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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 978: debated on Tuesday 12 February 1980

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Army Officers


asked the Secretary of State for Defence what percentage of commissioned officers in the Army was educated at public schools.

:Details of the number of serving Army officers who were educated at independent schools are not available. The Army encourages applications for commissions from suitable canditates from schools of all types.

Is the Minister aware that, while about 5 per cent. only of all pupils go to public schools, in the year 1977–78 55 per cent. of candidates accepted for Army commissions were ex-public schoolboys? Is it therefore surprising to see the kind of Right-wing indoctrination that goes on in Camberley? Does not that illustrate the militant tendencies of the public schools and their ability to infiltrate the British Armed Forces?

I utterly repudiate the biased and prejudiced comments of the hon. Gentleman. The reaction from his own colleagues appeared to be that they laughed at such comments as much as we did. New entrants to the Army are divided roughly half and half between State schools and other schools.

Does my hon. Friend agree that good officers come from a wide variety of background but that those who come from public or grammar schools often show outstanding qualities of leadership?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. The Army, of course, draws no distinction between applicants from State or independent schools. We are rightly concerned with the high standards expected of officers.

While it is important that we get a good spread of officer material from all kinds of educational establishments does the Minister agree with me when I say to my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) that, if he thinks the situation is bad now, it is a lot better than it used to be?

Does my hon. Friend agree that if there is one thing worse than a snob, it is an inverted snob?

Order. If that is so, I want to say that I went to Tonypandy grammar school.


asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he next intends to meet his North Atlantic Treaty Organisation colleagues.

:I expect to meet NATO Defence Ministers at the Eurogroup and Defence Planning Committee meetings in May.

When my right hon. Friend meets his NATO colleagues will he raise with them the dangerous situation that may arise as a result of the uncertainties in Yugoslavia following the illness of President Tito? Will he discuss with them at the first opportunity the possibility of an unfortunate outcome to those difficulties and uncertainties?

:We shall consider that possibility when the time comes. The meeting is some way off. I remind my hon. Friend that the Prime Minister has said that we shall do everything we can to see that the independence of Yugoslavia is maintained.

:Will the Secretary of State tell his colleagues at NATO that the failure to ratify SALT 2 is as harmful to the people of America and the NATO countries as it is to the Soviets and that America should be urged to consider that fact?

I believe that the hon. Gentleman knows the position of the Government on that matter. We hope that SALT 2 will be ratified. That is also the hope of the Opposition. There has been no change in that matter

:Will my right hon. Friend tell his colleagues at NATO and in this House what is the planned increase in defence spending by his Department over the next five years?

:The House knows that the Government attach great importance to the NATO aim to seek to achieve a 3 per cent. increase per year in real terms. We believe that to be a most important objective.

Will one item on the agenda be the question of possible nuclear leaks from URENCO, in Almelo, Holland? Is not that of great concern relating, as it does to Pakistan and NATO policy?

I doubt whether the Defence Planning Committee is the proper body to deal with that matter but I shall consider what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Royal Navy (Recruiting)


asked the Secreatry of State for Defence if he is satisfied with present recruiting levels for the Royal Navy.

Not yet. Recruitment into the Royal Navy over the last year continues to show an encouraging increase over that which was achieved in the previous 12 months. However, there is still a shortage in some categories and we have a number of measures in hand that are aimed at improving the position.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. However, will he tell the House whether there is sufficient skilled and technical personnel not to prejudice the procurement of the Chevaline programme in relation to our Polaris submarines?

As far as I am aware that is so. However, one shortage is in the artificer ratings, although I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that, this year, there has been a larger number of entrants into artificer categories than in any year since 1964.

:If the recruiting level of the Royal Navy is increased will there be enough ships for it to sail in?—What proposals does the Minister have to increase ship building?

There are such proposals and the details will be contained in the Defence White Paper that is to be published in the near future.

:Will the Minister say a word about the campaign that was begun last autumn to encourage technicians to enter the submarine branch of the Royal Navy? Will he also say a word about nuclear watchkeepers?

:The matter has been going well. I am not complacent about nuclear watchkeeprs in the submarine branch but the position is better than it was, not least because of financial incentives. A particular problem in the submarine service is that concerning junior seamen grade officers. Nevertheless, that is also improving and we are keeping a close eye on the position.


asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he next expects to meet his North Atlantic Treaty Organisation colleagues.

When the Secretary of State meets his NATO colleagues will he make it clear that many people in this country do not believe that the British economy will bear a 3 per cent.per annum increase in defence expenditure? Will he also make it clear that, despite the howls of outrage from his Right wing, he has no plans further to increase defence expenditure?

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw the attention of the House to the state of the economy. Of course, we have also to draw the attention of the House to the threat that we face. We believe, notwithstanding economic difficulties, that a further effort on defence is required. The whole Alliance takes that view and I personally would prefer that the increase should be greater than it will be. Despite economic difficulties, further effort on defence is un- doubtedly required and that is why we attach such importance to it.

When my right hon. Friend meets his colleagues in NATO, will he discuss the report that the Soviet Union used chemical weapons producing nerve gas in its occupation of Afghanistan? Will he look in to the ways in which NATO forces can defend themselves against such weapons?

I am unable to confirm or deny whether chemical weapons were used in Afghanistan. However, the protection of our forces against horrific chemical warfare is thought to be better—certainly as good, although SACEUR believes better—than any other army in Europe. That should be of reassurance to the House. What is alarming is the existence of the chemical capability by the Warsaw Pact countries. It is a horrific weapon and causes great anxiety. It is not sufficiently criticised and we are considering what should be our attitude towards it.

:When the Secretary of State meets his colleagues in NATO, will he remind them that assurances were given in this House and elsewhere that the decision to deploy cruise missiles would be accompanied by a new initiative in arms control? Is he aware that the paltry five-point statement that was issued in December neither contained anything new nor did it reveal an initiative? Will he invite his colleagues to pursue arms control with the same zest and animation with which they are pursuing the deployment of cruise missiles?

Clearly, events in the world since that decision was taken have produced a cold climate for detente and arms control. However, that has in no way altered the importance that the Government attach to arms control. Offers remain on the table. So far, what has been put there has been rejected effectively by the Warsaw Pact countries. It is unfortunate and, although it is an important part of our policy, unless and until the other side is prepared to follow a policy of balanced and verifiable reduction it behoves us to be extremely cautious.

The House will have noted that the right hon. Gentleman takes a cautious view about the prospects for increased defence spending and, surely, that is right. Nevertheless, can the right hon. Gentleman say what new options increased defence spending would have created for Afghanistan or for the stabilising of the regime in Iran, the failure of which has created special problems for us in the Middle East? Surely, the right hon. Gentleman does not believe that defence spending itself is a soluton to what are, essentially, political problems.

:I do not believe that I have pretended at any stage that a further spending on defence would have been specifically directed to what happened in Afghanistan, the events in Iran or the Middle East. The question is the total capability that NATO requires to deter a potential aggressor in the light of the growing strength of that potential aggressor. I could not be specific vis-a-vis the events in Afghanistan, and it would not be right for me to be so.

Raf Strike Command


asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is satisfied with the cargo and troop-carrying capability of RAF Strike Command.

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

No. It is for that reason that the fuselages of 30 of our Hercules aircraft are being extended to give extra freight capacity.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the fact that American Galaxy and Starlifter aircraft had to be used to carry our helicopters and other heavy vehicles for the use of our peace-keeping force in Rhodesia suggests that there is a gap in the capability of RAF Strike Command in the requirement to reinforce or to deploy rapidly?

I should tell my hon. Friend that the RAF was in a position to undertake that airlift capacity from within its own resources. The key question as to why it did not is one of speed. The extra heavy lift that United States' aircraft provide was needed. Therefore, we went for the quicker option of getting our forces in place.

Does not my hon. Friend accept that speed is normally a factor in reinforcing any situation and is likely to remain so in the future? Will he tell the House the percentage of the airlift that was carried out by the RAF, commercial companies under contract and by the United States and the extra cost that would be involved if, in order to meet the speed requirement, the RAF had the resources to carry out such an airlift?

First, no civilian aircraft were used. The United States undertook two Galaxy sorties and 21 Starlifter sorties. I do not have percentage figures but I shall write to my hon. Friend on that matter. Of course, it would be desirable for the RAF to have the full range of aircraft available, but the decision was taken some years ago to reduce that option.



asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the expected reduction in industrial and non-industrial staff within his Department.

I aim to reduce by April 1982 the number of United Kingdom-based staff in my Department by 15,000 from the provision at1 April 1979. Half of this reduction is expected to come from the recruiting ban imposed by the Government last summer. That reduction has been made permanent. The remainder will come from those measures announced in the House on 6 December 1979 by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Civil Service Department, as part of the review of the size and cost of the Civil Service.

In addition, I have commissioned studies to establish whether there is scope for saving in the Royal dockyards, research and development establishments and supply management. I am determined to ensure that my Department's business is carried out in the most efficient way.

Will the Secretary of State concede that part of the supposed reduction is likely to be cosmetic as a result of the Government's desire to reduce numbers in the Civil Service? Will he ensure, particularly in relation to the naval dockyard at Rosyth, that the allocation of overheads, the screening of personnel and the security risks involved in employing outside contractors, are reviewed?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's interest in and knowledge of Rosyth. I am aware of the points that he has raised. It is possible that some posts may be saved. However, that depends upon the tenders that have now been put out. I shall certainly bear in mind those important points.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is great concern in Portsmouth and Gosport about the un-intentional rundown of Portsmouth dockyard, as a result of the lack of skilled manpower? Will my right hon. Friend give special flexibility to the management of Portsmouth dockyard, so that it can recruit the necessary men?

I am acutely aware of the problems that have arisen in that dockyard and in others due to the rundown of skilled manpower. A number of those in skilled grades have left to take better paid jobs. That is a cause of great anxiety. I assure my hon. Friend that that is one reason why the whole subject is being reviewed. I am expecting the result of the study at the beginning of April. Having received it, I hope to make decisions that will result in more efficient productivity in the dockyards and better service to the Royal Navy.

How many of the 15,000 jobs to which the Secretary of State has referred will be transferred from the public sector to the private sector with the result that there will be no real savings?

I cannot give a specific answer to that question at the moment. I have never made a secret of the fact that a number of jobs will be transferred from one sector to the other. The question is whether that can be done at a more economic cost. That is an important element of the argument.

Can the Secretary of State assure us that any redundancies will be spread fairly between industrial and non-industrial staff? With reference to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Evans), in what areas is it possible to increase defence expenditure and yet reduce staff?

If it is possible to fulfil our responsibilities at a more economic cost, a change should be considered. Indeed, if there are no strong objections to it, such a change should be carried through.

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that Chatham dockyard is now equipped to carry out work on the most up-to-date vessels? There are no manpower problems at Chatham. Will he, therefore, give an undertaking that Chatham dockyards will not suffer from cutbacks?

I have no such intention at the moment. I shall obviously consider the study before I come to any final conclusions. Obviously, the Royal dockyards fulfil a crucial function on behalf of the Royal Navy. It is in the interests of all that that work is carried out as efficiently and as effectively as possible. That is why the study is in hand.

Queen's Flight


asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he has yet taken a decision on whether to reequip the Queen's Flight with modern aircraft; and if he will make a statement.

I have as yet nothing to add to the reply that I gave to my hon. Friend on 21 January.

Is my hon. Friend aware that that was a disappointing reply, particularly as this prestigious Flight is equipped with 15-year-old turboprop planes? Does my hon. Friend agree that one of its roles is to display the latest and best of British aviation to potential foreign buyers?

I do not know whether that was the original role of the Queen's Flight. It is certainly not its present role. The issue is being carefully considered. However, the whole cost will fall on the defence budget, and there are many other competing claims.

Does the Minister agree that, while the Government are presiding over a national economy of sackcloth and ashes, it is the height of absurd extravagance to spend a single penny on that Flight? During the past 12 months, on how many occasions have aircraft from this Flight been used for social purposes, to fly privileged personel to areas where they can shoot defenceless birds out of the air?

I somehow thought, Mr Speaker, that the hon. Gentleman might seek to catch your eye. During the past year the Queen's Flight has not been used for the purposes described by the hon. Gentleman. I shall remind the hon. Gentleman that 35 per cent. of all flights in the Queen's Flight are for the purpose of transporting non-Royal persons, such as Service chiefs and Government Ministers—no matter which Government are in power. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman should not take this opportunity as another excuse to parade his prejudices.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Queen's Flight is of the greatest help in the prosecution of Government business, especially in Northern Ireland? How on earth would the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon)—who served as a Minister in Northern Ireland—have fitted into the tiny old-fashioned aeroplanes with which the Flight is equipped?

My hon. Friend is right. The Queen's Flight is of great assistance to the Government.

Will the Minister confirm that the Queen's Flight consists not only of Andovers, but of the HS 125 and helicopters? VC 10s are also available for long-range Royal flights. Does he further agree that it would be a misappropriation of defence funds—particularly of the RAF's budget—to spend more on the Queen's Flight, when there are so many other deficiencies, particularly in air defence?

:The hon. Gentleman is attempting to draw me into areas of internal Ministry of Defence debate, based on his previous experience. We must look at the subject of the present study, and the various other aircraft used for VIP flights. We shall consider whether new equipment is needed. At some point, the Andover aircraft will have to be replaced. It is simply a question of whether they are to be replaced by British equipment. However, that must be the case.

Soviet Strategy (Europe)


asked the Secretary of State for Defence what recent assessment has been made by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Powers regarding Soviet intentions towards the use of military force in Europe; and whether he will make a statement.

NATO assessments conclude that the foreign and defence policies of the Soviet Union aim at moving the balance of power in its favour. In the light of this, and the continued build up of Warsaw Pact forces, NATO must make continued efforts to ensure that the Alliance forces remain an adequate deterrent to aggression in Europe. The Government are determined that the United Kingdom will play its full part in these efforts.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that peace can be maintained in Europe only if the NATO Powers remain strong and united? Does he further agree that we should insist upon the territorial integrity of all countries in Europe that are outside the Soviet sphere of influence?

If the Warsaw Pact countries were to increase their defence expenditure well above present figures, would the Secretary of State announce that the Government would review the 3 per cent. increase that he mentioned earlier?

NATO's strategy is to act as a deterrent. We have never sought to match the full capability deployed by the Warsaw Pact countries. Warsaw Pact forces outnumber ours in terms of tanks, manpower and in several other ways. We need an adequate capability to deter. At present, the Soviet Union is increasing its military output at a substantially higher rate than NATO. If that were to continue, and if we thought that it was leading to a dangerous imbalance, we would review the situation. Our present intention is not to increase at as great a rate as the Soviet Union, but to ensure that we have an adequate capability to deter aggression and to preserve peace.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in the realm of conventional forces and of theatre nuclear forces, the Soviet Union already possesses a dangerous imbalance of strength? Does he further agree that in most cases that imbalance amounts to two or three times the size of our own forces?

:Yes, such an imbalance does exist. There is also a growing imbalance in the nuclear field. The purpose of our nuclear capability is to maintain an adequate force with a retaliatory strike capability to deter an aggressor in the first place. We are constantly watching the balance between the two sides. We are aware, as I said earlier, that that balance is moving towards the East and that causes increased concern.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that his reply ignores the rest of NATO's armed forces? Will he ask his NATO colleagues at least to negotiate Mr. Brezhnev's offer to reduce his SS20s if we do not proceed to deploy cruise and Pershing 2? We have three years before deployment takes place. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we should use it at least to negotiate that offer?

:As the hon. Gentleman will know, there was no response at the MBFR negotiations. The offer made by the United States of withdrawing 1,000 warheads has not been taken up by the Soviet Union. The climate for a balanced and verifiable arms reduction appears to be unsatisfactory. That is not our fault. We are still trying to negotiate, and we hope to carry it through. Unless negotiation is undertaken on an even-handed basis by all sides, there is every reason for us to be cautious.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the build-up of Soviet military strategy in Europe is far in excess of what is necessary for that country's self-defence? Will he make clear the Government's determination to repair as speedily as possible the damage done to our defence capability by the Labour Government?

I do not believe that the forces of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact are necessarily thought of in a self-defence role. On the whole, they are rather thought of in terms of offensive action. The Soviet Union's approach is totally different.

We want to increase our defence capability throughout the Alliance, and make our contribution. The increased imbalance is of great concern. At the same time, we would be wise to remember that we cannot go faster than the strength of our economy, and that is why we cannot increase our strength as quickly as some of us would like.

Reserve Forces


asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether the recruitment in the reserve forces of the Crown has increased as a result of the improvement in pay and conditions recently introduced.

Recruiting for all the volunteer reserves is generally encouraging. As I informed the House during the debate on national service on 1 February, recruitment for the Territorial Army, which constitutes the bulk of our volunteer forces, has shown a sustained improvement, with the strength having increased by some 2,500 since August last year.

:I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, which will give great encouragement to the vast majority of the House. Does he recall the statement that his right hon. Friend made to the House regarding the improvement in conditions and service of the reserve forces, to the effect that certain reserve forces such as the Royal Marines Reserve, will have their liability for call-up merged with the Territorial Army, and transfer of QO2 to QO1? When will that be done?

My hon. Friend is a distinguished member of the Royal Marines Reserve—

:My right hon. Friend is right about the importance of speeding up mobilisation and reinforcement. Legislation may be required to bring the call-up requirement of those elements of our Armed Forces absolutely into line. I shall write to him on the details.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many of us on the Labour Benches welcome the figures given? The Territorial Army is the closest approximation to a citizens' army that we can hope to achieve. Will the Minister confirm that we can meet our existing commitments, even in times of military pressure, within the framework of our professional Army, Regulars and Reservists, without recourse to the idiocy of a return to national service.

:We debated that matter on 1 February. At present it is our judgment that there is no need to return to national service. We believe that we can meet our defence requirements by building up our Regular forces and our reserve forces. Both were allowed to run down during the previous Administration and need to be built back to proper strength.

Her Majesty's Forces (Mobile Capability)


asked the Secretary of State for Defence, in view of the growing Soviet threat to the stability of South-West Asia, what additional strengthening he intends to make of Her Majesty's Forces' mobile capability.

Her Majesty's Forces already have the capability to deploy world-wide to meet various contingencies. A Royal Navy task group deploys every year outside the NATO area. The current operation in Rhodesia has demonstrated the ability of the Army and RAF to respond to a non-NATO task. All three Services have a regular programme of training and exercises with friendly countries. However, in the light of recent events in Afghanistan, we shall continue, in consultation with our Allies, to keep under review our Forces' capability for operations outside the NATO area.

Does my right hon Friend agree that, due to the shortage of appropriate transport aircraft, our mobile capability outside the NATO area is, to say the least, limited?

In certain circumstances one could wish that that capability was larger. On the other hand, we must keep our capabilities in proportion. In order to carry troops to Rhodesia, for instance, in a short space of time, we required the use of substantially larger aircraft from the United States, which seemed to be a sensible use of Alliance resources. The Alliance exists as a partnership, and the resources of each partner should be used as required in each situation. It does not mean, however, that we are satisfied with the present level of our transport. We are looking into the matter, and it may be possible modestly to extend our capability.

:Does the Minister agree that the large-scale type hovercraft would provide an additional mobility capability for our Forces in the South-West Asia area? What does the Minister intend to do about procuring some?

:I am bound to agree. Again, it is a question of resources. Recent tests and experiments have left no doubt that the value of those hovercraft is substantial.

In my right hon. Friend's designation of friendly countries does he include the People's Republic of China?

I think that I would, yes. Certainly those who are not against me are for me. We are taking some trouble to establish a friendly and sensible relationship with the People's Republic of China.

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied with our capacity for simultaneous parachute drops? Will he take account of that in reviewing the situation?

I am not sure that I am satisfied with anything. That capability is being studied.

Northern Ireland


asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement on operations in Northern Ireland.

The Armed Forces continue to demonstrate high levels of courage, skill and resourcefulness in carrying out their task in support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. In the first month of this year, 68 people have been charged with terrorist offences, including 12 for murder and eight for attempted murder. Sadly, one regular soldier and four UDR soldiers have been killed in 1980 by terrorist activities, which continue to be directed primarily at members of security forces. However, three bombs totalling over 1,000 lbs have been defused by ammunition technical teams and there have been significant finds of weapons and explosives.

Apart from the Regular Army, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Ulster Defence Regiment deserves the thanks of Parliament after a decade of endurance, tedium, danger and cowardly murder, and, in particular, intimidation of its Roman Catholic members? Will the Ulster Defence Regiment receive a bounty no less than that received by those in the Territorial Army in time for the tenth anniversary of its splendid service?

I am delighted to underline in every detail the highly proper remarks and tribute paid by my hon. Friend to the Ulster Defence Regiment. It performs a valuable service. I absolutely refute any suggestion of sectarian bias in the regiment. Bounties for the Ulster Defence Regiment are being studied, and I hope to make an announcement soon.

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind the need to strengthen the defence capability in frontier areas, particularly in view of the muderous assaults mounted against the security forces in County Fermanagh?

It is not for me to decide on the deployment of forces. That is for the GOC.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, in those fairly rare cases where a member of Her Majesty's Forces is badly injured, compensation will be interpreted in the most humane and understanding way possible?

While joining with the Minister in his commendation of the Army, the UDR and anyone else in Northern Ireland on security duties, may I press him to say something about the possibility of long-term units? There was a suggestion that there would be long-term units in Northern Ireland to save rapid turnover.

We are moving towards more resident battalions. Indeed, a fifth was introduced at Aldergrove in September 1978. Planning is in hand for a sixth resident battalion, which will mean a reduction in the overstretch and turbulence for the other soldiers involved.

Self-Loading Rifle


asked the Secretary of State for Defence what consideration he is giving to the replacement of the SLR rifle at present in use by the Army; and if he will make a statement.

It is our intention to begin equipping the Army with a new rifle in the mid-80s. The calibre will depend on analysis of the results of the recently completed NATO small arms tests but will be smaller than that of the existing weapon.

:Is my hon. Friend aware that his announcement will be warmly welcomed by the Army? Is he also aware that a proportion of the SLR rifles in use by the Territorial Army at present are in very poor condition and not suitable for resisting an enemy using modern weapons? Will my hon. Friend consider whether the replacement of those rifles can be speeded up?

My hon. Friend mentioned the SLR, which was introduced in 1956. Production ceased some 12 years ago. A continuing system of base repairs, together with the very latest repair techniques, is needed to ensure that the most economic use is obtained of these weapons. This is one reason why we are moving towards the new weapon as quickly as possible.

Will the Minister tell us at what stage standardisation will be reached? Does he agree that the movement of political decisions should be enhanced to bring about the standardisation which the Armed Forces so badly need? Does he also agree that standardisation will reduce expenditure?

I am very much in favour of standardisation within the NATO area and I have already referred to the NATOtrials. Whatever calibre is finally adopted, one can be certain that it will be standardised throughout NATO.

Is my hon. Friend aware that on the last occasion that a NATO rifle was adopted, the British contribution got very short shrift from our Allies? If there is to be further consultation, will he press our case very hard?

:Certainly. There is no doubt at all that the United Kingdom tender in the NATO trials is performing, extremely well.

Training (Overseas Personnel)


asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the criteria laid down for the acceptance for courses of military or other training in Great Britain of members of the armed forces of a foreign country.

Our policy on the provision of military training for other countries is primarily governed by defence, foreign policy and economic considerations. There are also, of course, such practical considerations as the availability of places and the qualifications of the individual students.

Remembering that the son of the former president of Nicaragua. President Sumoza, was trained in this country, and that currently Argentinian and Indonesian forces are training here, can the Minister assure the House that human rights considerations in the home countries are taken fully into account before trainees are accepted here? Can he also assure the House that none of the trainees will be given courses in interrogation techniques, which many of us would regard as a euphemism for torture?

I am not aware of any courses being given in interrogation techniques. We try to take all these factors into account. In my original answer I indicated all the principal considerations. There are no Chilean students under training in Service establishments.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that staff courses, and particularly senior staff courses, are often more effective when they are confined to British nationals, since discussion and criticism can be more uninhibited?

While I am sure that that is true, it does also seem to be the case that our defence is strengthened by widening our training capabilities for military personnel of other countries. That does not mean to say that all courses, or all staff college courses, apply to countries other than our own. I take the right hon. Gentleman's point.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Armed Forces do not seek such candidates for their training courses and that they are sometimes embarrassed by the numbers who apply? Will he also confirm that there has been no relaxation in the criteria governing such entrants?

There has been no such relaxation. The applications for courses continue at a high level because our training capability is regarded very highly around the world. Very often we have a choice of students, and we make that choice on the basis that I gave in my original answer.

French Minister Of Defence


asked the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions he has had with the French Minister of Defence regarding European co-operation in defence matters

Monsieur Bourges visited me in London on 28 January, and we discussed current strategic issues of concern to the West and defence equipment topics, including collaborative projects.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are possibilities of limited, although real, extensions of co-operation in this field between Britain and France for the benefit of this country's defence and the improvement of Anglo-French relations?

I certainly would say that. Links between France and NATO have been strengthened in the last five years, and French participation in joint exercises has grown. I am encouraged by those closer links, and am doing what I can further to encourage them.

Prime Minister (Engagements)


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 February.

In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Will my right hon Friend take time during her busy day to convey a message to the water workers, urging them to seek a moderate and sensible pay settlement? Will she also convey to them that strike action to shut off the nation's water supply and endanger sewage treatment cannot be tolerated?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Already, most of us believe that water charges are very high and I hope that those who are demanding more will remember that that "more" will have to be met by people who have far less than a large number of the workers themselves.

Does the Prime Minister understand that the workers in the water industry are simply trying to recoup for themselves what they have lost because of the raging inflation that has been created by this Government's policies?

The hon. Member knows that the amount which has been offered is in excess of the retail price index, even taking account of the increase in VAT which occurred last July. Those pay increases will go through into the increased price of water. I do not know what the hon. Member's postbag contains, but in mine there are already a large number of complaints about the high water rate.

Will the Prime Minister take time to consider the plight of the engineering industry? Is she aware that many engineering companies will soon run short of steel, even though stocks of steel still exist? Have the Government any plans to ensure that pressed steel can reach those companies which need it?

So far, as my hon. Friend knows, most of industry has coped extremely well, in spite of the shortage of steel. One of the factors which those on strike must consider is the effect of their strike on their fellow workers in other industries. I hope that that will weigh heavily with them in the decisions they take to get back around the negotiating table.

:Will the Prime Minister ask the Secretary of State for the Environment to send a circular to all local authorities containing the text of a model speech which may be made in council chambers and which can be sure not to incur the displeasure of the Secretary of State and, therefore, the use of penal sanctions against local authorities?

Will the Prime Minister consider inviting the Leader of the Opposition to join her in sending a message of congratulations to the employees of the Sheerness Steel Company on the Isle of Sheppey, who have refused to be intimidated by mass picketing and who have democratically asserted their right to carry on working, despite some pretty unpleasant experiences inflicted upon them by some pickets from outside? Is she aware that their courage and determination have earned the respect and admiration of the whole local community?

The workers in Sheerness have rightly exercised their lawful right to go about their business and to continue to earn their living for themselves and for their families. I do, indeed, congratulate them. It is notable that private sector steel, existing in the same world as the British Steel Corporation, is able to make a profit and to contribute to the cost of health, education and all the other things of which we want more in this country.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 February.

Will the Prime Minister take time today to study the financial crisis at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow? Is she aware that children's lives are at risk there because lack of finance is jeopardising life-saving operations? Is she also aware that Dr. McAllister, a doctor in that hospital, has said that what the Government are doing verges on cruelty? Will the right hon. Lady tell the House how her Government's mean and contemptible economic policy can, on the one hand, give tax handouts to the rich taxpayer and, on the other, threaten the lives of children in my constituency and other constituencies in Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman knows that, in general the amount of money, in real terms, allocated to the National Health Service has not been reduced. Indeed, this Government had to increase the cash limit to provide for increased pay to the nurses and the National Health Service auxiliaries. With regard to that particular hospital, the hon. Gentleman was kind enough to send me a letter indicating his concern. We understand from the health board that there has been no cut in the financial allocation that it has made to the hospital.

Has my right hon. Friend heard the result of the Leyland ballot in which the workers have apparently refused to accept the pay offer? What result does my right hon. Friend think this will have on the future of the company and its car sales?

I hope, naturally, that the workers will not take industrial action. That ballot was not to take industrial action. British Leyland has severe problems on its hands in view of its high stocks and the inability to finance any more stocks. As my hon. Friend knows, about £1,000 million of public money has already gone into British Leyland. I hope that, in view of their excellent production record last month, everyone will together consider how to go forward and get the company back into profitability.

If the right hon. Lady is sending messages, will she send one of congratulations to the firemen in my constituency and along the South Coast who are having to deal with a dirty job, namely the chemicals coming ashore from a ship called the "Aeolian Sky"? Many of my constituents are worried about what is happening. The problem has almost caused fatalities. Will she instruct her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade to take action quickly to deal with the wreck?

I know of the great concern that exists if pollution from ships comes ashore. I shall contact my right hon. Friend.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 February.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the suggestion that the profit-making private sector of the steel industry should take over some of the assets of British Steel and show it how to operate with the good will of its workers and at a profit?

It is noteworthy that the private sector of steel is operating at a profit in the same world in which the British Steel Corporation is making very heavy losses. There would be no objection whatever by the Government if the British Steel Corporation wished to sell off some of its plant that might otherwise be closed. Indeed, I think, it would be an excellent solution.

Before the right hon. Lady says more about water workers, will she comment on the circular issued by the Scottish Office suggesting that local authorities such as the Borders regional council should discharge raw sewage into the river Tweed in order to save public expenditure?

Will my right hon. Friend take time to consider the case of a member of my union, ASTMS, working as a nurse in British Steel who has felt obliged to resign her job after pressure exerted on her after refusing to contribute to strike funds? Does she not agree that incidents of this kind bring the trade union movement into disrepute and make it doubly difficult for the Government to proceed with their moderate proposals for trade union reform?

I agree that incidents of that kind bring the trade union movement into disrepute. They demonstrate the need for this Government to strengthen the law and get ahead with trade union reform.

Will the Prime Minister find time today to confirm that her Government have no intention of giving extra Government time to the Abortion (Amendment) Bill nor to extend any Friday sitting beyond the usual time for that purpose?

I understand that we are likely to be on that subject for one more Friday yet or perhaps more.

Has my right hon. Friend seen recent press reports that certain people have been claiming social security benefits to which they have not been entitled? Will she confirm that early Government action will be taken to curb this waste of taxpayers' money?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is trying to make certain that people do not get social security benefits to which they are not entitled. It should be made clear that those who take them fraudulently are reducing the amount of money available for those in genuine need.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 February.

Will the Prime Minister take urgent steps, including consulting the front-line Presidents, to seek to make sure that Lord Soames no longer has to rely on the forces of the previous Rhodesian Administration and is, thus, able to avoid arrests such as that of Garfield Todd and many others which endangering the ceasefire and may lead to the sort of breakdown that many of us have feared? Is he aware that this could produce a blood-bath which I am sure all Members of the House would regard with horror?

The arrest of Mr. Garfield Todd is a matter for the police and I cannot comment upon it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Of course, I cannot comment on it. The arrest of Mr. Todd is a matter for the police and the law must take its ordinary course. The actions of Lord Soames, who is Governor of Rhodesia at present, are governed by the Lancaster House agreement and he is sticking to that.

Will my right hon. Friend take time, in the course of today, to reflect that on the Order Paper there are no fewer than four early-day motions affecting the future of rural post offices? Does she agree that the Government ought not automatically to take on board every half-baked idea from their advisers which would affect millions of the under-privileged in this country without the fullest debate and decision in this House?

Any suggestions of this magnitude would be submitted to full debate and decision of the House, but not all ideas are half-baked and some of the half-baked ones can be fully-baked.

Will the Prime Minister take time today to reassure the people of Merseyside, who are being made redundant, and to say when her economic policies will allow the entrepreneurs, who are supposed to have been released from the shackles of high taxation by the last Budget, to start investing in Merseyside? Is the right hon. Lady aware that the Government-inspired amendments to the County of Merseyside Bill [Lords], which will come before the House on Thursday, have been designed to take away the powers of Merseyside county council to encourage industrial investment in Merseyside? Will she see that those amendments are withdrawn?

The hon. Gentleman has raised a general point about investment and increasing the role of small business. This country is getting through because of the vitality of many businesses in the private sector that are making profits. If they were not, we should not have the resources either for health or education or for the vast loss-making nationalised industries that need an ever-increasing amount of money.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to look at the plans for the future of the Commonwealth monitoring force in Rhodesia? Bearing in mind the rising tide of violence, has it not become imperative that those soldiers should be withdrawn after the votes have been cast, but before the result is known?

My hon. Friend knows that the soldiers are there to monitor and not in any way to keep order. The order is kept by virtue of the Governor requesting the forces to go where there is any report of disorder, but I do not think it would be wise to give any undertaking now about the future of the monitoring force.

In view of the Prime Minister's well-deserved tribute to the small businesses of this country, may I ask whether she is aware that the Secretary of State for Employment made a speech recently in which he said that the biggest handicap from which those businesses had to suffer was a 17 per cent. minimum lending rate? What has gone wrong with her monetary policy?

The fact that we had a very high increase in public expenditure this last year—[Interruption.] Surely the former Chancellor of the Exchequer the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) is not arguing with that. It is a matter of fact. It is in the public expenditure White Paper. As the Leader of the Opposition knows, we have had to attempt to reduce that expenditure. When it is reduced and when we can get the borrowing down, interest rates will come down. As I have said to the right hon. Gentleman so many times, we shall be grateful for his support. There seems to be some competition between the Leader of the Opposition and the former Chancellor of the Exchequer.

As minimum lending rate was put up to 15 per cent. in June, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that it would be only a few weeks before it came down again, what has gone wrong with the Government's policy, now that we have had a record MLR of 17 per cent. for two months? Is the Prime Minister proud of herself?

First, it was 14 per cent. and not 15 per cent. Let that 1 per cent pass. These 1 per cents. never seem to concern the right hon. Gentleman. He does not care a tuppenny damn about some of them. Never mind.

We need to get public spending down further, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, and the process of a nation which has been living beyond its means coming to live within its means is a distinctly uncomfortable one. We shall pursue the policy of reducing public spending as a proportion of the national income.

So that means that small businesses can expect no help at all from the Government?

On the contrary. It means that this Government are the only one who are likely to pursue a policy that brings the nation to live within its means—a policy totally rejected by the Labour Party.