Skip to main content

Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 974: debated on Tuesday 27 November 1979

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

Defence

Nuclear Installations

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what information he has as to how near the Russian border Western countries have sited their nuclear installations; and in which countries these are situated.

The hon. Gentleman cannot expect me to reveal operational details of this kind.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the consternation being expressed about the 2,000 combat troops that the Soviet Union has in Cuba is being manufactured to jeopardise the SALT II agreement? Does he also agree that Lord Carrington's urging NATO to take a decision on medium-range missile replacement on 12 December will jeopardise the possibility of a SALT III agreement?

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The presence of troops in Cuba is not a matter for Her Majesty's Government. The agreement that we hope to achieve on 12 December is in response to the increasing deployment of weapons by the Warsaw Pact countries. It is true that the ratification of SALT II is a preliminary to the beginning of SALT III. I do not think that the delay that is now occurring, however much we may regret it, will have the effect of stopping, preventing or delaying arms control negotiations, which we regard as an important part of the programme.

Will my right hon. Friend put in simple terms to the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) exactly what the balance of conventional forces is in Europe?

The House is aware that it is massively in favour of the Warsaw Pact countries.

Flight Safety

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what has been the total number of mid-air collisions in 1979; how this figure compares with the previous years; and if he will make a statement.

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

There has been one mid-air collision involving RAF aircraft in 1979, which occurred near Wisbech. This was the first since 1976, when there were two; one involving two Harriers and the other two Gnat trainers. I shall make a full statement on the circumstances of the Wisbech accident at the earliest opportunity.

Does the Minister feel that he should reconsider his policy of supplying information? Does he accept that those on the ground at Wisbech have a right to know how the accident happened and how similar accidents might be averted? Above all, will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that, to the people of Wisbech, 10 weeks to find the results and to report on the findings of a commission of inquiry seems a very long time?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the procedure in accidents of this sort is to establish a board of inquiry. The board was convened, and it has recently been reconvened to check certain detailed matters. It would be wrong for the people of Wisbech, or any other part of the United Kingdom, to expect such proceedings to be unnecessarily expedited. I think that the hon. Gentleman will be aware, if he is concerned about matters of flight safety, that I wrote to him on 24 October offering to arrange a special briefing for him. That offer is still open.

Harrier Av8b Aircraft

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to buy American-built Harrier AV8B aircraft for the Royal Air Force.

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence to what degree the United Kingdom is participating in the United States AV8B programme.

Under arrangements agreed between United States and United Kingdom industry, British Aerospace stands to gain 30 per cent. of the airframe work and Rolls-Royce 75 per cent. of the engine work if the United States AV8B programme goes ahead. Sixteen other United Kingdom companies are currently associated with it.

With the aim of retaining for the Royal Air Force until at least the end of the century the unique operational advantages conferred by the Harrier, an Air Staff requirement has been identified for an improved version of this aircraft offering increased manoeuvrability, range and payload. The British Aerospace Mk. 5 Harrier had been specifically designed to meet this requirement, and the AV8B is currently being evaluated as another potential means of doing so.

Is my hon. Friend aware that that answer will bring great consolation and gratification to all those who believe most firmly in this British aircraft, which is now being developed to the great advantage of the NATO Alliance?

Does my hon. Friend agree that a long-term development programme undertaken with the United States for this type of aircraft would provide a better long-term investment for this country and for the Alliance, provided that British Aerospace is given an adequate share of the work?

That is one of the factors that is currently being evaluated. It is important for my hon. Friend to appreciate that we should need to be satisfied that the operational advantages of the AV8B were in line with what the RAF requires.

Can my hon. Friend say when he expects the RAF flight test evaluation team to fly the AV8B in the United States?

My hon. Friend will be aware that the second and more advanced of the two AV8B prototypes crashed about 10 or 12 days ago, and that will necessarily postpone the evaluation. The evaluation is proceeding on the basis of existing data, and it is a matter of judgment whether this information will be adequate on which to base a decision.

Does the Minister agree that long-term weapons development programmes undertaken with the United States always end badly for British industry? We always find that our technology is exploited and that they get the money from the production. Would it not be very much better to concentrate and confine these activities to the United Kingdom wherever possible?

I think that the longer-term interests of the Harrier programme, to which my hon. Friend has alluded, must lie with the possible development of a supersonic Harrier capability. It must be an open question whether we would wish to develop that capability, whatever the outcome of the much shorter-term decision in regard to the Mark 5 versus the AV8B.

Raf Stanbridge, Bedfordshire

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a further statement on the future of RAF Stan-bridge, Bedfordshire.

A proposal was announced on 28 September that the various functions performed by RAF Stanbridge should be transferred to other communications centres by 1983. Consultation on the proposal has now been completed and I hope to announce a final decision very shortly.

Can my hon. Friend give a precise timetable of when individual civilian jobs at this station will disappear? When the RAF finally leaves Stanbridge, will the land and buildings be sold, leased or retained?

It is proposed to run down the installations progressively over the next three years. However, at this stage I am afraid that I cannot say when individual posts will go. A proportion is likely to remain until 1982. The technical site will be needed for its present use until 1982 or 1983. It is much too early to speculate on its usage after that, but I shall keep my hon. Friend informed.

Defence Codification Establishment

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the future of the Defence Codification Establishment, Mottingham, London SE9.

An announcement on the future of the DCA, Mottingham will be made as soon as a final decision has been taken about the MOD work to be dispersed to Glasgow.

Can my hon. Friend assure me that the cost savings of keeping the DCA where it is will be fully taken into account?

I can give that assurance to my hon. Friend. I hope that an announcement on these matters will be made before the end of the year.

Arms Control

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will seek to place on the agenda at the next meeting of NATO Defence Ministers the matter of the possible deployment of Pershing II missiles.

A meeting of NATO's Defence and Foreign Ministers to decide on the introduction of new long-range theatre nuclear forces and a parallel arms control approach to the Soviet Union is already planned for 12 December.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the speeches by President Brezhnev and Mr. Gromyko recently were no doubt seriously and sincerely meant? Rather than make a decision of this kind and run the disarmament talks in parallel, would it not be better to postpone this decision in order to give the Vienna talks the best possible hope of success, in accordance with the speeches that were made on our behalf at the United Nations' Special Session in New York?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the talks in Vienna have been going on for a very long time. Naturally, we should like to see progress made there. So far it has been, and it is today, the view of the NATO Alliance that the modernisation programme has become necessary in view of what has occurred on the other side of the Iron Curtain. But that approach, which we shall consider next month, is, as the hon. Gentleman knows, coupled with an arms control approach. We shall consider both together because they are two sides of the same coin.

As nuclear confrontation and tension can lead to war, certainly since the Americans have their finger on the button, will the Government try to end the proliferation of nuclear weapons by postponing, for 12 months at least, the decision on the new generation of Pershing and cruise missiles?

It is not the intention of the NATO Alliance to increase the extent to which reliance for deterrence lies upon the nuclear deterrent itself. It is a proportion of our capability, and the modernisation programme is not intended to increase it as a proportion.

Would it not help arms control negotiations, and the possible consideration of the modernisation of theatre nuclear weapons, if the Soviet Union were to make a meaningful offer to halt production of the SS20 and Backfire bomber and to withdraw those already deployed against this country and Western Europe?

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said, and the Government agree with him.

Is not the present position that with the SS20 the Soviet Union could hit any place in Europe, and that we have no means of hitting back by tactical nuclear weapons? Therefore, is not the modernisation of our weapons essential, and would not that give us a leverage towards SALT III, which most people want?

It is true that the Soviet Union has that capability. We also have a capability to strike them with theatre nuclear forces, but the contrast is that on the Warsaw Pact side they are modern and new and increasing in scale, whereas in our case they are ageing and in need of replacement.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that even many committed supporters of NATO feel that the Government's response to Mr. Brezhnev's statement has been brusque, negative and lacking in any positive initiative? Will he indicate, if not to the House today, very soon and before 12 December in a full debate in Government time, what the Government's attitude is to containing the nuclear arms race and to positive measures of arms control and disarmament?

I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said. As he knows, I have raised this matter before, and I have also talked the matter over with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House who will, I am sure, note the right hon. Gentleman's request.

Low-Flying Training

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is satisfied that the RAF's low-flying training programme treats the various rural districts of England and Wales with equal fairness.

The United Kingdom low-flying system was enlarged in January 1979 with the express purpose of dispersing the training more evenly throughout Great Britain. I am satisfied that the distribution of low-flying between the rural districts is as fair as possible.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, though this low-flying programme is essential as part of our defence capability, there is a feeling among many people, including some of my constituents, that the RAF tends to concentrate on certain rural areas? Despite what he has just said, will he look at this matter again to make sure that the burden is shared fairly?

I assure my hon. Friend that the burden is shared as equitably as possible. If he would like it, I shall write to him giving figures of such flights over different parts of the country.

Will the Minister ensure that in these low-flying rural exercises particular villages are not repeatedly treated as over-flying targets, to the concern and anxiety of the people living in them?

Villages are never treated as targets, no matter what people may claim. It is part of the low-flying procedure to avoid, wherever possible, residential and built-up areas, although, sadly, it is not possibe to avoid all dwellings. However, it is not the intention of the RAF to make villages into target areas.

Will my hon. Friend ensure that in regard to the recently adopted practice of exercises involving a much greater amount of low-flying—this affects particularly the West Country and my constituency of Honiton—notice of them is given some time beforehand, because that is greatly appreciated by the local residents, who then understand what is going on?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that suggestion. As he knows, the normal form of advance communication is to write to the local Members of Parliament for the constituencies concerned as well as to notify the local councils and, where appropriate, the local media.

Does the Minister accept that I have written to him about low-flying over urban areas, such as Oakworth and Haworth in my constituency? Does he further accept that such low-flying has caused a great deal of concern and surprised objection by residents, who find low-flying a frightening experience? Will the Minister confine low-flying to rural areas and exclude low-flying from urban areas?

I have, indeed, received a letter from the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) on this subject. The difficulty lies in defining the difference between a rural area and an urban one. There is obviously a line to be drawn between the two, and the areas referred to by the hon. Gentleman are right on the margin. Occasionally, aircraft do fly over his constituency.

Staff (Dispersal)

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects his Department to occupy office accommodation in Glasgow in connection with the planned dispersal of Ministry of Defence jobs to that area.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that office accommodation in the London area costs £13 per sq. ft., whereas it costs between £4 and £5 per sq. ft. in Scotland, and £3·50 per sq. ft. in Cumbernauld new town? Does he accept that job dispersal to Scotland makes economic sense, and that the sooner it happens the better?

The cost involved is one of the factors that were taken into account in the Government's decision, announced on 26 July this year, that about 2,000 jobs would be dispersed from London to Scotland. Of those, the Ministry of Defence contribution is 1,400 jobs.

Will my hon. Friend accept that, in the light of the experience of the previous Administration, which failed to disperse even one job to West Central Scotland, there is a natural concern that the forces of official prevarication and delay which afflicted the Government's predecessors will continue? Will my hon. Friend bring forward a detailed programme for the dispersal of jobs as soon as possible?

As I indicated in an earlier answer, we hope to come to a decision in the Ministry of Defence by the end of this year about the people who will be transferred. I accept what my hon. Friend says. The previous Government tended to be strong on plans but abysmally weak on action.

Does the Minister accept that his answer will be bitterly disappointing to all political parties in Scotland and that it is just not good enough to suggest that as a result of the dispersal programme no people will actually appear in Scotland for seven years? That is a deplorable state of affairs. Will the Minister please look at this again?

It is planned to move staff to St. Enoch's, but I understand that the buildings will not be available until the middle of 1986. There may well be an advance party, which would go two or three years earlier to make the necessary preparations.

Nato Ministers (Meetings)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on his meeting with NATO Ministers at the nuclear planning group in mid-November.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on discussions of medium-range nuclear missiles at the NATO talks, and on the British proposals made there.

At the meeting of the nuclear planning group on 13 and 14 November I reaffirmed the Government's strong support for a programme to modernise NATO's long-range theatre nuclear weapons and a parallel arms control approach to the Soviet Union. A copy of the communique issued following that meeting is in the Library.

What convincing reply can the Secretary of State give to the Dutch Government, who have argued a formidable and detailed case to the effect that the proposed missile deployment under discussion would be more, and not less, dangerous for Europe?

There has, of course, been considerable debate within the Alliance about this proposal. All sorts of problems in connection with it have been raised and discussed. It so happens that the Netherlands Government have perhaps as great a domestic difficulty with it as any country, but there have been problems for all countries. At the recent nuclear planning group meeting all these issues were fully debated and discussed. That was the purpose of the meeting. Its purpose was not to reach decisions but to go over the ground in preparation for that decision. The points made not only by the Netherlands Government but by other Governments were fully considered, and we will, of course, be returning to them next month.

Have not the Russians recently offered negotiations on missile reductions.? Will not the plan to have an increased number of missiles on British soil worsen the prospects for negotiation?

It is our opinion that the opposite is the case. The reason why this programme has been designed, discussed and, hopefully, decided upon, is that the increase in both the quantity and quality of nuclear missiles in the Soviet Union is of such a character that, in our opinion, it would be dangerous for us not to have adequate strength. We think that we must negotiate from a position of strength. If, as was said a few minutes ago, the Soviet Union were to decide to dismantle missiles and not produce any more, no doubt different attitudes would be taken by the Alliance.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that during the last two years the Soviet Union has established, in Euro strategic nuclear weapons, a superiority of more than three to one? Does my right hon. Friend agree that even after the proposed theatre nuclear modernisation plans of NATO have been effected the Soviet Union will still enjoy a substantial superiority?

Yes, it certainly does seem to be the case that even after the modernisation programme that we are considering the Soviet Union will have a substantial preponderance of nuclear weapons. That is, of course, unless any other changes are made. As I said in reply to an earlier supplementary question, it is not our intention to increase the proportion of nuclear capability. What we are sure is right is that we should see that our nuclear capability is a genuine, effective and credible deterrent.

Did the Secretary of State see yesterday's leading article in The Times? Does he accept that that leader, expressed in very clear terms, represents a sensible policy for the future?

I cannot recall that leading article in detail, but I have set out the position of the Government.

Territorial Army Soldiers (Widow's Compensation)

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what compensation is payable to the next-of-kin of a territorial soldier killed on duty.

The Ministry of Defence would award an attributable pension, at current rates, of £803·81 to a widow. This would rise according to the number of children. An unmarried Reservist's estate would receive a gratuity of £535·90. From the Department of Health and Social Security a widow would receive a pension dependent upon her age and the number of her children. The present rates are £6·99 per week for a widow under 40 years of age and £10 per week for each child.

I am grateful for my hon. Friends' remarks, but does he agree that that there are considerable grounds for improvement for Territorial Army soldiers, on whom the country depends so much for the defence of the realm?

I know that my hon. Friend, as a lieutenant-colonel in the TA, is deeply involved in these matters. There has been concern amongst reservists for some time about this issue. I have had discussions with the council of the territorial auxiliary and voluntary reserve associations, and we are now conducting a complete fresh review of the reservist scheme. This will consider, among other things, whether reservists' pensions should be more closely comparable with those payable to injured regular Service men and their dependants. I heartily underline and reinforce what my hon. Friend has said about the importance of the Terriers.

Will the Minister tell me how many recommendations of the Shapland committee have been accepted by the Government and when they will be implemented? Does he accept that it is wrong that Territorial Army soldiers should, in any circumstances, suffer worse conditions than those applied to regular soldiers?

The position is the one that we inherited from our predecessors. The hon. Gentleman will know that there have been discussions on these matters for a considerable time. So far as the Shapland report is concerned, the main recommendations were accepted by the Government. My right hon. Friend made that clear early in August. The most important of those recommendations is an increase in training bounties. I am delighted to learn from members of the Territorial Army that these are already having a significant effect.

Polaris

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a further statement on his proposals for the replacement of Polaris.

As I have stated on a number of occasions in the House, the Government are firmly committed to maintaining the effectiveness of our strategic nuclear deterrent.

Does the Secretary of State dispute the estimate of £3 billion to £4 billion—rather more than the cost of Concorde—that was supplied to the Expenditure Committee in its recent important study of the replacement cost of Polaris? If the right hon. Gentleman does not dispute that figure, does he believe that it makes economic sense for Britain, in its present condition, to invest on that scale in the production of a weapon for which there is no conceivable export market?

The Government are still considering the options for and possibilities of a successor system. It follows that no decision has been reached and that I can give no figure. Naturally, the costs and estimates of the various possibilities must be taken fully into account in coming to a conclusion. It is fair to say that, historically, the contribution that the nuclear deterrent has made to peace has represented a comparatively small proportion of our defence budget.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many of us see a decision on the replacement of Polaris as an urgent responsibility for the Government? However, in view of the significant progress by the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries in anti-submarine warfare and detection, will my right hon. Friend consider carefully the airborne and land-based systems as an alternative to the inordinately expensive Trident series? Will my right hon. Friend please ensure that the House has an opportunity to consider fully any decision before the Government announce it?

Our view is that the theatre nuclear forces in NATO represent the more immediate problem, which we are tackling. We thought that if we could we would take a decision on a successor system in the next few months. When we came into office we thought that a year or 18 months would be about right. We hope that we shall be able to reach a conclusion within the next few months. The question of a debate is not a matter for me, but I have no doubt that the Leader of the House will note the request, which I have made myself.

Has the Secretary of State's attention been drawn to the large majority decision taken by the British Council of Churches last week against this proposition? In view of the enormous expense involved, at a time when the Conservative Government are cutting back on social services, does such a decision make any sense at all?

I am aware of the view of the British Council of Churches. There are a number of views on this difficult and important matter. They all require to be fully considered, and we are considering them all. The Government's opinion is that the nuclear deterrent has contributed significantly to the peace that we have known for the last 30 years. Our determination is to try to do everything that we can to ensure that that continues. The right hon. Gentleman will know that this is an extremely serious matter. Of course we have given full weight to the various views that have been expressed.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the opinion poll taken three weeks ago, which showed that 91 per cent. of the population of Britain was in favour of more money being spent on defence and on a change for Polaris? Is he also aware that 87 per cent. of Labour Party supporters in that poll supported that view?

I am aware of that opinion poll. I say to my hon. Friend and to the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) that defence is not cheap. Indeed, it is expensive for all countries. The object of our defence policy is to secure our freedom and to protect the realm at the minimum cost. However, all those involved must play their due parts. Defence is expensive, but the nuclear element in it represents a surprisingly small proportion of total defence expenditure.

Does the Secretary of State recognise that, whatever views are held in the House, these are grave issues indeed? I welcome what he said about the need to debate these issues in due course.

I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to a report in The Times today, which refers to his minute of 21 June. Has he placed a copy of the minute in the Library of the House? What information has he so far released as a result of it? Will he undertake to think hard about this matter and release more information than in the past, taking into account the interests of security when they are involved, so that we can have a proper debate on this grave issue?

I do not wish to speculate on any press article. That would not be wise. I wish to pursue a policy of releasing as much information as possible, bearing in mind the interests of national security. We have been forthright in trying to lead a public debate and in making the facts and figures available wherever possible. However, we must bear in mind that it would be wrong to release information that might involve national security.

Rapier Missiles

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will report on the results of his talks with the United States Government as to the use of British-made Rapier missiles to defend the United States Air Force airfields in Great Britain.

During my recent visit to the United States of America I discussed with the United States authorities many topics of mutual interest, including the possible purchase of the Rapier surface-to-air missile system by the United States Air Force for use at its bases in this country. I made clear my disapointment that it had not yet taken a decision to purchase Rapier. In an effort to make further progress I offered that if the USAF would procure Rapier and fund it operationally, we would examine constructively the possibility of the RAF manning the system, on repayment, at seven USAF bases in the United Kingdom. A detailed proposal, giving indicative costs, is being sent to the United States this week. I hope that this initiative will lead to a procurement decision.

Did my hon. Friend point out to the United States Air Force that the Soviet Air Force capability now enables it to attack airfields in this country on a scale which has not previously been possible? Did he point out the advantages to the United States Air Force of using RAF manpower rather than its own? Did he also express the opinion that the two-way street should be implemented and not just talked of by the Americans?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. I drew the attention of the United States Air Force to the potential vulnerability of its bases in the United Kingdom. I hope that if this purchase proceeds more reality will be brought into the present imbalance in the two-way street.

Is an inter-Service quarrel in the United States preventing the use of British weapons on British soil?

Yes. The hon. Gentleman is obviously aware that the main problem is what is known in American circles as a "roles and missions" argument. I made the proposal in an attempt to assist in breaking the deadlock.

Garvie Island

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will review the arrangements to secure safety at the Gar-vie Island range in North-West Sutherland.

Various measures, some introduced only late last year, are in force which are designed to ensure the safe operation of the Garvie Island range. Operations cease if it is believed that the range is not clear.

Is the Minister aware that in the last two months there have been episodes which have alarmed fishermen from my constituency because shells have landed within 300 yards of their vessels? Is he aware that arrangements entered into last year appear not to be working as they might? Will he examine this urgently?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the letter that he sent me. I shall certainly investigate the matter. The last official complaint that we had about Garvie was in July 1977, and about the Cape Wrath gunnery range on 13 November last year. We shall, of course, look into all complaints.

Air Cadets

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many air cadets have been trained to first solo proficiency standard in air cadet gliders during the last ten years.

I thank my hon Friend for that reply. I should like him to note that many of these boys were assessed as having an above-average aptitude for flying and are, therefore, a prime source of future RAF pilots. Much concern is felt among members of the RAF Voluntary Reserve, who trained these boys, because the principal airfield used by them—

Is my hon. Friend aware that the airfield which is being used by air cadets in the central gliding unit is better used for that purpose than for the training of dogs?

I note what my hon. Friend says, and I reassure him that the tremendous contribution made by the air cadets is well appreciated by the Royal Air Force. I shall examine the matter and see that the contribution is not further reduced.

While on the subject of flying training for air cadets, may I ask my hon. Friend to look into the operation of the flying scholarship scheme? The present allotment of 30 hours is five hours short of the time required for a private pilot's licence at the Civil Aviation Authority approved flying training schools.

Nuclear Capability

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what plans Her Majesty's Government have for enhancing the capability of Great Britain's independent nuclear deterrent prior to the scrapping of the V-bomber force.

As I explained earlier this afternoon, we are continuing the programme to maintain the effectiveness of the current Polaris force so that it remains a powerful deterrent to aggression into the 1990s.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it would be a grave matter if the Government were to go ahead with the Labour Government's plans to scrap half of Britain's strategic nuclear capability in 1982 with the standing down of the V-bomber force? The Soviet Union has more than trebled her capability in the past three years. Will my right hon. Friend consider continuing the life of V-bombers as cruise missile carriers? The United States are doing that with the B-52s, which are of similar vintage.

We have the whole of the strategic system in mind at present, and that includes the continuation of the present system into the 1990s as well as consideration of the successor system. We have in mind all the considerations that my hon. Friend has raised.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the Conservative Government have embarked upon an arms race, and that the proposals that are being put toward this afternoon are to satisfy the whipping boys on the Conservative Back Benches? Does he further agree that it is all being done at the expense of schools, hospitals, and so on?

The hon. Gentlemean presents a grotesque picture of the facts. The arms race that caused us to think about new policies was started on the other side of the Iron Curtain with a massive re-organisation programme that has gone on for 10 years. It has forced us to take decisions that we would much rather not have to take.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it would be inadvisable to consider phasing out the V-bomber force at a time when Trident is being imported from America at great cost to replace Polaris? Will he assure the House that the V-bomber force has an interim role in carrying the cruise missile?

Those are all aspects of the matters that are in our minds at present. The V-bombers are undoubtedly old and there is doubt about how long they will last. We are considering the possibility of other air-launched cruise missiles. That is the assurance that I give my hon. Friend.

How independent is the independent nuclear deterrent about which the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) asked?

The hon. Gentleman knows that it is assigned to NATO, but at the end of the day, in certain horrific circumstances, if we are threatened, and subject to the arrangements that have existed for a great many years, it is entirely within the capability of the Prime Minister and this country to take a decision. That has been so for a number of years.

Anti-Surface Ship Missile

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made on the anti-surface ship missile project; and if he will make a statement.

Following initial studies, the United Kingdom, together with a number of NATO Allies, is studying proposals put forward by industry for the development of a family of anti-ship missiles for the 1990's.

Is not there a little more to it than that? Is it not the case that those studies were extremely promising and were initially conducted on a trinational basis amongst ourselves, the French and the Germans, with the United States having a 2½ per cent. interest? Are not the United States approaching France and Germany to try to get a co-operative development on those lines, and not including the United Kingdom? Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a classic example—[Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen should listen. This is important.

Is it not a classic example of the United States filching our technological inventiveness to feed its own military industrial complex and making us pay for it?

Although the United States were a full participant in the feasibility studies, they volunteered to accept a lesser status on the commencement of the more detailed stage of the project. That proposal is actively under consideration at present with our NATO colleagues.

Why do we need anti-surface ship missiles and theatre weapons if the Minister believes that our independent nuclear deterrent has deterred invasion since the war and will continue to do so? Why do we need these other weapons that are designed to be thrown around the theatre of Europe if there is an invasion?

Anti-surface ship missiles do not in any way replace the strategic deterrent. They are tactical missiles to deal with the growing surface fleet of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact. At present that fleet outnumbers the NATO fleet in the East Atlantic by a ratio of 1½: 1.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister, if she will list her engagements for Tuesday 27 November.

This morning I had meetings with representatives of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and later with the president of the National Farmers Union. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty The Queen.

Before the Prime Minister departs to meet the Moderator will she take the opportunity, which will be the last before she departs for Dublin, to place on the record of this House the minimum shift in Britain's budget contribution that she will accept? Is she aware that every cow in the Common Market enjoys a subsidy of £100 per annum, much of it provided by the British taxpayer? Is she also aware that tomorrow, on the eve of her departure, there will be a demonstration against her expenditure cuts? It will be insupportable if she fails to obtain a cut in our subsidy to farmers in France and Germany while enthusiastically cutting social services in Britain.

I am grateful to have support from both sides of the House for the task that faces us in Dublin. As the hon. Gentleman knows, if there had been greater public expenditure cuts we should have had to borrow less and the interest rate would have been lower. If the public expenditure plans of the Labour Government were put into effect, the interest rates would be infinitely worse and the prospects dim.

When she is in Dublin, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the anger of those who are suffering losses on their lamb production as a result of the French ban, and are facing losses on their apples? The French are flooding our markets with about 300,000 tonnes of apples this season. If necessary, will she gently remind our partners that membership of the Community is subject to the continuing assent of Parliament?

There are two big problems, one of which, the budget, we shall tackle at Dublin. I know the resentment felt by most people over the fact that despite being one of the poorer members of the Community we have to pay a large amount to the Common Market. There is also the long-term problem of the common agricultural policy. That, too, I am afraid, will take a long time to solve.

When the right hon. Lady meets the National Farmers Union, will she ask if it agrees with the estimate of the National Farmers Union of Scotland that her savage cuts in rural transport will cost a rural worker with two children at school £270 per annum?

I have received congratulatory letters on what we have managed to do for hill farming in the latest subsidies, and I have not received many complaints.

Will the right hon. Lady take time off today to speak to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about the serious attacks in the Province yesterday, when 30 bombs exploded and there was a wave of violence throughout 12 towns and villages? Will she see to it that rigorous steps are taken to seal the border so that explosives cannot be brought in from the South of Ireland? Will she also take time today to get in touch with the Palace and convey to Her Majesty The Queen the thanks and gratitude of the people of Northern Ireland and the troops there for the visit of the Prince of Wales last week?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his last remark and I will, of course, convey it to the appropriate place. I need hardly say how disturbed we all are at the latest spate of mindless bombings in Northern Ireland. We will do everything possible to track down those who are responsible. The hon. Gentleman asks us to seal the border. If that were possible we would have a go. However, I do not think that it is possible to do that. That opinion has been held by nearly every Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and for Defence.

Liverpool, Scotland Exchange

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will pay an official visit to Liverpool, Scotland Exchange.

The right hon. Lady will be aware of the effect of the Government's policies on unemployment in Liverpool and the cuts in public expenditure which affect school children, the disabled, the sick and the aged. Will she be in a position to accept a petition signed by nearly 100,000 people protesting against the proposed closure of the Royal Liverpool children's hospital? I assure the Prime Minister that if she visits Liverpool she will receive a hot reception.

Many of us are aware that Liverpool has serious and grievous problems on a bigger scale than some of the other large cities. The hon Gentleman referred to particular public expenditure cuts. None of us wishes to make cuts in public expenditure, but we are up against the reality that no Government can urge a nation to live beyond its means and expect to command respect either at home or abroad.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will state her official duties for 27 November.

Will the Prime Minister consider whether it is in the interest of the British people for us to press on 12 December for cruise missiles to be sited on British soil? In particular, will control over launching lie with the Pentagon, with the inevitable retaliation against this country?

I am certain that it is in the interests of our people to be armed so that we can deter any potential threat from any aggressor. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said earlier, the need now is for us to modernise to equal the extensive modernisation and supply that has been made by the Soviet Union.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to consider the serious position of Charing Cross hospital? The lives of patients are at stake because of unofficial industrial action. Will she consult her right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Employment and for Social Services to see whether, in consultation with the unions, a non-strike agreement or clause can be contained in conditions of employment for hospital employees in order to avert this sort of action?

We were all appalled and repelled by the scenes outside Charing Cross hospital yesterday. We are repelled by the difficulty that the hospital is experiencing in receiving proper oil supplies. The scenes that we saw seem to show a callous disregard for common humanity. They reflected unjustly on trade unionism, because most trade unionists were just as horrified as others by the scenes. This morning my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services made clear that if the siege of oil is not lifted we shall be prepared to authorise whatever action is necessary to ensure that the supplies of oil get through.

Will the Prime Minister take time to meet the Federation of Old Age Pensioners to explain to it, so that it can explain to its members, that while she and the Government—unlike the Labour Government—cannot take time to phase out television licences she can give £60 million to private education?

The hon. Gentleman is very much aware of the problems of having special rates for television licences for one group of the community. It is especially difficult when many families have a parent living with them. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had to announce an increase in the television licence. The increase was inevitable if we are to receive the sort of service that people expect from the BBC.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to look at the many interesting photographs in the press of the Opposition Front Bench spokesman the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield)? Will she seek to discover whether the activities of the hon. Gentleman represent the official policy of the Opposition?

Fortunately, I am not responsible for the official policy of the Opposition—thank goodness.—[Hors. MEMBERS: "Who is?"] As far as British Leyland is concerned, the previous Government appointed an extremely good manager in Sir Michael Edwardes. We have backed him, and we must continue to leave the resolution of the problem to him.

Will the Prime Minister take time today to discuss with the Secretary of State for Industry the fact that he misled the House yesterday about the number of times that he had met the chairman of Rolls-Royce in the absence of the chairman of the NEB? He also misled the House in another respect, because the whole board of Rolls-Royce had not threatened to resign—it was only the chairman.

I never knew my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry to mislead anybody—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman has a particular point, perhaps he will take it up with my right hon. Friend.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 27 November.

Will the right hon. Lady take time to explain why it is that when the West has 11,000 targetable nuclear warheads against the Warsaw Pacts's 5,000—[Interruption.]

I hope that Conservative Members are not showing their ignorance of the facts. Why, when the West has an overwhelming superiority in the strategic sphere, does the Prime Minister believe that we should seek overwhelming superiority in theatre weapons? Will she make clear—as she did not in her reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun)—whether she will have control over those weapons and be able to determine whether or not they are used? Or will that control be in the hands of the President of the United States?

The hon. Gentleman knows that to be successful with a policy of deterrence it is necessary to deter at each and every level. I can hardly accept that the West has overwhelming superiority against the Soviet Union—I do not believe that it has. We have to have sufficient power through our Allies to deter at the strategic level and sufficient power among ourselves to deter at the theatre nuclear force level. That still leaves the vexed question of conventional forces, in which the Warsaw Pact countries have a great superiority.

Does not the right hon. Lady agree that there will be a long period between the taking of the decision on 12 December and the moment when the cruise missiles can be added to the armament of the West? Therefore, while we should not allow the Soviet Union to determine our decision on 12 December, which must be what we regard to be in our interest, we should use the intervening period to negotiate seriously with the Soviet Union. We should negotiate both on Mr. Brezhnev's at present inadequate offer and on the possibility of the withdrawal of the SS20s, which would remove a large threat from Europe.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are always prepared seriously to try to negotiate genuine disarmament. As he in particular will be aware, the latest weapons, such as the SS20s, are already being provided to the Warsaw Pact forces. We have no modern reply. Yes, we must have the modernisation of the theatre nuclear forces. Yes, we are always prepared genuinely to negotiate on disarmament. But I had understood that the Soviet Union was somewhat reluctant to negotiate on disarmament at the theatre nuclear force level if we put in sufficient to deter. But we are ready to try.