to discussions with any potential adversary, and what the Eurogroup or the combinations we now have with our European partners will do about this central question. It makes multilateral arms agreements all the more urgent.

5.35 p.m.

The Minister referred to the withdrawal of the Vulcan and Victor squadrons from Cyprus. I sought to intervene at that point to ask him a question, but he brushed me aside and said that if I were lucky enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye I could make my point known. As I have been lucky enough to do so, I shall now refer to this matter.

The V bomber squadrons in Cyprus provided the only tactical nuclear backing to the CENTO Treaty. I am not clear how far this has been replaced, or in what way. I do not wish to ask for a public explanation of the details, but I should like to know whether any provision has been made for an adequate substitute for the forces that were there.

My main reason for intervening in the debate is to mention a matter on which the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell touched in his opening remarks, that is, the recent Belgian decision about the re-equipment of the fighter side of their air force. This highlights the central problem of procurement in the NATO alliance. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten us on this when he winds up the debate.

I understand that there was no clear operational requirement laid down by NATO as to what the Belgian Air Force should seek to buy. Is this so? The two aircraft which were competing—the French aircraft and the American aircraft—were of quite different performance types. The Dassau French aircraft was an interceptor with a high interception capability and a very limited ground attack capability. The American aircraft had virtually no interception capability and a rather limited ground attack capability.

A strong case could have been made for the Jaguar as having a very powerful ground attack capability. A case was put forward—and I dare say it was put forward by the Secretary of State for Defence—for a two-aircraft solution, the Jaguar for ground attack and the French aircraft for interception, if interception were needed. A strong case could also have been made for the MRCA which, although primarily expensive, would have been available in about the same time scale as the American aircraft. As I say, the MRCA is expensive to buy. But we know something about the costs of American aircraft, which include not only the more dubious salesmanship practices to which the American aircraft industry is accustomed and which have been referred to in recent Congressional hearings, but also the high cost of spare parts which is charged to customers.

Did our industry press hard enough for a Jaguar solution, or a Jaguar cum F1 Dassau solution or for the adoption of the MRCA? Did the Government press hard enough? There is an impression in aircraft industry circles, and indeed in Europe, that because we were hesitating about the referendum and our general attitude towards Europe, we did not press as hard as we might have done for the sale of these aircraft.

A special responsibility here rests upon the Ministry of Defence, and not just on the procurement branch of the Ministry. The Air Staff of the Royal Air Force, along with the American Air Staff, remain by far the most experienced in the Western Alliance. They alone have a continuity of experience stretching right back before the war, through the war and into the post-war perid. Were they enabled to bring their influence to bear on Belgium and similar European countries in determining the right operational requirements? Was their voice properly heard in NATO, and was any attempt made by us in the Eurogroup or elsewhere to determine the operational requirements? The problem is one of some urgency.

Although we have confidence in our American allies, we must realise that we are looking a long time ahead. Defence problems take the best part of a decade to mature. I think we all feel that we cannot rely indefinitely on American supply or on American presence. There should be a European procurement programme for the European branch of NATO. Of course, it would be ideal to have a reciprocity arrangement with the Americans whereby they bought things that we made and we bought things that they made. But in four years as Sec- retary of State for Air and Minister of Aviation I never succeeded in getting anywhere along those lines. I do not know that anyone else has done much better since in getting any real reciprocity with the Americans as regards procurement.

Does my right hon. Friend think it unreasonable for NATO to buy aircraft that are made by a NATO country when the argument that he is putting forward presupposes that NATO should buy aircraft from a country that has decided unilaterally to stay outside that grouping in defence terms?

Perhaps I have not made myself clear. I was not advocating that the Belgians should have bought the French aircraft. On the contrary, I was saying that as far as I can see the French aircraft is an interceptor and does not conform to the admittedly very sketchy operational requirement for a ground attack aircraft. I am not in the least advocating that the Belgians should have bought the French aircraft. I am trying to advocate that there was a strong case for buying Jaguar, which is a better ground attack aircraft than the American design which is still on the drawing board, or better still the MRCA, which although more expensive would have been far superior to the American aircraft to which the Belgians are now apparently committed.

We must have a certain caution in all these matters. But I believe that we must create a European defence industry based primarily on the technology of this country and that of France. Of course, there are big political difficulties in regard to France to which my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) has adverted, but I am sure that with good will they can be overcome. What is tremendously important is that there should be a clear definition of the operational requirements of all the NATO countries that are buying aircraft. That was the main point of my intervention.

The Minister has criticised my right hon. Friend and hon. Friends for proposing to divide the House. I think that his own speech provided the best justification for doing so. The Minister made it clear that there is an essential difference on strategy between Government and Opposition as regards the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean. This is expressed primarily in the cuts which are being applied to the Royal Air Force. I do not think the Minister can be surprised if we find ourselves in opposition to those cuts, which strike fundamentally at the root of what we believe should be Britain's world strategy.

5.43 p.m.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) in his belief that at some stage there should be, and the sooner the better, a European procurement agency. I developed that point in the debate that took place last week on the Army. It is very important that France should agree to such a proposal. I would have thought that some initiative from France is required before we can achieve such an agency.

I respond in the very short contribution that I wish to make to the Minister's appeal that we do not deal with general strategy but concentrate on the rôle of the Royal Air Force. I thought that what was missing in the Minister's speech was an attempt to deal with that very question—namely, the role of the Royal Air Force in this country's present defence effort.

It is my impression that the Royal Air Force is almost a force in search of a rôle. It seems that in the reassessment of its position it is virtually ancillary to the other Services. For the sake of morale in the Royal Air Force I would have thought it necessary in the long term for the Ministry of Defence to spell out much more clearly the RAF's rôle.

That brings me to the matter that has been referred to already—namely, the North Sea and its general surveillance. That matter has never been dealt with in any detail by any Minister from the Dispatch Box, yet it is of vital importance. Clearly our oil interests in the North Sea have added to the importance of the North Sea, but it is also the direct route from the Soviet Union. By now we should have had set out in much greater detail the steps that are being taken by Great Britain, and particularly the rôle of the RAF, in the surveillance of the North Sea.

For example, how many patrols take place? We know that there is a helicopter stationed at Prestwick and that one or two other aircraft carry out general patrols in the North Sea, but there have been many incidents, and one or two specific incidents in the past couple of years lead us to suppose that the surveillance is very much short of what it should be.

Clearly there is an important rôle not only for Nimrod but for vertical take-off aircraft. Surely the vertical take-off aircraft will be able to alight on and take off from some of the platforms in the North Sea as well as helping with an early warning system. I should like to hear the Government spell out how they envisage a developing rôle for the RAF and the integrated services of the other forces as regards the North Sea.

I understand that the Andover aircraft is being phased out of the RAF transport section. It seems that a minor but important rôle that the RAF has played very successfully has been the carrying out of relief operations in various parts of the world. I always understood that the Andovers had been particularly useful in that respect. Is it sensible for the Government to do away with all these aircraft? Obviously they carried out many other functions, but disaster relief in different parts of the world has provided valuable experience quite apart from anything else. I should like the Minister to deal with that matter in greater length.

I have only one other point to make although in general I agree with the Government. If there is a vote this evening I shall be voting with the Government.

In fact, I have heard every one of the Government's recent defence speeches. The hon. Gentleman should take care what he says from a sedentary position.

I deal with a totally different matter, on which I have been in communication with the Minister—namely, the low-flying aircraft to which my part of the world is subjected. I and my constituents appreciate the need for air crew to be trained in that way, but it is a matter of relief to know, as far as I understand it, that there will be no weekend flying. But what is "weekend" in this parlance? Perhaps the Minister will tell us about that.

I have had a case in my constituency where two animals died as a result, without any doubt, of low-flying aircraft. A pony was found embedded in a fence of barbed wire following the passage of a low-flying aircraft and a bull calf was found dead 40 or 50 yards away on the very same day. The farmer was unaware of the procedure which had been agreed between the National Farmers' Union and the Ministry and as a result has received no compensation, although he has lost a valuable pony and certainly a commercially valuable bull calf several months old. I have been unable to get any satisfaction from the Ministry of Defence on this matter and I have handed over the file to the NFU Parliamentry Committee which met the commission yesterday on the subject.

Unfortunately, the farmer and his wife did not know the procedure and were too late in calling on the services of a veterinary surgeon. They thought it obvious that both animals had died following flights by low-flying aircraft. They did not know that a procedure had been agreed with the NFU. By the time they were told about it a couple of weeks had elapsed, and therefore the Claims Commission was unwilling to entertain the claim. If such a case had come before a civil court on a balance of probabilities, without any doubt the farmer would have been able to establish his claim.

It is bad enough to live in an area where one is constantly subjected to the disturbance of low-flying aircraft, even if such flights are necessary for the defence effort of the country, but it is very much worse when it gets round in a farming community that a farmer who has lost two valuable animals has been awarded no compensation at all. It is a matter of red tape. In the end it boils down to the question: how can anybody judge such a claim unless he sees the farmer and knows what kind of man he is, or speaks to people who know him and is thereby able to judge for himself whether it is a proper and valid claim.

I hope that the Minister will deal with this matter since it is a matter of importance in an area such as ours—namely, a hill area where many farmers bitterly complain about low-flying aircraft but learn to live with the situation and to tolerate it. It undermines their morale considerably when they hear of such a case. The Ministry has made a great mistake in not dealing far more sympathetically with that claim.

5.54 p.m.

I wish to deal briefly with four points. First, I wish to draw attention to the fact that we have had no statement in Parliament so far on the U2 aircraft at Wethersfield. The House has had no opportunity to discuss this important matter. The arrival and use of five aircraft at Wethersfield was concealed. Extra security was applied at the air base and the matter came to light only because it was disclosed by an alert local reporter. It has subsequently emerged that one aircraft during one part of its flight was only six seconds' flying time from the East German frontier. Does the Minister regard such a flight as wise at a time when we have hopes of a relaxation of tension—indeed, on the eve of three international peace conferences?

These aircraft have the whole of the United States in which to practise. Why pick such a sensitive area for their operation?

I maintain that the flight was provocative and that some military gentleman—I know not who—deliberately wanted to sabotage the peace talks this summer. That may be a strong charge to make, but we all remember the Gary Powers flight in 1963, when his U2 aircraft was shot down over Russia. That incident wrecked the 1963 summit conference. I hope to goodness that the flight to which I have referred will not wreck this year's peace conferences.

Does the hon. Gentleman take the same view about the dangers to world peace which arise when Russian so-called trawlers come within the prohibited safety zone near oil rigs in the North Sea?

Certainly. The hon. Gentleman should know me well enough to realise that I do not oppose military moves by NATO without equally opposing military moves by Warsaw Pact countries. A few more seconds and that aircraft could have been shot down over East Germany and we could have had a repetition of the 1963 fiasco.

There are one or two questions which I should like the Minister to answer. Was permission given to the United States Government by the United Kingdom Government before the U2 aircraft arrived in our country? Was it discussed with the United States Government? Was advance permission given to the United States Government to use those aircraft—based in Britain—so near to the frontier in the heart of Europe? Will the Minister ask the United States Government to remove those aircraft before any more damage is done?

Next, I wish to refer to the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence this afternoon at Question Time, on the subject of arms cuts. There are no cuts in arms spending. The Minister has admitted that our arms spending, in real terms, will increase by £200 million a year within the next two years and will stay at that plateau, in real terms, over the next seven years. God knows what that means in terms or inflation. We know that there will be a cash increase of £900 million this year.

I was sorry to hear the Secretary of State merely repeat a spurious argument which has already been disposed of. He talked about vast savings of hundreds and even thousands of millions of pounds. He well knows that such a saving is in relation not to current spending but to what might have been spent by a Conservative Government—although I doubt whether that Government would have been able to put that plan into practice in 1973.

It is similar to a man going home to his wife and saying "I have saved you £2,000." The man's wife replies "But you have just bought a car." "Ah, yes," says the husband "but I intended to buy a Jaguar and instead have bought ony a Mini. Therefore. I have saved you £2,000." That is a completely false argument, and there is some parallel with the current situation.

Conservative Members are saying openly—indeed, the hon. Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett) said it only last week—that they would cut public spending on housing, pensions, education and health but would increase the spending on arms. I must tell my hon. Friend the Minister, and, through him, my right hon. Friends in the Government, that the Labour movement will not take that line. There are rumours that in the next few weeks there will be serious cuts in social spending. I hope that the Minister will convey to the Cabinet the view that some Labour Members will oppose social spending even by a penny—and certainly if that happens before arms are cut, as we promised as a party to cut in our election manifesto.

I turn to the subject of the sale of arms, of which there are two recent and alarming examples. I believe that arms exports in general are a dirty business. It is one export we do not want. It increases world tension, and involves a moral issue. Human life must come before profit. We should be switching military exports to civilian exports and following the example of Japan, which has captured world markets because it exports no arms at all.

Consider the two recent cases. The first is the proposal now under discussion—I was told by a Minister yesterday that no decision has yet been taken on it—that we should sell £450 million-worth of arms to Egypt. At the same time, we have been selling hundreds of millions of pounds-worth of arms to Israel, including Chieftain tanks.

What is happening? America is selling arms to Israel. Russia is supplying arms to the Arabs. And we are busy flogging them to both sides. There is something disgusting about profits being made out of men slaughtering one another with arms sold them by firms in other countries.

A serious contribution towards ending the war in the Middle East could be made if the Big Four—Britain, France, America and Russia—said "We will impose an embargo on all arms supplied to the Middle East". In the meantime, Britain should give a lead by contracting out. It will be argued that this would be costly to our exports. Perhaps it would. However, if the Middle East war recommences, it could become the third world war, and