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Commons Chamber

Volume 931: debated on Wednesday 4 May 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

House Of Commons

Wednesday 4th May 1977

The House met at Eleven o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

11.5 a.m.

Mr. SPEAKER and the House proceeded to Westminster Hall to attend Her Majesty with an Address.

Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair at half-past Two o'clock

Address To Her Majesty (Silver Jubilee)

I have to report to the House that this House has this day attended Her Majesty in Westminster Hall with an Address, in reply to which Her Majesty was pleased to make a Most Gracious Speech.

Ordered,

"That Mr. SPEAKER'S words in presenting the Address, and Her Majesty's Most Gracious Reply, be entered upon the Journals of this House."—[Mr. Foot.]

Mr. SPEAKER presented the Address to Her Majesty in the following words:

"We Your Majesty's faithful Commons, offer our humble congratulations on the completion of 25 years of your reign. We assure you of our loyal devotion, both to you as our Queen, and to your Royal Family. We wish to express our profound and heartfelt gratitude for the selfless and unstinting service you have so freely given to our land.

Your distinguished reign has covered a period of tumultuous change. When you ascended the Throne this ancient Parliament at Westminster still governed an Empire in which only Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, Pakistan and the then Ceylon—now Sri Lanka—were independent. Today, counting the United Kingdom, there are 36 independent members of the Commonwealth of which you are the Head. Thus your reign has wit- nessed the entire development of the New Commonwealth.

Your faithful Commons watched with pride the heartwarming welcome you received in your recent extensive tour in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, and once again it has been made manifest that your Royal Person serves as a mighty unifying influence in a Commonwealth composed of nations diverse in language, culture, religion and even in forms of Government.

Here at home your 25 years' reign has coincided with eight Parliaments in an era of unprecedentedly rapid change. We are a fortunate people, for our Constitutional Monarchy is a symbol of stability in a changing world. With dignity and grace you, Ma' am, and all the Royal Family, have adapted to the many changes in society. Thus, today, the Monarchy is closer to the people than it has ever been before and it is cemented in affectionate loyalty from the nation as a whole.

As the High Court of Parliament pays its tribute to your Majesty in this historic Westminster Hall, it is well that we should remind ourselves of the proud heritage it is our privilege to protect and to enhance.

During your reign our history has taken a major change of course. From being the centre of a far flung Empire, we have carved out for ourselves a new rôle by becoming working partners with our neighbours in Europe. The legislative powers of the European Economic Community and its institutions have required us to master the difficulties of living in a common system with common rules. This has not been, and is not, a light task, for a country with our proud history, but following in the traditions of our fathers we not only accept change but seek to use it to our advantage.

The character of the British people has not changed. The same adventurous daring, the same quiet courage and the same burning faith in democracy that inspired our earlier generations to high endeavour are all still with us. That is why, as we salute with gratitude the wisdom and the grace that has characterised your reign, we look with confidence to the future.

In the heavy responsibilities you bear and in the arduous tasks you undertake you have been nobly supported by His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, by Her Majesty the Queen Mother, by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and by all the Royal Family.

With deep respect and with abiding affection we offer you the homage of this the Mother of Free Parliaments. It is our earnest prayer that by the Grace of God Almighty you will long continue to be the Sovereign of this land we love so well and to which you are giving a life of such dedicated service.

God save Your Majesty, and give you His blessing, both now and in years to come.

Her Majesty's Reply

Her Majesty's Most Gracious reply was as follows:

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons.

I am deeply grateful for your Loyal Addresses and for the kind and generous words in which the Lord Chancellor and Mr. Speaker have expressed them.

Thank you also for what you have said about my family and the service they have given over the years. You will understand that for me personally their support has been invaluable.

It is appropriate that I should come to Westminster at the start of the Jubilee celebrations in the United Kingdom. Here, in a meeting of Sovereign and Parliament, the essence of Constitutional Monarchy is reflected. It is a form of Government in which those who represent the main elements of the community can come together to reconcile conflicting interests and to strive for the hopes and aims we all share. It has adapted itself to the changes in our own society and in international relationships, yet it has remained true to its essential rôle. It has provided the fabric of good order in society and has been the guardian of the liberties of individual citizens.

These 25 years have seen much change for Britain. By virtue of tolerance and understanding, the Empire has evolved into a Commonwealth of 36 independent nations spanning the five continents. No longer an Imperial Power, we have been coming to terms with what this means for ourselves and for our relations with the rest of the world.

We have forged new links with other countries and in joining the European Economic Communities we have taken what is perhaps one of the most significant decisions during my reign.

At home there are greater opportunities for all sorts and conditions of men and women. Developments in science, technology and in medicine have improved the quality and comfort of life and, of course, there has also been television!

We in Government and Parliament have to accept the challenges which this progress imposes on us. And they are considerable.

The problems of progress, the complexities of modern administration, the feeling that Metropolitan Government is too remote from the lives of ordinary men and women, these among other things have helped to revive an awereness of historic national identities in these Islands. They provide the background for the continuing and keen discussion of proposals for devolution to Scotland and Wales within the United Kingdom

I number Kings and Queens of England and of Scotland, and Princes of Wales among my ancestors and so I can readily understand these aspirations.

But I cannot forget that I was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Perhaps this Jubilee is a time to remind ourselves of the benefits which union has conferred, at home and in our international dealings, on the inhabitants of all parts of this United Kingdom.

A Jubilee is also a time to look forward. We should certainly do this with determination and I believe we can also do so with hope. We have so many advantages, the basic stability of our institutions, our traditions of public service and concern for others, our family life and, above all, the freedom which you and your predecessors in Parliament have, through the ages, so fearlessly upheld.

My Lords, Members of the House of Commons. For me the 25th anniversary of my Accession is a moving occasion. It is also, I hope, for all of us a joyous one. May it also be a time in which we can all draw closer together.

Thank you again. I begin these celebrations much encouraged by your good wishes and expressions of loyalty.

Oral Answers To Questions

Untitled Debate

Before we turn to Questions, may I remind the House that yesterday both questions and answers were inordinately long, and in this place brevity is not only the soul of wit but a mark of wisdom and compassion.

Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Nuclear Disarmament

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Common wealth Affairs if he will approach the, United States Government with a view to furthering nuclear disarmament, in the light of the recent contacts between the United States Secretary of State and Mr. Brezhnev.

We are regularly in touch with our United States allies on subjects related to nuclear disarmament. My right hon. Friend discussed these with the United States Secretary of State when he came to London after his visit to Moscow, and he looks forward to seeing Mr. Vance again later this week.

Could not Britain take an initiative to encourage the doves on both sides? Will the Foreign Secretary tell Mr. Carter that the high hopes that many of us entertained about his early pronouncements have been diminished by his recent SALT proposals, which will discourage rather than help agreement on nuclear disarmament?

I assure my hon. Friend that the British Government, together with their American allies, seek effective multilateral disarmament which can be guaranteed, and we shall work closely towards that with them. It is far too early a point at which to assess the outcome, at the beginning of these vital SALT negotiations.

Will the hon. Gentleman point out to the Foreign Secretary, so that he may point it out in negotiations, that we sometimes fear that the Russians are eagles in doves' clothing when they talk of disarmament? Will he reinforce the point that it must be mutual, it must be balanced, and it must be proper?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the British Government are determined that any disarmament which may be achieved will be guaranteed and enforceable. Future generations will not forgive us for cosmetics in this respect.

I support my hon. Friend in his desire for multilateral nuclear disarmament, in the light of what seems to many of us the declining military value of our own nuclear deterrent, but what value does he currently place on it as an independent military force?

Our position remains unchanged. I think that my hon. Friend is well aware of our position as stated, for example, in the manifesto at the last General Election.

Concorde

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he intends to take to ensure that treaties signed by Her Majesty's Government with the United States Government are honoured in accordance with international law, in the light of his answer to the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington that the United States Government are failing to honour their solemn obligations by refusing to ensure that Concorde can land in New York.

We have repeatedly made clear to the United States Government that we take a serious view of the denial of our rights to operate Concorde at Kennedy Airport. Until the results of the court hearing that began on 28th April are known it would not be appropriate to comment further.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but is President Carter really as powerless as he pretends? If, for instance, California were to declare a 500-mile fishing zone, would the President shrug his shoulders? Will the Minister note that there is an increasing demand in this country and in France, both from members of the public and from workers involved, for positive action, such as the withdrawal of traffic rights between New York and Britain and New York and France in the event that we are denied our legitimate rights?

The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that the Government are well aware of the strength of feeling in this country. Representations have forcefully been made to our American friends on this matter. But we see ourselves as close friends and colleagues of the Americans. We do not, therefore, look to melodramatic action.

As for the hon. Gentleman's point about law within the states, he frequently advocates the principles of the rule of law, and it is the rule of law that is being applied within the states.

Whilst thanking my hon. Friend for that reply, may I say that it is time that the British Government made repeated recommendations to President Carter at the summit meeting? Can my hon. Friend give an assurance that this will be done?

Obviously it is not for me to comment upon what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister may decide to do and when. He has already drawn this matter to the attention of the American Administration, and I am certain that he and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will continue to do so whenever it is appropriate.

Of course, I fully appreciate our close relationship with the United States. But does the Minister of State realise that there is a very strong tendency to believe that the Government are less determined in their action to ensure that Concorde flies into New York than are our French allies?

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, whatever the temptations, any tendency to believe that would be totally ill-founded. The Government are completely committed.

Namibia

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further initiative he proposes in association with other permanent members of the Security Council, with a view to ending the illegal occupation of Namibia by South Africa.

Following a démarche to the South African Government of 7th April the five Western members of the Security Council have begun discussions with the South Africans on how to achieve the aim of early and peaceful independence for Namibia on a basis that will meet with international acceptance.

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that the policy of amiable conversation with Mr. Vorster, plus massive economic support for South Africa from the Western world, has brought no results in terms of the diminution of apartheid or the end of the illegal occupation of Namibia? Is it not high time now that Chapter 7 of the Charter was invoked and that the Western Powers made it clear that they were serious in this matter?

No, I do not think that it would be in our interests to invoke Chapter 7 determinations. They could lead to mandatory economic sanctions against South Africa, which, as I said before, would have not only economic consequences but adverse political consequences for this country, forcing the South African Government totally into a laager mentality and building up even more reactionary and racialist policies than they have at the moment. I think that this unprecedented démarche of the five Western Security Council Powers is one of the best ways of bringing the collective strength of the Western democracies to bear on South Africa, and I am hopeful that it will produce some results.

May we take it that the five permanent members of the Security Council are all agreed that Resolution 383 provides only the minimum basis on which an acceptable formulation of a solution could be found?

I think that the right hon. Gentleman means Resolution 385. It is on the basis of Resolution 385 that the démarche is in fact being conducted. We strongly believe that this offers the best prospect of achieving independence in Namibia.

What value does my right hon. Friend place upon the Turnhalle conference? Does he recognise that some of us would not feel it proper to recognise SWAPO as the sole and authoritative representatives of South-West Africa?

The whole question of the Turnhalle conference and, perhaps more important, the Turnhalle Government is obviously one of the factors that will have to be borne in mind in these discussions. Certainly, if we are aiming to get Resolution 385 implemented, this would require electoral machinery that would allow all the representatives of opinion in Namibia to express themselves.

What does the right hon. Gentleman make of the report in The Times yesterday, which suggested that if open elections are to be proposed for Namibia SWAPO would not agree to take part in them, for fear that it might lose?

It is not for me to comment on reports in The Times. I discussed this question with representatives of SWAPO in Lusaka and I did not find that they were afraid of elections. They wanted to make sure that the elections would be held in circumstances in which they could fully participate and have an effective democratic voice, which is far from being the case at the moment.

Rhodesia

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what prospects he now assesses for a full start to the series of consultations needed to discuss an independence constitution for Rhodesia and any transitional arrangements.

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he has yet decided the venue of the forthcoming conference on Rhodesia.

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he is yet in a position to announce the setting up of a constitutional conference on Rhodesia.

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further discussions he has had to prepare for the successful achievement of a majority-ruled Zimbabwe

21.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement about his constitutional proposals for Rhodesia.

Consultations are continuing with the United States Government and I shall be seeing the United States Secretary of State, Mr. Vance, in London later this week. Following these consultations, an announcement will be made about the next steps.

May I, I am sure with other Members, wish the Foreign Secretary well in these very difficult and intricate negotiations, which I am sure will take some time? In general terms, how optimistic does he now feel about the situation? Does he feel that Mr. Smith's latest television broadcast is a step in the right direction? How concrete will be the joint Anglo-United States chairmanship of a proper conference when it is convened in due course?

It is hard to make an assessment on the basis of optimism or pessimism. The important thing is to keep the momentum going. That means getting into the detail of consultations, without which we cannot have a successful conference. This conference, were it to be called—that is a decision to be taken jointly by the United States and ourselves—would have to be very carefully prepared. I think that, whatever decision we take, there is a great deal to be said for having bilateral discussions of detail.

Will the Foreign Secretary agree to consider personally chairing any future conference that may be held, in order to maximise the prospects of success? Will he also consider inviting political parties representative of opinion in Rhodesia other than the Rhodesian Front?

I have already made it clear that I would chair any conference that might be called. There seems to be some misapprehension about this matter. There has never been a question of co-chairmanship of the conference. I should chair it myself because, of course, if we go to a conference, it may well be more a Lancaster House-type conference, which is a constitutional conference and usually pre-dates a Bill being presented to the House, although another form of conference might be considered. All these points have yet to have firm decisions taken on them, and that is what I shall discuss with Mr. Vance.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Members on the Government side of the House warmly support the Government's decision not to allow the Duke of Montrose into this country? Does he agree that gestures of this sort, although small, are extremely important, in that they show to the people of Africa exactly and clearly in terms of Britain who are on the side of legality and who are on the side of illegality?

I want the situation to emerge in which we have a peaceful transition to majority rule and we can lift all these forms of sanction. I think that the whole House wants this, too. But until we are assured that there will be majority rule in Rhodesia and a real independence for Zimbabwe, in my view it would be extremely imprudent to relax existing sanctions.

I wish the Secretary of State well in his consultations on Rhodesia. Does he agree, however, that the time might now be opportune, in view of the imminent victory of the Scottish National Party at the next General Election, when it will get a mandate for Scottish independence, to enter into consultations a little nearer home about a constitution for an independent Scotland, which my party has already prepared in draft? In the light of the district council election results and the remarks of the Monarch today at the ceremony—

Order. The hon. Lady was not here when I made my earlier remarks about wisdom.

The supplementary question went somewhat wide of Rhodesia, but I am under no illusions that I need all the help I can get, from whatever quarter. I would accept it from the Scottish National Party.

Will the Secretary of State address his mind to the effect that the intended participation by the British Government in the Group of 24 Conference in Maputo may have upon any conference for a Rhodesian settlement? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that it will have an effect, and if it does, or even if it does not, will he answer this specific question: bearing in mind the importance of Mr. Smith and Mr. Vorster in any settlement, have they been informed of intended British participation in the Maputo conference, and, if so, how have they been informed?

That is a decision for the British Government to take. I took the decision to send my hon. Friend to Maputo in the belief that it would be beneficial to the negotiations that are taking place over an independent Zimbabwe and an independent Namibia. It is in that context that my hon. Friend will go, and it is in that context that he will speak of the belief of the British Government that there can be a peaceful transition to majority rule in both those countries. That is what we shall work for.

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that there are two matters for relief? The first is the correction made to Hansard, by his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to the words that the right hon. Gentleman actually used in replying to me yesterday on this self-same subject, in which he said—and I quote The Times—that

"The position of the Government has never been in doubt. We have always said we would give humanitarian and other aid to liberation movements but have never supported the use of arms."
It is interesting to see that the change eliminates the philosophical point of being always committed to such a course, and I think that we are relieved on that account. Will the right hon. Gentleman take note of that?

The Foreign Secretary knows, I think, that his remarks about the conference on Rhodesia are a matter of some relief to us. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Opposition believe that there is an urgent need to have a mission in Rhodesia with a view to preparing a method of consultation of the people in fulfilment of our obligations under Article 5 of our all-party undertakings towards that country?

The question of consulting the people, as in the five principles, is certainly something to which the House will wish to return. It could be done either in the form of the Pearce Commission or in the form of an election. However, that is further down the road—when a constitution has been agreed, or at least much further agreement has been reached than at the moment. We now need to try to demarcate the areas of agreement. We have not made a decision how to proceed or whether to hold a conference, but one thing that is perfectly clear is that any decisions on these matters need to be very carefully prepared.

Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify what the Prime Minister said yesterday? According to Hansard, he said:

"We have given humanitarian and other aid to liberation movements".—[Official Report, 3rd May, 1977; Vol. 931, c. 226.]
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) said just now, The Times reported that the Prime Minister said:
"We have always said we would give…
The version that I heard was:
"We have always said that we would give…"
but, whichever is the authorised version, I do not remember that that has ever been the policy either of the present Administration or of previous Administrations. When did this departure occur? Does it not make us not just accomplices but co-belligerents in the terrorist movement?

There are many United Nations organisations which give humanitarian support and, I suspect, have given it in the time of previous Conservative Administrations, but I shall gladly look into that. It has certainly been our belief that the innocent victims of armed struggles ought not to be excluded from humanitarian relief, and I should have thought that that was a policy that had been agreed by all Members of the House.

I was not here when the Prime Minister made his statement, as I was in the Council of Foreign Ministers, but I think that he was using the words in the sense of humanitarian aid, which is, of course—[Interruption.] These questions as to what the Prime Minister meant would be best directed to the Prime Minister, but his words were clear—that he supported the presence of a British Minister at the Maputo conference as making a contribution—we hoped—to getting a more balanced debate in Maputo on the issue of a peaceful transition to majority rule in both an independent Zimbabwe and Namibia.

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement on the situation in Rhodesia.

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on developments in Rhodesia since his visit to that country.

I have nothing to add at present to the statement that I made to the House on 19th April, although I would refer the hon. Members to my earlier answers today.

Has the right hon. Gentleman given further consideration to the establishment of a mission in Rhodesia? Does he recognise that the establishment of such a mission would help in the preparation for the forthcoming conference and help to restore the balance of opinion in Rhodesia, which must be deeply disturbed by his decision to be represented in Maputo at a United Nations conference but not in Rhodesia?

I do not think that that would necessarily be the opinion inside Rhodesia. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who has a good record in this House for representing black opinion as well as white opinion, will take into account what will be the black opinion in Rhodesia. It is my belief that representation at Maputo will help towards expressing the democratic case for a peaceful transition. I believe that there are many black Africans who would wish that voice to be raised in Maputo.

I have made clear to the House that I am open-minded about the question of a mission, but such a decision must be taken at the right time in negotiations. At this stage, we have not even made a decision whether to go ahead with the conference. We have not yet had the sort of in-depth consultations that may be necessary. At a certain stage it may be helpful to have a mission in Salisbury, and I do not exclude that possibility. I was prepared to go there myself. I am prepared to send officials there under some circumstances. But the question of when and where to establish a mission is a delicate question of timing, and I think that it is premature at this moment.

Since there is obviously a need for an early test of opinion in Rhodesia, could the Secretary of State now address his mind to a matter that he did not mention at all when he made his statement after his return from Rhodesia—namely, the question of Bishop Muzorewa's proposal for a referendum? What are his views on that?

Bishop Muzorewa's proposal for a referendum, if carefully analysed, is effectively a call for a general election, with power then being transferred to the victor in the referendum, which is effectively a transition to a black majority Government, as it would then be. In such terms this, therefore, is unacceptable to Mr. Smith and the Rhodesian Front. What Mr. Smith has proposed at various stages is a referendum, followed by negotiations with the black leaders on a transition to majority rule, or negotiations on a constitution. That has been specifically excluded by Bishop Muzorewa. An internal referendum of the sort proposed by Mr. Smith would not carry conviction, either inside or outside Rhodesia, among black Rhodesian opinion.

Has my right hon. Friend received any further communications from Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Nkomo since their public comments on his constitutional proposals, as many of us believe that a continuing dialogue with them would mean that the rather regrettable statements which they made are not the last word they have to say about the constitutional proposals?

A number of informal and private discussions have taken place which I do not think it would be appropriate to reveal, but I am open at any time to discussions and I certainly welcome my hon. Friend's suggestion of a continuing dialogue. That is what I want, as well as a discussion of the whole question of trying to achieve a transition with an expression of all forms of opinion.

May I press the right hon. Gentleman a little more on the question of a British mission to Rhodesia? Is he absolutely satisfied that it should be bound up with the whole question of the negotiation of the general problem? Might it not be practicable and sensible first to announce that we are re-establishing a British governmental presence in Rhodesia?

I do not believe that it would at this juncture. It is a question of judgment. What it is quite clear is necessary before one can take any of these steps is a realistic assessment of the chances of a successful outcome were one to call a conference, and the general determination, particularly of Mr. Smith and the Rhodesian Front, to achieve a settlement. This is a balance of judgments.

I note that the Opposition think that a mission should be established now. It is my firm view that it would be premature to establish it now. I agree that consultations must take place, and they certainly must take place in Africa at a fairly early stage

Helsinki Final Act

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions have been held between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the British Government representatives on the operation of the Helsinki Agreement as applicable to Soviet Jews.

There have been frequent discussions between representatives of the Soviet Government and of Her Majesty's Government at various levels in which views have been exchanged on all aspects of the Helsinki Final Act. In the course of these discussions the Soviet representatives were left in no doubt about the concern of the British people about human rights and the Government's commitment to seeking full implementation of all provisions of the Final Act by signatory countries.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a great deal of concern among members of all parties in the House about the failure of the Soviet Government to implement the right of freedom of exit and entry as it applies to Soviet Jews? Will the Government put on more pressure on this matter? On a specific case, will the Government discuss with the USSR the question of Anatoly Shcharansky, who, having been harassed for about four years and having served 12 prison sentences, has now been arrested and is, we understand, likely to be charged with treason, which carries the supreme penalty, although the charge has not yet been levelled against him?

I share the hon. Lady's concern, as I think the whole House does, about reports of the kind that she mentioned. As she knows, under the Helsinki agreement the Soviet Union has undertaken to facilitate freer movement and contacts, individually and collectively, whether privately or officially. She can take it that the British Government will continue to remind the Soviet Government of their obligations in that respect, in the Belgrade conference and in the preparations for that conference.

Is the Minister aware that the British parliamentary delegation found that the Supreme Soviet were willing to discuss the matter of human rights and of Jewish emigration at considerable length last week? Will he ensure that the Soviet Union knows that this concern for Jewish emigrants is not part of a major campaign to undermine the stability of the Soviet Union but is part of a deep feeling for human rights, expressed by many thousands of individuals in this country?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important to make clear to the Soviet Government that when Western Governments express concern about these matters it is not part of a great attempt to subvert the whole Soviet system. We are attempting to express the views that are very widely held among our people of concern about the human rights questions involved, and we shall continue to try to make that point clear.

I remind the Minister that the Opposition have often pressed the Government to arrange a full debate on human rights before the Belgrade conference. There has been an enormous growth of interest in and concern about that matter both here and in other countries. Will the Minister do his best to persuade the Leader of the House to ensure that we have a proper debate before our representatives go to Belgrade?

We are well aware of the concern that has been expressed more than once in the House to have a debate before the Belgrade conference. It is, of course, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I shall report what the hon. Gentleman said, and hope that it will be possible to have such a debate.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that a number of hon. Members feel that there is little point in going to Belgrade while the Soviet Union behave as they are behaving towards the Jews and other minorities who wish only to exercise their religious and other beliefs within that country? The Russians have made a mockery of the Helsinki agreement, and there is little point in taking it further unless they show their real intention.

I think that it is an extraordinary view that, because of accusations of that kind, it is not worth going to the Belgrade conference. One of the main purposes of that conference is precisely to discuss the implementation of the Helsinki agreement. Therefore, it provides us with an exceptionally good opportunity to express the point of view expressed today in the House on matters of this kind.

Following upon that, would the Minister care to comment on the apparent contradiction in the Helsinki agreement between that part of it which swears that no member will interfere in the internal affairs of another nation and, a few pages later, quite properly, obligates all members to pay special regard towards human rights within their own territories? When in Helsinki, will the Foreign Secretary make sure that the latter prevails over the former?

Perhaps I can correct one or two points in the final part of the hon. and learned Member's remarks. The forthcoming conference will be held in Belgrade, not in Helsinki, and the Foreign Secretary will not attend. The conference will be attended by representatives to be appointed by the Foreign Secretary.

On the main point made by the hon. and learned Gentleman, there is, of course, an inherent contradiction, which affects not only the Helsinki agreement but all discussions on human rights in, for example, the United Nations.

As hon. Members know, Article 2(7) of the United Nations Charter reserves to the member States matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of those States and points out that they are outside international jurisdiction. On the other hand, there are provisions and undertakings concerning human rights.

I should say that the trend in the world today is for us to pay less regard to the old-fashioned rules concerning national sovereignty and to accept that there are certain international obligations in this respect which give us the right to express strongly-held views on such matters.

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to publish progress on Helsinki CSCE agreement prior to the review in Belgrade.

It is certainly the Government's intention to continue to provide Parliament and the public with information on developments as the date of the Belgrade follow-up meetings approaches. My right hon. and noble Friend and officials of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have recently given evidence before the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee on the implementation of the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act. I understand that the Sub-Committee's report will be published in the near future.

In view of the widespread desire in this country to see practical evidence that the signatories to the Helsinki agreement fulfil their obligations, particularly in respect of human rights and the exchange of information and people, will the Minister ensure that the evidence available about the progress of the Helsinki Treaty should be published fully? Does he agree that a debate in this House is essential before the Belgrade review?

We have from time to time published, in answers to Questions and in other ways, information about the extent of implementation at the present time. I understand that that matter was also discussed in the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee, which will, I believe, shortly issue a report. In addition, as I think the House knows, a committee under the chairmanship of Lord Thomson is discussing precisely the question of the degree of implementation of the Helsinki agreement so far. I have already commented on the request for a debate and I will record the hon. Member's concern.

Does my hon. Friend agree that publication of progress—or, indeed, of lack of progress—on Basket III of the Final Act is of immense value to human rights campaigners in all the signatory countries? Does he also agree that we should close our minds to those who say that we should not go to Belgrade or collaborate further in the follow-up conference?

I certainly agree on the latter point, on which I have already expressed my view. The Belgrade conference is in itself a most important event, which gives us a very good opportunity for raising the matters that are of concern to us. I am sure that we shall attend and take no notice of those who say anything different. I agree also that the publication of information is valuable. It must be authoritative information, and we shall consider what can and should be done in that respect.

The House welcomes the Minister's statement that the Government continue to attach importance to human rights, especially in view of President Carter's statement this week that he does not propose to back down on his stand on this issue. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Government are not waiting for the Belgrade conference before making representations to the Soviet Union about breaches of the Helsinki Final Act? What, for example, have the Government said to the Soviet Union about the detention without trial of Mr.Shcharansky and six other members of the Helsinki agreement monitoring group?

I have already expressed my views on the hon. Gentleman's first point. As I have said, we have had continuing discussions at a number of levels with representatives of the Soviet Government about a number of these points. We shall continue that process, and we hope that the Soviet Government will be in no doubt about the strength of feeling that exists on these points.

Zaire

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when a Foreign Office Minister last visited Zaire.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, visited Zaire in July 1975.

Do the Government join the United States Government in paying tribute to the activities of France, Morocco and Egypt in Zaire? Is it the Minister's view that either the Soviet Union or the Cubans have been directly involved in the recent invasion?

There are conflicting reports about the external intervention in the Shaba incident. Our position was made clear last week in the Declaration of the Nine on African affairs. We wish to respect the integrity of every country, especially in the context of the situation in Zaire.

It is not only insulting to the Africans, but extremely dangerous, when non-African powers, such as Cuba, East Germany and the Soviet Union, assist other African countries to invade another African country, thus exacerbating the cold war in Africa?

As I said, and as is contained in the Declaration of the Nine at the recent meeting of Foreign Ministers, we must respect the integrity of and non-intervention in the internal affairs of African countries.

The Minister did not answer the question whether he thought that the French and Moroccans were right in helping Zaire to protect itself against an invasion.

The request by the Zaire Government to the Moroccan Government and the French support was perfectly proper.

Ocean Island

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress is being made in the discussions between Her Majesty's Government and the Australian and New Zealand Governments towards a satisfactory settlement for the Gilbert Islands and the Banabans.

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the Ocean Island situation; and the recent visit of a Foreign Office emissary to Fiji.

Close consultations are continuing with the Australian and New Zealand Governments. Mr. Richard Posnett, the emissary appointed to visit the area and to report to my right hon. and noble Friend, had discussions in Fiji with the Prime Minister and with the Banaban community. He also had talks in the other countries concerned. As soon as our consultations are complete, we will advise the House of their outcome.

I welcome that reply, but does not the hon. Gentleman accept that a satisfactory financial settlement is vital to the Gilbert Islands and to the Banabans, especially when phosphate revenue ceases? Can he give the House an assurance that the Government are seeking the agreement of the Australian and New Zealand Governments about the future of the accumulated reserves of the Phosphate Commission?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the position that will come about when the phosphates are exhausted in about two years' time will create a difficult condition not only for the Banabans but for the Gilbertese. We have been pursuing consultations with the Australian and New Zealand Governments on precisely these questions, including the possibility that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Whilst also welcoming the statement made by my hon. Friend, may I remind him of what he said earlier about accepting certain international obligations in respect of human rights? Will he please apply that to the Banaban situation, bearing in mind that Britain has already been morally condemned for not providing compensation? Will he also let us know how much longer this affair will drag on before there is a solution?

I do not know that I should accept that we were guilty of a great violation of human rights in this case. We are, of course, concerned not about the condemnation but about the amount of criticism by the judge. It is largely for those reasons that Mr. Posnett was sent out to discuss the situation in the area. As a result of that visit, we are now considering what action we should take, and note that the possibilities include some kind of compensation of the kind that my hon. Friend suggested.

Does the Minister recall that five months have elapsed since, in his judgment in the case of the Banabans versus the Crown, the Vice-Chancellor drew the Government's attention to a grievous wrong done to a small and defenceless people, which his court—in his words—was powerless to put right? How much longer have these people to wait before justice is done? Can the Minister give the House a firm assurance that, as the final act of reparation. Her Majesty's Government will heed the Banabans' claim to the separation of their homeland. Ocean Island, from the Gilbert Islands?

I do not think that the judge used the words "grievous wrong", but he did suggest that the conduct of Her Majesty's Government at an earlier period had not, perhaps, been all that it might have been. The hon. Gentleman asked when we would be able to announce a decision. My noble Friend hopes to be able to do so, and a statement will be made in both Houses within the next month or so. The constitutional future of Ocean Island is one of the important matters that have been considered. I think that it can be taken that the statement will cover that point.

Is my hon. Friend aware that this miserable saga is now souring our relations with a friendly Commonwealth country—Fiji? Do the Government appreciate that only a really magnanimous and generous settlement to the Banabans will satisfactorily conclude that saga?

It is true, as my hon. Friend has said, that the Government of Fiji are concerned about this matter. We hope that when the statement is made it will have the effect of finally resolving this long-standing and difficult problem.

Does the Minister accept that the only way to solve the problem is by engendering confidence among all parties and that that process is not assisted by attempts made from official sources, exemplified even this afternoon, to minimise and underestimate a very serious criticism made by the learned judge in the recent proceedings?

I certainly was not intending to minimise the effect of the remarks made by the judge. It is precisely because we take those remarks extremely seriously that we have been having this very intensive consultation and will be announcing a decision that I hope will be satisfactory to everybody in the House.

Chile V Scotland Football Match

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has received about the official facilities proposed for the Chile versus Scotland football international at Santiago; and if he will make a statement.

No official facilities from the Government are proposed for this match, with which they are not in any way concerned.

As the Scottish Football Association is using the threat of disciplinary action to force footballers to play in a stadium which has formerly been used as a concentration camp and which is stained with the blood of countless innocent victims, will my hon. Friend demand that this match be stopped? If the SFA refuse to stop it, will he tell Willie Allan, the reactionary autocrat who runs the SFA, that there will be absolutely no Government hospitality or official facilities at all during the whole of the SFA tour of South America?

As I told my hon. Friend, no official facilities from the Government are proposed for this match. When the Scottish Football Association wrote to me asking for a political assessment, I gave it, as my hon. Friend will know, in very clear terms.

Is the Minister aware that there is deep offence in Scotland at the crass insensibility of the Scottish Football Association in approving this fixture, since it will be taken as tacit approval of a vicious and despotic regime? Will he make his objections more strongly to the SFA?

If the right hon. Gentleman reads the letter that I wrote to the Scottish Football Association giving the political assessment, he can come to no other conclusion about where the Government stand on the issue.

On what grounds of foreign policy or respect for human rights is it bad to play football with Chileans but good to play football with Russians?

I was asked by the Scottish Football Association to give an assessment of the position in Chile, and that is what I gave. It is a perfectly accurate description.

Does the Minister agree that if only countries with democratic Governments were allowed to take part in international football competitions such as the World Cup, Scotland might have more prospect of reaching the finals than she seems to have had in recent years?

The Welsh managed to beat Czechoslovakia very convincingly recently, but I do not know what conclusions one should draw from that. I cannot forecast the success of the Scottish football team in any circumstances.

Does the Minister appreciate that, whatever his hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) may say, those on the terraces who watch football and vote Socialist do not share the humbug that he utters?

The hon. and learned Gentleman ought to realise what deep feeling there is about this visit to Chile, particularly because the game is to be played at the stadium that was the scene of considerable hardship and torture to citizens.

European Community

Passports

28.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what outstanding issues remain to be resolved about the issue of a uniform EEC passport.

There are two main features of the design still to be agreed in Brussels. They concern the layout of the cover and the languages to be used inside the passport. In addition, there are other matters of detail to be discussed with our Community partners.

Will the Minister confirm that the Government remain committed in principle to the issue of a uniform EEC passport? How serious are the particular points that appear to have been made by the German Government?

We are committed in principle, although a lot of practical details have to be finalised. The objections by the German Government to what is proposed are not fundamental. It is a matter of reconciling different outlooks.

Does the commitment remain intact that there will be no change in this matter before there has been an affirmative decision of this House to approve it?

We are agreed that the House should have an opportunity to discuss the subject. While, of course, the timing of the debate must be a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, I can give a categorical assurance that my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, who will be responsible for the decision, accepts that it is proper that the House should be given an opportunity to debate the matter before the Government are finally committed on the issues under discussion in Brussels.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that this proposal is using the Crown's Prerogative? Does he think that it is a proper use of the Crown's Prero- gative in this respect and can he give an absolute assurance that if the House does not give permission, the proposal will not go forward?

Will the Minister clear up one point? He said that the House should debate it. What we really want, on both sides of the House, quite sensibly, is the opportunity to decide the matter and not just to debate it. Will the Minister give that assurance?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman recognises, as I have just said, that this is a matter for the Royal Prerogative—

but we are agreed that the House should have an opportunity to discuss the matter.

Will my hon. Friend make clear whether the EEC passport is to be compulsory or whether there will be an option for a British subject to choose either the EEC or the British passport?

The passport will remain a national one and it will be issued by the British Government. Therefore, every holder of a British passport will have the new passport in due course.

Is this passport to be an alternative to or a substitute for the British passport, which we all want to have?

I do not think, with great respect, that the right hon. Gentleman listened to my last answer. I said that we shall remain responsible for this passport—it will be a national passport—and, therefore, in due course it is anticipated that all people who hold a British passport will hold this passport.

Foreign Ministers

26.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next expects to meet the other Foreign Ministers of the EEC

27.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next expects to meet the other Foreign Ministers of the EEC.

31.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next expects to meet the other EEC Foreign Ministers.

I met my Community colleagues yesterday at the Foreign Affairs Council. I shall meet them again informally at Leeds Castle on the 21st and 22nd of this month.

Yesterday's Council was—and future meetings are likely to be—largely taken up with the preparation of mandates for negotiations which are either taking place this month or due to open shortly. These include the Conference on International Economic Co-operation in Paris, textiles, third country fishery agreements, relations with COMECON, and new trading arrangements with Cyprus. Such mandates are, by their nature, confidential. I shall be meeting three EEC Foreign Ministers at the Downing Street Summit on Saturday and Sunday and seven of them at the NATO ministerial meeting early next week.

When the Foreign Secretary meets his EEC colleagues, will he draw their attention to yesterday's Scottish district council election results? Notwithstanding the unprecedented and ill-advised remarks heard in these precincts today, will the Foreign Secretary tell them that he will probably have the distinction of being the last Foreign Secretary for the United Kingdom as we know it, and that the Scottish people will soon have their own Foreign Secretary to defend their interests in the EEC and elsewhere?

When we met the Foreign Ministers in Brussels yesterday my hon. Friend upheld the interests of fishermen throughout the United Kingdom. Some of these were the interests of Scottish fishermen. My hon. Friend made it perfectly clear to his Community colleagues that feeling was very strong, for example, over the whole issue of the Faroese.

When the Foreign Secretary met his colleagues yesterday, was he able to tell them formally, or informally, on what date the Government will introduce their Bill for direct elections? For their information and that of the House, will the Foreign Secretary give an assur ance that it will be before the Whitsun Recess?

When the Bill will be introduced is a question for the Leader of the House. No formal discussion took place on this subject. There is not the same tremendous interest as appears to be exhibited on the Opposition Benches. A number of member States are not at this moment introducing such legislation. Each member State is taking its own decision on when to introduce a Bill. There is a common belief that Britain is way behind the rest. That is not so.

If my right hon. Friend bumps into Roy Jenkins in the corridor at the Summit Conference during this weekend, will he remind him that in his old constituency and that of his friend at Ashfield the electorate deserted en masse, partly because of Britain's involvement in the Common Market? The victor at Grimsby played the opposite card, to great effect.

Now that the great apostle has gone to Europe—the financial haven—is it not time that the Government understood the feelings of the British electorate and got Britain out of the Common Market altogether?

Unfortunately, I did not go either to Ashfield or to Stechford. I went to Grimsby, and I was glad with the result there.

As for the reference to the two individuals concerned, my hon. Friend knows that they are, and remain, personal friends of mine.

When he sees his European colleagues, will the Foreign Secretary take the lead with them in seeking to establish some sort of Community policy in foreign affairs, particularly in view of the threat to European and United Kingdom supplies of raw materials as constituted by the increased success of Soviet imperialism in Africa?

At the last meeting there was an extensive discussion about the political co-operation machinery on Africa and the issue of a joint statement. There is a great measure of agreement on the whole question of how we should conduct our responsibilities to Africa. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is important that, wherever possible, we should co-ordinate and concert foreign policy in major areas of the world.

Especially in view of his last answer, will my right hon. Friend assure us that, prior to the Helsinki review conference in Belgrade, the views of the Nine on the failure of the Soviet side to live up to many of its undertakings in Helsinki will be considered and that a joint policy of the Nine will be agreed?

Yes. We have had discussion of preparation for Belgrade at, I believe, the last three political co-operation meetings—certainly the last two. I believe that there is a degree of unanimity on this issue which is unprecedented, although it was manifested prior to Helsinki itself.

We are determined that the Belgrade follow-up conference should concentrate on implementation of the Helsinki Final Act and that we should not be diverted to major new proposals—at least not at the expense of implementation. We want to find ways to increase and improve implementation, because the performance has been disappointing. I do not deny that.

Would the Foreign Secretary propose that the Council of Ministers should send a message of good wishes to Spain, not to any particular group but to the people of Spain as a whole, as they enter their first election for a free Parliament in 40 years? Would that not be an appropriate move by the EEC in view of the remarkable progress that Spain has made, in a short time, towards restoring parliamentary democracy?

The nine member States all represent democracy and believe in a strengthening of democracy wherever it occurs. At the last meeting on political co-operation, they welcomed the decision, which had then only recently been made by Spain, to hold fully democratic elections. We believe that it is a significant advance in Europe that there should be an additional democratic European country.

European Assembly Members

28.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with the EEC Council of Ministers about the conditions of service in any directly-elected EEC Assembly.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. John Tomlinson)

These questions have not been discussed by the Council of Ministers but I understand that they are under consideration in the European Parliament itself.

As we have been told by the Prime Minister and by the French that the Assembly, if it is directly elected, will not have any increased powers, and as we know that the present delegates to the European Assembly manage without any salary at all, will the Foreign Secretary make it perfectly clear to the Council of Ministers, regardless of whether the European Assembly is discussing it, that the rumoured salary of £25,000 plus vast expenses is absolutely out of all line with the rate for the job? The House very much objects to it.

The Community's budget procedures are very complicated. The budget of the Parliament is regarded as non-obligatory expenditure on which, within overall limits, the Parliament has the last say. The hon. Gentleman's views will no doubt serve to emphasise to those concerned the need to avoid extravagance in framing the necessary provisions.

Can my hon. Friend say whether the salaries of British Members of this Assembly will be subject to British income tax?

As I am not in a position at the moment to say anything about the provisions—since they have not been subject to ministerial consideration—I am not able to say how those salaries will be taxed.

Direct Elections

29.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the progress of the nine members of the EEC towards direct elections.

I refer the hon. Member to the account given by my hon. Friend the Minister of State during the debate on direct elections on 25th April.

In spite of the fact that the Foreign Secretary has just told us that there is very little concern in the rest of Europe about the progress of this country towards direct elections, does not the Minister accept that it seems, from what we have learned today and at other times, that there is likely to be a slight controversy about the nature of any Bill that may come forward? Therefore, if the Government are to use their best endeavours to get it through, would it not be wise to bring it forward at an early date?

The question of bringing forward the Bill is not a matter for myself or for my right hon. Friend. But, as I have said repeatedly, the Government are committed, and have made quite clear their commitment, to use their best endeavours to hold the first elections in 1978. I do not believe that there is any reason why the United Kingdom should hold things up.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that whatever this House may decide about Britain's participation in direct elections there exists an increasing acceptance among our European partners that they will not take place in 1978? Does he agree that that is acceptable and necessary if the House is to subject to proper scrutiny the fundamental issues involved in direct elections?

I note carefully what my hon. Friend says. I, too, have been engaged in discussions with people in Strasbourg. But the situations in other countries are not a matter on which I can comment. If other countries have difficulties, I am not aware of them. I can see no insuperable reasons for our not meeting the target date of 1978 to which we have committed ourselves.

Did the hon. Gentleman agree with the Foreign Secretary's statement just now that we were not behind any of the other member States in their preparations? Will the hon. Gentleman now spell out clearly and categorically which of the other member States, with the exception of Belgium, are behind us in their preparations?

It is not for me to comment on each member State; it is for each of the member Governments to decide how to implement their expressed intention of enabling direct elections to take place in May or June of next year. The procedures are different in each country, but overall we are not lagging behind.

But in view of the answer given, will the Minister please now give an answer that the Home Secretary failed to give the other day, and tell us the latest date at which the preferred system of electoral arrangements by this House can be implemented? What is the latest date by which the Bill must be presented in order to carry through the preferred system of elections?

As the House has not yet decided on the preferred system, I am not in a position to give an answer.

Competition

30.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has had any correspondence with the Commissioner of the European Community concerning Article 101 of the Treaty of Rome.

My right hon. Friend has had no correspondence on this subject with the Commission arising from Article 101 of the EEC Treaty.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that Article 101 concerns the distortion of competition in the Community? In case Her Majesty's Government should wish to reintroduce the regional employment premium to solve some of our difficulties, will they now write to the Commission asking whether it comes within the terms of this article or whether they would be prohibited from taking such a step?

My hon. Friend will recognise that there is nothing to prevent such action being taken, but equally he will recognise that matters of competition are for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection and those concerning the regional employment premium are for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Cultural Workers

32.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has seen the submission to the EEC Commission by the International Federation of Actors, International Federation of Musicians and International Federation of Unions of Audio Visual Workers on behalf of cultural workers; and if he will make a statement.

I am aware of the existence of the submission. It was not addressed to member States and the Commission has not consulted them on it.

Will my hon. Friend take this matter on board and have a look at it himself, so that when it next comes up he will be able to give a more comprehensive answer?

If those who made the submission would care to consult me, I should be willing to give my views upon it.

Clergy Stipends

33.

asked the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker), as representing the Church Commissioners, whether the commissioners are yet in a position to announce their proposals for the remuneration of clergy over the next 12 months; and whether he will make a statement.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave him on 2nd March. The Church's "stipends year" runs from 1st April to 31st March and increases in clergy stipends pursuant to stage 2 of the Government's counter-inflation policy came into effect on 1st April last.

The commissioners expect to be able to make an announcement about revised stipend ranges and scales for the year starting 1st April 1978 at the end of July next when, at their special general meeting, they will have been able to decide what additional income they will be able to make available for stipend purposes for that year, and by which time they would also hope to be able to take into account, in making their decisions, any further arrangements with respect to counter-inflation policy that the Government may by that time have announced.

I have a very brief text, Mr. Speaker. Since the pay of clergy remains absolutely deplorable, will the commissioner ensure that the maximum permissible award is made under any stage 3 agreement there may be, and that substantial progress is made towards remunerating clergy for their working expenses?

There certainly will be a good award under stage 3, but we shall have to wait to see what it is.

Church Of England Measures

34.

asked the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker), as representing the Church Commissioners, what further measures from the Synod will be placed before Parliament this year.

Strictly, this Question does not relate to Church Commissioners' business on which I answer Questions in this House. However, in order to assist my hon. Friend, I have ascertained that it is expected that the following Measures will come to this House for affirmative resolutions this year: the Incumbents (Vacation of Benefices) Measure; the Dioceses Measure; and the Parochial Registers and Records Measure.

Can my hon. Friend, under the third category, give a guarantee on behalf of the Synod that there will be no last-minute attempt to allow diocesan record offices to charge unlimited search fees for parochial registers?

This was a very last-minute provision that was brought forward by the Synod. We shall certainly look again at the matter, but when the matter is discussed here there will be an opportunity for representations to be made and a vote taken on it.

Raf Canberra Accident, Huntingdon

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the Canberra air crash at Huntingdon yesterday.

Shortly after 11 a.m. yesterday, a Canberra aircraft of No. 39 Squadron was returning to its base at RAF Wyton, near Huntingdon, after a routine training flight. About two miles from the end of the runway, it crashed by some houses in the estate of Oxmoor in the village of Hartford, north-east of Huntingdon. Three young children were killed and five people were injured, of whom two are detained in hospital. The two RAF members of the crew were also killed.

It is too early to identify the cause of the accident. A board of inquiry was set up yesterday. The weather was good. The crew members did not use their ejector seats. I am sure that the House will wish to join me in expressing great sympathy to the parents and relatives of the little children and of the crew who died and to those who were injured. All emergency services reacted very quickly, and I should like to thank them and the members of the public at the scene of the accident for the ready assistance they rendered.

May I join in the right hon. Gentleman's expression of sympathy to the injured and to the families of those who were killed, especially to the parents of the very young children who suffered this tragic accident? May I also join him in the thanks he has expressed to the public services?

Is the Secretary of State aware that all of us who live near Wyton and Alconbury airfields have for long been concerned about the proximity of the flight paths of aircraft using those airfields and the low angle of approach which those aircraft have to use when landing? Will he ensure that at the inquiry these factors are fully considered, whether or not they are found ultimately to be the cause or to have contributed to the cause of the accident?

Finally, will the Secretary of State give an undertaking, bearing in mind, of course, the need for security, that there will be a public report of as much of the evidence and of the findings as it is feasible to give?

On the last point, it is not usual to publish reports of boards of inquiry, but certainly I shall consider what statement can be made, and in what way when we know the outcome of the inquiry.

On the right hon. and learned Gentleman's first point, operational considerations limit the room for adjustment on flight paths, and at this stage I should not like to speculate whether these were or were not a factor in the most regret-table accident yesterday. Certainly I shall have this considered, and I am sure that it will be a matter to which the board of inquiry will want to give full consideration.

May I add my expression of condolence to the relatives of those who suffered this tragic incident in Huntingdon and also to the relatives of the young airmen who were killed in the incident? I do so slightly in a personal capacity, having myself previously served as an officer at RAF Wyton.

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, as a result of this incident, RAF Canberras are being grounded pending the outcome of the board of inquiry to see whether there is any mechanical defect? Can he also say whether it is intended to withdraw from service the remaining small number of Canberras now being used?

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend, and I think he will agree, as a Canberra pilot, that the Canberra has been a very good aircraft in the service of the RAF, with a very good safety record. There is no immediate intention to ground the existing Canberra force, but we have asked for an urgent preliminary review from the safety point of view by the board of inquiry. If there is any question of any risk in continuing to fly Canberras, it will be taken into consideration at once. There is no immediate intention to disband the Canberra force. It is expected that it will have a useful rôle in the RAF until the mid-1980s.

To be specific, will the Secretary of State tell the House when the Canberra, which was a fine aircraft in its day and which his Government intend to run on even longer, first entered squadron service with the Royal Air Force?

East Midland Allied Press

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the threatened strike of the National Union of Journalists arising from the dispute with the East Midland Allied Press."
I consider the matter urgent, Mr. Speaker. What was a dispute between one branch of the NUJ and one newspaper in the East Midland Allied Press group, which covers my constituency, is now in danger of affecting all provincial newspapers, especially with the suggestion that the Press Association is linked with the stoppage.

It is ironic that, after the original source of grievance had been settled, with the agreement of the appropriate TUC committee, a 24-hour stoppage, timed for 5 p.m. tomorrow, has been called. This will seriously affect the flow of information to the media and to the public. The fact that the county council elections are being held tomorrow indicates that the timing has been chosen deliberately to cause embarrassment and to attract attention, quite apart from preventing the public gaining full information about the results on Friday and quite apart from all other important news items.

I contend that an urgent debate is required. It is of national importance because it is a case in which a trade union, despite having already been granted sole negotiating rights, is seeking to enforce a closed shop where hitherto it has not existed. It threatens the livelihood of certain journalists who, although they have left the NUJ, have joined another union, namely, the Institute of Journalists.

I contend that if such action is allowed to go unchallenged the freedom of editors and of the Press in general will be endangered, to say nothing of the misery caused to certain individuals. There are indications that the dispute is being furthered for political ends, to endanger the viability of one newspaper group, which is a serious matter for all newspapers and their employees to consider.

There is a clear need for the Secretary of State for Employment to outline the Government's attitude to what is going on and to make a statement on their policy. I am surprised that we have not had such a statement before, hence my raising the matter this afternoon.

There are one or two other important issues which I should like quickly to touch upon. How, for example, did a notorious agitator manage to obtain an extension of his work permit in this country? Should journalists be forced to strike because they fear that, without a union card—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not now argue the case that he would advance if his application were granted.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. I hope that I have already said enough for you to appreciate that the granting of a debate on this issue is important because of the long-term implications.

This House is the traditional last resort of those who feel that their liberties are being threatened. Without the opportunity to debate that threat, however, many of them will feel that their grievances have not been heard. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I hope that you will allow the House time to discuss this important matter.

The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) gave me notice this morning that he proposed to make this application under Standing Order No. 9 this afternoon. I have listened with care to what he has said. As the House knows, under the revised Standing Order No. 9 I am directed to take into account the several factors set out in the Order but to give no reason for my decision.

The hon. Gentleman's application relates to
"the threatened strike of the National Union of Journalists arising from the dispute with the East Midland Allied Press."
I have given careful consideration to what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I have to rule that I cannot submit his application to the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Further to your ruling, it is not a threatened strike; it is in fact a strike.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In my particular area also, covering my constituency, it is in fact a strike, not a threatened strike.

I am much obliged for the information given me, but I cannot change my mind at the moment on the ruling I have already given. The hon. Member for Wellingborough referred to a "threatened" strike.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps I might try to clear up this matter. I think that it will be helpful to everybody. There are two questions here. There is in fact a strike, and there has been for a considerable time, in the area that the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) represents. The other matter is a threatened strike, which will be nation-wide and will be called tomorrow. There are, therefore, two questions involved here. I think that the Standing Order No. 9 application was in respect of a threatened strike. So on this occasion you are right on the ball, Mr. Speaker.

May I return the compliment? I should like to express my gratitude to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) for the clarity and the kindness of his observation.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As it also affects my area and the areas of a number of other Members, may I ask your guidance about whether the fact that this matter has been raised today does not prevent a request for a similar debate in the next few days if the situation should worsen?

Bills Presented

Post Office

Mr. Secretary Varley, supported by The Prime Minister, Mr. Michael Foot, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Benn, Mr. Secretary Booth, Mr. Secretary Dell, Mr. Secretary Hattersley, Mr. Gerald Kaufman and Mr. Leslie Huckfield, presented a Bill to increase the maximum number of members of the Post Office, And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time to-morrow and to be printed. [Bill 113.]

Private Security (Registration)

Mr. Bruce George, supported by Mr. A. J. Beith, Mr. Andrew Bennett, Mr. Norman Fowler, Dr. Keith Hampson, Mr. Robert Hughes, Mr. John Lee, Mr. J. W. Rooker, Mr. Paul B. Rose and Mr. Michael Neubert, presented a Bill to provide for the registration of firms and individuals engaged in the provision of security services: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 15th July and to be printed. [Bill 114.]

Local Authorities (Discretionary Grants To The Disabled)

3.42 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to raise the upper limit on rateable value of premises above which grants may not be made for the adaptation of the premises to meet the needs of disabled persons; and to empower local authorities at their discretion to make grants within the raised limit.
The purpose of the Bill is simple, and I shall not detain the House for more than a very short time. At the moment, a local authority is barred from giving a discretionary grant for the improvement of a dwelling in which a disabled person is living by the installation of ramps, lifts and so on if the rateable value of that owner-occupied house is over £175. The local authority can give a small grant of up to £255. In this day and age, however, inflation having taken place to the extent that it has, that grant can achieve little in meeting the needs of the disabled.

Several cases in my constituency which have been brought to my attention show that there is a need for this matter to be looked at yet again. What is needed is for discretion to be given to local authorities to raise that limit.

Is it not a pity that neither Department is represented in the Chamber?

Order. It is not customary to interrupt during a Ten Minutes Rule application.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for interrupting and drawing the attention of the House to the fact that—I am quite certain through pressing business—Ministers in the Departments concerned are not present. [HON. MEMBERS: "Bring them here. Where are they?"] I am sure that they have pressing needs elsewhere. But I have been in correspondence with the Minister with responsibility for the disabled and he has said that he will support this proposal. The hon. Gentleman agrees that a change is needed in the existing law—Section 61 of the Housing Act 1974.

As I have said, all that is needed is for discretion to be given to the local authority, particularly in hardship cases, to raise the rateable value limit under which a worthwhile grant can be given to an owner-occupier who is looking after a disabled person, be it wife, husband, child or someone else who is living with him. I suggest that the limit should be put up to £1,600. That would be a realistic and sufficient figure. The Under-Secretary has signified to me that he would be prepared to support the application, as would, I understand, his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

I shall not detain the House longer. I know that there is important business to be discussed. I concluded by hoping that this proposal will be acceptable to the House.

My local authority, the West Derbyshire District Council, has had several hardship cases which, unfortunately, it has been unable to help. No one else in Derbyshire can help either, because the social services have run out of money. I am sure that this situation applies in many constituencies throughout the United Kingdom. Therefore, I hope that the House will give me permission to bring in the Bill to give this discretion to local councils.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Ministers responsible for the matter covered by my hon. Friend's Ten-Minute Bill have not even bothered to come to the House to listen. Are there any means by which you can notify Ministers whose departmental responsibilities are being discussed that they should be present during debates on the subjects for which they are responsible? Otherwise, it makes a mockery of our proceedings. There is no point in Parliament raising or discussing matters if those who are in a position to take action are not present at least to listen, let alone to respond.

There is a growing malpractice that, when a Ten-Minute Bill or any other matter is discussed, the Minister responsible does not even bother to come along to listen. How else can the Minister be responsible to this House or discharge its business?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It will be within your recollection that last week we debated certain problems relating to the disabled. Indeed, you may remember that I came in for a fair amount of flak, if I may so describe it, from Government supporters who somehow considered that it was an insult to their sense of compassion that I should raise a question of interest to the disabled. Does it not compound the offence when, my hon. Friend having raised an important matter, not one Minister from either of the two Departments concerned has the courtesy to turn up and listen to what he had to say.

The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) and the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) have made their points in their points of order. But I take the opportunity to remind the House that many courtesies that we have observed for years in this House are in danger of disappearing. I believe that we shall be the poorer if that happens.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. James Scott-Hopkins, Mr. Maurice Macmillan, Mr. Jack Ashley, Mr. Ralph Howell, Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones, Mr. John Hannam, Mr. George Park, Mr. David Price, Miss Betty Boothroyd, Mr. George Young, Mr. R. C. Mitchell and Mr. Emlyn Hooson.

Local Authorities (Discretionary Grants To The Disabled)

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins accordingly presented a Bill to raise the upper limit on rateable value of premises above which grants may not be made for the adaptation of the premises to meet the needs of disabled persons; and to empower local authorities at their discretion to make grants within the raised limit: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 20th May and to be printed. [Bill 115.]

Orders Of The Day

Supply

[16TH ALLOTTED DAY],— considered

Royal Air Force

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

3.50 p.m.

It is one of those strange coincidences that, on a day when we should be debating the future of the Royal Air Force, we have a Private Notice Question about a serious accident in which two members of the crew of a Royal Air Force aircraft and also civilians were killed. I hasten to add my condolences to the relations of those, both in the Royal Air Force and civilians, who were killed in this tragic accident. It highlights the dangers to which members of the Armed Forces are exposed, and it is, perhaps, no bad thing that one should be reminded of that when one begins to debate the fate of the Royal Air Force.

For those who take a continuing interest in the defence of this country, and therefore try to keep informed of the state of our Armed Forces, debates on this subject become increasingly disturbing and frustrating. They are disturbing because, whatever Ministers may say, five successive lots of cuts have put the Services into a position that can only be described as dangerous. This is clear from courageous statements made by Service chiefs over the last few years, and by the action of the Chiefs of Staff only a few months ago—in December last year—in using their right of access to the Prime Minister. It is also made abundantly clear by the Second Report of the Expenditure Committee, which considered defence expenditure.

These debates are also frustrating because the Government know that they are putting the Services and the country at risk, but they have not the courage to stand up to the pressure of Members from their left wing, who are all absent today.

I was referring to the pressures of Members of the Left Wing, most of whom will not be satisfied—and the hon. Gentleman knows that they will not be satisfied—until they have cut defence expenditure to the point where we might as well abandon our defences altogether. That is the only thing that will satisfy many of them. It is purely a case of putting party before country, for the Prime Minister knows perfectly well that he would have had the wholehearted support of the Conservative Party if he had taken his courage in his hands—even after the defence review—and said "Enough is enough; I must preserve the security of the realm". Had he done so, he would not have needed even the help of the Liberals—who are also not here—to survive. He knows that he would have had our support.

But the most disgraceful aspect of the whole affair is that the Government keep making damaging cuts, despite the fact that they are fully aware—and say so—of the rapidly increasing threat that faces this country. I do not have to spell it out. In defence debates—and, indeed, in speeches from the Treasury Bench—it has been spelt out over and over again and in detail. In White Paper after White Paper it has been spelt out in great detail.

The Government are also fully aware of the effect that the policies that they pursue could have upon the whole NATO Alliance. It is not just a question of undermining the confidence of our Allies and the credibility of NATO as a deterrent force. There is, as I said in a previous debate, the danger that the electors and Parliaments of other NATO countries will feel free to follow our example by reducing their defence budgets, thus destroying NATO altogether. It is against that sombre and depressing background that we consider today the rôle and the state of the Royal Air Force.

At this early point in my speech I should like, on behalf of all my right hon. and hon. Friends, to pay a heartfelt and warm tribute to the men and women who serve in the Royal Air Force and the Women's Royal Air Force. They have had a great deal to put up with in recent years, particularly at the hands of Parliament, yet one cannot visit any RAF station without being immediately struck by the enthusiasm and dedicated professionalism of everyone whom one meets. I know that on this side of the House—where there are some hon. Members present—there are many who have recently visited RAF stations and have been struck by that very fact.

If similar qualities could only be engendered in all other spheres of activity in our country, we should have little cause to worry about our future. We owe them, as we owe the other Armed Forces, a great debt of gratitude, and if during the course of our debate we complain of any deficiencies, let it be clear that we intend no reflection whatever on their loyalty or dedication to duty. On the contrary, our aim is to attempt to match their performance in fulfilling our responsibilities for making their task as easy as possible.

Perhaps this would be an appropriate moment to mention one or two appalling examples of maladroit actions by the Government, which unnecessarily, but justifiably, upset members of the Service. In drawing attention to these matters, I am particularly mindful of the delicate balance on which morale is based, and I am sure that the Minister is, too.

It is astonishing that the morale of our Armed Forces, and the Royal Air Force in particular, which has taken a big hammering in recent cuts, has survived despite the Government's actions during the past three years. We started with the much-vaunted defence review, which was to be the most thorough-going review ever undertaken in peace-time. That was announce in March 1974, and it was followed by a long and anxious gestation period, culminating in the 1975 Statement on the Defence Estimates, published in March of that year. It set out the results of the review—or so we were told at the time and, again, so we were told in the Statement on the Defence Estimates published the following year.

Perhaps we should have been a little more sceptical about the ability of the Labour Government to come to firm decisions on defence matters, because if one looks hack to the 1975 White Paper, which contained the announcement of the defence review, one sees under Chapter 1, entitled "The Defence Review", a subheading which says "The Review So Far". I ask my hon. Friends to note the words "so far". That was in 1975.

Perhaps after all that talk about balancing forces with commitments, about all those studies in depth, somebody in the Ministry of Defence had decided to leave the door ajar—just in case. How right he was! The House did not then know that within one month of the 1975 statement we should be having the first of four lots of additional cuts, based not on military requirements or on economic necessity, but on political pressures within the Labour Party.

As I said, it is astonishing to me that morale has survived all this. But then, as I said earlier, we had the maladroit handling of these cuts, especially as they affected individuals. Has the Under-Secretary of State discussed with serving officers, as I have—I am sure he must have done so—the manner in which their brother officers were made redundant? There was no question of their being asked whether they would care to offer their resignations. There was merely a formal letter informing them that their services were no longer required. These were men who had entered the Royal Air Force believing they were part of a professional force, that they had a lifetime's duty in a profession, like any other profession, in which they could look forward to proceeding right through from the bottom to the top if they were sufficiently able. Yet this was how they were informed.

I do not need to tell the Under-Secretary of State, because I am sure that he knows, just what the effect was on those men who were being cut off in their prime at a time when they had every expectation of continuing until they reached a good age and a good rank in the Royal Air Force. But I must remind him of the effect on those remaining in the Service, for it is they who complain and tell most fervently of the bitterness that was needlessly engendered by the maladroit handling of these redundancies. I gather that at some later stage somebody with some sensitivity realised what was happening, and the form of letter was changed. But a great deal of damage to morale was done, damage to morale, which is a delicate balance, which need never have occurred.

Then there was the case of the aircrew officers who joined with the promise of a gratuity at the end of their service. This Government were clearly prepared to renage on that promise.

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

Nonsense.

It is all very well the hon. Gentleman saying "Nonsense". It was only under pressure from my right. hon. and hon. Friends—

It is going too far to drag in statements which are demonstrably untrue. Consideration was taking place on a wide range of issues in Government circles, but this issue was never a starter in the mind of the Ministry of Defence.

It may not have been a starter in the minds of the Ministers in the Ministry of Defence. I said that it was a matter on which the Government were prepared to renage. It was only under pressure, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman was glad to have to support his line, that there was a change of mind, and a decision, which has been used by the Ministry of Defence to honour the commitment, was finally made.

Can anyone imagine what uproar there would have been if some large private enterprise concern had announced its intention to break such a promise? We should have had Government supporters fulminating in the House. We should have had trade union leaders calling employees out on strike. We should have had general abuse of all private enterprise, and we should have heard no end to it. But it lay quiet with nothing apparently happening until pressure from the Opposition forced the Government to agree to honour a commitment which they had already firmly promised.

How insensitive can a Government become? I exclude the Service Ministers from this. But, excluding them, how insensitive can a Government become and how could Service Ministers have even allowed such a decision to be taken in the first place? I accept that they were fighting for it, with the support of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and between us we won the day.

I see no reason for laughter on the Treasury Bench. I see cause for joy in sinners who repent. I hope that I am right in saying that the few Government supporters here today, who are almost entirely concentrated on the Treasury Bench, share our satisfaction in the fact that the Government were prevented from reneging on a commitment which was a firm promise.

We then come to the latest and—in my view—the worst of these demonstrations of gross ineptitude—the report of the Review Body on Force's Pay, Cmnd. 6801. It is interesting to note that it was presented to Parliament by the Prime Minister by command of Her Majesty. I presume that means that in this case it had been previously approved by the Ministers of Defence en bloc. Otherwise, we should, no doubt, have had some resignations. There was a 5 per cent. pay rise—

I ought to make it clear that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the report of the members of the independent body. Like the reports of other such committees on pay, it is presented to the Prime Minister, but it is the report of the gentlemen concerned.

The Prime Minister presented it to the House. I have not heard of a single Service Minister resigning as a result of the Prime Minister having presented it to the House. The Prime Minister could have sent it back if he did not like it. But he presented it to the House, and Service Ministers are now sitting back and saying that it has nothing to do with them. It has a good deal to do with them.

This 5 per cent. pay rise means that most will qualify for an increase of between £2·50 and £4·00 per week. On the face of it, that is bad enough, but then there are the accommodation charges. I always feared when we started this system of payment for the Forces that this was likely to happen. It happened with the nurses—I said so at the time—and it is now happening with the Armed Forces. Accommodation charges are now to be increased by up to £2·50 per week. The charge for food is going up by £1·12 per week. That means that most airmen will end up with an increase of just 50p. No wonder the Sunday Express described it as "a shameful, shaming exercise". I wonder whether Ministers really think that 50p per week is an adequate additional reward in the circumstances of today.

It may be that my arithmetic is wrong and that my hon. Friend's is right, but I worked out last night that the actual increase would be about 45p a week, which is the exact cost of this paper which the Review Body is selling to the public.

I am quite certain that no Service man will waste one week's additional pay on buying it.

What is so depressing is that there are already many Service men who are facing severe financial hardship.

To turn for a moment to one of the other Services, almost half the married soldiers in Ulster who face dangers day by day which no one in this House or this country faces are forced to claim rent rebates. Some of them will now be worse off than they were before.

I am asked to stop scowling. I think I am entitled to scowl, but if it makes the news any easier for the hon. Gentleman I shall smile.

To what depths of meanness are the Government prepared to sink? Is there no one, not even the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force, who will demand that this whole question be looked at again? I do not ask him to answer now. He has a long speech to make. In fact, he has two speeches to make. I hope that we shall hear the answer, and I hope that the answer will be in the affirmative.

It has been claimed that the tax concessions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which were promised on the basis of a new pay agreement, have been taken into account already in arriving at the Service men's pay increases. If that is so, it must mean that civilians will be far better off on their 5 per cent. than will Service men. Is that what the Minister wants? Is that what he has agreed to? Is that what he has allowed to slip through, believing that it is only the recommendation of the review body?

It is quite disgraceful that those who volunteer to serve in the Armed Forces of the Crown, who risk great dangers and hardship, and who are prepared to lay down their lives if necessary to defend our country, should be treated in this way just because their loyalty is beyond question. It is high time that their service and sacrifice were fully recognised.

Perhaps at this point I should remind the House of the effects of all these cuts—of which the various matters I have mentioned are part—upon the Royal Air Force as a whole. First, there was the cut of 18,000 officers and men. That is a very large number. It represents a cut of 18 per cent. of officers and men—a very large percentage of the Royal Air Force. As I said earlier, they are all people who joined up believing they were joining a professional service in which there was a lifetime career for them.

I come to the question of equipment. Here also the cuts are very severe. I make no apologies for reminding the House of the cumulative effect of the past three years of office of the Government. Transport aircraft have been cut by 50 per cent., and helicopters cut by 25 per cent. The Nimrod force for maritime surveillance has been cut by 25 per cent. Then there is the cancellation of an extra squadron of Jaguars, the cancellation of the QC434 short-range air-to-air missile, and the cancellation of a whole range of radar and communications systems.

There have been reductions in engineering spares. I should like to know how far the Minister considers that the Royal Air Force has sufficient spares to last the sort of war it is likely to have to fight when the balloon goes up.

Then there is the indefinite deferment of the medium-lift helicopter and the reduction of the delivery rate by up to one-third of the Tornado multi-rôle combat aircraft force. There is also the reduction of the delivery rate for a variety of radar and communications equipment.

As the report of the Expenditure Committee rightly states:
"It is not difficult to single out a range of equipment from those listed above, where the effect of the cuts is not disputed"—
that means, no doubt, that it will not he disputed by the Minister today—
"and where there are very serious implications for the quality of our defence capability".
The war-time rôle of the Royal Air Force was stated clearly and succinctly by the Under-Secretary of State in last year's debate. He said:
"In the event of hostilities the RAF will be called upon, in co-operation with our allies, to defend these islands against attack from the air and sea, to co-operate with the Royal Navy in keeping open the lines of communication and reinforcement from North America, and to support our Army in the field and undertake offensive operations against any enemies."—[Official Report, 10th June 1976; Vol. 912, c. 1704.]
That is a pretty massive commitment by any standards.

Since the Under-Secretary of State spoke, the NATO Defence Planning Committee has authorised SACLANT to prepare a plan for the protection of Allied shipping south of the Tropic of Cancer. Right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House have been pressing for this year after year in the North Atlantic Assembly and in this House. Over and over again we have said that NATO cannot ignore what goes on south of the Tropic of Cancer. We have asked "What about the Cape route, what about oil supplies, what about the vital minerals in that part of the world, what about the Communist threat?" At last we have a recognition of this within NATO. Is this an additional rôle which may fall to the Royal Air Force?

I should like to examine the effects of the various RAF cuts on the task of the Royal Air Force. In transport aircraft, we know perfectly well that if there is to be reinforcement of BAOR it has to be very rapid. Does anybody really believe that British Airways, by making available its normal passenger aircraft, will be able to do anything of great importance in hastening the reinforcement of BAOR? We know perfectly well that there would be a period of delay in which we should presumably have to legislate to obtain authority to requisition the aircraft.

The Minister of State shakes his head. I should be glad to hear how long it is likely to take from the moment that the need is seen to the moment that the aircraft can be used.

It is obvious that men with rifles could be carried in these aircraft, but what about heavier equipment? These passenger aircraft are not equipped with big doors to enable one to put in Land Rovers, field guns, and so on. They do not have floors that are stressed to take heavy equipment. What have the Government in mind when they suggest that one can just switch from a large transport fleet in the Royal Air Force to a mere requisitioning of British Airways passenger fleet?

How can civil aircraft be compared with the Royal Air Force's specially built transport aircraft, 50 per cent. of which are being thrown away? It is surely axiomatic that the more one reduces the size of one's forces, the more one needs to increase their mobility. We are reducing the size of our Forces and at the same time reducing their mobility. That must be obvious for all to see, even those in the Government who are not sitting on the Front Bench this afternoon.

Only last month the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Neil Cameron, was reported to have said that in future NATO may have to fight peripheral wars outside Europe to preserve its share of the world's natural resources and to maintain a political balance. He went on to say:
"We probably face an era in which if the West is to respond, it must do so with great speed, often over very long distances."
Yet when the Chief of the Air Staff says that—he cannot have thought it up yesterday; it must have ben current thinking in the higher echelons of the Royal Air Force for a long time—it is at a time when the Government are withdrawing from our air bases in the Mediterranean, the Gulf, the Indian Ocean, and cutting our transport fleet by half just when the global threat is known to be increasing.

I sometimes wonder whether our Defence Ministers even listen to our defence chiefs. It would not appear so from the contrast between the attitude of Ministers in the House and the constant courageous warnings given by senior Service chiefs in the Press from time to time, reported from meetings, seminars, and so on. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite appear not to have so listened in the past. Perhaps recent events in Southern Africa will make them listen a little more in future.

I come now to the 25 per cent. cut in the helicopter force. The Expenditure Committee report is explicit. Page XIII, paragraph 9 states:
"The Army have been badly handicapped by the cuts and deferments in the helicopter force. Battlefield and logistic mobility has been impaired by the failure to provide a Medium lift helicopter (now further deferred for an indefinite period), together with a significant reduction in the capability of reinforcing divisions due to the substantial reduction in the number of Gazelle and Lynx helicopters.
Therefore, support for the Army in the field—to use the words of the Secretary of State for Defence last year in defining one of the rôles of the Royal Air Force—has been greatly weakened by ail these cuts.

Paragraph 15 also speaks of the deferment of the medium-lift helicopter. It states,
"The operation of the Harrier force is also adversely affected by the failure to provide the medium-lift helicopter, leaving its dispersion heavily dependent on wheeled transport vehicles."
In other words, the whole original concept of the Harrier force has been thrown overboard.

Right hon. and hon. Members must realise that the whole point of the Harrier was that it was an aircraft which could be dispersed and there were to be other aircraft which could service it with rapid speed at frequent intervals whenever needed. Therefore, the capacity to undertake offensive operations against any enemy—again, to use the Under-Secretary's words—as another rôle of the Royal Air Force has also been greatly weakened by these cuts.

That weakening is further accentuated in paragraph 15 which says:
"The RAF has suffered a serious impairment of its strike and offensive support capability, not only with the cancellation of an extra squadron of Jaguars but also with the major cut back in the delivery rate for the long awaited Tornado which is designed to replace op to five existing aircraft types and perform in a variety of vital rôles."
It is extraordinary that the Government should take such a relaxed attitude on this matter. The Chiefs of Staff and hon. Members who are charged with the task of inquiring in detail into these matters and reporting to the House are all saying the same thing—that these cuts greatly impair the ability of the Royal Air Force to carry out the rôles assigned to it.

Paragraph 15 goes on:
"The danger of such a deferment is not simply that the numbers needed will not be achieved quickly enough, leaving an operational deficiency, but that there is a risk that the aircraft will be obsolescent before the last of them is delivered."
[Interruption.] It is all very well for Ministers to chat happily away. I hope that if they will not do me the courtesy of listening to what I have to say, they will read it afterwards.

I was not only listening; I was seeking a second opinion of the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

If the right hon. Gentleman is capable of speaking to one person and listening to his replies at the same moment as he is listening to the speech of another, he is a new breed of human being, and we welcome him to this House.

It is quite ridiculous that we should have a risk of this sort, apparently accepted, presumably, by the Secretary of State for Defence and the Under-Secretary of State who is responsible for the Royal Air Force.

I come next to the reduction of the Nimrod force by 25 per cent. [Interruption.] Is the right hon. Gentleman worried about what I am saying? I hope he is. This decision must reduce the Royal Air Force's capacity to co-operate with the Royal Navy, another rôle, as I outlined earlier, which was spelled out by the Under-Secretary of State in last year's debate on the Royal Air Force.

In talking of Nimrod we must talk about North Sea oil and gas. I know that it has been the Government's hope that this will become a NATO commitment and that somebody else will share the burden with us. It is interesting that Admiral Kidd, the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic, should have said at a Press briefing in Norfolk, Virginia, quite recently:
"My suggestion is that the security for North Sea oil should be made a national responsibility."
So he is putting it right back on the plate of the British Government. I hope sincerely that they are looking at this question of the Nimrods, which will, no doubt, be withdrawn from Malta in due course, and the possibility of using them if they must be brought back.

Will my hon. Friend also bear in mind that, besides cutting the Nimrod force, the Government and their predecessors have abolished the fixed-wing flight of the Fleet Air Arm, and therefore the attenuated RAF has also to defend the Fleet?

Yes, there is no question but that the Nimrod is one of the most valuable aircraft that we have, and in terms of looking after these various areas assigned to the Royal Air Force, it is a great mistake, as I am sure all my right hon. and hon. Friends agree, to cut the force by 25 per cent.

I come now to the question of air defence, which requires us to ensure the freedom of movement across the Atlantic. But that is a useless concept unless there is a secure base on this side of the Atlantic where ships and aircraft can discharge and turn around and, more important still, where their loads can be put to effective use. As the then Chief of the Air Staff said in December 1975:
"Our country is not only a most important base in its own right, but by its location it also dominates the sea and air approaches to the whole of the Central Region of NATO and to Northern France, Denmark, Sweden and Southern Norway."
He went on:
"So failure to provide an adequate air defence for this country would not only mean that our efforts to secure our trans-Atlantic lines of communication had been wasted, but would even call into question the effectiveness of a strategy of forward defence in Germany."
We could not have a more explicit warning from a more experienced person.

It is indeed unfortunate that, under the tripwire strategy, our air defences were run down far beyond cuts to other forces, naval, army or air. But that surely indicates how important it is to build them up again. The Opposition has committed themselves to building our forces up again, and air defence is one of the most important facets.

With the coming into service of the Soviet Backfires, Fencers, and perhaps Foxbats, all armed with extremely accurate air-delivered weapons, the need is all the greater. This is no doubt where the air defence variant of the MRCA will be vitally needed, but it will be needed as soon as possible. I have covered some ground. I have no doubt that my hon. Friends want to cover other aspects.

I have deliberately painted a very sombre picture because I believe that it is vital that the House should be reminded—and the country also—of the need to ensure that our Armed Forces are of sufficient strength and adequately equipped to carry out the tasks expected of them in wartime.

The Under-Secretary will feel bound to assure us that this is so, that the Government have got it right, and that all is well. I will finish by quoting the last few lines of the report of the Expenditure Committee because they are worth repeating:
We ask, however, whether it is now the Government's policy that defence spending should be treated on the same footing as that of any other department regardless of the effect on the operational capability of the forces or whether the defence budget ought to be assessed in the light of the perceived threat to national and NATO security. We do not see it as our function to pronounce on the relative merits of these two approaches. Nonetheless, we think it only fair to the forces themselves as well as in the interests of an informed debate on national defence policy that the Government should make clear the basis on which they make choices as between defence and other spending programmes."
The Government have not yet answered this question in words, but, my goodness, I regret that they have answered it with deeds.

4.32 p.m.

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