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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 972: debated on Tuesday 30 October 1979

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

Defence

Arms Sales

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what new criteria he has introduced concerning the sale of arms since he assumed office; and if he will make a statement.

We shall continue to consider arms sales on their merits, taking into account the relevant political, strategic, security, economic and arms control considerations. But we shall want to be certain that there are strong arguments against a proposed arms sale before turning it down.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will he take this appropriate moment to confirm that, on the question of arms sales, the People's Republic of China is considered to be a friendly power of Her Majesty's Government? Will he also tell the House what the Government are doing to expedite the sale of Harriers to the Chinese Government?

My hon. Friend should know that negotiations for the sale of Harriers to the People's Republic of China continue and that the Government hope that those negotiations will reach a successful conclusion. We have no political reservations about the prospects of arms sales to the People's Republic of China.

Will the Government now follow the example of America and Germany which have refused to sell arms to China but have succeeded in obtaining huge orders for non-military goods?

Many countries are currently engaged in negotiating arms sales to China. Her Majesty's Government, like their predecessors, saw no reason why negotiations for certain arms sales should not proceed, and they are now in progress.

Ex-Service Men (Pensions)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made by his Department over the question of anomalies in the provision of retirement pensions for ex-Service men.

The Government are still examining this very difficult problem. As I told the hon. Member on 12 June, these anomalies affect not only the Armed Forces but all groups of public service pensioners. In its wider aspects this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Civil Service.

Does the Minister accept that as inflation increases these discrepancies get wider? We now have the ridiculous situation of a man retiring from the Navy aged 55 and doing four years more service to retire in 1977 than some of his colleagues and getting a pension of upwards of £500 less. The situation cannot be allowed to continue in a fair society. Will the hon. Gentleman do something about this matter more quickly than he has done so far?

As I told the hon. Gentleman, these are complex issues which range widely across the whole of the public service. On 12 June I said that I could not hold out hopes of early remedial action. I regret that is still the situation.

Is it not a scandal that those who retired before April 1977 receive about 32 per cent. less in terms of pension and their widows receive about 32 per cent. less in pension than those who retired after that date because of the Labour Government's action in holding down the pay of the Armed Forces? Is not the sensible way to approach the problem to accept the proposal put forward by the Officers Pension Society of providing a floor below which pensions should not fall?

I have had discussions with the Officers Pension Society about these matters which range wider than the Armed Forces, as I am sure my hon. Friend appreciates. We are looking at various solutions, but I cannot hold out hopes of early remedial action.

The situation of regulars under 55 years of age who were demobbed before 1973 is causing consternation among ex-Service men and their pension associations. I think that the numbers diminish yearly. Therefore, is it not worth while looking into this matter to see whether we can bring these categories into the scales as if they were demobbed after 1973?

There are various options that we can consider, and we are certainly looking at all the options. However, there are complexities, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) will know, and there are considerable public expenditure implications too. I am by no means unsympathetic, but I urge hon. Members not to underestimate the difficulties.

Nato Defence Ministers

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects next to meet his NATO colleagues.

I shall be meeting some NATO defence Ministers at the nuclear planning group in mid-November and will meet them collectively at the ministerial meeting of the defence planning committee in December.

When the right hon. Gentleman next meets his NATO colleagues, will he discuss with them the Prime Minister's recent Luxembourg speech? Will he ascertain from them whether they feel that that speech has strengthened the hands of the hawks or the doves in the Kremlin?

Certainly the issues and facts underlying my right hon. Friend's speech will be discussed at NATO, and I shall take the opportunity of discussing them with my colleagues, the other Ministers of defence. The situation facing the Alliance is of a mounting military capability in the Warsaw Pact, and that is something that the NATO Alliance must consider most carefully and take into account.

I accept that the Government have made it clear that they would endorse the SALT II agreement, but will my right hon. Friend assure the House that our loyalties in NATO will remain unshakeable, whether or not the SALT II agreement goes through Congress?

I can give my right hon. Friend that assurance. On the work that is of most immediate concern to NATO, we believe that what we have in mind is necessary whether or not the SALT II agreement is signed.

When the right hon. Gentleman discusses with his NATO colleagues the speech of President Brezhnev in Berlin on 6 October, will he be urging them to accept at its face value the offer that was made and try to make some small but reciprocal offer so that the move will not be dismissed in the cavalier fashion adopted by the Prime Minister in Luxembourg?

It is not right to say that the offer was dismissed. It has been welcomed so far as it goes, and the Alliance is considering it carefully. However, even if the proposal by President Brezhnev were to be fulfilled, the imbalance in favour of the Warsaw Pact countries would still remain preponderant, massive and most significant.

Contrary to the implications of both questions by Labour Members, is it not a fact that, even if 1,000 obsolete Russian tanks were removed, 20,000 would remain as opposed to the 7,000 or 8,000 of the West, and that if 20,000 troops were removed a short distance away that would still leave a balance of just under 1 million for the Warsaw Pact to 600,000 for the West? Is it not a fact that, happily, among the NATO Ministers at the moment there is complete unanimity of view on the need to modernise and re-equip our forces in Europe?

Yes. It is the case, as my hon. Friend says, that even if this undertaking were fulfilled the preponderance on the Warsaw Pact side would be enormous—about three to one in tanks, and well over 100,000 more troops on the other side. It is the view of the NATO Alliance that, in the face of that situation, which naturally we hope will alter and that a greater balance will be brought about, we should react accordingly and modernise our equipment.

Of course there can be no doubt about our very firm commitment- to NATO, but does the right hon. Gentleman agree that theatre nuclear modernisation, which he will be discussing in November and December, must be linked to very positive arms control measures? Does he agree that these will lack credibility if SALT II is not passed by that time? Will he make this clear to the American Administration, and will he consider carefully whether modernisation needs to go ahead in December if SALT II is not then through?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that arms control is a most important element in our defence policy. The objective is, naturally, that the level of armaments on both sides should be lowered, but the trouble at the moment is that the imbalance on the other side is massive, and the Warsaw Pact countries have recently brought into their equipment and their line very modern and technically efficient nuclear capabilities which are not at present matched on the NATO side. We have to take that into account, but that does not alter the fact that arms control is an important part of our defence.

If the Warsaw Pact countries, and particularly the Soviet Union, made a realistic offer of reductions, which would bring the two sides more or less into balance, that would be a totally new situation. However, until that happens, we must be realistic about our capabilities because we believe—I think that our predecessors took the same view—that one cannot negotiate in this vitally important area except from a position of strength. If one tries to negotiate from weakness, one is unlikely to be successful. Therefore, it is important for us to remember the facts and realities of the existing situation.

This question comes up again twice, and I hope that questions and answers will then be brief.

Hydrographer To The Navy

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what reductions are envisaged in the work of the Hydrographer to the Navy, in the light of current cuts in public expenditure.

Unhappily, I was not here to listen to that fascinating debate. Will the Minister confirm that the Hydrographer will be given all facilities to discharge his very important functions, particularly in the light of the 200-mile exclusive economic zone which we and other countries now have, and bearing in mind the importance to developing countries of surveys round their coasts, with which we can help?

I cannot give the hon. Member and open-ended commitment, any more than I was able to give my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) one last night. I said last night that we are reviewing the civil hydrography conclusions reached by the previous Administration. However, I certainly underline the importance of hydrography, both in terms of civil and defence needs. I can say nothing more than that we are reviewing the previous Administration's conclusions.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the work of the Hydrographer is an essential precondition of an effective anti-submarine warfare programme? Does he agree that, far from cutting any work which may have an impact on this area the Government should be carefully considering increasing it?

I affirm that, and of course I affirm that defence is the first priority of my Department.

If the Minister is reviewing the role and the amount of money that can be given to the Hydrographer, will he look into the question of the staff at Bath, particularly the naval architectural staff there, and see whether he is satisfied with the work that they are doing, or whether they are too conservative? Could not some of that work be referred out to private practice?

The Hydrography department is in Taunton, so that issue does not arise on this question.

Nato Defence Ministers

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence, when next he intends to meet other NATO defence Ministers.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I have given to the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Evans).

Is my right hon. Friend as concerned as I am that certain NATO countries are not honouring the defence obligation in the way that this country is? When he next meets his NATO colleagues, will he draw their attention to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and seek to ensure that the defence contribution made by other countries matches that made by this country?

Yes, I think that I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. We attach much importance to the long-term defence programme of NATO with its envisaged 3 per cent. annual increase. It so happens that in recent years this country has not increased its defence as much as some of us in this House think we should have, and therefore we have a certain amount of leeway to make up. However, we attach the utmost importance to it, and we hope that all the allies will adhere to the programme to which they have agreed.

Bearing in mind what the right hon. Gentleman said about the build-up of the Soviet defence capability, would it not be preferable to use the moves by the Soviet Union to discuss with that country ways and means of reducing arms in Europe instead of trying to do something which we cannot achieve, and that is to match the Soviet defence capability? That is an impossibility. Would it not be better to be realistic and discuss with the Soviet Union means of reducing the arms in the area?

Naturally the Government are keen that that should happen. Negotiations have been going on in Vienna now for about six years with that objective in mind. Unfortunately the disagreement arises because those on the Eastern side are not prepared to accept that the imbalance is what we know it to be. Our objective is to try to get a reduction.

In response to the President's speech, we are carefully considering the matter with the Alliance. We wish to take any and every advantage it is possible to take of that speech. However, we must not lose sight of the realities of the situation. We hope that the imbalance may be reduced so that we may get more into a position of equivalence.

When my right hon. Friend meets his NATO colleagues will he emphasise to them the relevance today of the so-called geographical guidelines of NATO, with a view to their eventual removal?

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence, when next he will meet the other Defence Ministers of NATO.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply which I gave earlier today to his hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Evans).

When the offer to negotiate comes, should not the British Government put it to the test rather than kick it in the teeth, as two of their prominent members have done? Secondly, on the subject of the overwhelming Soviet dominance propaganda we heard this afternoon, is the Secretary of State aware that the Institute of Strategic Studies, a neutral body, has this month in its military balance document shown that between East and West in Europe there is

"something very close to parity"
in the strength in nuclear weapons?

It also said that the trend in recent years has been steadily against the West. The build-up on the other side has been greater, unfortunately. We are studying what is said. Any advantage to be taken from it we shall try to take. There are negotiations available in Vienna all the time, where there is a forum already in existence where the matter can be discussed.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm—is it not a matter for grave concern?—that since the West has been engaged with the Soviet Union in the MBFR discussions in Vienna since 1971, the Soviet Union has so reinforced its conventional capability that, even if an entire Soviet tank army of three tank divisions were removed from the group of Soviet forces in Germany, there would still be several hundred more Soviet tanks today than at the start of these talks?

My hon. Friend is right. That is the position. For that reason, it is extremely difficult to make progress. The facts must be agreed by both sides. Our objective is to achieve a balance. However, at the moment there is a reluctance on the other side to come anywhere near anything that could be described as balance. My hon. Friend is right in his assessment.

Will the Minister reflect on his earlier answer? Is he not aware that one of the reasons for the disappointing progress of arms control is precisely that both sides insisted that they could negotiate only from a position of strength—a position that is logically unattainable for both of them? While there is no perfect time to come out of an arms race, surely it would be better to talk seriously to the Russians about the proposal before we stuff another 400 missiles into East Anglia—a move to which the Russians will certainly respond in kind.

Serious discussions have taken place and will take place again. When we talk about negotiating from a position of strength, there is a difference between the massive excess of strength on the other side and the capability that exists on this side. The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that that imbalance cannot be accepted or allowed to continue from the point of view of the West. We wish to rectify that imbalance. If serious discussions and negotiations can achieve that balance, that is splendid. That is what we want to happen. We shall do everything we can to make it happen.

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that when he meets his NATO colleagues he will, with them, insist that when SALT II has been ratified we shall be closely involved with our NATO colleagues in the SALT III discussions so that our interests are protected? Secondly, does he not think that the interest shown in these NATO matters deserves an urgent and early debate in the House?

It is premature at the moment to consider any detail about SALT III. Naturally it is important that our capabilities should be preserved.

I welcome a debate. I have already been in touch with my right hon. Friends the Leader of the House and the Patronage Secretary in the hope that it might be possible to arrange a debate in the House. I know that there are heavy pressures on the programme. For myself, I should very much like to have a debate on the subject.

Expenditure

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will state his proposal to increase defence expenditure in volume terms.

The Government's White Paper on public expenditure will be published on Thursday.

I thank the Minister for that helpful answer. Is he aware that those of us who attended the defence debates in the previous Parliament were constantly castigated by his Conservative Party colleagues for the modest cuts made by the previous Labour Government in their defence expenditure? We were assured that a Conservative Government would honour a commitment to increase that expenditure. Does he think that an increase in defence expenditure would be politically acceptable when the Government are cutting every other form of public expenditure? Does he believe that that is economically realistic?

The truth is that, unless the security of the nation is adequately protected, it is doubtful whether we shall have a society or a country in which it is possible to have the social environment that we all want. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) once said that once we cut defence expenditure to the extent where our security was imperilled we should have no houses, no hospitals, no schools.

Since—as I hope —the White Paper will contain provision for the modernisation of our contribution to the theatre nuclear deterrent, will my right hon. Friend consider the advantages of putting out a more popular version so that the public as a whole may understand the essential need for us to accept new missiles, in the light of all the misconceptions that have been mischeviously put out about this, especially in East Anglia?

It is for that reason that I should like a debate in the House. I take what opportunities I get to explain to the country the rationale of the defence policy and the reasons for modernisation. However, Thursday's public expenditure White Paper is not a defence White Paper —which obviously will come later. The defence White Paper will naturally in due course contain a great deal of explanation.

Tornado Aircraft

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the expected cost of each Tornado aircraft in each variant; what is the total development cost to be borne by Her Majesty's Government; and how much each aircraft is expected to cost for each year it is in service, in terms of fuel, costs of crew, and spares.

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

The unit production cost of the GR1 aircraft is £9 million, and that of the F2 £11 million, both at September 1978 economic conditions. It is not the practice to disclose the other costs for which the hon. Member has asked.

I am slightly disappointed but not surprised by that answer. Does the Minister agree that the Tornado has been over-designed to perform far too many roles and, as a result, will be far too costly, so that there are now grave doubts about its safety? Does he accept that it will be far too sophisticated for many of its roles and that it will be rather like trying to put the family milk bottles out using a fork lift truck?

I cannot accept that in the environment in which the Tornado will have to operate it will be oversophisticated—quite the reverse. I reject most strongly the hon. Gentleman's implication that there is any doubt about the Tornado's safety. That is not the case. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should talk in such terms when so many of his constituents depend for their jobs on that programme.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that he is aware that all variants of the Tornado are much cheaper than the glossy alternatives being offered from the other side of the Atlantic? Will he give a clear assurance that he will not succumb to the seductive siren's songs from the other side of the Atlantic but will stick with the Tornado all the way?

I am glad to give my hon. Friend that assurance. We have been looking at the so-called fighter gap and at some possible arrangements for leasing or purchasing American equipment. We have now decided that that is no longer a realistic option. We are perfectly content to proceed with both versions of the Tornado aircraft.

Cyprus

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when next he intends to visit the sovereign base areas of Cyprus.

My right hon. Friend has at present no plans to do so, but my noble Friend the Minister of State has recently visited the sovereign base areas.

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what answer the Prime Minister gave to President Kyprianou when at the Lusaka Commonwealth Conference he asked for £200 million back rent for these bases? Will the hon. Gentleman explain to the House why the British Government have reneged on the 1960 agreement to pay for the facilities in the Republic used by our forces? In view of the great unrest on the island about this, can we make some gesture towards the Cypriot people by, for instance, returning part of the unused areas of the bases for use by the new University of Cyprus?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that any question he has on that should be addressed, more properly to the Lord Privy Seal. I suggest to him that, if he wishes to discover what the Prime Minister said at the Lusaka conference, he should write to my right hon. Friend.

Will the Minister make a point of going to the sovereign base areas himself to see Britain's forgotten refugees who are still in the camps there? Is he aware that the condition of those refugees still causes concern?

I would certainly welcome an early opportunity to visit the sovereign base areas and, at that time, to take account of what my hon. Friend has said.

Does my hon. Friend accept that, given the present disturbed situation in the Middle East, we would be much better employed in reactivating those bases completely, rather than handing over buildings for use by the university?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. It arose on the original question. I would have said to the original questioner that there is no possibility whatever of any land, bases or buildings being made available for the purpose that he originally suggested.

Officers And Aircrew Selection Centre

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if it is still intended that the Officers and Aircrew Selection Centre should be transferred from RAF Biggin Hill.

Is my hon. Friend aware that this was one of the most unwise defence cuts made by the previous Government? Is he further aware that there is no space available at Bentley Priory and no money with which to build the centre if it is transferred. Will my hon. Friend reject the idea of transferring virtually the whole of RAF Station Biggin Hill and continue to use that RAF station, and its immense prestige, for the purpose of continuing to recruit the pilots that we so badly need?

My hon. Friend has consistently advocated this, and he is aware that the original decision was taken by the previous Administration. However, in confirming this decision we had to consider value for money. We are convinced that it will be necessary to move the Officers and Aircrew Selection Centre to Bentley Priory and, therefore, we shall have to proceed. I can tell my hon. Friend that the presence of the Royal Air Force will continue at Biggin Hill. In the form of the chaplains' school there will be over 4,000 RAF personnel and their families attending that centre each year.

Bearing in mind what the Minister just said, will he confirm that the previous Government's original decision was the correct one?

Low-Flying Aircraft (Wales)

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what complaints he has received during the past six months concerning low-flying aircraft in Wales.

The hon. Member will be aware that low-flying training is essential to the operational effectiveness of the Royal Air Force and that it is distributed as evenly as possible throughout the whole of Great Britain. Complaints are received from members of the public and local authorities in all parts of the country, including Wales, about the associated disturbance, but these represent a minute proportion of the total number of people affected and, indeed, the indications are that the enlargement of the low-flying system introduced at the beginning of the year has alleviated the disturbance in the areas that were previously most heavily used.

Is the Minister aware that there is considerable anxiety and there has been a large number of complaints from several areas in Wales—particularly in Dwyfor in my constituency—because of what appears to be an escalating number of incidents of this type? Will the Minister explain why it is necessary to give the American air force permission to fly F-111s and F-4s at low-level in such areas as Dwyfor? In what circumstances would the Minister give the American air force permission to fly below 500 ft?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the American air force is not only stationed in this country but, with the aircraft that he has described, has to train and has the same operational requirement as the Royal Air Force. We have told the USAF that it must at all times observe the same operational limitations on low-flying as the Royal Air Force, and we are satisfied that it is currently doing that.

Does the Minister agree that in the Principality a considerable amount of low-flying is due to the RAF and NATO bombing base at Pembrey in South Wales? Does not the Minister consider that after 20 years the local people deserve a respite from this auditory affront to their environment?

I sympathise with the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but there are no suitable alternative locations to which we can move the bombing range.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that, although aircraft noise causes a great deal of suffering to my constituents, when it comes to training people for the defence of our country they would put their comfort and convenience second? One would hope that the people of Carmarthen would do the same.

Has the Minister seen the reports stating that the Royal Air Force might, in future, carry out low-flying training in Canada? Would he like to comment on those reports? Will he bear in mind that, if true, those reports would mean that the British taxpayer would pay a heavy price to protect the eardrums of the constituents of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel)?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that I recently visited Canada for the purpose of discussing with the Canadian Government the possibility of the Royal Air Force making greater use of Canadian training facilities. It would be wrong to mislead the House into believing that we shall be able to export, so to speak, a greater proportion of our low-flying training. We shall certainly be able to export a certain amount, with some cost penalty. However, the hon. Gentleman needs to be reminded that we already have a similar facility at Goose Bay.

Expenditure

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the review of expenditure as it affects his Department.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave earlier to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook).

As the Secretary of State and the Cabinet are busy flogging off national assets as fast as they can, are they considering selling the Army, to Securicor, for example? If that is not so, is it because the Cabinet considers that the Armed Forces are too important a national asset and that private enterprise is neither efficient nor patriotic enough to have this responsibility? If that is indeed so, why does not the Minister apply these values to industry?

I am doubtful whether the hon. Gentleman is wise to treat our Armed Forces with levity. The Armed Forces are, after all, the security of our nation, which is the first responsibility of any Government.

Does my right hon. Friend have any thoughts about the motives of Opposition Members who assiduously press their questions, which must give great comfort to the Kremlin? Does my right hon. Friend think that there is any possibility that there is someone in the Kremlin doing as good a job for the West as Opposition Members do for the Kremlin?

Does the Secretary of State admit that part of the examination now proceeding is a look at the naval bases, particularly Rosyth? Will he ensure that when Professor Smith of PA Management Consultants next goes to Rosyth he has a full and frank discussion with all the trade unionists involved at that base, so that they are properly informed and consulted about the future prospects for employment there?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is our intention and wish to have the fullest consultation with the unions on any matter of that kind. I can also tell him that we have in hand at present a study considering the work of the Royal Navy dockyards. We think it is important, in view of the work that the naval dockyards do, to see whether they are well managed, whether there are any improvements that can be made, and how they can carry out their work more effectively.

In the context of future public expenditure, when does the right hon. Gentleman expect to reach a decision on whether and, if so, how, to replace Polaris?—a subject, as he knows, of the very widest implications.

There is, of course, no timetable for completing this process, but the Government are already considering options and possibilities. I think that certainly in the course of next year a decision is likely to be reached. However, I could not be more definite than that.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I reserve the right to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what cuts are now proposed in defence expenditure.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave earlier to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook).

Is it not a scandalous situation, however, when day by day the Government are announcing cuts in health, welfare, social and local authority services, that the Government should be contemplating increasing defence expenditure? If the right hon Gentleman is not able to contain it, will he minimise the increase in expenditure, because it is at the expense of all other Government expenditure?

No Government, and certainly not the present Government, like spending money on defence for its own sake. One spends it only because of the needs of the situation. The situation with which we are faced requires, unfortunately an increase in defence expenditure. We are committed to that, and we intend to fulfil that. Naturally, we hope very much that by negotiations, and by any means within our power, circumstances will alter and that will not be necessary, but so long as it is necessary it must remain one of the absolute top priorities for this or any Government.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, particularly for those of the same generation as my right hon. Friend and myself, the price of liberty has been too clearly shown to be eternal vigilance?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said. Naturally, I share that view very much.

If the Warsaw Pact countries enjoy the vast military superiority which the Secretary of State for Defence claims that they do and yet they have not launched any attack on Western Europe—[AN HON. MEMBER: "Yet."]—is not increasing defence expenditure throwing good money after bad?

If the hon. Gentleman would contemplate the fact that the Soviet Unon devotes about one-eighth of its entire gross domestic product to defence, I think that he would appreciate the scale of effort that is going on on that side. If the Soviet Union would alter that policy and pursue its energies and use its resources for more peaceful purposes, I think that it would be possible for us to make progress. But in the meantime, faced with that threat, we have to be realistic about it.

Will my right hon. Friend have discussions with his colleagues and with local authorities to see whether it would be possible to offer all of those who are opposing defence expenditure those special standards of living, special freedoms and other special conditions which are enjoyed behind the Iron Curtain?

I have been making a considerable number of speeches in public about defence and the need for it. I am happy to be able to say that my view is that there is a growing awareness of the threat that we face, an understanding of the need for an increased defence expenditure, however regrettable, and a growing support for it so long as circumstances exist in which that increased expenditure is necessary.

Tornado Aircraft

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement on the progress with the development of the air defence variant of the Tornado.

Considerable progress has been achieved in the development of the Tornado air defence variant. The rollout of the first development aircraft took place on 9 August this year, and its first flight took place at the weekend. The second and third development aircraft are due to fly during 1980.

Will my hon. Friend do everything within his power to advance the production programme for the air defence variant of the Tornado, particularly now that he has emphasised in public the importance that he places on this aeroplane for the air defence of the United Kingdom?

We are currently examining the possibility of bringing forward the in-service date of the air defence variant.

Will the Minister challenge the figure of £600,000 for training one Tornado pilot.

I would not challenge the figure. If anything, I would think that the figure is very probably understated.

Arms Sales

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether there has been any change in Government policy on arms sales since May 1979; and whether there are any plans for such change.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave earlier today to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley).

Does the Minister accept that the decision of the previous Labour Government to cancel the sale of armoured cars to El Salvador, for example, was highly significant in that it added to the international disapproval which helped to bring about the recent downfall of President Romero's regime? Does the Minister agree that by increasing the sale of arms to such repressive regimes, the Tory Government would be supporting those regimes instead of trying to bring about peaceful change?

The first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is really a question for my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal. As to the generality of it, of course we consider arms sales on a case-by-case basis. There are sometimes circumstances in which we think it is not appropriate to make arms sales, but where they are appropriate and where the countries concerned wish to defend themselves by weapons made in this country, there is a contribution that we can make to their defence and stability, so we look at the matter on a case-by-case basis. Unless there is a good reason not to make those sales, we are inclined to make them.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 30 October.

In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen. Later tonight I shall preside at a dinner in honour of Premier Hua.

After all the hopes that she raised during the general election campaign that she would be successful in significantly reducing Britain's contribution to the EEC budget, does the Prime Minister accept today that she will have failed miserably if she does not return from the Dublin summit with a reduction of at least £750 million in this country's contribution?

I think that it is most unwise to put a figure in advance on anything that we hope to get out of Dublin. We are going for a broad balance between contributions and benefits, a broad balance in our net contribution.

In her meetings with ministerial colleagues today, will the Prime Minister direct them that announcements of Government policy should be made to this House and not to private meetings of the Conservative Party, especially when they are of a discriminatory nature on grounds of both sex and race, as yesterday's announcement was?

I understand that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was discussing with my hon. Friends promises given in the election manifesto on immigration.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to telephone the Labour leader of Liverpool council and ask him whether the decision of his council to pay 30,000 employees to go on strike for a day in support of a rally against the economies in public spending is Labour policy? If that is Labour policy, costing the ratepayers no less than £250,000, is it that alternative which the Opposition failed to put in the debate last week against the economies in public spending?

If the report is true, I think it a great waste of the ratepayers' money, and I hope that the ratepayers of Liverpool will protest vigorously.

Has the Prime Minister seen the CBI industrial survey today which states, in substance, that business confidence has slumped in the last three months, demand and output are weak, more firms are working below capacity, investment plans are being shelved, export prospects are in decline, and companies' cash positions have deteriorated sharply in the last three months? In view of the fact that this is in clear contradiction to—what was it? —the new spirit that the Chancellor detected last week, what is the right hon. Lady's comment on this, and is this part of the state of affairs that she sees in her industrial strategy?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, that survey was taken in the middle of the engineering dispute, which itself has cost this country dearly in both orders and jobs. I note that the CBI survey indicates that one of the greatest deterrents to increased prosperity in this country is increased unit labour costs, and that is partly coming about because of strikes and pay claims which go beyond productivity.

Whilst, however, free collective bargaining is, of course, part of the creed of the Conservative Party and the Government at present, as well as that of some of the trade unions, and we can see the results that are flowing from it, may I ask the right hon. Lady whether she can give the country any prospect that this forecast, which is so serious for Britain's future, is likely to be dispelled, and whether the Government themselves have any plans to do anything about it?

We stand absolutely by our strategy of incentives to those who are prepared to work harder, and we condemn totally those who wish to take out more than they put in by increased effort. It is they who are responsible for unemployment, and it will be they who will be responsible for losing Britain orders both at home and abroad.

Anglesey

Q2.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will find time in the future, because she will be most welcome there. Is she aware that there is a grave shortage of engineering skills in Anglesey and other parts of the United Kingdom? While accepting that training is best done within industry itself, does she accept that every possible encouragement should be given to training schemes initiated by the local authorities and the Manpower Services Commission?

I note that there are areas, both in Wales and elsewhere, where skills do not match vacancies. It is, of course, of very considerable concern that there are parts of the country where we have unemployment but where, nevertheless, we cannot get the people to fill skilled engineering jobs. We are concerned that there should be proper training for these jobs in general, although I cannot promise specific capital expenditure on specific projects.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 30 October.

Will the Prime Minister find time to comment on yesterday's speech by the Secretary of State for the Environment which threatened public sector workers with the loss of their jobs if they dared to demand a wage increase of between 15 per cent. and 17½ per cent., although the Tory Budget will probably increase inflation to about 20 per cent. by the turn of the year? Is not the Prime Minister aware that many workers who perform a valuable public service, and who receive less than a £50 basic wage rate, are exceedingly angered by such a provocative lecture from the over-paid, militant Mace bearer of the Tory Party?

My right hon. Friend was trying to put across the line —which is both responsible and moral—that national and local governments have to live within the nation's means. To do anything else would be both thoroughly immoral and reprehensible.

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the possibility that Her Majesty's Customs might give special privileges to European Members of Parliament? Will she make it absolutely clear that no Member of Parliament enjoys privileges that are different from any other citizen of this country? Will she ensure that the Government will never give diplomatic status or privileges at Customs to European Members of Parliament or even to Members of this honourable and slightly older House?

I am glad to take the opportunity to confirm what my hon. Friend has said. There are no special privileges either for Members of this House or for Members of the European Assembly. They are treated just the same as everyone else.

During the course of her engagements today, will the Prime Minister find time to attend the meeting of the All-Party Wool Textile Parliamentary Group, which is meeting at 5.30 p.m., in order to assure those Members with wool textile interests that the Government intend to adhere to their election pledges to help the textile industry when it is the subject of unfair and distorted competition?

With regard to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I shall have to disappoint him. I have a rather busy day today. As he knows, if ever we get dumping it is the job of the Government and the European Community to take swift action.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to consider whether she agrees with the Carter administration that failure to ratify the SALT agreement will lead to the disintegration of NATO?

I do not believe that that would lead to the disintegration of NATO. NATO is a very much stronger alliance than that, and will continue to be this country's shield into the future.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 30 October.

Will the Prime Minister give some thought today to the important question of cutting public expenditure? I am referring not to a few thousand pounds to shut down an old folks' home or something such as that, but to something that is now spiralling out of control and towering above everything else in importance. I refer to the monstrous sum of more than £1,000 million that is being extorted from this country to subsidise richer countries in the Common Market. Is the right hon. Lady aware that she has aroused the expectations of the whole country and that everyone will be behind her in going as an "Iron Lady" to do her duty in Brussels? We have seen the right hon. Lady show her mettle in taking milk from school children. Can we hope that after a few chats with Helmut and Giscard she will show no signs of metal fatigue, that she will do her job, that there will be no here or there, that there will be no ambiguity and that—

Order. I hope to call other hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman's question has taken a long time.

and that unless she does some of us in this House believe that we should no longer sign the cheques?

I rather think that for once the hon. Gentleman is following me in what I have said.

Will my right hon. Friend find time during the day to have a word with Mr. Len Murray and to raise with him the topic of the protest march against the Abortion (Amendment) Bill with which he associated the whole trade union movement? Will she remind him that such an overtly political Bill is quite outside the responsibilities that he has for the pay and working conditions of his members, and that it has aroused considerable anxiety of conscience among many ordinary Christian trade unionists who do not like to be associated with this subject?

I very much agree with what my hon. Friend has said. This matter has always been thought of as one for us each individually, and not one on which one can commit other people.

Since the right hon. Lady is the first woman Prime Minister that this country has had, will she find time today to explain to all those women who are lawfully settled here, but who were not born here, why they will now be treated as second class citizens and be the victims of both sex and race discrimination under the new proposals?

As the hon. Lady knows, during the election campaign we made perfectly clear exactly what kind of action we would take and we are standing by that promise.

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her engagements for Tuesday 30 October.

Will my right hon. Friend take time to consider the disgraceful political game that is being played by some Labour-controlled authorities in connection with the Government's economic policy? Is she aware that councils such as Lothian regional council in Scotland, while threatening to put up rates and cut social services such as home helps for the elderly, are at the same time handing out sums such as £280,000 to build an escalator in a British Rail station?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the example that he has given. I hope that all ratepayers who are faced with greatly increased rate demands will look carefully to see exactly where their local authorities are spending the vast sums of money at their disposal.

If the right hon. Lady is prepared to ignore the report of the CBI to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) has referred, has she read the account of the meeting between the British Institute of Management and the Chancellor of the Exchequer this week in which the institute not only fully endorsed the report of the CBI but pointed out that the right hon. Lady's financial measures since the election run the risk of leaving managers worse off and with lower incentives than they had before? What has she to say about that?

I have not the slightest shadow of doubt that if it came to choosing between supporting me or the right hon. Gentleman both the CBI and the British Institute of Management would continue to support me.

Will my right hon. Friend take time off today to read the recently published report by the National Federation of Self-Employed and Small Businesses, entitled "An inspector at the door", which details 252 different powers of entry into private homes and business premises enjoyed by 201 Government inspectors? Will she not agree now to hold a detailed inquiry into every one of the powers of entry, and also consider having a code of practice as to the methods of investigation to be used in the name of the State?

I have seen that report. It is a very valuable one. We must take it very seriously and look at it with a view to finding a means of reducing the numbers of occasions upon which inspectors can demand entry.

The hon. Gentleman has given me notice that he wishes to raise a point of order. It is customary to leave points of order until after a statement.