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Volume 932: debated on Tuesday 24 May 1977

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

Hms "Invincible" (Aircraft)


asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he intends to purchase airborne early warning aircraft to operate from HMS "Invincible".

Then is "Invincible" to be left to operate only within the range of shore-based aircraft, or is it intended that it should operate at times without any airborne early warning and thus be virtually defenceless?

No. On the second point, HMS "Invincible" will have a substantial defence capability of her own, but as the hon. Gentleman knows, the plan that I hope will be fulfilled will be for NATO to arrive at a collective airborne early warning system, which will cover the whole area of the Alliance.

Can my right hon. Friend give any estimate of the cost of going ahead with the project proposed by the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit)? Is there not a very pressing need at present to seek to contain public expenditure on all these matters?

I think that it is impossible to give any figures for short takeoff and landing airborne early warning systems because the sophistication of such systems, as we have seen with the AWACS and Nimrod, requires a large aircraft, and it would be impossible for a large aircraft to take off from HMS "Invincible". I accept the need to contain public expenditure, as I have already explained many times, but at the same time I think it important to retain our contribution to the Alliance.

Royal Air Force (Command Headquarters)


asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the cost of each of the command headquarters in the RAF.

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

The cost of each of the Command Headquarters in the RAF during 1976–77 was £12 million for HQ Strike Command, £5½ million for HQ Training Command, £4 million for HQ Support Command and £6 million for HQ RAF Germany.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, which according to my quick arithmetic makes a total of about £27 million. That is a lot of money. Can my hon. Friend confirm that he is giving consideration to the merging of the Support and Training Commands and whether, in the circumstances, he will consider abolishing the Group Commands, as this would save huge sums of money without damaging our air capability?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his quick arithmetic. He was only £500,000 out. The total is £27·5 million. The Headquarters Training Command and Support Command will be amalgamated from next month, and we anticipate savings of about £1·3 million. My hon. Friend's suggestion about the possible change in the Group Commands is very interesting, and I shall look at it.

Army Officers (Training)


asked the Secretary of State for Defence what aspects of United Nations peace-keeping operations are dealt with in the training of Army officers.

The principles of peace-keeping operations under United Nations auspices are taught to all Army officers.

I welcome that reply, but does my hon. Friend agree that if the Helsinki spirit and the subsequent conference at Belgrade lead to greater emphasis on detente, the importance of any international peace-keeping efforts may loom larger in the future than they do at present? Does he further agree that it is important that Britain should make an adequate contribution to this?

Fishery Protection


asked the Secretary of State for Defence what are his plans for further improvement of the system of patrolling and protecting the fishing rights of the United Kingdom in coastal waters.


asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is now satisfied with the new Island class of vessels in the extended fishery protection rôle.


asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied with the existing measures for fishery protection; and what further steps he proposes to improve these.

I have no reason to doubt the effectiveness of our arrangements for fishery protection, but they are kept under constant review.

Three more offshore patrol vessels of the Island class are due to be delivered to the Royal Navy before the end of the year. Our experience with the first two, HMS "Jersey" and HMS "Orkney", indicates that the class will prove to be most effective in the fishery protection rôle. Studies are in hand regarding the provision of new ships to replace the Ton class minesweepers in the Fishery Protection Squadron.

Is my hon. Friend aware that a good many people in the country think that our patrol boats are not fast enough to catch the fishing boats? If that is so, is it not rather ludicrous to have patrol boats that are not fast enough to catch the pirates? Will my hon. Friend assure us that our patrol boats can catch boats of other countries that fish in our coastal waters?

I have told the House before that the maximum speed of the Island class is 16 knots, and that that is sufficient for normal patrol duties. Contrary to popular belief, very few trawlers are capable of 16 knots, and when they are fishing they are going at only 3–5 knots. Faster ships such as frigates can be called upon at short notice to support the patrol ships if the need arises. Considering the time available for procurement, and the total cost of £17½ million, we believe that we are getting good value for money with the Island class. I spent yesterday at sea on HMS "Orkney", the second of its class, and for most of the time our speed exceeded 16 knots.

The Minister and I both agree that peace-keeping must be efficient and must be seen to be efficient. We must enforce the limits. In the first six months, how many boardings, arrests and fines have taken place?

It is an impressive record, further vindicating our judgment in putting in hand the Island class as well as providing otherwise for fisheries protection. Between 1st January and 16th May this year there have been 500 boardings of foreign fishing vessels and seven boardings of British fishing vessels, of which approximately 60 have been carried out by the new Island class. There have been four arrests resulting in convictions for contraventions of fisheries legislation within the old 12-mile limit and nine such cases in the 12-mile to 200-mile belt. Hon. Members may have noticed in the Press today that HMS "Jersey", the first of the new class, arrested a French trawler only yesterday.

Does the Minister accept that a large body of opinion believes that there should be a new class of strong, fast, tough surface vessels, but that the Government's defence cuts have in practice put that out of the question?

In so far as there is such a body of opinion, I am always anxious to register it within it the Department. I have met hon. Gentlemen, some of whom are present now, in my Department to discuss their ideas. I am prepared to meet any others. We are thinking not merely about replacing the Ton class but about our next generation of patrol ships.

Is the Minister aware that while the Island class may do well as the policemen on the beat, there is a need for a small number of fast, quick reaction vessels which will be useful to the Royal Navy armed with missiles in time of war? Will he give this matter serious consideration? We have been advancing this view now for two years.

As I have just said, our options are open. A need of the kind described by the hon. Gentleman has not arisen. HMS "Jersey" was not lacking in speed yesterday. The Island class so far has not been lacking in speed.

Royal Air Force (Careers Information Offices)


asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he intends to close the RAF careers information office at Lower Regent Street, London; and if he will make a statement.

The careers information office will be closed as soon as the assignment of the lease can be arranged.

I welcome that reply. Will the Minister go a little further and examine the possibility of other such offices occupying prime and expensive sites? Is there any possibility of a central office servicing the three Services at the same time and so effecting economies?

Certainly. I am continually reviewing the position in relation to careers information offices, because I am convinced that the cost of recruiting is too high. A number of studies are in hand. I hope that as a result of those studies, action will be taken fairly soon which will lead to further co-location and a substantial saving in expenditure on recruiting.

Recruiting (Advertising Costs)


asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the total amount of money spent on advertising designed to recruit people into Her Majesty's Forces in the latest period for which figures are available.

About £3·35 million according to latest estimates for the financial year which has just ended. Most of this expenditure was borne by the Central Office of Information.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this represents a large amount of money available for Government advertising? As most people are aware of the existence of Her Majesty's Forces and as a large number of people are not aware of some of their entitlements to social benefits, will my hon. Friend consider discussing with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services how some of the money might be more usefully utilised for advertising the benefits that people are not claiming?

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point, which it would be more appropriate to ask of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Armed Forces advertising expenditure is about right for the specialised advertising that we have to undertake to recruit the people that we need. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will hear of my hon. Friend's supplementary question.

I congratulate the Minister on the advertisement in The Times today, which illustrated luscious wages for those who enter the Army and, in particular, showed that a major is paid approximately the same as a Member of Parliament.

I am glad that that advertisement in The Times for recruiting Army officers shows that, despite the distortion that has been made in some quarters about the recent Armed Forces pay award, the Army, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy still offer rewarding careers, great prospects and decent remuneration for those who wish to undertake such exciting and honourable careers.

It is, on average, about £600 per recruit across the three Services. I believe that that is too high. That is why the Department and myself in particular are taking urgent steps to see whether the unacceptably high level of advertising cost can be reduced.

Pensions (Commutation)


asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied with current conditions and arrangements assisting former warrant officers and other ranks to commute part of their Service pension for business purposes; and if he will make a statement.

Will the Minister explain why, in 1977, former warrant officers and other ranks are being discriminated against in this manner compared with former serving officers who are able to commute up to 50 per cent. of their pension without too much difficulty? Is his Department totally indifferent to its former personnel, or is the Treasury being obstructive?

The hon. Gentleman will know from his previous questions on this subject—I shall not go through the list—as well as from the Adjournment debate that took place just over a year ago that my predecessor and I have acknowledged the difference in treatment. We have not defended it. Neither has any of my predecessors in previous Tory or Labour Governments. In this day and age it becomes impossible to defend such treatment. In the long term we would like to move to a situation in which Service men are given the same terms as officers. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there are real difficulties, particularly of cost, in improving the arrangements for Service men, especially in the short term.

But—if I may support my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks)—that does not stop the Minister making special cases where deserving cases exist. Is he aware that I have the same feeling as my hon. Friend, namely, that there is a blanket refusal to consider any cases? I wrote to the Minister about a constituent of mine and had the same blanket refusal. The desire to commute more pension in that case was irrefutable. Will the hon. Gentleman be a little more flexible?

My predecessors as well as myself have been flexible on this matter. We are disposed to be more flexible in the early stages—for example, where an ex-Service man wants to start a business rather than where he wants to raise capital later to strengthen an existing business. We are conscious, in the first place, that commutation is a privilege and not a right and, secondly, from my experience, we are equally conscious that ex-Service men often entertain regrets about the step that they have taken and sometimes ask the Department whether it is possible to restore the position. I am sensitive to the representations made by both hon. Gentlemen, but our experience must dispose us to a slightly different view.

Rent Rebates


asked the Secretary of State for Defence how how many private soldiers and aircraftmen are still on rent rebate after the recently announced changes in pay scales.

No figures are yet available for numbers of Service men receiving rent and rate rebate which would reflect any changes in financial circumstances resulting from the recently announced increases in Service pay. Moreover, eligibility for the rebate depends on many different factors and any change in the numbers receiving it would be only partially attributable to changes in Service pay scales.

In view of an answer that I was given on 26th April by the Minister of State, to the effect that there were 4,000 soldiers and 59 airmen receiving rent rebates, is the Secretary of State saying that he does not know whether those personnel are receiving rent rebates? Can he not be more specific, and tell us what sort of money would have to be paid in order to take all Service men out of what I would describe as the national assistance category?

The only reason we cannot give up-to-date figures is that it is only a short time since we had the report and the new pay scales and charges came into force. We shall not give up-to-date figures affecting individual circumstances until July. It is wholly wrong to view rent and rate rebates as a form of national assistance or social security. When the Government of which the hon. Member was a supporter introduced the scheme they sang a different tune about its purpose. The key element in the entitlement to it is family circumstances. While it would be possible—although it would cost a lot of money—to have a scale of pay so that it would be inconceivable that someone with even the largest possible family would be included in the scheme, it would mean that unless the payments were differentially means-tested, two soldiers serving alongside each other could be receiving different rates of pay. The problem is not as simple as the hon. Member suggests.

Is the Secretary of State aware that some Service wives go out to work in the same way as civilian wives in order to pay the righ rents, but on the other hand other Service wives abroad cannot get jobs now and therefore, unlike their civilian counterparts, they cannot help to pay the rents?

This is an important matter, and a factor at which we are looking very carefully in the Northern Ireland situation. I am glad that the hon. Member raised this, because it enables me to point out that a rent rebate depends on the income not only of the husband but also of the wife.

Will the Secretary of State do something to help soldiers who are serving in Northern Ireland and who have to pay charges for accommodation that compare very unfavourably with council rents and general circumstances in other parts of the United Kingdom, particularly in view of the fact that their wives cannot earn money?

I am very conscious of that, but there is a Question about this on the Order Paper later from the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates). Without wishing to anticipate that answer, I can tell the House that we are conducting an urgent review of all these problems.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that as a result of the latest pay award the net increase for many Service men is 3p a week, or less? If that is so, will he do something to deal with this scandalous situation?

I think that the sum of 3p is an exceptionally low estimate, but I would not dissent from the argument that the net increase is small. Following the analogies for charges for accommodation and food that we inherited from the previous Government, and the pay policy that we are obliged to follow, it means that charges that the rest of the community pay separately to a council, a landlord, or a building society are separate from their pay, while in the forces these charges are deducted before the pay is received. This is why the problem arises.

I hope that the right hon. Member can correct me if I am wrong, but as I understand Opposition housing policy, the intention is to increase council rents, thus increasing the charges that Service personnel would have to pay for quarters. Any Service man who votes Conservative will be voting to put his married quarters' charges up by £3 per week.

As the Secretary of State has asked me a question I can confirm now that under a Conservative Government Service men will not suffer.

North Atlantic Council (Meeting)


asked the Secretary of State for Defence what changes in British defence plans and expenditure will be made as a result of the discussions held at the last ministerial meeting of the North Atlantic Council.

As agreed at the Council meeting, we will be participating in the preparation of a long-term NATO programme to meet the changing defence needs of the 1980s and to review the manner in which the Alliance implements its defence programmes to ensure more effective follow-through.

Is the Secretary of State aware how pleased the Americans and our other NATO allies were at the informal commitment made by the Prime Minister and other Ministers at the Summit that next year's £230 million defence cuts would be drastically modified? Is he aware that if we go back on this commitment, disillusion among our allies will be complete?

I am not aware of the sources on which the hon. Member relies for his observations, but if he studies the communiqué and the text that has been released of President Carter's speech he will see there is no question of resource allocation in that speech, and there is no commitment to revise the figures. This matter will be looked at in the ordinary way in which the Government assess future defence expenditure and other public expenditure programmes. There is no commitment to increase defence expenditure as the hon. Member has suggested.

Can the Secretary of State say whether, in this consideration of the changing defence needs for the 1980s, any assessment has been made of the Soviet breakthrough in laser weapons? Will he give his own assessment of the implications of this for British defence needs in the 1980s?

The assessment will be made by a series of studies, which I hope will be placed in the hands of the NATO military authorities, and will cover all aspects. I think that the Press reports about Soviet laser technology are exaggerated, and my hon. Friend will know that President Carter has made a similar observation.

Returning the original Question, surely the excuse for cuts in defence expenditure has been the Government's attachment to the proportion of gross national product. If the GNP goes up, as we are told it will by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will defence expenditure rise in proportion?

It would be unwise to make arrangements in one part of that equation without being sure that the other part has been satisfactorily achieved. There is wide recognition among all our NATO ministerial colleagues of the very substantial contribution that we make. They realise that in our special economic circumstances we are making a significant contribution, although naturally they would want us to do more.

Does the Secretary of State agree that any acceptance of proposals to increase expenditure within NATO would make it impossible to realise the commitment made by the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he was Secretary of State for Defence to reduce the percentage of GNP that was devoted to defence? Would it not be disgraceful, at a time when so many other sectors of public expenditure are being starved of funds, to go ahead with advancing defence expenditure? Would it not also conflict with the agreement that we have made with the IMF?

There is some difficulty in understanding the time scale. The discussions in the NATO Defence Planning Committee last week were concerned with the period from 1979 onwards. I would not think that this afternoon was the appropriate time to take decisions for a period as far ahead as that.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House what is the point of either him or the Prime Minister attending the NATO meetings, making agreements and signing communiques if, immediately afterwards, they refute what has been signed?

The right hon. Member has enough experience to realise that a communique is not a form of binding commitment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."] Yes it is disgraceful, and I shall quote an example that occurred when the right hon. Member was a distinguished member of the previous Conservative Government. He went in a contrary direction to a communique that he had signed a little while before. If the House and the right hon. Member study the communiques issued after the London or Brussels meetings they will find nothing whatsoever in them that is contradictory to what I have told the House this afternoon.

Nato Headquarters


asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will pay an official visit to NATO Headquarters in Brussels.

When the Minister has his next opportunity of meeting the NATO people will he make it clear to them that in future his Government will take seriously commitments that they make in communiques of the kind to which my right hon. Friend referred? How otherwise can our allies trust the things to which we put our name?

I think that I made that abundantly clear in the last meeting, and the communique reflected the discussion which took place and the view not of myself but of the other 14 Ministers involved.

Does the Minister realise that he cannot have it both ways? Is he saying that the communique does not bind the Government, or that it does?

The communique is a report on the discussion in the meeting. In the present case there was discussion about ministerial guidance, and a summary of that guidance was given as an annexe to the communique. I would say that that was on a different basis from a report of the discussion, but if one participates in such a discussion one goes along with the general consensus.

Is it not a fact that our allies have ample reason to trust us, since we spend a greater percentage of gross national product on defence than they do, no matter what the Opposition say? Is not our record in this direction as good as anybody's anywhere?

There is widespread recognition of the fact that we make a substantial contribution, and there will be no wish on the part of our allies for that contribution not to be made.

Does the Secretary of State accept that in the face of the mounting Soviet military threat to NATO, there is a need for the allies to increase defence expenditure?

I subscribe to the problem as it was stated in the communique issued last week, that it should be the aim of all countries—and some countries are making a much smaller contribution in terms of their relative incomes than we are—to increase their expenditure, but economic circumstances will obviously be a factor as to whether, and how, that can be done.

Aircraft (Live Bomb Loads)


asked the Secretary of State for Defence under what circumstances RAF aircraft flying over Wales are loaded with live bombs or missiles.

In general, RAF aircraft flying over Wales are not loaded with real or practice ordnance unless they are taking part in weapon training. Then, in most cases, the ordnance will be small practice bombs or inert missiles. When any ordnance is carried over the land it is in a "safe" configuration, and is not made "live" until released within the prescribed range safety area. Stringent safety precautions apply at all times.

Is the Minister aware of the very great concern in Wales arising because of the crash a few weeks ago in a reservoir in Mid-Wales of an aircraft that contained live bombs? Will he say, in view of the considerable amount of training flying over Caernarvon, that in no circumstances will any aircraft carry live bombs or missiles?

We are very mindful of the disturbance caused by training by the Royal Air Force in terms of low flying and so forth. I have assured the hon. Member, and I do so again, that all the weapons carried in our aircraft are in a "safe" condition. In the main they are practice ammunition and every safety precaution is taken. However, I cannot give an undertaking that the RAF will not train to be able to fulfil its wartime rôle, which is the defence of freedom and the defence of the people of Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland.

Royal Marines (Buckingham Palace Guard)


asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will arrange for the Royal Marines to mount guard at Buckingham Palace from time to time in the same way as the RAF at present do, so that all three Services may share the honour.

May we have an indication of when the next time is likely to be, since the last time the Marines mounted guard was at the Jubilee in 1935? Is it not high time that the Senior Service took its turn with the other two?

Yes it is, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that the Royal Marines are a small corps and that they have a heavy operational, training and other commitment. The earliest such opportunity that can be envisaged is May 1979.

Is the Minister aware that the Royal Marines have been drastically cut by the Government and that they are all on operations or operational training, so that there is no one left to maintain these ceremonial duties?

Not quite. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Royal Marines are necessarily a small corps—

that in any event they enjoy close links with their Sovereign, and that they have many other ways in which they can serve her.

Hms "Bulwark"


asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects HMS "Bulwark" to be recommissioned.

I have nothing to add to my reply of 27th April 1976 to the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall).

Is the Minister aware that that reply will be received with regret? Will he say how the Government propose to transport the Royal Marines in future bearing in mind that there is no "Bulwark" and no "Albion", and that the "Hermes" is engaged on antisubmarine duties? Do the Government intend to use British Rail ferries?

Nato Defence Ministers


asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to meet other NATO Defence Ministers.

I confess that I gave the answer to this Question in error when replying to Question No. 13. The preface to the Questions is not dissimilar. The answer to Question No. 13 should have been: "I visit Brussels frequently in the normal course of business." The answer to the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) is: "At the Nuclear Planning Group meeting in Ottawa on 8th and 9th June."

Will the Secretary of State try to clear up another matter? Will he confirm that the Government accept the objectives set by the NATO Ministers last week of a 3 per cent. increase in defence spending in real terms without intending to take advantage of the let-out about economic circumstances being difficult, bearing in mind that the Prime Minister recently told the House that the economic indicators for Britain are pointing in the right direction?

In order not to fall out with the hon. Gentleman's Front Bench, I should accept the communique as it stands without seeking to amend it in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Has my right hon. Friend, along with the other NATO Defence Ministers, noticed the degree of standardisation in the Warsaw Pact countries and the efficiency that this creates? Is it beyond the wit of Ministers to agree on greater standardisation in NATO, so that we may get greater efficiency for less money?

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right in stressing the importance of standardisation, or, if that cannot be attained, of inter-operability. There are, of course, understandable pressures on most countries to find work for their own industries which does not make it easier to agree on completely standardised equipment for the whole Alliance.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that since the Ulster crisis began it has not been possible for us to maintain our agreed force level in Germany—a figure of 55,000? Was it not therefore grossly misleading for the Under-Secretary of State for the Army to suggests, in a television programme last Wednesday, that the number of troops now in place in Germany is 55,000 men, when it is not?

I did not have the opportunity of seeing the programme in question. It is well understood in NATO that we can, and do, withdraw only a small number of forces from the British Army of the Rhine to meet critical situations such as that in Northern Ireland. If one takes account of the RAF contingent in Germany, as well as the Army, the number is well over 55,000.

How was this magic figure of 3 per cent. arrived at? Was it plucked out of the air by some Defence Minister, was it reached by a process of bargaining, or does it represent a real appraisal of the Warsaw Pact?

Without breaching the confidentiality of the meetings—which is important if discussions are to be frank and worth while—it would be wrong to say which country made the proposal, but that figure was proposed in the discussion.

As the Secretary of State has given two utterly contradictory answers, will he now tell us whether he accepts or repudiates the NATO communiqué?

I have already clearly stated that I accept the need for the Alliance as a whole making an increase in its expenditure from 1979 onwards, provided—as was made clear in the communiqué—that there are no multilateral disarmament or arms control arrangements. However, the amount contribute by each country will depend upon the economic circumstances of that country and the present level of contribution.

Nato (Equipment Standardisation)


asked the Secretary of State for Defence what effect on employment in the United Kingdom the expansion of standardisation of defence equipment by NATO is expected to have and if he will make a statement.

I regret that I cannot give a general forecast of the sort requested by my hon. Friend, but the United Kingdom, as a country with a major capability for defence production. is well placed to take advantage of the opportunities that increased standardisation within NATO should provide.

Is the Minister aware that there is a danger of a movement of defence jobs out of this country and into the European States particularly France, because of standardisation of equipment? Will the Government be taking effective steps to compensate the United Kingdom for any lost jobs that may occur as a result of standardisation?

I shall certainly be happy to look at any evidence that my hon. Friend may put before me, but I can also cite to the House such successful examples of co-operation as the Anglo-French co-operation over helicopters, and that will continue in the future.

Has not the main adverse effect on employment in the United Kingdom in connection with defence been caused by the defence cuts? What is the Government's latest estimate of the number of jobs and job opportunities that will have been lost by the time that these cuts have taken effect?

I have already answered the hon. Gentleman's question on that matter and I have nothing further to add.

Weapons Purchases


asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will take steps to ensure that wherever possible weapons which have to be purchased are of British manufacture.

About 90 per cent. of our expenditure on defence equipment is currently in the United Kingdom, on either national or collaborative projects. Some types of equipment are not manufactured in the United Kingdom, or are more cheaply or more quickly available from abroad. The greater the pressures on the defence budget the less we can expect to be able to cover the whole range of defence equipment from United Kingdom sources or to ignore the potential savings in cases where it is significantly cheaper to buy from abroad.

Is the Minister aware that there have been cases where orders for equipment for which there was a British equivalent have gone abroad and that while many of my colleagues and I believe that we should cut defence expenditure wherever possible, we also think that when equipment is being purchased the contracts should be placed in this country in order to provide employment?

I can assure my hon. Friend that it is Government policy to procure equipment abroad only if there is a clear advantage in terms of operating characteristics, cost or availability.

Nato (Secretary-General)


asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he next plans to meet the Secretary-General of NATO.

I have nothing to add to the answers that I gave to the hon. Members for Carshalton (Mr. Forman) and Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) earlier today.

In view of the serious warnings that have been given by NATO leaders about the growing offensive capability of the Warsaw Pact, as well as the Government's lamentable record in defence will the Minister seek urgent meetings with the Secretary-General to determine how Britain can best respond to the new situation?

I do not need special meetings with the Secretary-General, because I met him last week. He was in the chair during the ministerial meeting and I shall be seeing him again in 10 days' time.



asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will take steps to make recruiting for the Armed Forces more efficient; and if he will make a statement.

As I told my hon. Friend on 2nd May, studies are taking place to see what economies can be made without prejudicing recruitment in the longer term.

Does the Minister agree that it is quite absurd that at this time of great unemployment it costs about £650 to recruit the average employee? Would it not be more realistic for recruitment to take place from jobcentres, as it does with every other technical job, and thus get rid of the forces recruitment offices that dominate town centres?

I am considering the possibility of the use of jobcentres for recruitment but I must tell the House that, from my preliminary studies, the prospects do not look too good. Strenuous efforts are being made to reduce the unacceptably high average cost of recruitment.