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Defence

Volume 982: debated on Tuesday 15 April 1980

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Hong Kong

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what will be the United Kingdom expenditure on the defence of Hong Kong in 1980–81; and how this compares with the figures for 1979–80.

The United Kingdom share of expenditure is assessed under the terms of the defence costs agreement as £16 million in 1979–80, including reinforcements. Preliminary estimates for 1980–81 suggest expenditure in the region of £16 million, excluding reinforcements.

Is it not a waste of the taxpayers' money to pretend that we can defend a Chinese city 10,000 miles away? Against whom are we supposed to be defending it?

Our commitment, as I have explained to the hon. Gentleman before, is to the integrity and security of Hong Kong. I believe that we get good value for the money that is spent.

Is my hon. Friend aware that his decision will be greeted as being in the national interest? Will he give an assurance that the British Government will continue to make certain that the internal security of Hong Kong is maintained and that its frontiers and integrity are maintained, particularly in view of the problems that are faced regarding refugees?

There are particular problems concerning illegal immigration from mainland China. I am glad to report to the House that the number of illegal immigrants has come down to about 25 per cent. of the figure for December of last year, partly as a result, obviously, of the reinforcements that we have sent. That is very good news for the people of Hong Kong.

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that it is unfortunate that neither in Volumes I or II of the White Paper, nor in the Defence Estimates, is the fact explained that as a result of the agreement reached by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers) with the Hong Kong Government about 80 per cent. of the cost is borne by that Government? Should this not be shown explicitly in the White Paper or in the Estimates?

It is true that the defence costs agreement negotiated in the past means that, under the assessed costs, 75 per cent. are met by the Hong Kong Government. At present, this defence costs agreement is being reviewed.

Cruise Missiles

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he can now state the proposed sites for the installation of cruise missiles.

I have nothing to add to the reply I gave the hon. Member on 11 March.

Will the Defence Secretary confirm that United States and NATO nuclear warheads outnumber those of the Soviets by two to one in Europe, that the cruise missiles represent an escalation, as a potential first strike weapon, and that the people of East Anglia are becoming increasingly aware of the dangers that potential sites in East Anglia represent to them and this country? Is he surprised at the growing opposition there?

The United States has proposed the withdrawal of 1,000 warheads. I cannot, without notice, confirm or deny precisely the figures given by the hon. Gentleman. The United States made an offer. It has received a negative response from the Soviet Union. As the cruise missiles will be replacements, rather than additions, it follows that for every cruise missile that is installed, one other warhead will be withdrawn. That seems to me to be a reduction of the total nuclear capability and should be welcomed.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Britain has been a potential nuclear target since the Soviet Union first acquired nuclear weapons in 1950? Will he explain the current rate of siting of SS 20 missiles by the Soviet Union? Is he convinced that the programme is, by and large, completed?

There is no doubt about the speed of the build-up on the other side of the Iron Curtain of the SS 20s and the warheads that go with them. I can confirm that the United Kingdom has been a prime target for a number of decades—since the Second World War. What is important about the modernisation programme for LRTNF is that instead of all the theatre nuclear forces of that range being located within the United Kingdom, they are to be spread more widely throughout the Alliance. That should give some assurance to our people who, naturally, are anxious about this matter.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the patriotism, courage, military knowledge and experience of the late Earl Mountbatten is beyond doubt? Is he aware of the speech which the Earl made in May 1979 about the futility and danger of nuclear weapons?

I am aware of it. I am glad to say that I had an opportunity to talk to Earl Mountbatten upon the subject of that speech, which needs to be read in full.

Has the Secretary of State noted that when Boeing beat General Dynamics for the contract, four out of 10 even of the Boeing missiles went seriously astray? Does he propose to test these missiles on British soil? Will he use the three years before deployment to negotiate Mr. Brezhnev's offer on the SS 20 as against the cruise missile?

Almost any new weapon encounters a certain amount of teething troubles. The weapon chosen is the General Dynamics Tomahawk and not the product of the firm to which the hon. Member referred.

In relation to the siting of the missiles, will my right hon. Friend confirm that 50 miles here or there is irrelevant? Does he agree that people such as the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) who deliberately stir up trouble by traipsing round the countryside miles from their constituencies, make themselves look even more ridiculous than usual, if that is possible? Does my right hon. Friend agreee that, wherever the missiles are sited, we may be sure that the hon. Member for Keighley and his friends will turn up with the relevant Rent-a-Mob?

I am sure that, whatever sites are ultimately selected, it will make no difference to the general vulnerability of the country as a whole. One cannot isolate one region. Obviously there is anxiety and we are considering carefully where the bases should be.

When the Secretary of State made his announcement to the House in December about TNF, he made it clear that the agreement between NATO Ministers involved an important arms control package. We understand the extent to which events in Afghanistan have thrown a shadow over that. However, will the Secretary of State accept that we must try to isolate the question of arms control measures in Europe from other issues? What prospect is there for a real initiative from NATO and what is the timetable?

The United States have made their proposals concerning warheads, to which I have referred. Negotiations continue at Vienna. There is no doubt that the events of last December have cast a cloud over the prospects for arms control. That does not alter our efforts and endeavours to proceed. Unfortunately, at the moment the response from the other side does not amount to worthwhile progress.

Rhodesia (Ceasefire Medal)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received concerning the striking of a medal to be awarded to members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces who monitored the ceasefire in Rhodesia.

I have received a few inquiries from hon. Members and from members of the public on this subject. The possibility of an award for service in Southern Rhodesia has been in my mind for a long time and is under very serious consideration.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that that answer will give some satisfaction to those who admire greatly the conduct of the officers and men who went to Rhodesia on what people who have served in the RAF would regard as a rather "dicey operation" demanding calm, cool courage? Does my right hon. Friend agree that their effectiveness in ensuring a ceasefire in the run-up to the election deserves the acknowledgement and recognition of the House?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I fully endorse what he says. There is a procedure for arranging such matters and proper consideration is being given to it.

Does the Secretary of State accept that a Commonwealth force was involved? Does he agree that it did a unique job in Rhodesia? Is he aware that Prime Minister Mugabe acknowledges the effect of the monitoring force? Does he agree that such a unique service deserves a uniquie response? Would it not be better to contact the prime Minister of Zimbabwe and suggest that Zimbabwe strikes its own medal for the forces?

The right hon. Gentleman is right—a Commonwealth force was involved. The important point that he makes is being borne in mind.

May I join in the tributes paid to the British participants in the monitoring force? Will my right hon. Friend also take the opportunity to pay tribute to the Rhodesian security forces, both black and white, without whom the monitoring force could not have completed its task?

I am certainly prepared to do that and to add my tributes to the British policemen and to everybody who made a contribution to what turned out to be a great success.

In view of the unique character of the force will my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of publishing an official history of the activities of the monitoring force?

Cyprus

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he has any plans to visit British bases in Cyprus.

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

My right hon. Friend has at present no plans to do so, but I plan to visit British bases in Cyprus during the last week in May. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Army visited Cyprus last week.

I am delighted to hear of my hon. Friend's proposed visit to the bases. In view of the great value of the bases to this country and to NATO, can he assure the House that there are no plans in the foreseeable future for Britain to relinquish her sovereignty over the bases in Cyprus?

Will the Minister tell the House about the discussions between President Kyprianou and the Prime Minister recently about payment for facilities within the Republic used by our forces in the bases? How much was promised to Cyprus, or is that to remain a secret?

I understand that the matter is still to be discussed by the two Governments. The hon. Gentleman should put further questions to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Did not the bases play a valuable part in staging the Commonwealth monitoring force to which tribute has just been paid? Is there not excellent co-operation between the Government of the Republic of Cyprus and the British authorities? Does not the situation in the eastern Mediterranean demand that the bases should remain British?

When the hon. Gentleman is in Cyprus will he commend the British forces working with the United Nations forces in Cyprus since they are playing a valuable part in keeping the peace?

Reservists (Gratuities And Pensions)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he has any further information about bringing gratuities and pensions of reservists killed on duty into line with those paid to regular Service men.

The review which my hon. Friend announced on 27 November is not yet complete. When it is I shall make an announcement.

May I thank my hon. Friend for that reply? Does he agree that the Territorial Army and the other reserve forces do so much for the defence of the realm at such little cost that they deserve a better deal? Is he aware that reservists have substantially to contribute out of their own funds towards supplementary insurance? Does he agree that that is wrong?

I was a reserve officer until May last year and I endorse everything that my hon. Friend says. The present situation is far from satisfactory. I hope that we shall be able to make an announcement fairly soon.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the risks of certain aspects of reserve training are almost as great as those experienced by the Regulars? For example, is the Minister aware that a few weeks ago a member of the 21st Special Air Service Regiment (Artists) of the Territorial Army, died in a training exercise on the Brecon Beacons? Will my hon. Friend conduct a review with the greatest urgency and ensure that compensation is in line with that awarded to the Regulars? Does he accept that nothing less is just?

The matter is being considered with the greatest urgency. I hope that an announcement can be made be-force long. I accept the important points made by my hon. Friend. The present scheme has operated since 1974. It has many shortcomings.

Sensitive Information (Publication)

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied with arrangements for preventing sensitive information relating to contracts for air defence systems and battlefield communications systems being made public knowledge.

Yes, but, as my hon. Friend said in his reply to my hon. Friend on 17 March, security matters are kept under constant review.

While I am partially reassured by that reply may I ask my hon. Friend whether he does not think that the sort of information that appeared in the International Defence Review about our country's radar defences—picked up by other publications and widely disseminated—is conducive to the national interest? If not, will he and his right hon. Friend look into this matter and try to institute new rules and safeguards which will ensure that such sensitive information does not become public property?

I am satisfied that in the case on which my hon. Friend based his question there was no question of national security being compromised. My hon. Friend will be aware that in many specialised journals—particularly those dealing with defence—a remarkable degree of detailed knowledge is published and distributed widely around the world. The only question that that fact raises in my mind is whether the Ministry of Defence in the recent past has not been guilty of revealing less information than is to be found in many published sources. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will feel that we have now taken steps to reverse that trend with the publication of the White Paper last week.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that there is no suggestion that any contractor working in this country has been responsible for a leak of this nature, particularly in view of the involvement of the Plessey company which is an important employer in my constituency.

Political Education

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied with the level of political education given to officers in the Armed Forces.

Senior officers require an understanding of the general political background to defence questions, both nationally and internationally, and I am satisfied that proper account is taken of these matters in their training.

In view of the reported remarks of the Chief of Defence Staff at the time that some Army officers at Army headquarters were talking about the possibility of military intervention in February 1974—talk condemned by the field marshal—is there not a need for more sophisticated political education at a higher level than that we saw recently in the film on the Staff College at Camberley? Were those officers who were talking about the possibility of a coup in Britain ever disciplined? Were they reminded of their constitutional and public duties?

The hon. Gentleman is trying to make far too much of some off-the-cuff remarks. The Army, of course, is concerned with questions of internal security as anyone who is aware of what the Army has had to undertake in Northern Ireland must know. It is right that officers should have proper training in these matters.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that it would do nothing but good if officers in the Services had a first-hand opportunity to hear the extraordinary and bizarre political delusions of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and his hon. Friends the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) at first hand? Would that not do much to strengthen the resolve of those officers to defend this country?

Why only officers? Is it not significant that during the Second World War the excellent Bureau of Current Affairs helped the forces not only to understand but to discuss the political issues of the time? Will the Secretary of State consider reviving that bureau?

I think that recollections of the activities of the Army Bureau of Current Affairs will vary. It is vitally important, however, that there should be no political bias, no political indoctrination and no party political activity on the part of serving officers.

Are not officers in Her Majesty's Services taught to fear God and honour the Queen, and should not those precepts be their guilding principles?

Yes, of course they should. Surely, in the week when Zimbabwe comes to independence and when we have testified in this House to the high quality of the contribution made there by Her Majesty's forces, it is absurd to talk of Army officers being politically biased.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Defence Ministers)

8.

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

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

When the NATO Defence Ministers meet in May will they discuss the reported warning from the United States that certain key American forces currently committed to NATO may have to be switched elsewhere? Can the right hon. Gentleman say what impact such a change in United States policy will have on the strategy set out in his White Paper?

I have no doubt that we shall discuss that matter. In view of international events the United States has announced plans to reinforce its military capability in South-West Asia. In no sense—as the United States has made absolutely clear—does that diminish its responsibility to its NATO Allies and the part played by the United States in that Alliance. Together with all our Allies we must take stock of the situation created by the invasion of Afghanistan. As a result of the meeting yesterday, further work has been set in hand and we shall be discussing that at the meeting I mentioned.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in current international circumstances the Council of Ministers might look with profit at a more effective division of responsibilities within the Alliance? For our part can we not try to ensure that British forces are as flexible as possible so that they are capable of intervening if necessary, where required, beyond the NATO theatre of operations?

Yes, Sir. That is always possible and is continuing at present in the light of the new situation.

When the Secretary of State goes to the next NATO meeting will he take with him page 89 of the Defence White Paper and draw the attention of the West German Defence Minister to the statement on that page to the effect that the rising trend in foreign exchange costs to BAOR is disturbing and that it is worsened by the expiry of the offset agreement this year? Will the Secretary of State impress upon the West German Minister that it is absurd that one of the weakest economies in Europe should continue to contribute such a substantial subsidy to one of the strongest economies in Europe without any offset agreement?

There is no doubt that that aspect of our costs in the Federal Republic is a source of great anxiety. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it was the Gov- ernment whom he supported, in the last Parliament, which brought the previous agreement to an end last month. We inherited that arrangement. However, I make no secret of the fact that, though I have no intention at the moment of doing anything about the arrangement that was entered into, it is a source of anxiety to us that the cost should be so high.

Will my right hon. Friend draw the attention of his NATO colleagues to the increase in the invasion of our airspace—and that of our NATO colleagues—as reported today? Does the Secretary of State intend to give any indication eventually of the results of the exercise affecting air defences in this country today?

I am not sure that that would be appropriate but I believe that it is a good thing that an exercise of this kind is taking place. There are always lessons to be learnt from an experience of this kind.

Reserve Forces (Recruitment)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what success he has had since taking office in improving recruitment for the reserve forces and what further plans he has for the expansion of these reserve forces.

Recruitment to the volunteer reserve forces is going very well. Since the announcement of increased bounties last August, for example, the strength of the Territorial Army has risen by well over 3,000 to more than 63,000, its highest level since the 1967 reorganisation. Since taking office we have announced the creation of a new Air Branch for the Royal Naval Reserve and we have launched a scheme involving the recruitment of three regiment squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. There are at present no proposals for the further expansion of the volunteer reserves but we shall of course keep this possibility under review.

While I thank my hon. Friend for the first part of his answer may I ask him, on the second part, whether he should not press ahead? Does he not agree that the most effective method of increasing this country's defence capability—given the current budgetary restraints—is through an increase in our reserve forces?

Our reserve forces are extremely cost effective, though they are all below establishment at present. I would like to see our current recruiting drives continue successfully so that we achieve establishment levels.

Does the Minister agree that increased recruitment into our reserve forces—and indeed into all our Armed Forces—has more to do with increasing unemployment than with any patriotism that may exist among our young people? Is it not a crying shame that people are forced to join the Armed Forces because there is no other work for them?

The hon. Gentleman is wrong on both counts. Those joining the Territorial Army are largely in employment. One of the problems we face is that of persuading employers to release their staff so that they can fully undertake their training.

There is no correlation between levels of recruitment into the Regular forces and levels of unemployment.

Will my hon. Friend consider whether, since many men and women in Northern Ireland receive training in the Ulster Defence Regiment and then leave, there should be some volunteer reserve for them?

In view of the Minister's reference to the reluctance of employers to allow time off to reservists to fulfil their training obligations, what response has there been to the Prime Minister's appeal last month to employers, especially employers in the nationalised industries?

I must make clear that many employers adopt a very fine attitude towards releasing people. My criticisms were directed at a minority of employers. One understands the problems faced by small employers when the staff involved may be crucial to the operation. The appeal by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been very well received and I am following it up. I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members will do what they can to encourage employers in this respect.

China

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if, on his visit to China, he discussed military co-operation in response to events in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I discussed a wide range of issues with Chinese leaders, in the light of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and its implications. Our discussions covered the prospects for co-operation including the sale of British defence equipment to China and exchanges of defence-related visits.

Is not Soviet concern—albeit an obsession—about China a partial explanation of events in Afghanistan? Did the Secretary of State discover why the Chinese have put such a high proportion of their scarce resources into constructing the Karakoram highway and pouring defence equipment into a dubious regime in Pakistan?

It is a matter of opinion whether the Chinese attitude to the Soviet Union had any or some responsibility for the Soviet action in Afghanistan. Certainly we and our Allies have without exception, condemned that aggressive act. The use of Chinese resources is a matter for the Chinese and their judgment. I thought that their approach, in so far as they revealed it to me, would certainly have the support of the West.

May I welcome the increased co-operation between the United Kingdom and the People's Republic of China, and urge my right hon. Friend not to overlook the fact that the People's Republic of China, like the Soviet Union, is not unknown for its invasion of independent countries? May I refer my right hon. Friend to the Chinese invasions of Tibet and of the Republic of Vietnam?

Given the threat that the world faces at the moment from the sustained build-up in the Soviet Union, it is as well for the West and for Europe, including this country, that there should be a strong Chinese determination to resist any aggression, should it ever occur.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this touching love affair of the Conservatives for Communist China convinces no one? In drawing up in future his balance of power—which, by the way, is by no means as impressive as the IISS balance—will he not fail to take note of the vast Chinese forces on Russia's eastern flank which quite alter the balance, even from the Secretary of State's point of view?

If we did not know the hon. Gentleman so well it would not be clear from that intervention which side he was on. I think that it is just as well from the point of view of the West that events in the East attract a substantial part of the Soviet military forces on that eastern border.

Royal Dockyards

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will report progress in the study group's investigation of the Royal dockyards.

I hope to submit the report of the dockyard study to my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Defence, shortly.

Does the Minister agree that this is such an important document that it ought to be published and discussed with the trade unions involved? Will the Minister give an assurance that the eventual outcome will not endanger the future of any dockyard and that the work-forces in the dockyards are indispensable to securing a United Kingdom defence capability?

On the latter point, I must not prejudge the studies. The hon. Gentleman will be aware, on the former point, that it is our intention, given the views of my right hon. Friend, that there should be a full consultative document which will be discussed with the staff side, the trade unions and, I hope, with hon. Members and other interests.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that one of the principal frames of reference for the study group will be the wastage of certain grades of technician in the dockyards, and that it will he looking very closely at comparability with equivalent skills and trades in civilian job opportunities?

We have been looking at comparability in recent weeks. We have been examining that problem because we have been losing desperately needed skilled workers from our dockyards.

Will my hon. Friend accept that the investigation has already caused apprehension, and the three measly paragraphs devoted to Her Majesty's dockyards in the Defence White Paper together with the promise that the investigation will be complete by 1 April has caused additional apprehension? Is my hon. Friend prepared to set the date for the completion of that investigation?

The date is "In the very near future". The results will have to be considered then by my right hon. Friend, but I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Fenner) that there will be many more than three measly paragraphs in the report, and I think that she will find the report most acceptable.

Cadet Forces (Equipment And Uniforms)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied with the standard of equipment and uniform supplied to the cadet forces of the four major services.

One can never be fully satisfied, but I believe the general position is satisfactory.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should give more support and encouragement to the cadet forces, not only because they provide a source of recruitment for the regular and reserve forces, but because they provide forms of youth training which are not normally available in the community?

I am happy to confirm the important contribution of the cadet forces. There are plans for issuing small quantities of the 7·62 mm target rifle, radio equipment and further items of clothing. Matters of that kind are in hand, but my hon. Friend must bear in mind that we are operating at a time of considerable financial constraint.

Since considerable sums of taxpayers' money are spent on uniforms will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that British textile sources will be used to supply them, thus ensuring the preservation of jobs and avoiding the need for the taxpayer having to finance unemployment and supplementary benefits when jobs are lost as a result of garments being imported?

On the information that I have about uniforms being issued to the Army and other cadet forces, that point does not arise.

Expenditure

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the proposed defence expenditure for 1980–81.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the total cost of the defence budget for 1980–81.

Is it not disturbing that, while the Government are cutting back on housing, education and welfare and local authority services, they are increasing defence expenditure? Will the right hon. Gentleman study the report of the Brandt commission, of which the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was a member? Is he aware that it has suggested to leading industrial nations that they should cut their spending on arms and devote their resources to aid to underdeveloped countries and to dealing with the problem of world poverty?

I am sure that the report is most important and that it is being considered by every nation. However, we have to consider the immediate threat. There may or may not be a move of policy in the direction suggested by the report. I cannot say that at this stage. However, in the meantime, all the Allies agree that it is necessary to increase defence expenditure, and even our predecessors in office, to be fair to them, took the same view.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that there will be a widespread welcome for the fact that the Government have given the defence budget the priority it deserves? However, if it is to rise, as we understand, by some 3 per cent. a year for the next few years, and if one of the major features of defence expenditure is to be a major re-equipping programme for all three forces, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that, if 5 per cent. of the defence budget is to be spent on renewing our nuclear deterrent, even a 3 per cent. increase year on year will be satisfactory by the middle of the decade?

The Alliance-wide target of an increase of 3 per cent. is adequate in all the circumstances. It represents a substantial improvement in our defence capability over a period of years. It is a mistake to confuse with that argument one weapon system. I do not think that the position that we face at present enables anybody to take a complacent view about the position of either this country or of the Alliance. Together—if we make an adequate contribution—we can maintain the peace.

Does not the Minister agree that if there is a threat at all, the same threat applies to all members of NATO equally? Why is it necessary for this country to make a larger per capita contribution than any other member of NATO? Is it not a fact that we are now paying more for defence than we spend on health or housing? Why did the Minister, in Cabinet, argue for more money under those circumstances, and threaten resignation? What moral justification is there for that.

The hon. Gentleman has chosen the wrong method to describe our expenditure. On a per capita basis, we are in the bottom half of the table. It is only as a percentage of GDP that we are at the top of the table—excepting the United States. The reason why we have supported that view is that the needs of the position require us to make this additional effort. We are determined to make our contribution. On a per capita basis there are members of the Alliance paying more than those resident in the United Kingdom.

When considering the position of the Royal naval dockyards, will my right hon. Friend realise that they have played an enormous part in the defence capability of Britain in the past, and that they have no less an important task in the future?

I agree with my hon. Friend. As he knows, I am shortly to receive a study on the future of the dockyards. I accept that they have an important role to play for the Navy.

Recruiting Costs

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what are the latest figures available for the cost of recruiting a soldier, sailor, and airmen; what further steps he is taking to reduce these figures; and if he will make a statement.

The most recent available figures are those for the financial year 1978–79, which I gave to the hon. Gentleman on 12 June. I can assure the hon. Member that the cost effectiveness of the recruiting organisation is closely monitored.

Does not the Minister accept that the figures in all the cases are still far too high? As I have appealed to him before, may I ask him again to consider the more direct use of job-centres for recruitment? Will he also consider the disincentive effect on recruitment of the wide variation in facilities and conditions at present in the Armed Forces as between officers and other ranks?

I cannot accept the assertion made by the hon. Gentleman that the costs are too high, bearing in mind that the costs relate to all parts of the recruitment process, including the testing and filtering of recruits. The hon. Gentleman has made the jobcentre point before. As I have told him on other occasions, jobcentres have an important part to play in this process. He will be glad to know that recruiting in the period October to December 1979 was 24 per cent. higher than the same period in the previous year.

Will my hon. Friend say to what extent the Armed Services share recruitment centre facilities?

I can give my hon. Friend some detailed information on that sub- ject. They share facilities to a considerable extent. If I may, I shall write to my hon. Friend on the matter.

Does the Minister accept the necessity to close down recruitment centres in prime shopping areas? If he studies the figures he will find that they serve very little purpose in recruitment.

Will he give an assurance that he is continuing with the trend set out in the Wellbeloved report?

We are continuing along those lines. There is considerable force in the point made by the hon. Gentleman. There is no point in closing down recruitment offices simply for the sake of doing so. Where they are doing a good job they will be maintained.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

16.

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

17.

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

Will my right hon. Friend take to the meeting a copy of his excellent White Paper, and draw the attention of the Allies to the fact that we are more than honouring our obligation—and quite rightly so? Will he seek an assurance from his fellow colleagues that their countries will also seek to make the same contribution as Britain to NATO?

Most of our Allies are fulfilling the aim to increase expenditure by 3 per cent. Some of those who are not doing so have had a good record in recent years, unlike some other members. I take the point made by my hon. Friend.

Will my right hon. Friend discuss with his NATO colleagues and counterparts the next aeroplane—the so-called AST 403? Can we have a decision on this matter as soon as possible?

I doubt that that subject will come up at the defence planning committee meeting. However, in other forums I am considering the matter with our Allies.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 15 April.

This morning I had meetings with the Vice President of Ghana and with Sir John Mason, our High Commissioner designate at Canberra. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Will the Prime Minister take time today to reflect on the mounting evidence emerging this week—not only from her Chancellor of the Exchequer—that her economic strategy is destroying Britain's industrial base? [HON MEMBERS: "Reading."] Will she further consider a reversal of those policies which have led to a soaring inflation rate of 20 per cent., rising unemployment and crippling interest rates,—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—that will soon turn this country into a banana republic, both economically and diplomatically?

I note the hon. Gentleman's studied supplementary. It is ridiculous to say that Britain's industrial base is being destroyed. There are large areas of industry that are flourishing. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade pointed out recently, our export performance, apart from cars, is holding up extremely well. That is a great compliment to many of our industries.

Quite a number of our textiles also. Some of our textiles are in great demand.

I agree that the unemployment rate is high. Fortunately, it is not quite as high as the record levels reached under the previous Labour Government. I can only be frank with the hon. Gentleman. I believe that, unfortunately, the unemployment rate will rise. If we were to continue printing more money—which is what the hon. Gentleman wants—we should have not only higher inflation, but also higher unemployment.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to read the reports in the press about the rate—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—bills that are circulating at present.

Will my right hon. Friend note that a house in Conservative-controlled Wandsworth has an annual rate bill of £233, whereas an identical house on the opposite side of the road, in Socialist-controlled Lambeth, has a rate bill of £376? Does she not think that there is a lesson there that people should learn before they vote in the local elections?

I thank my hon. Friend for pointing out that the lowest rate increases are occurring in Tory-controlled authorities, and that the highest rate increases are occurring in Labour-controlled authorities. That is happening all over the country. The position in Wandsworth and Lambeth is just one example, and many people are glad that they live on the Wandsworth side of the boundary.

The Prime Minister said that it is ridiculous to say that British industry is being undermined by her policies. Has she any record of any previous period in British manufacturing history when there has been a decline—and the Government anticipate a decline of 4½ per cent. in manufacturing output this year—further followed by three consecutive years of decline? In what way does she believe that that will strengthen British industry?

My point was that, on the whole, British industry is not going into perpetual decline, nor is the manufacturing base being perpetually eroded. There are certain problem areas, and the car industry is one of them.

There are enormous difficulties in some of the nationalised industries. They will not be sorted out until we have reduced the overmanning and concentrated on raising productivity. The right hon. Gentleman is as familiar with that as I am.

I am familiar with the fact that it is a long-standing problem and that it will not be cured by Tory gimmicks. However, why is the right hon. Lady accepting with such complacency the intention, which the Government have published, that British manufacturing industry should decline over four years? Will she answer my question? How can that possibly strengthen the base of British industry? How can it possibly help unemployment? How can it encourage British industry to invest and expand?

British industry will invest and expand by individual decisions by individual companies. As for macro-assessments—yes, we have deliberately been very cautious about the future. The right hon. Gentleman knows what happened when he made extremely optimistic assessments and based his public expenditure forecasts upon them. The assessments did not come about because the increases were not made. Unfortunately, he nevertheless spent the money and very soon had to have the IMF in.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that we totally disagree with the policy of cutting public expenditure at present? It is not only socially unjust but economically crippling.

I note that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to have either very much higher taxation, direct and indirect, or wishes us to print more money. I reject those solutions.

Will my right hon. Friend continue her efforts today, tomorrow and, if need be, the day after to get it into the thick skull of Sir Denis Follows that there is a war going on in Afghanistan? Will she make it clear to him that in the circumstances it would be a national disgrace if a British team were to go to compete in the so-called Olympics in Moscow with the Communists and their stooges?

I understand fully and agree with my hon. Friend's question. I understand that Sir Denis Follows said that only a war would change the decision of the British Olympic Association to go to Moscow. I agree with my hon. Friend that there is just such a war going on in Afghanistan. Russia is using troops to hold down a people. In those circumstances it will be wrong for British athletes to go to Moscow if they value their freedom as much as we do.

Will the right hon. Lady take time today to consider the anger of the teaching profession in Scotland over the instruction from Professor Clegg that it works out its own comparability study? Will she instruct her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to make an appointment immediately of a committee along the lines of the Lever committee on steel, to produce a result within seven days?

I think that there are mixed feelings on the report of the Clegg Commission. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, the Clegg Commission was asked to consider pay in relation to terms and condition of service. It is clear from the face of the Clegg Commission's report that it had considerable difficulty in carrying out its task. Its findings must now be referred to the negotiating committees on pay and to different committees on conditions of service. Most people agree that teachers' professional obligations extend outside the classroom. It is extremely difficult to arrange pay unless we know exactly what terms and conditions of service we are paying for.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 15 April.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply which I gave a few moments ago.

Will the right hon. Lady take an opportunity amid her duties, to explain why she and other Ministers continue to insist that the only way to reduce inflation is by reducing the money supply, when over the past five years Germany, Switzerland and Belgium have had rates of expansion of the money supply identical to ours and yet, while our rate of inflation has averaged 15 per cent. Switzerland's was 4 per cent. Germany's was 5 per cent. and Belgium's was 9 per cent.? Does not that indicate clearly that the Government's economic policy is based on a gigantic fallacy?

Of course it does not. The hon. Gentleman is well aware that there are time lags between money supply and it coming through. He will find a close correlation, if he looks at the time lag, between money supply and the rate of inflation. Apart from that it stands to commonsense that, if we print more money than is backed by goods and services, that extra money, if it is used, will find its way into increased prices over the course of time.

In an effort to assist the Leader of the Opposition and industry, will my right hon. Friend say anything to trade union leaders at British Leyland, whose dispute and subsequent strike is leading only to economic disruption in the industry? Does she agree that it will do nothing to assist the recovery of British Leyland and nothing for the workers but will merely play into the hands of those who wish to see economic ruin in Britain?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We hope that British Leyland will break through to being profitable and successful. We believe that in the past few months it has increased its share of the market and has a chance of doing a great deal better. We hope that that chance will not be thrown away by those who are at present on strike. We hope that they will assist all their fellow workers and the management to make British Leyland successful once again.

Will my right hon. Friend find time to ring Mr. Len Murray to suggest that his time would be better spent in getting together with Mr. Moss Evans and Mr. Duffy to sort out the ridiculous problem at British Leyland instead of spending time organising a day off on 14 May?

I hope that the problem at British Leyland will be sorted out. There is a chance there. I believe that the company has one of the best managers that any industry will ever have. I hope that the work force will back him and that it will go back to work and enable the cars to be sold once again.

Order. I shall call two hon. Members from the Opposition Benches to hold the balance.

The right hon. Lady is on about British industry. Does she accept that the Post Office is an extremely important part of British industry? Will she confirm that at 4 o'clock today the chairman of the Post Office will announce his resignation, to be replaced by a civil servant from the Department of Industry?

I think that the hon. Gentleman had better wait until 4 o'clock, if an announcement is to be made at that time.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 15 April.

Will the right hon. Lady take this opportunity of explaining in a little more detail exactly what she meant yesterday when she made the commitment to support United States policy in Iran? Was that support completely unqualified? Does it include, for instance, any move by the United States to employ military means to solve the problem?

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I think that I spent just about half an hour answering questions in very considerable detail yesterday. I made the point as forcefully as I could that diplomatic activity had not succeeded in releasing the hostages and that the United States was entitled to expect to move on to the next stage—namely, political and economic activity. I made no reference to military activity—

except to say that that would be an extremely grave step. I believe that the United States was asking us to see what we could do by political and economic activity, and for that we would need the widest possible international support.

In view of my right hon. Friend's firm statement yesterday on Iran, will she undertake to stop the handing over of the recently completed naval supply vessel to the Government of Iran by Swan Hunter on the Tyne? It would be a rather odd time to hand it over right now.

As my hon. Friend knows, we have not exported any military equipment to Iran. That has been one of the points of agreement that we had with the United States Government. We are able to do that without legislation, because the requirement is either the commissioning of a naval vessel or an export licence. In this case it would require an export licence, so the Government are entitled to take action if an export licence is applied for.

In view of the right hon. Lady's earlier remarks that British industry is bearing up, is she able to assure the House that she is aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said only yesterday that industrial production will fall by 6 per cent. under her Government? Is she aware that if that happens she will leave behind industrial output that is even lower than that left behind by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) 10 years before, when we had three-day working? Is she content to go down in history as the Prime Minister who left British industry in a worse state than her right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, what happens in the next year will depend exactly on how hard and how efficiently people work. [Interruption.] Of course it will. If people back strikes, their output will go down, but if they take advantage of increased productivity and of previous investment in British industry and work with greater efficiency, we shall get a higher standard of living. That is the only way in which to get a higher standard of living in this country.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During Question Time the Prime Minister appeared to mislead the House by suggesting that the textile industry was one of those industries with a balance of payments surplus—

Order. With every respect to the hon. Gentleman, the content of the Prime Minister's reply cannot be a point of order for me, because the Prime Minister takes responsibility for her own replies.

What I am concerned with, Mr. Speaker, is the conduct of the House, which is in your hands and is obviously outside the responsibility of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister's suggestion, by misleading the House, has lowered the standard of conduct, which is in your hands.

The hon. Gentleman is well experienced. He knows that that is not a real point of order. There has been no breach of our Standing Orders in what has occurred. Whatever the hon. Gentleman's feelings, he should not pursue them with me at this moment, because there is nothing that I can do.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is there some remedy open to hon. Members if the Prime Minister misleads the House by suggesting that a particular industry is in surplus when it is in massive deficit?

Order. It is quite common in this House for hon. Members on each side to charge that someone on the other side has misled the House. It usually means that the hon. Member concerned disagrees with the contents of the reply.