asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied that the defence budget is adequate to enable him to fulfil all the United Kingdom's present defence roles.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wishes me to convey his apologies to the House for not being here today. He is attending a NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels.The answer to my hon. Friend's question is "Yes".
Will my hon. Friend assure the House that the extra funds announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week are enough to carry forward the programme set out in Cmnd. 8288, or have we now reached the stage where our defence strategy has to be re-examined?
Our strategy remains as set out in Cmnd. 8288. There are pressures on the defence budget arising partly from the fact that industry is delivering its products earlier than we had expected and partly from the fact that the measures announced in Cmnd. 8288 take some time to work through.
Is it not obvious that we cannot afford an effective conventional defence and a credible nuclear weapons system—credible enough, at any rate, to get us an invitation to the conference at Geneva?
It has never been the intention that we should attend the conference at Geneva.Before I go further, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his translation to the post that he now holds. I hope that he will be able to make some sense of the Labour Party's policy. The answer to his question is that we can maintain a strategic nuclear deterrent and a credible conventional defence policy.
I thank the Minister for his kind words. I am having great difficulty in trying to make sense of the Government's policy. I pursue my point a little further. I thought that one of the bases of our having the nuclear deterrent, as it was called, was that we should be invited to the top table in the conference chamber. What happened to the top table and to the conference chamber?
We are still closely consulted by the Americans as is the whole of NATO about the presentation of what is being put forward at Geneva. It has never been the intention that we should engage in those discussions. The intention has always been that the discussions should be between the Soviet Union and the United States.
Is not one of the roles of British defence strategy the immediate reinforcement of Northern Norway? Will my hon. Friend explain how Northern Norway can be reinforced at times of tension if the two landing platform docks—HMS "Fearless" and HMS "Intrepid"—are scrapped?
We shall still have some carriers, and we shall be able to use commercial shipping.
Is the Minister satisfied that the funds are adequate to train personnel with the new equipment that will be coming forward? Is he aware that one thing that exercises the minds of the Forces now is the cutting down of the available training facilities? Is there not a case for considering whether some decrease in the numbers and extra training of those remaining might be better than having the equipment without the people trained to use it?
The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on an important point. One of the objectives of the review that took place in the summer was to enable us to spend more time and resources on training instead of constantly bumping our head against a ceiling. We intended—and I believe that we have achieved it—to give ourselves a little more headroom to build up stocks and carry out more training.
asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the future of the Tornado programme.
Following a proposal by the German Minister of Defence, the United Kingdom is currently considering with its partners in the Tornado programme the possibility of a change in delivery rates to relieve pressures on defence budgets. No decision has yet been made.
My hon. Friend will know better than I the inherent weaknesses of our air defences in Britain. Does he appreciate that his remarks will be regarded by Conservative Members as in many ways undermining what we said before and at the general election?
I do not believe that my hon. Friend is right. To start with, the Tornado programme has two constituent parts. At present we are talking primarily about rephasing the IDS version. The ADV version of Tornado, to which my hon. Friend alludes, comes later. It may be possible to pick up the rate of delivery by that stage.
Does my hon. Friend realise that my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will take it gravely amiss if the Tornado programme is cut back to that extent? Therefore, will he press even more strongly the German Government and others in the programme who may be creating difficulties about the sale of Tornado outside NATO?
I remind my hon. Friend that I have not referred to any particular delivery rates. I merely said that we were examining the possibility of a change in the rates. My hon. Friend's point about sales is well made. We are discussing the matter with the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany. I also remind my hon. Friend that 25 per cent. of the work done at the British Aerospace factory at Weybridge in my constituency is on the Tornado programme.
asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is now able to make a statement on the estimated cost of the Trident missile project.
asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the cost of Trident.
asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to be able to make a statement giving his decision whether the Trident programme will involve the purchase of the D5 system.
asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he will be in a position to give an estimate of the cost of the Trident missile system.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made clear to the House on 10 November 1981, we are still studying the final configuration of the United Kingdom Trident force. Our decisions and their cost implications will be announced in due course.
Are not the latest reports that, with the running and maintenance costs, the force will cost not £5 billion but nearer £8 billion? On the day when we are to discuss taxing the sick and cutting grants for university students and social benefits for the unemployed, does the hon. Gentleman really believe that that expenditure is justified?
As we have already made clear, we estimate that the cost of introducing Trident will be about 3 per cent. of the defence budget spread over 15 years. The running costs are more likely to be about 1½ per cent. The hon. Gentleman referred to students and hospitals and other important matters. It would be good to be able to spend more money on many things, but that is no argument for reducing our defences to an inadequate level, which would increase the risk of war.
Order. I propose to call first those hon. Members whose questions are being answered.
Is it not scandalous that, while children are dying because of a shortage of funds for bone marrow transplants, the Government are contemplating spending an extra £1·4 billion to buy the D5 missile instead of the C4? Is it not hypocrisy to talk about reducing nuclear weaponry in Europe when the Government propose to spend huge amounts on weapons which will be between 15 and 30 times more powerful than the Polaris system which they are designed to replace? Will not the programme start a new escalation in the arms race?
One regrets the death of children in any circumstances, but we should remember that the number of children killed in a war would be vastly greater than in the circumstances to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I remind him that not long ago his right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said that if we have inadequate defences, we put at risk more than schools, houses and hospitals; we may have only a heap of cinders.
What will be the increased costs if the Government decide to go ahead, as appears to be inevitable, with the D5 system? Do we have dockyard facilities to take the submarines needed to carry the system? If not, would their construction not involve enormous additional expense?
I cannot quantify the costs, but we are considering them in order to make our decision. As my right hon. Friend said recently, it does not follow that the throughlife cost of Trident 2 would be greater than those of Trident 1. I have no reason to believe that our existing dockyards provided for the refitting of SSBNs will not be adequate.
Whichever Trident system is purchased, will it not significantly escalate the arms race? How can the Government press for non-proliferation of nuclear weapons when they insist on upping the stakes?
We believe that Trident is the most cost-effective system for us. Trident 2 is more powerful than we would need, but there are many reasons to go for Trident, including the fact that any other effective system that we have considered is more expensive. Whether we go for Trident 1 or 2, the relationship between our strategic nuclear deterrent force and the Russian strategic missile force will be about the same as when we introduced Polaris.
I recognise that the purchase of Trident is desirable and necessary—and the sooner the better—but will the House be able to participate in deciding on the type of Trident? If so, when will the Government be making a recommendation?
I cannot say when a decision will be made, but, when it has been made, it will be announced. It is for my right hon. Friend to decide what debates we shall then have.
At what stage do the Government envisage that Trident will be brought into multilateral disarmament negotiations?
We do not have plans to bring Trident into such negotiations at present, for a number of reasons. One is that if our strategic nuclear deterrent force were diminished in size it would cease to be credible.
Is my hon. Friend aware that even those who believe strongly in nuclear deterrence feel that there should be a clear cost limit on the programme.
There would, of course, be a cost limit.
As, by the American decision the Government are now forced to buy Trident 2, so will not be able to control the cost and will be forced to build larger submarines, will that not place an intolerable burden on our economy in developing the system over the next 10 years, which can only be at the cost of conventional forces?
Naval Vessels (Orders)
asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the anticipated orders of naval vessels by his Department.
I have nothing to add to the information contained in Cmnd. 8288. Future orders will be announced as they are placed.
Does not the delay in announcing the programme of naval orders bedevil the finances and planning of British Shipbuilders? Should we not now have a progressive system of ordering, particularly for conventional submarines and some surface ships?
I accept that the present uncertainty does not assist British Shipbuilders. I can only say that the decisions will be made as soon as we feel able to make them in the light of the prevailing economic situation.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there is uncertainty in the Royal Navy and that it is extremely important for its future morale and well-being to know that there will be a substantial ordering programme for new frigates? May we be assured that that point will be taken into account, as well as the interests of British Shipbuilders, worthy though they are?
I agree that the interests of the Royal Navy are at least as important as the other interests that have been mentioned. We hope to announce in the fairly near future the decision on the Type 23 frigate.
Will the Minister give more details about future orders? Does he realise that the present uncertainty makes it almost impossible for British Shipbuilders to undertake serious forward planning? He must have some idea of how many ships will be needed over how long a period.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I recently had the privilege of visiting the Woolston yard in his constituency. I told the management and the unions then, and I told the hon. Gentleman subsequently, that that yard must concentrate its efforts on the export market, which offers some very good opportunities. That must be the first priority there.
When does my hon. Friend expect the new Type 23 frigate to pass the design stage and an order to be placed for it? Secondly, when does he expect us to have 17 operational SSN nuclear submarine hunter-killers?
First, this is still at the design study stage. It will be a few more months before we are in a position to finalise it.Secondly, as it is largely an operational matter, I should like to have notice of that question and to write to my hon. Friend.
As Harland and Wolff shipyard workers are in grave danger of being thrown out of work, thus adding to the colossal and unprecedented number of people on the dole in Northern Ireland, will the Minister ensure that an order for a Royal Navy vessel is placed with the Belfast shipyards, or at least that a sufficient number of auxiliary fleet ships go there for refurbishment so that jobs there, and indeed the yard itself, may be saved?
I am aware of a recent case relating to fleet auxiliary refits for which Harland and Wolff was invited to tender but did not do so. Nevertheless, the Government are acutely aware of the needs of that yard.
asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he now expects Her Majesty's ship "Ark Royal" to enter service.
In the mid-1980s.
In the light of my hon. Friend's reply to a supplementary question by my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Sir P. Wall) to question No. 1, that carriers are available to reinforce the Northern front, is he aware that "Illustrious" is behind schedule and that we need at least two carriers? Will he therefore take this opportunity categorically to deny reports in the press that discussions have taken place between the British Government and the Government of Australia about the sale of "Invincible" to that country?
No, I cannot deny that. The problem is well understood and will certainly be taken into account in any timings.
What aircraft will be available to fly on "Ark Royal" when she comes into service? Has permission been given for the Royal Navy to order Sea Harriers and helicopters?
There will be Sea Harriers and Sea Kings, but there is as yet no clearance for additional aircraft.
Nuclear Missiles (Nato)
asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he next proposes to meet other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Defence Ministers; and if he will be discussing with them the disposition of nuclear missiles in Europe.
I expect that there will be discussion of nuclear weapons in Europe at today's meeting of NATO's Defence Planning Committee, which my right hon. Friend is attending. Progress in the Geneva talks on nuclear arms control will be discussed by Alliance Foreign Ministers at the North Atlantic Council at the end of this week, which will be attended by my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary.
Will the Minister assure the House that the recent speeches of Mr. Brezhnev, which seemed to hold out at least a partial olive branch with regard to the disposition of nuclear missiles, will be noted? Does he appreciate that throughout Europe and, indeed, spreading throughout the world, there are now demonstrations of such monumental proportions that the will of the people for peace is bound to have some effect upon the Governments of the world, and is certainly having some impact on the United States? Cannot the voice of our Government be raised to make it clear that our people are demonstrating, that we fear the disposition of these missiles, and that we believe that negotiations at the highest level at a summit with the Soviet Union, which has its hands full in many situations elsewhere, should take place with a view to reducing the number of nuclear weapons?
The Government have repeatedly made it clear that our objective is to secure verifiable and balanced multilateral disarmament. The hon. Gentleman may know that recent public opinion polls showed that a substantial majority of the British people wish us to retain our own independent strategic nuclear deterrent.The trouble with Mr. Brezhnev's statements is that, so far as I know, he has never specified exactly what missiles he would be prepared to freeze or dismantle. He has never said that he would freeze or dismantle the SS20s, so he would still be free to build them up. With regard to the Geneva negotiations, the zero option has been put forward by the Americans, with support from NATO, and we hope that it will be accepted.
If Mr. Brezhnev's so-called olive branch were accepted in full, and not just some but all of the SS20s now stationed in Europe were removed to the other side of the Urals, would they not still have a range capable of destroying the whole of Western Europe up to the coast of Ireland?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If the SS20s were stationed behind the Urals they could reach almost the whole of Western Europe. That is why it is important to specify that, if there is to be agreement, the SS20s must be dismantled and not simply moved out of Europe.
Is not a nuclear-free Europe the answer? Is not the real objection to Mr. Reagan's proposal that the Pershing 1 missiles will remain in Germany and seven submarines will remain in French waters, quite apart from the other nuclear weapons referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) in question No. 11?
The trouble about a nuclear-free Europe is that we would be exposed to the dangers that I have just described in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett). We hope that we may be able to reach agreement with the Soviet Union on the dismantling and non-introduction of certain land-based theatre nuclear missiles, which we regard as the most dangerous problem, and then move on to discuss disarmament in other fields.
Can my hon. Friend say a little more about the report-back procedure from the Geneva talks to NATO? Is it his understanding that Secretary of State Haig will be talking to NATO at the meeting to which my hon. Friend referred in an earlier answer? If there is any question of British or French nuclear weapons being included in theatre arms limitation talks, will he confirm that such discussions will not take place without representatives from this country and France being present?
It has already been made perfectly clear that neither the French strategic deterrents nor our own will be discussed in the talks. With regard to the system of reporting back, Ministers will report back—no doubt they will do so with regard to the current meetings in Brussels—but there is also a system for officials to report back more frequently.
As the Geneva talks have now begun and as it is clear that the discussions will extend beyond the weapons originally envisaged—the SS20, Pershing and cruise—what positive action will the Government take to try to make a success of the talks? Why do not they say that they are prepared to reduce the number of nuclear weapons based in Britain as a contribution to reducing the number of nuclear weapons based throughout Europe?
If the right hon. Gentleman means that we should say now that we are starting to reduce our own nuclear weapons, that would have precisely the opposite effect to what he would like. It would reduce the strength of the American hand and strengthen the Soviet position. We have been at one with all our NATO colleagues for the last two years—it is now exactly two years—in pressing for these talks. At last they have begun. Initially, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Soviet Union refused to take part in them.
asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether, pursuant to the Minister of State's announcement on 23 November, he will make a statement on the initial results so far of his discussions with the Gibraltar Government and others about the rundown of the naval dockyard and restrictions on the opening hours of the Royal Air Force airfield; and whether any early ministerial visit to Gibraltar is planned.
Consultations were held from 24 to 26 November between United Kingdom officials and Gibraltar Ministers and officials led by the Chief Minister, Sir Joshua Hassan. A communiqué was issued at the end of the talks, and I am arranging for a copy to be placed in the Library of the House.No ministerial visit to Gibraltar is planned for the moment, but the Chief Minister and the Governor are expected to visit the United Kingdom next week.
Is my hon. Friend aware that closing down the dockyard without alternative provision and restricting the use of the vital air strip is not an honourable way in which to treat some of Her Majesty's most devoted and loyal subjects? Will he go forthwith to Gibraltar, meet the local people there, and reassure them that this is not simply a Foreign Office ploy to force them once again into the arms of Spain?
There would not be any point in my going to Gibraltar when Sir Joshua Hassan is about to come here, although I would be prepared to go to Gibraltar at an appropriate time if that seemed likely to be useful. My hon. Friend has overstated what is intended. We have reiterated to the Chief Minister and to the people of Gibraltar the British Government's policy of supporting and sustaining Gibraltar, which originated when the border was closed by General Franco. With regard to the air strip, we have stated what we should like to see done. That would exclude few civilian flights. We are prepared to discuss with the Government of Gibraltar what should be done.
Is the Minister not aware that that reply is simply not good enough? Is it not his duty to go to Gibraltar? I am perfectly aware that Sir Joshua is coming to this country, but the talks should take place, as his hon. Friend said, in Gibraltar. Should he not have the courage to talk to the people who work in the docks because, apart from anything else, for 270 years the people of Gibraltar have been British and want to remain so?
I entirely endorse the tribute that the right hon. Gentleman paid, by implication, to the people of Gibraltar. I cannot say more than that I am happy to consider going to Gibraltar at the appropriate time. Now is not the appropriate time, because Sir Joshua Hassan has asked to come here.
When my hon. Friend has discussions with the Government of Gibraltar, will he make it clear that if there is a possibility of the refitting of frigates ceasing by 1983, the naval base facilities will continue? Is he aware that the information that was conveyed by the civil servants who went to Gibraltar created chaos and consternation among the people of Gibraltar about the number of jobs that will be lost and the possibility of the dockyard being closed? Is he further aware that the dockyard is the mainstay of the economy of Gibraltar? Without it Gibraltar would fail and those supporters in the House would not be prepared to tolerate that.
Consideration will be given to further naval work for the dockyard up to 1984. We are now examining the possibility of commercialisation of the dockyard, and the Gibraltar Government regard the prospects of a successful commercialisation as reasonable. The naval base will remain open and there will be an Army presence there, as there has been up to now.
Will the Minister tell the House what the Government are prepared to do to support and sustain people who are likely to lose their jobs in the Gibraltar dockyard and on the air strip? Will the Government say that, despite the cuts in defence appropriations, they will ensure that the people of Gibraltar, who are British citizens—even though it will cost them £50 to register—will be guaranteed jobs, and that jobs will be provided by the Government?
The Government have repeated that our "support and sustain" policy continues. We are examining with the Gibraltar Government the possibilities of commercialisation of the dockyard. The Gibraltar Government have asked my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development for help in various studies relating to tourism, the setting up of financial resources, and so on. I have no doubt that he will regard that request favourably. It is not possible for us to keep open the dockyard facilities for naval purposes in Gibraltar when we do not need them and at a time when, to our regret, we are having to close down Chatham and run down Portsmouth.
Royal Air Force
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what criteria are being used to plan future aircraft for the Royal Air Force.
We shall take into account the usual wide range of criteria, including the threat, the nature of the role, the state of technological development, the cost, the capabilities of industry, the prospects for collaboration with allies and the potential for export.
I thank my hon. Friend for that detailed answer. If there is to be no Jaguar replacement, as we have learnt is to be the case—presumably in favour of Hawks, Tornados and Harriers—and my hon. Friend confirms his oft-expressed view that he does not want to buy foreign aircraft for use by the RAF, what effect does he believe that the current discussions on future criteria will have on the world-beating, first-rate design team based at British Aerospace, Warton?
As my hon. Friend knows from discussions that he and I have had and from the visits that I have made to the excellent factory at Warton, it will be necessary for British Aerospace to develop one of the projects that it has under consideration—possibly the P110. My hon. Friend also knows that ways are currently being considered whereby it may be possible to find some funding for that. It is not possible at present for us to find funds within the current defence plan.
I congratulate the Minister on the ingenuity, if not the accuracy, of his reply. Is it not a fact that the main constraint with regard to the future budget is financial? Is he aware that the budgetary constraints are forcing the Department to slow down the introduction of the Tornado programme? Is it not also a fact that the other main constraint is political, in that the recent decision to purchase the AV8 B will reduce the British aircraft industry in the future to the role of tin basher to the Americans?
That is an extraordinarily short-sighted view, particularly in relation to the decision on the AV8 B—a decision that will bring about £2,000 million worth of work to this country. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in looking at the future aircraft needs of the Royal Air Force, it is important to take into account the surveillance role of the United Kingdom defence satellite? Will he help to overcome the uncertainty about the placing of orders for that project?
My hon. Friend will be aware, when he reads what will have to be a written answer to a question by him that appears later on the Order Paper, that that order will be announced today.
Will the Minister add to his long list of criteria the demands that he and many of his hon. Friends made when they were in Opposition, that priority should be given to the air defence of this country? Will he start doing something about providing the aircraft, the ancillary equipment and the people to man those aircraft so that these islands can be secure against a conventional threat?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, air defence has always had a high priority with the Government. It would take too long to enumerate the many measures that have been taken to that end.
asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he has discussed the zero option nuclear proposals with his counterpart in the United States Government; and whether any consideration has been given in connection with the formulation of this strategy to the withdrawal of Polaris, Vulcan, Buccaneer, British-based F111s and other carrier-based nuclear weapons.
My right hon. Friend discussed the United States' negotiating position for the Geneva talks at the recent meeting of the NATO nuclear planning group. The Government fully support the zero option proposal, which would involve the elimination of all land-based long-range theatre nuclear missiles on each side. The emphasis on land-based missiles in the first stage of the negotiations is intended to make agreement easier to reach. Reductions in other land-based systems on both sides could be sought in a subsequent phase, but the negotiations are not intended to cover either sea-based or strategic nuclear forces.
Does not the Minister agree that the outcome of the zero option negotiations must inevitably mean overwhelming nuclear superiority for NATO forces? Will he therefore confirm to the House that President Reagan's initiative was a propaganda exercise, and will he now attach greater importance to the initiative put forward by President Brezhnev on 23 November, when he offered to dismantle all Soviet SS20s and all medium range theatre nuclear weapons? Is not that a real initiative for peace in Europe, and will the Minister reciprocate on behalf of Britain?
The United States proposal for the zero option was certainly not a propaganda move. The United States position had been discussed for a long time in NATO, and the position that it took during the negotiations was agreed by the NATO council before the negotiations began. In reply to what the hon. Gentleman said about balance, the present position is that when like systems are compared, Soviet superiority is of the order of 4:1 for long range theatre systems, and 6:1 if shorter range systems such as the F4 are included on both sides.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if all the extra weapons beyond theatre nuclear weapons are brought into the Geneva discussions, there is little likelihood of making any progress? Will he therefore continue to urge that a partial agreement about theatre nuclear weapons is better than no agreement at all?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation believes that we should start with the most dangerous systems, thus facilitating the prospects of agreement. If we can reach agreement on them, we should then move to other systems as well.
Is the Minister aware that we on the Labour Benches have welcomed the zero option as a basis for negotiation, as it is something for which Socialist parties in Europe have pressed? However, we recognise that it is impossible to confine the negotiations to those weapons. Why do not the Government agree to include the Trident escalation in the talks, when the SS20 escalation and the cruise escalation are included?
I have already dealt with our own strategic nuclear deterrent, and I have nothing to add to what I said.
Officers (Retirement Pensions)
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what, in percentage terms, was the last increase in the retirement pensions of officers of general rank and their equivalents in other services.
Under the annual uprating arrangements for public sector pensions, increases of between 0·76 per cent. and 9·06 per cent. were paid from 23 November 1981 to all Armed Forces pensioners over the age of 55.
Why should the well-off brass hats get 9 per cent. when workers in defence industries are expected to take 4 per cent. next year? Why do Conservatives look after the generals so well and ignore the shop floor labourers?
That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there are problems over the pay and pensions of two-star generals and above, since they are not included in the determination of pay and pensions for the rest of the Services? That should be investigated.
I take note of what my hon. Friend says.
Northern Ireland Ports
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what vessels of the Royal Navy are normally based in Northern Ireland ports.
The Fleet tenders HMS "Alert" and HMS "Vigilant", and the Ulster RNR vessel HMS "Laleston".
Does my hon. Friend agree that successive Governments have continually ignored the strategic significance of Northern Ireland waters, not least in connection with NATO? Will my hon. Friend have another look at this matter, with a view to stepping up significantly the Royal Navy presence there?
I hope that my hon. Friend is not simply referring to basing, because the surveillance of the seas around Northern Ireland is the same as around all our other coasts.
Is my hon. Friend aware that while we regularly and properly pay tribute to the security forces in Northern Ireland, there is a tendency to forget the Royal Navy's surveillance work around our coasts? Will he say that we have not forgotten it?
I am sure that what my hon. Friend says will be welcomed by the sailors who, as he rightly says, do a first class-job in stopping illicit gun-running and other activities in that area.
asked the Secretary of State for Defence if, in view of the current expansion proposed for the Territorial Army, he will take steps to repair Territorial Army drill halls, especially those which originated in Victorian times.
We plan to spend more money next year on a wide range of works services for the Territorial Army, including the repair and improvement of existing accommodation where necessary.
I remind my hon. Friend that in Victorian times people were still casting and using muzzle-loading cannons. Since then there has been a change in hardware. Will he ensure that our expanded Territorial Army will not have to work in muzzle-loading drill halls?
Our Victorian ancestors were good at building and selecting sites for drill halls. Where necessary the drill halls have been repaired and updated, and they are often in the right positions. Of course, buildings are adapted for modern weapons.
asked the Secretary of State for Defence by what date he expects first to establish and then to recruit the additional 16,000 members of the Territorial Army in accordance with his most recent proposals.
We are continuing to develop our expansion plan, bearing in mind the operational requirement and the likely availability of resources. We envisage a controlled expansion in stages during the 1980s taking account of our ability to recruit and train the extra men. A high priority will be given initially to measures that improve the training and professional standards of the Territorial Army as a whole.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. May I ask him to look into the possibility of using the officers and senior ranks who recently completed their training with the Territorial Army and are on the unposted list, and who have skills that would be extremely useful in expanding the Territorial Army?
I understand what my hon. Friend is saying, but I must tell him that the unposted list is not for that purpose. However, I shall look at the general question and write to him.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 8 December.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.
In view of the very real success of the Government's loan guarantee scheme to small businesses, whereby 1,500 firms have received loans since June, will my right hon. Friend, in a characteristically busy day, consider arranging the loans limit, which at present is £150 million, on a three-year basis?
My hon. Friend is quite right in saying that the take-up of the loan guarantee scheme has been excellent during the early months of its existence. The financial allocation for the first year, in response to high demand, was increased from £50 million to £100 million. In view of that record, and bearing in mind that this is where new jobs will come from, I can assure my hon. Friend that if the demand goes up he can be optimistic that the resources will be there to meet it.
In view of the right hon. Lady's duties in the House today, can she confirm that by next month the average unemployed family man will be £13 per week worse off than he would have been if her Government had not cut his benefits?
I cannot confirm any such particular figure. However, I well remember that in 1976, when a question of increase in benefit arose under the Labour Government, the Labour Government changed the basis on which the retail price index was calculated, thereby depriving those in receipt of benefits of some £500 million that they otherwise would have received. That is equivalent to over £900 million this year.
Will the right hon. Lady refer to benefits in 1981 and 1982, for which she is responsible, and not take cover in what she alleges happened five or six years ago? Will she say whether the figure is correct, because she is directly responsible for it? Will she now tell us when the value of benefits for unemployed people will be restored to the value that it was when she came to office?
If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to ask a particular question, doubtless he will address it in writing to the relevant Minister. I try to compare what he says in Opposition with what he does when he is in power. He queries the facts that I gave. May I quote from what Barbara Castle said about them.She said:
in 1976—"It is clear that if we had this time"—
Under pressure, the then right hon. Member for Blackburn reduced benefits below the amount that would have been payable on the former inflation rate basis."adopted the historic method, an additional burden would have been put on the worker and wage earner of £500 million for this uprating, and it would have had inevitable consequences in due course on the contribution rate."—[Official Report, 7 April 1976; Vol. 909, c. 431.]
Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that she will not seek to use her position as leader of the Conservative Party to purge Conservative candidates who may be selected?
Yes, Sir. I have no such power.
The Prime Minister talks about hon. Members saying one thing in Opposition and another when they are in Government, but does she recall the Tory promise not to raise prescription charges? The Government have raised prescription charges fron 20p to £1 and today we shall debate a further increase, bringing prescription charges to £1·30.
There was no such promise—[Interruption.]
Look at what the right hon. Lady is trying to get away with.
I can remember—[Interruption.]
Order. The Prime Minister must be allowed to give her answer. I hope that the Prime Minister will not fight to be heard. She is entitled to be heard.
I can vividly remember being asked that precise question at a press conference during the general election. I can remember the meaning of my answer, if not the precise words—[Hon. Members: "Ah!"]—and the meaning was quite clear. That meaning was that no responsible politician could give an undertaking that prescription charges would not be increased in the course of the following five years.
asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for 8 December.
I refer my hon. and learned Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to deplore the Soviet Government's callous treatment of Dr. Sakharov and to condemn the Soviet Government's ill treatment of a long line of prisoners of conscience, including Ida Nudel and Anatoly Shcharansky? Will she also deplore the Soviet Government's refusal to allow thousands of Soviet Jews to have exit visas to join their families elsewhere? Such actions are all in flagrant and contemptuous disregard of the Helsinki Final Act and fundamental human rights.
I confirm that the Government have frequently made representations about the Soviet Union's blatant disregard of its commitments under the Helsinki Final Act. We have also frequently raised individual cases with the Soviet Union, including those mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend. Yesterday, the Foreign Office issued a statement about Dr. Sakharov and today, Foreign Ministers in Brussels are considering that problem again. We deplore the circumstances that led Dr. and Mrs. Sakharov to go on hunger strike. We very much hope that the Soviet authorities will let the wife of Dr. Sakharov's step-son join her husband in the United States of America and that they will desist from further harassing Dr. and Mrs. Sakharov.
Is the Prime Minister aware that her Government's indecision about local government legislation—particularly the Local Government Finance Bill—is causing widespread comment and concern throughout the country? Is the right hon. Lady further aware that local authorities are on the point of preparing their budgets for the financial year and do not know what basis to use? What are the Government's intentions?
The Government's intentions will soon become apparent to the hon. Gentleman, but I take it that he, too, is concerned about the very high rates and supplementary rates that his constituents are being charged.
Will my right hon. Friend take time today to reflect on the fact that some of us understand—although we do not altogether welcome—the American Government's sympathetic interest in the problems of Northern Ireland? Will she make it clear to the American Administration that the Province's present and future are entirely a matter for the sovereign Government of this kingdom?
I gladly confirm what my hon. Friend has said. The future of Northern Ireland is a matter both for the people of Northern Ireland and for the United Kingdom Parliament. I should also make it perfectly clear that in his letter President Reagan said that he equally understood that the matter could not be solved in any way by the United State of America but only by those concerned.
Has the Prime Minister had an opportunity to read the reports, which appeared over the weekend, about the widespread use of drugs by American naval personnel in Scotland and about the incident involving a Poseidon missile, in which an explosion was narrowly averted? Given the widespread alarm in Scotland that has been caused by a combination of those two reports, what action do the Government propose to take?
I do not believe that any danger was involved in the incident reported. Of course, I shall draw the comments about drugs to the notice of my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Home Secretary.
Will my right hon. Friend reassure President Reagan that she will not support the return of Texas to Mexico against the wishes of the majority of the inhabitants of Texas?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the aptness of that point.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 8 December.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Will the Prime Minister take time off today to tell us when she expects to achieve the three main objectives contained in the Conservative Party's last manifesto? Those objectives were to reduce unemployment, income tax and inflation. Under her stewardship unemployment has doubled, income tax has increased for everyone except those in the top income bracket and inflation is now higher then when she took office.
Perhaps I should remind the hon. Gentleman that unemployment also doubled under the Labour Government.[Interruption.] Labour Members do not wish to be reminded of the fact that it increased by 1 million under the Labour Government. Doubtless the hon. Gentleman was as distressed about that then as I am about today's position. The reduction in unemployment lags behind the increase in production. As the hon. Gentleman will know, increases in production are now taking place. When the hon. Gentleman's Government left office inflation was rising fast and several price increases had been deliberately held back for the general election. Inflation is now falling and although there will be a difficulty for a month or two—caused by the differences in the exchange rate—we expect the reduction to continue next year.As regards taxation, I shall be delighted when Labour Members recognise that expenditure has to be substantially covered by taxation. Perhaps they would run such a dishonest policy that they would run up debt as far as they did in 1976, when the country's—[Interruption.] I hope that hon. Members will allow me to answer the question. In 1976 the country's reserves were down to $4 billion and the Labour Government's debts were as high as $19 billion. Under the Labour Government, the country was dead broke.
Has my right hon. Friend had time to read the recent press reports, which say that Britain will join the European monetary system in the spring? Is it not clear that the mutual support available within the EMS would have at least prevented some of the recent wide fluctuations in the exchange rate? Would it not help British industry if we stopped agonising and joined the EMS now?
The question of the EMS will come up at the next European Council. I do not necessarily accept that our joining would have prevented the wide fluctuations. As a petro-currency, our currency tends to go up at a time when the currencies of other countries tend to decrease. It has not stopped devaluations and revaluations within the EMS. The matter will be considered again, although I would not necessarily accept what my hon. Friend says.
Will the Prime Minister be discussing today with her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment his plans to open further unemployment benefit offices? Will she also be discussing with him the plans and proposals put forward by Sir Derek Rayner, whom she appointed, to pay for some of these new offices by reducing public waiting areas in them so that the public have to wait outside dole payment offices in the cold and rain for their benefit?
I cannot discuss the matter today. My right hon. Friend is presiding over a meeting in Brussels of Labour Ministers of the Community. The Rayner proposals were made because those who are unemployed at the moment have to go to three places—the jobcentre, the unemployment benefit office and also, sometimes, the social security office. It was thought right to try to reduce the burden imposed upon them in having to go to those three places. I am sure that it is a wise move to try to make. It will take time, because it means the construction of different offices.
Statutory Instruments, &C
That the draft Hill Livestock (Compensatory Allowances) (Amendment) Regulations 1981, be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Boscawen.]
That the matter of Housing in Wales, being a matter relating exclusively to Wales, be referred to the Welsh Grand Committee for their consideration.—[Mr. Boscawen.]