House Of Commons
Thursday 1 July 1982
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Woolworths (Aberdeen Development) Order Confirmation Bill
Read the Third time and passed.
Oral Answers To Questions
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a further statement on the security situation.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland.
Since I last answered questions on 27 May, two members of the security forces and two civilians have died in incidents arising from the security situation. Four members of the security forces have been injured, two of them very seriously. A rather larger number of civilians have been injured—evidence of the criminal, cowardly and indiscriminate nature of the terrorists' attacks. The victims included a boy killed by a bomb on a booby-trapped motor cycle and a retired RUC inspector shot dead in front of his wife. Twenty-six people were injured in Belfast city centre last Friday by a car bomb which exploded while the police were still clearing the area. On Monday, a massive bomb in a van in West Belfast exploded while Army personnel were attempting to neutralise it. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt but extensive damage was done to homes and property. There have been four other bomb attacks on property and commercial targets. The terrorists have shown once again that they have nothing to offer the people of Northern Ireland but indiscriminate savagery.Since 27 May, 52 people have been charged with terrorist type offences, including nine with murder, and one with attempted murder. Twenty-eight weapons and 1,760 rounds of ammunition have been recovered. I pay tribute to the security forces for their efforts, including those of bomb disposal teams, and I pay tribute to the ordinary people of the Province for their fortitude.
The House will have heard those figures with sadness. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that cross-border co-operation remains immensely important in catching these murderous terrorists? Although our relations with the Republic are at present frosty, because of its deplorable behaviour over the Falklands crisis, will my right hon. Friend confirm that this aspect of cross-border co-operation remains pre-eminent?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's words. Yes, I confirm that cross-border security is of vital importance to us. I am aware that there have been reports of some redeployment of Gardia throughout the Republic, but the RUC is confident that that has had no effect on the joint security effort against terrorism.
As my right hon. Friend's Northern Ireland Bill is likely to pass through both Houses of Parliament, will my right hon. Friend say whether terrorism in Northern Ireland is likely to increase or to diminish?
It would be wrong to speculate on the impact of any legislation on the immediate security problem. Of course, one knows from experience that those who seek to undermine and destroy the constitution of Northern Ireland, and perhaps wider than that, will do anything they can to prevent stability from being established.
it is clear that the terrorists now have access to a greater quantity of explosives than for some time past. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House where this explosive is coming from, how it is getting into Northern Ireland, and whether it is commercial explosive or a mixture?
Some of it is commercial explosive and some a mixture of fertiliser and other ingredients. I expect that some of the explosive comes from a large quantity that was stolen in the South and has now found its way to the North.
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what steps he is taking to ensure that these vast quantities of explosives do not come over the border?
Every step that it is physically and humanly possible to take is taken, and will continue to be taken. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows only too well, it is no easy task to protect a boundary of 300 miles, some of which is extremely difficult territory.
asked the Secretary of Slate for Northern Ireland if he remains satisfied with the level of support in Northern Ireland for his constitutional proposals.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what further representations he has received over the proposed Assembly in the Province.
I am confident that the people of Northern Ireland welcome the opportunity of having a greater say in the conduct of the affairs of the Province. Despite reservations, no political party has demonstrated an intention not to take part in elections for the proposed Assembly. I have received only a small trickle of further representations, including a welcome from the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland for the attempt to fill the political vacuum.
Will my right hon. Friend congratulate the Official Unionist Party on its decision actively to recruit candidates to fight the Assembly elections? Will the SDLP do the same?
I am glad that the Official Unionist Party is recruiting candidates to fight the elections and I hope that they will be determined to make the Assembly work once it is established. The same applies to the SDLP.
We know that the Secretary of State will do his utmost to make the Assembly a success, but if, despite his efforts, it does not succeed, is it likely that the Government will bring forward further constitutional measures for the Province?
I think that "One at a time" is the answer to that.
Will the Assembly elections be fought on the 17 new boundaries or on the existing 12, as the change would provide fairer and better representation for the Ulster people? Is the Secretary of State aware that there is anxiety about the delay in the announcement?
I cannot yet make an announcement on this matter. It depends upon the progress that the Bill makes in the House of Lords. As soon as I can make an announcement, I shall. However, we must bear it in mind that the Boundary Commission has not yet received final representations. It will take some time to consider those representations, and it may be too late for us to move the necessary orders to enable us to hold the elections on the new constituencies.
During our debate on the Northern Ireland Bill the Secretary of State said that he would order an internal inquiry into the documents so dramatically produced by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). Can he tell us anything about the authenticity of the documents or the academic researcher? Will he comment on the rumour that the academic researcher is or was a paid or unpaid employee of the Official Unionist Party?
I cannot comment on the latter point, but I have received the letter that the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) sent to No. 10 Downing Street. I shall consider it properly and carefully. The material comprises no official documents or material authenticated by the civil servant who has been named. The hon. Gentleman gave the name of the person who made the notes, but asked that it should not be disclosed. I and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister respected that wish. However, I understand that the name has subsequently been published in the Press. I should prefer not to comment on the politics or motives of the author of the document that the right hon. Gentleman believed it right to bring to the attention of the House in the way that he did.
Does the Secretary of State agree that, irrespective of the support that his constitutional proposals enjoy throughout the community, the performance of the Northern Ireland football team in Spain enjoys widespread support throughout the Community? It has performed magnificently during the past few weeks. Will the Secretary of State join me and other Northern Ireland Members in sending them best wishes for the match with Austria this afternoon?
Yes. This proposal enjoys full cross-community support, widespread acceptance throughout the entire Province and deserves the warm congratulations of the United Kingdom and beyond. I shall be there on Sunday to see the team play.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when next he expects to meet the Taoiseach to discuss cross-border security.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any plans to meet the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland to discuss cross-border co-operation.
At the moment I have no plans to meet members of the Irish Government. But when a meeting is arranged, I should certainly expect to discuss cross-border co-operation on practical matters of benefit to Northern Ireland, including security co-operation.
Will the Secretary of State assure the House that talks with Taoiseach will continue? Is not such dialogue of mutual benefit to both countries and will it not help to secure peace in the Province? Will the right hon. Gentleman ignore right hon. and hon. Members who believe that such talks are a waste of time?
Of course I wish to see good relations maintained and extended. Matters concerning the Prime Minister of the South are generally dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. We have been disappointed by the Irish Government's attitude in recent weeks, but I see no need to discontinue meetings of benefit to Northern Ireland on such matters as gas supply and many other economic affairs.
Does the Secretary of State accept that many of us are reassured by his statement that whether the discussions are about cross-border co-operation or the many other facets of politics in Northern and Southern Ireland, they must continue, no matter who tries to stop them? Does he agree that the position in Northern Ireland is such that it can only help all of us if the discussions continue and if it is made clear repeatedly that they will continue despite efforts to stop them?
We should also make clear what the discussions are about, so that there can be no reason for anyone in Northern Ireland to doubt the attitude of the British Government. Charges levelled at the Government that are completely untrue can then be strongly refuted.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that extradition, apart from its security implications, is a touchstone to the Unionist community of the attitude of Dublin towards it? While extradition is absent, that will be viewed by Unionists as hostility from the South to the North?
I am aware of my hon. Friend's views, which are widely shared. Our views on extradition are well known in the House and to the Irish Government. Although there has been a considerable improvement in the operation of extra-territorial jurisdiction, we should prefer to have extradition.
When the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister next meet the Taoiseach to discuss cross-border security—it is agreed that security and politics go together—will they emphasise to the Taoiseach that it would be advantageous for the Republic to enter into discussions with the Assembly, in line with our new clause 1, which the House decided to reject?
We have had many discussions about that during the past few days and I do not wish to go further than what I said in the debate.
What hope does the Secretary of State have for successful talks with Mr. Haughey, when his spokesman recently reaffirmed that Britain was the aggressor in the Falklands dispute?
I always hope that any sinner may repent of his manner.
We rejoice at the conversion of the Secretary of State. Is it not a fact that of the nine cases that have been taken by the Government under extra-territorial legislation, six have resulted in convictions, which is a 66⅔ per cent. success rate? Furthermore, is it not a fact that neither Government could be asked to produce the evidence upon which extradition was demanded? That would be the evidence needed for the extra-territorial legislation.
Although extra-territorial legislation has taken longer to prove effective than we would have wished, there are signs that that is changing. The hon. Gentleman will have noticed the Gerard Tuite trial that is now taking place. As to the hon. Gentleman's latter point, I must check whether evidence could be given in such terms, but we would provide some evidence if we could obtain extradition.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on how many occasions he has met representatives of the trade unions in Northern Ireland since he took office.
I have met representatives of the trade unions on 12 occasions.
This may seem a slightly unusual question. Does the Secretary of State appreciate that a large number of Catholic and Protestant workers are demanding that the Northern Ireland trade unions form a Labour Party to represent common interests in the struggle to defend jobs and living standards? Is that not important?
It is hardly for me to pursue the question whether the trade unions should form a Labour Party.
New University And Ulster Polytechnic
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether, in view of Her Majesty's Government's policy towards the establishment of a new central body to oversee the financing and the management of higher education outside the universities, he will suspend action on the proposed amalgamation of the New University of Ulster and the Ulster Polytechnic until consideration of the two approaches outlined in the July 1981 consultative document issued by the Secretary of State for Education and Science have been completed.
Is the Minister aware that senior academics are angry because they suspect certain members of the University Grants Committee of secretly using the proposed amalgamation of the Ulster Polytechnic and the New University to bolster the continuing role of the UGC as the pre-eminent body in higher education?
The proposals for the new institutions to replace the polytechnic and the New University were decided upon by the Government in response to the future higher educational needs of the Province, and for no other reason.
Does the Minister agree that a province the size of Northern Ireland, with a population of its size, needs one good university and one good polytechnic? Is there not a grave danger that with his proposals we shall finish up with two second rate universities?
The point to be drawn from the size of the Province and its higher educational needs is that the binary system makes no sense in the Province. To have two good universities with complementary roles is the real answer to our needs.
Can my hon. Friend say something about the timing of this matter and when he expects to hear from my distinguished constituent Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer on the methodology how these institutions can be brought together? In contradiction to the view of the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker), will the Minister accept my view, and that of many in the Province, that this amalgamation presents the possibility of having two great universities in Ulster?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks, and I agree with the latter part of them. It would be wrong for me to lay down any rigid timetable, because I look forward to receiving sustained advice from the steering group. The most important first task is to examine the staffing implications and the assurances that it can give to the staff and the students of the two institutions concerned.
Can the Minister give any reassurance to the teaching staff and other related staffs in the institutions concerned that there will not be a significant reduction in jobs as a result of the measure? Is the Minister aware that there are real fears that this is cuts in education dressed up as educational progress?
That is not the case. I have now given broad financial guidelines to the steering group, and I look forward to having its advice in the near future on the staffing implications of the merger.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he is satisfied that the Chilver report included accurate figures both as to the scale of provision needed within the Province for higher education and the cost involved in the various institutions and separate disciplines; or whether his Department has made other estimates.
I accept the report's overall assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the Northern Ireland higher education system and of the need for major changes to match the likely future needs. I have no reason to doubt the general accuracy of the statistics in the report.
Is the Ministr aware that some people challenge some of the statistics? Will he give an assurance that, in implementing whatever recommendatons are made, nothing will be done to impair the high standards of tertiary education in Northern Ireland?
Statistics always lead to arguments between those who produce them. I see that there is a division, but it is not for me to arbitrate. My aim is not simply to maintain but to enhance standards.
I commend the efforts that my hon. Friend is making to meet various interested bodies and discuss the Chilver report, but may I ask him whether he has now succeeded in allaying the fears and misgivings of the Catholic Church in Northern Ireland about the recommendations of the report?
The question asked by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) referred to the main Chilver report about universities. I am still having discussions with those concerned with the interim report on teacher training, but I hope that I have managed to allay any fears of the Catholic Church that the proposals in the interim report or the Government's response to it are in any way designed to interfere with the strong denominational content of teacher training in the Province.
The Chilver report at least had the merit that it envisaged the continuation of non-sectarian teacher training in a university setting. Will the Minister give an assurance that there will not be a reduction in nonsectarian teacher training places?
I can see nothing in the suggestions or proposals that would bring that about.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the current state of employment in the Province.
The latest available employment figures are for December 1981. At that time there were 464,050 employees in employment in Northern Ireland. At June 1981, a further 72,950 persons were self-employed.The latest unemployment figures for June 1982 show the number unemployed in Northern Ireland at 116,071, which is 20·3 per cent. of employees. A breakdown of these figures demonstrates the narrowness and fragility of the Province's industrial base and the appallingly high level of unemployment in certain areas. While Northern Ireland's economy is very dependent on that of the United Kingdom as a whole, and prospects for inward investment are affected by continuing international recession, the Government are persevering with their industrial development drive and with their comprehensive range of special measures designed to alleviate unemployment in the shorter term, particularly among young people.
May we be assured that the percentage of Northern Ireland public expenditure given to industrial development is more than being maintained? Will the Minister assure us that EEC money will not, in this distressed region, be the victim of the Treasury rules about additionality?
I assure my hon. Friend that the proportion of public spending in Northern Ireland given to industrial development will be maintained. It is running at a higher percentage than under the previous Administration and is a priority for spending. As to additionality, the Treasury would argue that as public expenditure as a whole takes into account receipts from the Common Market, in theory, if the rule were not applied, there would be no net benefit to the Province.
As circumstances in Northern Ireland are so grave, and as the possibility of employing people in construction is probably the best way, for a relatively low sum per head, of getting jobs, will the Ministers from Northern Ireland again represent to the Treasury that in this case additionality should not be applied?
The additionality rule is not being applied to the £16 million for housing. Representations continue to be made through the Council of Ministers to remove the block on that money so that it can be spent where it is most deserved.
In view of these devastating figures, will the Secretary of State give an explanation to the House, either now or in the near future, of why he started the small engineering investment scheme in March of this year and cancelled it in June, on the apparently incredible basis that there were too many applications costing too much money?
The hon. Gentleman is demonstrating, as he frequently does, his complete lack of appreciation of what public expenditure is about. The Government decided that £20 million would be made available to the scheme throughout the United Kingdom. It was increased to £30 million and it was decided in the interests of public expenditure as a whole that that was all that could be awarded for the scheme at the moment.
As the borough of Carrickfergus has been hardest hit by unemployment in the east of the Province, will the Minister tell us whether there are any prospects of new jobs in that area?
I cannot specify any new jobs, but the hon. Gentleman is well aware that Carrickfergus has a higher grant eligibility, which recognises the serious problem there. I commend the efforts of the Industrial Development Organisation, in particular, and the work that it is doing to attract jobs to the area.
Does the Minister accept that one of the great hopes for the new Assembly, which I very much support, is that it will create more employment in the Province, because those in the Province—politicians who are nearest to the work force and who know the area best—can often take initiatives which people in Whitehall and Stormont cannot do?
The Assembly, which represents a first step towards devolved government, will provide greater confidence that the present political instability in the Province will be overcome. That will have an important effect. Moreover, the presence of the Select Committees, as they come face to face with the industrial realities, will develop a greater responsibility among local politicians. That, too, will be of benefit.
Is it not a fact that the disgracefully high unemployment in Northern Ireland is now so severe—even worse than elsewhere, as far as I know—that it is undoubtedly eroding the very industrial base of the community? Is not the Minister deeply worried that if there is an upswing that erosion will have been so severe that industry in Northern Ireland will not be in a position to fulfil the commitments that will arise in such an upswing?
I do not believe that. The economy of the Province has depended on that of Great Britain for a long time, and I believe that it will respond to an upturn in the United Kingdom economy as a whole. Nevertheless, when employment in manufacturing is as low as 105,000, it shows, as I said in my original answer, how narrow that base is.
Will my hon. Friend say to what extent the Belfast enterprise zone is helping to generate employment opportunities?
I shall certainly give my hon. Friend details, but it is correct to say that it is attracting both new businesses and relocated businesses, and therefore is of considerable help. It is too early to say whether the experiment is something that we should build on in the future.
De Lorean Car Co
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the latest position concerning the De Lorean sports car company.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the De Lorean Car Co. Ltd. at Dunmurry.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a further statement about the receivership of the De Lorean Car Company.
On 31 May 1982, production ceased at Dunmurry and almost all of the employees were made redundant. The joint receivers and managers continue in discussion with a United Kingdom consortium and with De Lorean Motor Company Inc. about the acquisition of the business and the eventual resumption of production at Dunmurry. If these discussions should fail and no other firm proposals come forward, the liquidation of the company would be inevitable. The prospects of a favourable outcome are not enhanced by the prolongation of the sit-in and picket of the company's premises conducted by former employees.
The Minister will know that it was widely reported in the press recently that Mr. De Lorean himself was intending to restart production. Does he have priority over the other interests? What is his present interest in the factory?
We understand that Mr. De Lorean is a small shareholder in the newly registered company, De Lorean Motor Company Inc., to which I referred. A letter of intent was signed to the effect that that company would purchase the shares of De Lorean Motor Cars (1982) Ltd. from the receivers, effective on or before 1 September 1982. The agreement is subject to contract and provides that the receivers might, on or before 31 July 1982, enter into an agreement with another party if, in their judgment, the other party offered greater security for the continuance of the business.
Can the Minister assure the House that in any dealings with the receiver, his main priority will be security of jobs in Northern Ireland? In particular, will he be very guarded about any front organisation that has John Z. De Lorean behind it, and thus ensure that the assets remain in Northern Ireland to secure jobs there, rather than being removed to establish jobs in, say, Puerto Rico? Does the Minister accept that the sit-in is a desperate attempt to preserve jobs by workers who realise that for a long time in this company they have been the pawns between the Government and Mr. De Lorean?
There is no doubt that the receivers know that any proposition that they put to the Government would have to involve a continuation of production at Dunmurry.In answer to the hon. Gentleman's second point, in my opinion the sit-in is not making a contribution. Indeed, to the extent that spare parts have not been allowed out and that maintenance has not been possible, the workers are seriously harming the prospect of a settlement. However, the receivers have assured me that they hope that the sit-in will be terminated.
Will my hon. Friend say whether, in discussions with the possible consortium, there has been any suggestion that the Government should give some financial assistance to enable the consortium to take over De Lorean?
The negotiations with the consortium are between the receivers and managers and the consortium. The Government are not a party in them. The receivers and managers are well aware of the Government's views on the matter.
As many subcontractors were encouraged by the Labour Government to believe that the company was a Government-backed concern, will the Minister and the Government do everything in their power to protect the interests of those creditors, for whom the consequences could be disastrous?
I am aware of the serious position of the creditors and of what a final collapse of the company would mean. The best thing for the Government to do, and what they are doing, is to encourage the receivers and managers in their efforts to come to an agreement with the consortium or with any other party that can provide a viable future. Therein lie the best prospects for the creditors.
Can my hon. Friend assure us that the discussions between the receivers and the consortium, and perhaps De Lorean, are not exclusive of efforts to find alternative uses for the plant in the event of those discussions not being successful?
Certainly, the discussions are not exclusive. The responsibilities of the receivers and managers are well defined. At present, only the United Kingdom consortium and the De Lorean interest, the new registered company, are on the scene. If other proposals are made during the comparatively short time that is left, I know that the receivers will take them seriously.
Rubber And Plastic Bullets
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will, pursuant to his reply to the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) on 27 May, Official Report, column 1043, make a further statement on the use of plastic bullets by the security forces.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many people in Northern Ireland have died and how many have been injured by rubber or plastic bullets.
Although not all inquiries into recent incidents have yet been completed and a number of inquests have yet to be held, I believe that since 22 April 1972, when the first such death occurred, 13 people may have died from injuries caused by baton rounds. Since 17 March 1981, when we began to keep records of such injuries, 203 people have received some form of hospital treatment for injuries thought to have been caused by plastic baton rounds. Information from the police is not readily available as to how many people sustained injuries before this date.As I told the House on 27 May, the Government are fully aware of the concern about baton rounds and deeply regret that their use may have resulted in a number of deaths and injuries. However, I must also emphasise that baton rounds are used only as a last resort. Without them, there would be a grave risk that the security forces would have to resort to conventional firearms, with much greater loss of life. Without riots and mob attacks on the security forces, baton rounds would not need to be used—only three have been used in the past month. I remain in close touch with the security forces' commanders on this issue.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, particularly his last remarks. Does he recall that the last time he answered questions on Northern Ireland he was subjected to considerable personal attack over the use of baton rounds by the security forces? Does he agree that the use of such bullets is an example of restraint in the face of almost intolerable provocation, in contra-distinction to what is happening in the Lebanon at the moment? Does he not further agree that most nations, faced with insurrections such as we face in Northern Ireland, would use real bullets?
My hon. Friend's last remark is correct. Baton rounds should be used only as a last resort. I am satisfied that that is the view of the force commanders. The obvious answer is for us not to have riots.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that about half of the fatal casualties were children? Will he investigate reports that in some cases the bullets had been doctored by the insertion of blades, nails and electric torch batteries? Is it not high time that the Government, once and for all, implemented a complete ban on the use of those lethal weapons, which have been used to murder innocent children?
No, Sir. I am not prepared to place the forces of law and order at risk in the manner that the hon.Gentleman suggests. What is more, I refute his allegations about the improper use of baton rounds. I can assure him that in every case where injury is alleged to have been caused by a baton round it is fully investigated. Rather than make such remarks as he has made this afternoon, I hope that he will encourage parents not to allow young children on to the streets, because that is the way to prevent them from being injured.
What is the logic of the argument against the use of baton rounds? Is it that live rounds should be used or that there should be a surrender to anarchy?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The right answer is to reduce the tensions and rioting in Northern Ireland so that we do not have to use such weapons, so that there would be none of the consequences that their use has at times resulted in.I am trying to do everything that I can to quieten the situation in Northern Ireland. I look for the support of the House, including that of those who have taken a contrary view to me on recent legislation that I have introduced.
Does the Secretary of State agree that security forces in Northern Ireland have used baton rounds when they would have been within their rights, according to the yellow card provisions, to use conventional weapons? However, there is some disquiet—I put it no higher than that—that the strict criteria, equivalent to that imposed by the yellow card on the use of lead bullets, have on some occasions been relaxed. I am not saying that that is happening now, but will the Secretary of State give the assurance, implicit in his statement, that the number of occasions on which baton rounds have been used has continue to decrease since the peak during the hunger strike riots last year and that the strict criteria for the use of baton rounds are being followed?
Yes, Sir. I can give the assurance asked for by the right hon. Gentleman and the House. Of course I am worried, because I know the effect that the use of baton rounds can have on the general population. However, I am not prepared to leave the forces unprotected by the withdrawal of a weapon which they may need and the use of which I know the right hon. Gentleman respects.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the co-operation with the Republic of Ireland over security in the border region.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on frontier security.
I know from my regular discussions with the Chief Constable that the close and professional relationship between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Garda Siochana continues to be of great importance in the prevention and detection of terrorist activity on both sides of the border.
Is there sufficient will power in the Republic for such a relationship to continue and has it increased recently? How many people have been apprehended on the Irish side of the border since Mr. Haughey became Prime Minister again?
I cannot give the figure for which my hon. Friend asks. I am not even certain that it is in our possession. However, I shall see what figures can be given, although they are not our responsibility. I am satisfied and confident that the joint security effort against terrorism continues at the same level as before.
Does the Secretary of State accept that approximately 40 per cent. of terrorist attacks originate in the Irish Republic and that most are directed against targets within 10 miles of the frontier? Despite the attitude of the Government of the Irish Republic towards the Falkland's war, does he argue that they should do their plain duty with regard to the invasion nearer home?
I sincerely hope that that will be the case; that they will recognise the importance to them as well as to Northern Ireland of fighting terrorism by every means in their power. Many attacks are launched across the border, although I do not have the exact percentage. The remarks of the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) in the House yesterday will have drawn attention to those terrible crimes once more.
Gec Large Machines Ltd
asked the Prime Minister what reply she has made to the letter addressed to her from Mr. Copley of the boilermakers union regarding the consequences of redundancy at GEC Large Machines Ltd., in the constituency of the hon. Member for Bradford, North.
I replied on 30 June to Mr. Copley and I have sent the hon. Gentleman a copy of my reply.
May I acknowledge the Prime Minister's courtesy in sending me a copy of the letter. Does she agree that large industrial organisations owe a social obligation to the community in which they operate and that if they have any liquid assets they should be invested at home rather than abroad? Will the Prime Minister say what positive steps the Government are taking to deal with unemployment, rather than sitting back and negatively waiting for all good things to flow from the drop in inflation?
I know that people who have worked for a company in the hon. Gentleman's constituency for a long time have been made redundant. From the notices issued the hon. Gentleman will know that the costs of that company exceeded the revenue from sales and that it could have produced its turnover in only half the space being used at present. On commercial grounds, it could have closed down with the loss of all the jobs, but, because it realised the effect that that would have on the area, about 350 jobs were kept in Thornbury.There are occasions when, unless one invests abroad, all possibility of export is lost. Therefore, it is better to consider investing abroad. It also has an effect upon our earnings. —[Interruption.] I am trying to give the hon. Gentleman a thorough reply to his courteous question. All the services of the Manpower Services Commission are, as I have told the hon. Gentleman, at the area's disposal for the purpose of relieving unemployment. In the end, we must try—[Interruption.]—Solid jobs depend on producing goods that customers want to buy at a price that they can afford to pay. I am afraid that there is no way round that truism.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 1 July.
This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that full and interesting reply. What is the Prime Minister's view, bearing in mind her words in the House last Tuesday concerning the NUR dispute, on the possibility of a strike being called for this weekend by ASLEF? What advice would she give to ASLEF members?
I regret that ASLEF has not shown the good sense and consideration for travellers that the NUR has shown. Flexible rostering, which I understand is the breaking point with ASLEF, has been discussed by the Railway Staff National Tribunal, by Lord McCarthy, by ACAS—by almost everyone. There is not much more room for further discussion. The issues are clear, and I hope that ASLEF will realise that, consider the travellers and the customers—those who wish to go on holiday and who have to travel to work—and refrain from striking next week.
Since it is clear that a railway strike next week would be disastrous for the railway industry and for the country as a whole, does the right hon. Lady agree that we should all approve of the fact that there is at least a glimmer of light? In the past few hours the possibility has arisen of fresh discussions at ACAS, and they might succeed if everyone works towards that end. Cannot the Government encourage British Rail to contribute to a settlement, just as Mr. Len Murray has helped, by encouraging the unions to reach a settlement? Is that not the best way forward, and should we not encourage that possibility of a settlement?
British Rail has done almost everything possible—indeed, it has done everything possible—on flexible rostering. The issue has been referred to the Railway Staff National Tribunal and has already been considered by ACAS. After all, British Rail paid in advance for productivity that the unions promised to deliver. British Rail has played its part, and so has Lord McCarthy. Therefore, I hope that there will not be a strike on Monday.
Will the right hon. Lady give her encouragement to this latest attempt to stop the strike?
I have already said that I hope that there will not be a strike on Monday and that the productivity, for which money has already been paid, will be forthcoming in the interests of those who work in the industry, of the railways, and of the travellers.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that about 2·5 million Afghans have now left their unfortunate country and that they represent about one-seventh of the population? Could not the British Government take the initiative within the international community—just as we did over the Vietnamese boat people—and obtain better conditions for those refugees, who are the latest victims of Soviet colonial policy?
The number of refugees who have left Afghanistan for Pakistan must be at least 2 million, and the figure is probably nearer 2·5 million. We have made separate efforts to help and have given money towards maintaining those people. Through the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees, who is doing a superb job of caring for those people, we are helping the refugees. In addition, the Government of Pakistan and its people are doing very well in looking after the tremendous number of refugees who have suddenly crossed their borders. We shall certainly see whether there is anything more that we can do.
Will the Prime Minister urgently discuss with the appropriate Ministers the findings of the Select Committee on Energy, which were published this morning, and which state that cost-effective savings of 30 per cent. in energy consumption could be made? Will she consider the criticisms of fragmentation of responsibility among Government bodies and of a lack of political will at the heart of Government? There could be a lot of jobs in this.
There is no lack of political will on the Government's part to reduce energy costs and to make energy savings, whether they are made through insulation, or better systems. Much is already being done. We shall, of course, reply to the report, but the best way to reduce the cost of electricity is to keep down the cost of coal.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 1 July.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Has my right hon. Friend seen the report in today's edition of The Times stating that there is to be "no question" of a parade by returning units of the task force prior to the thanksgiving service in St. Paul's, although that has been the tradition when commemorating such victories? Has my right hon. Friend also noticed that the service is to contain passages in Spanish, as a gesture to the people of the Argentine? Will she at least congratulate the lord mayor of Plymouth, whose city is to have a proper victory parade and whose service, in St. Andrew's church, will be in the old form and in the English language?
I confirm that there will be a thanksgiving service in St. Paul's cathedral on Monday, 26 July for the liberation of the Falkland Islands and in remembrance of those who fell in the campaign. As a considerable number of the task force will still be in the Falklands area and in the South Atlantic, we thought that that form of thanksgiving would be better than a victory parade. Nevertheless, victory parades can be held in other parts of the country and I congratulate the lord mayor of Plymouth on his initiative. It has not yet been decided whether there will be a final victory parade, but if there is one, it will have to be delayed for some time. My hon. Friend mentioned the report in The Times. The order of service has not yet been decided. I can understand the parts of the report that gave rise to concern. I share that concern and I hope that there is no truth in it.
Since Lord Carrington resigned—presumably as a matter of honour—with two of his colleagues, is it not of some interest that the Head of Government, who wrote on 3 February that there was a sufficient force in the Falklands to deter any possible form of aggression, should have a somewhat different concept of honour or responsibility? Or does the right hon. Lady take the view that any one else in her Administration can take the blame for errors or misjudgments—and the Falkland Islands were a costly error for Britain in terms of blood and money—as long as she can keep her job?
I have already replied to that point. The Government's decisions, supported by the House—in the main—and by the people, to recover the Falkland Islands were excellently taken, and the islands have been liberated. I believe that the inquiry will show that anything sent to the Falkland Islands would have been insufficient to deter an invasion, but could have led to many casualties without ships or facilities being available to pick up the soldiers and sailors. However, I have seen the leaders of the Opposition parties and I hope to be in a position next week to make an anouncement about a full—indeed very full—inquiry.
Has my right hon. Friend read the report in today's edition of The Times to the effect that Guatemala does not recognise the independence of Belize? Will she ensure that little Sate's independence?
Belize is, of course, fully independent. At the moment we have a garrison and a number of Harrier aircraft there. They will stay there, at any rate for the time being.
Is the Prime Minister aware that 600 more jobs will be lost from three British Steel Corporation factories in Sheffield in the next few weeks, despite the fact that they are three of the most modern factories in the world? Does she appreciate that the world recession, the Government's strict cash limits, and cheap imports from Europe—which heavily subsidises energy costs—mean that every time there is a recession the British Steel industry suffers more than any other industry? When will the Government attack growing unemployment as energetically as they prosecuted the war in the Falkland Islands?
In Europe and throughout the world there is great over-production of steel. For that reason, Europe came to an agreement that each country would produce a certain amount of steel. We are trying to ensure that that agreement is honoured. As the hon. Lady knows, we have also made representations to the United States of America about the countervailing duties that have been imposed, because they have been wrongly imposed on steel products from Britain. British steel was once heavily subsidised, and coal is still subsidised. Indeed, coal is one of the main factors in the price of electricity.
My right hon. Friend just said that she hoped to make a statement next week about an inquiry into the Falkland Islands conflict. If the reports that have appeared in the press are correct and she wishes to institute an inquiry that predates the recent incidence, there are five former Prime Ministers alive who have an equal right to take part in the decision about an inquiry. Indeed, they have just as equal a right as the leaders of the Opposition parties. By what constitutional right does my right hon. Friend presume to institute an inquiry into the policies and management of previous Administrations—[Interruption.] What is more, may I ask my right hon. Friend what consultations have taken place with the previous Heads of Administration? As far as I am concerned, there have been none.
I have no objection to the record of my Administration being examined. However, I have not been asked to give authority for the release of papers from 1970 to 1974, which are still covered by the 30-year rule. May I also ask the Prime Minister whether she recognises that those of us who have experienced the treatment of a previous Administration by herself and her advisers can have no confidence whatever in an inquiry set up without consultation or consideration with the previous Heads of Administration?
With regard to going back over the records of previous Administrations, it is necessary to adjudge our intelligence and defence assessments by the side of previous intelligence messages and defence assessments. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would not in any way wish to prejudice a judgment made on a very distinguished Foreign Secretary by withholding that or by withholding the documents. With regard to permission to consult Cabinet papers, I am advised that I do not necessarily have to ask for that. Nevertheless, I have made it known that it would be my intention to ask each and every previous Prime Minister, as a matter of courtesy, whatever the constitutional position, if he would agree that the appropriate Cabinet minutes and committees can be looked at. At present the rule is that they can be looked at only by those who were involved. They have a right to look at anything in which they personally were involved. I shall, of course, therefore consult previous Prime Ministers—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah".]—about whether they will agree to the papers connected with their Administration being put at the disposal of the inquiry. That will be the right way to proceed. I shall be astonished if there are any difficulties.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In reply to questions the Prime Minister said that she would make an announcement on the Falkland Islands inquiry next week. Can it be made indelibly clear that that announcement will be in the form of a statement to the House, which is absolutely necessary, in view of the previous exchanges?
I confirm that.
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement about the meeting of the European Council which I attended in Brussels on 28 and 29 June with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. That meeting of the European Council was dominated—[Interruption.]
Order. The House should listen to the statement that is being made. There will be no questions on it if we cannot hear it.
This meeting of the European Council was dominated by external problems of a political and economic kind. The texts of a number of conclusions were agreed and I have placed copies in the Library. They deal with the hostilities in the Middle East, economic relations with the United States, and the economic and social situation.As is customary, the meeting discussed current political questions, notably the Middle East. We shared the intense concern at the situation in Lebanon, where the present ceasefire must be preserved and used to secure first disengagement of the forces in and around Beirut, and thereafter full implementation of the recent resolutions of the Security Council. In the broader Arab-Israel context we continued to see no alternative to negotiations between the parties, based on the two fundamental principles of the Venice declaration: security for all States, including Israel, and justice for all peoples, including the Palestinian people.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Two hon. Members are talking so loudly that I cannot hear the statement.
Order. Everyone in the House should settle down and listen to the statement.
The European Council's discussion of economic relations with the United States reflected the concern that all of us felt about certain decisions taken by the United States Government. Their actions in respect of steel imports and the Siberian gas pipeline could have serious consequences, which everyone in the Community wants to avoid.The European Council agreed that representatives of the Community should immediately contact the responsible authorities in the United States to see if an acceptable solution could be found. The discussion of the economic and social situation was relatively brief. The European Council had already decided at its last meeting in March that industrial questions and unemployment should be a major theme at the meeting to be held in Copenhagen in December under Danish Presidency. During yesterday's discussion the Governments of the member States, the Commission and the Council of Ministers were asked to take certain specific steps between now and December so that the next European Council will be in a good position to review this whole area of policy. The question of the enlargement of the Community was discussed informally and we did not seek to reach precise conclusions. It is agreed that the negotiations with Spain and Portugal will continue and the Commission has been asked to make a list of the outstanding problems and to propose solutions to them. All member States recognise that there are problems that must be solved in these negotiations. The position of the United Kingdom is clear—we want these negotiations to succeed as soon as possible and we shall continue to work towards that objective. Finally, the Greek Prime Minister made a statement of his Government's reactions to a recent Commission paper about the position of Greece in the Community. This paper, together with the earlier memorandum on the subject by the Greek Government, is now to be studied by the Council of Ministers.
The Prime Minister referred to Lebanon in her statement, and it was also referred to in the communiqué. We fully support the proposition that the Security Council's resolution should be backed and sustained. Can the Prime Minister give us any information on the response of the Israeli Government on that subject?I am surprised that the right hon. Lady did not refer to the operation of the Luxembourg compromise and the veto. Before she left the summit meeting, did she raise the matter with the other Heads of State, and if so, what response did she receive? The Foreign Secretary had led us to believe that the matter would be discussed at the meeting. In any case, does the Prime Minister think that if is right for the matter to be formally established before there is any further movement on the proposal to secure a fisheries agreement? The veto might arise in that connection. With regard to trading policy, we were glad to hear what the right hon. Lady said in answers to questions on the steel industry. Is it not the case that in some of the reports it is suggested that she has sought to soften the representations that were made on trading policy matters? Is there not a real danger of a trade war between the United States and European countries? We have major interests in the matter. In the last day or two a statement has been made by a spokesman from the Department of Trade, who said:
Is that not the view of the British Government? If it is, should it not be pressed with all possible strength, as our steel industry and other industries are seriously affected? I have some questions to put to the right hon. Lady on what she said about more general economic matters. She or the Council seems to envisage that a discussion on unemployment in general terms is not to come forward again to the Council until December. However, the situation is extremely serious. I hope that I shall not be thought indelicate or discourteous to the right hon. Lady in quoting the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who had something to say on this matter. He made a few remarks some minutes ago, but he was in equally explicit form yesterday. He said that what was happening at the moment in the United States was more misguided than what has happened in the history of the Western Alliance. He was talking about the policies that were being pursued and their relationship to Western Europe as a whole and the United Kingdom in particular. The right hon. Gentleman continued:"What we are seeing is an attempt to export unemployment from the United States to Europe, through the unilateral use of a protectionist weapon based on what we regard as an unreasonable and arbitrary definition of subsidy."
Does the right hon. Lady agree with her right hon. Friend? I am sure that she does on this matter. If she agrees with him, as I am sure she does—I am certain that she will be eager to say so—does she not think that more much more urgent action must be taken to deal with a matter of such seriousness? We hope that, far from being content with this statement, which seems, incidentally, to dissipate all the prospects held out at the Versailles summit a couple of weeks ago, the right hon. Lady will bring to the House next week a policy and programme for trying to get British proposals accepted for dealing with this world-wide crisis at a much earlier stage than December."The vicious spiral of increasing budget deficits and high interest rates is deflating the entire world economy, throwing millions out of work and provoking a desperate race by Governments to subsidise exports in order to cling to what they can of the world's dwindling markets."
Let me deal with the four main points that the right hon. Gentleman has raised. The first is the serious situation in the Lebanon. There obviously has been no response direct to the Ten from Israel, but, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, it looks as though there is some hope that the PLO will leave West Beirut without any further fighting. If that could be arranged it would be very welcome.The Luxembourg compromise was discussed in detail at a special meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers. There was a good deal of support for the view of the British Government that, where a member State considers that a very important matter of national interest is at stake, voting should be deferred. I am well aware that that arrangement has been broken once in practice, but if the right hon. Gentleman goes right back to the initiation of the Luxembourg compromise in 1966 he will see that it was never universally agreed, although when we went into the Common Market we assumed that all highly important decisions would be taken by unanimity and not on majority voting. Trading policy was discussed mainly under two heads. We discussed, first, the countervailing duties on steel. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that, as far as we are concerned, the countervailing duties seem to be wrongly applied, because most of the assistance that goes to the British Steel Corporation now is to help to reduce productive capacity. A great deal, therefore, goes to redundancy payments, and that cannot properly be called a subsidy to output. It has been treated in that way, we believe wrongly, and we are taking it up both bilaterally and through the Community itself. The Community is pursuing this matter with the United States very vigorously. With regard to the Siberian gas line, we have an interest because John Brown has a contract to deliver a certain amount of equipment to the Soviet Union. With regard to the announcements made by the United States, the right hon. Gentleman will have seen that my right hon. and noble Friend yesterday made an order under section 1(1) of the Protection of Trading Interests Act 1980. British firms that are adversely affected by the measures taken by the United States Administration are invited to make representations to the Department of Trade. I must agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and we take what has happened very seriously. Whatever measures are taken by a nation as far as ordinary contracts are concerned, existing contracts should always be allowed to be fulfilled in the proper way. With regard to interest rates and the United States financial policy, I am very much against high deficits. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is. High deficits lead to high interest rates and high public expenditure leads to high deficits. I am delighted to have the right hon. Gentleman's support. With regard to unemployment, we had a considerable discussion at the last European Council and at Versailles. The right hon. Gentleman will have seen in the communiqué that the Council confirmed the conclusion that it reached in March regarding a co-ordinated policy for combating unemployment by promoting productive investment. He will see elsewhere in the communiqué that that can be promoted only by transferring resources, usually from consumption to investment, and increasing competitiveness and productivity as well as developing a Community industrial strategy based on a technology and innovation policy. These issues were discussed in detail and published in European Council documents. They will be further discussed in December.
I must ask the right hon. Lady to amplify one or two matters. In view of the extreme importance of the questions raised about the economic future by the right hon. Member for Sidcup, we shall be happy to stage a debate in which all can participate. Certainly the questions are so serious, if what the right hon. Gentleman says is true, that much more urgent action should be taken, and we should discuss them before the House rises for the Summer Recess. That is one request that I make to the right hon. Lady.I think it is most extraordinary that the right hon. Lady made no attempt to comment upon the veto in her original statement. She may have said that it was discussed by the Foreign Ministers elsewhere, but what she has said today is not satisfactory thereto and we want a statement about that matter also. As for taking action to protect ourselves and British traders from unfair action from the United States, the right hon. Lady will certainly have the strongest support from the Opposition. I hope that she will not weaken the representations that are made by other countries.
With regard to high interest rates, to which I think the right hon. Gentleman is alluding, they are caused directly by a high deficit coupled with a low savings ratio. They are caused by the fact that the market does not believe that the reductions in expenditure that are going through Congress will be sufficient. If they were sufficient, the deficit would come down and interest rates would fall very quickly. In my view it is important that interest rates come down. I do not see how there can be a major recovery in the United States with the present levels of interest that are charged. The other way is to put up taxation. That was the way that we followed during our second year of office. We have been correct in getting down those high deficits. I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with us.With regard to the Luxembourg compromise, I said that opinions were always divided as they have been since this issue first came up at the instance of the French President in 1966. If the right hon. Gentleman goes back to those papers, he will see that there was never unanimous agreement on the use of the compromise. The matter was extensively discussed. There is disagreement about it. We believe that it is in Britain's interests still to retain the Luxembourg compromise.
Does the Prime Minister regard 1984 for Portuguese and Spanish entry as having slipped? Will she confirm that it is still the Government's view that such delays are highly undesirable in the interests of democratic stability in an important part of Europe?
A number of us had hoped that Spain and Portugal would come in before 1984. Many of us think that it is extremely important that they both come into the European Community for the reason that the right hon. Gentleman has given, which is to keep democracy in both countries. I have no doubt that that would be helped by their being full members of the European Community. With the present problems, we shall be doing quite well if we succeed in getting them in by 1984, but the Government hope that they will be in by that time.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that whatever view we may take of current American trading and financial practices, some of us believe that the United States Administration are right in believing that the pipeline deal with the Soviet Union is a most profound mistake which will greatly weaken the West since most of the large amounts of foreign exchange which the Soviet Union will earn as a result of it will be spent on armaments designed to destroy liberty?
Many people would agree with my hon. Friend. However, at the moment that is not the point at issue. The question is whether one very powerful nation can prevent existing contracts from being fulfilled. It is wrong that it should prevent those contracts from being fulfilled. It is also ultimately harmful to American interests because many people will now say that there is no point in making a contract for materials, machinery and equipment from the United States if, at any time, that contract can be cancelled. It is not, therefore, in their or our interests to stop those contracts being fulfilled.
What policy action is the Council of Ministers prepared to take to register the Community's disapproval of the continued presence and activities of the invading Israeli forces in Lebanon?
We have issued vigorous statements on the matter whenever we or the Council of Ministers have met. A further vigorous statement was issued this time. The fact remains that the country that is likely to have the most influence with Israel is the United States. We also make our views known to the United States.
Does the Prime Minister agree that our friends in Washington recently have not sufficiently appreciated the economic anxiety in Western Europe and that unless they change their attitude there is a real danger of conflict between the United States and its allies in Western Europe?
They now appreciate our anxiety, which is on three fronts—first, the continuation of high interest rates in the United States. They will say that they are trying to deal with them by reducing public spending. That will depend upon the decision that their Congress makes. Of course, it is not for us to tell their Congress how to act. It would be counter-productive if we did. Secondly, they are aware of our dismay at the duties that they have placed on steel. Both we and the Community are taking that matter up. Thirdly, we issued a strong statement about the termination of existing contracts.
Whatever the rhetoric of United Nations statements or communiqués, I hope that my right hon. Friend agrees that the most important thing now is to avoid further bloodshed in Beirut. To that purpose, her statement is welcome. I hope that the PLO will now face military reality and remove itself.
My right hon. Friend knows that many efforts have been made during the past three or four days to make arrangements for the PLO to leave West Beirut and the Lebanon, possibly by boat, if necessary with small arms. As my right hon. Friend will be aware, the difficult questions are, where do they go to, who will accept them and will they go to those places? That has still to be arranged.
Does the Prime Minister agree that, however late the President of the United States' statement was, the statement that he made today warned the Israeli Government that they do not have the tacit approval of the Americans to continue the genocide in the Lebanon? Does she further agree that now is the time to implement economic sanctions against Israel until she withdraws from Lebanon?
I also heard the statement to which the hon. Gentleman refers, in which the President of the United States made it perfectly clear that any further Israeli action in Beirut would not have the consent of the United States. He also said that he, too, hoped that it would be possible to make arrangements for the PLO to leave West Beirut and for there to be no further bloodshed. On the hon. Gentleman's second point, the Community is not signing a financial protocol with Israel but there was not agreement on whether further economic sanctions should be imposed.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the revival of the economy is the concern of both the Council of Europe and the European Parliament and that revival means the elimination of unemployment? Will she therefore establish guidelines or urge that guidelines be established as quickly as possible to deal with the problem? Does she agree that unemployment is the cause of recession in the steel industry—a mutual problem between the United States of America and Western European countries? When the next discussions take place, will she ensure that the interests of the private sector steel industry are looked after?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. That is why, when we referred in our communiqué to the problem of unemployment and to the need for more investment, we made it perfectly clear that productive investment was needed. Most of that investment occurs in the private sector, although there is some in the public sector. The Commission will soon produce a paper. We are aware that we must not spend so much in the public sector that we deprive the private sector of the finances that it needs to expand its activities.
Order. I propose to call four more hon. Members from each side. Thereafter, we shall proceed to the second statement.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the problem of high interest rates and deficit in the United States affects the European economy and that it was brought about by the massive arms expenditure in which the United States is indulging? Will she therefore examine the Siberian pipeline in a different light? Does she agree that it would be better to improve trading relations between East and West—for there to be peaceful co-operation between East and West Europe? What is the EEC doing to ensure that the United Nations special session on disarmament will be a success?
There is nothing that I can usefully add to what I have already said about high deficits and high interest rates. Getting the one down will lead to the reduction of the other. With regard to the high deficit being caused by arms expenditure, the hon. Gentleman will also discover that there is an enormous projected increase for social services expenditure. The President intends to deal with that increase at the same time as reducing the deficit for two or three years. With regard to the Siberian pipeline, the President has expressed his view and we have confined our comments to what I have already said—that existing contracts should be allowed to be fulfilled.
When my right hon. Friend gave a positive reply to the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) about Spain entering the Common Market, did she forget about Gibraltar? Did she raise that matter in the Council of Ministers? Did she make it absolutely clear that the people of Gibraltar will not be sold out and that there can be no question of letting Spain into the Common Market so long as the border remains closed?
We are fully committed to the people of Gibraltar. There can be no possible change in the status or sovereignty of Gibraltar without the full consent of the people of Gibraltar. That has always been our position. I agree with my hon. Friend that Spain cannot enter the Common Market as long as her side of the border with Gibraltar remains closed.
In an earlier reply about the Luxembourg compromise, the Prime Minister referred to a meeting of the Foreign Ministers where she said that there was a view that matters should be postponed or deferred if there was disagreement. Was that postponement or deferment indefinite or just until the next meeting? Was that the unanimous view of all the Foreign Ministers present?
The hon. Gentleman has taken the word "deferred" as referring to something else. I said that there was a good deal of support for the British Government's view that when a member State considered that a very important national interest was at stake, voting should be deferred. That refers to the language of the original Luxembourg compromise—one does not come to a conclusion so long as there is disagreement between the States.The main discussion on the Luxembourg compromise took place on 20 June. Opinions were divided. They have always been divided on the Luxembourg compromise. We continue to discuss it. We believe that it is in Britain's interests to continue the Luxembourg compromise.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that she will receive widespread support for what she has said about conditions of contract? Does she agree that the principle of upholding the obligations of contracts in international trade extends far beyond the immediate issue of obtaining the turbines order for the Siberian pipeline? Will she employ whatever diplomatic channels are open to Britain to impress a more considered attitude on the American Administration in addition to the representations that are being made by the Community?
Yes, I have already made my own views on this known directly to the President when I spoke to him. I entirely agree that ordinary commercial contracts should be fulfilled. The only exception to that is if there are hostilities or war breaks out. On such occasions, with regard to military arms, we have asked other countries to hold up the delivery of arms and have ourselves done so, but that is a separate question from an ordinary commercial contract.
Has the right hon. Lady looked at the standard practices in the EEC regarding womens' rights as they apply to foreign husbands and the right to choose whether to go to the husband's country or to stay put to raise their families? Is it not ridiculous that in some instances women citizens of this country have to go to another EEC country where equality of spouses is standard practice? Will she consider the immigration debate on Monday, in which this matter was highlighted, and stop acting against the interests of women in my constituency?
I have nothing further to add to what was said in the immigration debate on Monday The specific point that the hon. Gentleman raised was not discussed at the European Council, but with the presence of Madame Flesch and myself, our fellow heads of Government and Foreign Secretaries will have been in no doubt whatever that women have rights.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the stated American deficit of $100 billion is grossly understated, as, when off-balance-sheet items are added, it is almost $250 billion? Does she agree that it is grotesquely misleading to try to blame a deficit of that size on the current American Administration? The Reagan Administration were quite obviously locked in to many of those deficit expenditures by the policies of past Administrations?
My hon. Friend is correct. Many of the increases now taking place arise from decisions taken previously and it is they which are partly giving rise to the enormously increased deficit. I agree that there is also a certain amount of off-balance-sheet financing. Indeed, that is a factor that we should remember when people say that we could remove things from the public sector borrowing requirement. That would not help, because the money still has to be found.
With regard to the possible admission of Portugal and Spain to the EEC, which was raised by the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins), has the Prime Minister conveyed her own and the country's appreciation to Portugal, our oldest ally, for its attitude in our recent war with Argentina? In the opposite sense, has she also conveyed our view of the malign and mendacious attitude of Spain? Will she bear both those factors in mind in relation to future events in the EEC?
I have personally thanked Portugal for its splendidly supportive attitude throughout the whole of the Falkands crisis. It was much appreciated by all our people. In the same spirit, we felt very resentful of the attitude taken by the Spanish, and they are in no doubt about that.
On this very important day for Scots who wear the kilt—the anniversary of the wearing of the kilt—does not the matter of John Brown show clearly how important it is for this country to maintain research and development facilities and manufacturing capacity in the high technology areas on which Scotland is so dependent for export orders?
Yes, it does indeed, but I think that it is common practice in almost every country to manufacture good, high technology products under licence from other countries. As my hon. Friend knows, that is what has happened in this case. Therefore, we still need the export licence from the United States.
Business Of The House
I wish to make a short business statement. The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 5 JULY—Private Members' motions until seven o'clock. Afterwards, Supply (22nd Allotted Day)—(First part). Debate on a Liberal motion on specific and practical measures to reduce unemployment.Second Reading of the Duchy of Cornwall Management Bill. TUESDAY 6 JULY—Conclusion of the debate of the statement on the Defence Estimates, 1982. Motion relating to the National Health Service (Charges to Visitors) (No. 2) Regulations. WEDNESDAY 7 JULY—Conclusion of consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Government Finance (No. 2) Bill. Motions on the international fund for agriculture development and the African development fund orders and on the Building Societies (Special Advances) Order. THURSDAY 8 JULY—Supply (23rd Allotted Day). There will be a debate on the Army, on a motion for the adjournment of the House. FRIDAY 9 JULY—Private Members' Bills. MONDAY I2 JULY—Progress on remaining stages of the Finance Bill.
I wish to put first to the right hon. Gentleman one or two matters arising from the Prime Minister's statement today.The Prime Minister's answers on the Luxembourg compromise leave a most confused situation. I therefore believe that we must have a further statement from the Prime Minister at a very early stage to clear up the discrepancies. The Prime Minister's remarks about the general economic situation only reinforce the case that we have urged for a general debate on unemployment at a very early stage. We certainly renew that application today. I also reiterate the case that I put to the right hon. Gentleman last week for a further debate on disarmament—not a debate concerned solely with defence matters, but a general debate on disarmament. While the United Nation's session on the subject continues, the House should have that opportunity. Can the right hon. Gentleman give any information on when the 1982–83 higher education mandatory awards regulations will be laid before the House? Does he appreciate that further delay will cause confusion among students and universities? Is he aware that if the regulations are not laid until late July the House will be denied an effective opportunity to influence the regulations which, due to cuts, are extremely contentious? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will ensure that that matter is speeded up. Finally, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will assist us by ensuring that proper reports are given to the House about what the Government are trying to do to stop the railway strike. A few minutes ago, we urged the Prime Minister to support the current discussions at ACAS. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give an undertaking that there will be a report about that tomorrow and that we should continue to do our best to see whether the strike can be avoided.
I shall try to answer the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman in reverse order.With regard to the impending rail strike, over the past few days my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has been most anxious to present to the House his view of these matters through statements. I note that the right hon. Gentleman would like a statement tomorrow, as was the case last Friday. I shall pass that request to my right hon. Friend. With regard to the 1982 higher education mandatory awards regulations, I cannot give an immediate answer to the right hon. Gentleman but I will certainly have the matter investigated and will be in touch with him. As to a general debate on disarmament, I realise that in many parts of the House there is a deep and committed concern on this topic. I thought that the statement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister after her return from New York gave some opportunity for ventilation of this topic. The debates on the Defence Estimates also give a chance to consider disarmament in the general context of defence. Nevertheless, I of course take note of what the right hon. Gentleman has said. On the right hon. Gentleman's request for a general economic debate, I am sure that he will realise that we are now approaching that time in a Parliament when in a sense the Opposition have proportionately more time at their disposal than is available to the Government. There will be the opportunities that are provided by Report and Third Reading of the Finance Bill—[Interruption.] I shall not be thrown off my stride by those sedentary comments. The right hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks) knows that he is protected and his name can never appear in the columns of Hansard. We all know that there are a number of Supply days and that the Opposition are acutely embarrassed in trying to resolve the subjects that should be chosen. This subject is pre-eminent for the purpose. I have noted what the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) says about a statement on the Luxembourg accord. I shall draw the Prime Minister's attention to his remarks.
Order. A very large number of right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House hope to speak in the debate on the Defence White Paper. I therefore propose that questions on the Business Statement should under no circumstances continue beyond 4.30 pm by the digital clock.
Could my right hon. Friend arrange a debate at the earliest possible moment on motions implementing the proposals of the Select Committee on Procedure (Supply) of the last Session, as it is important that Select Committee Chairmen should know what the position is if they are to take advantage of that during the next Session?
My right hon. Friend has raised this matter previously. I assure him that it is my hope that the matter can he debated reasonably early in July.
In the light of the dramatic intervention this afternoon by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), is it not proper that the issue of the terms of the inquiry—in view of the considerable divisions that exist on the Government Benches as to how that inquiry should be managed—should come before the House for an open debate to satisfy millions of people who believe that the Prime Minister is covering up what happened in the six weeks before the invasion by Argentina?
I do not think the intervention was half as dramatic as the riposte was effective. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that she will make a statement next week.
May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 580?[That this House, deeply concerned to achieve balanced economic growth throughout Great Britain, and believing that the proposed massive expansion of Stansted airport would produce unjustifiable urban growth and congestion in North West Essex and East Hertfordshire, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to opt now for a policy which, while providing for a modest increase in activity at Stansted, subject to a fixed ceiling, would place the greater emphasis on taking all possible steps to expand the use of provincial airports to meet demand in the region of its origin, the case for which has been well documented and shown to be financially viable by various groups, notably the North of England Regional Consortium.] It relates to the British Authority Airports policy with particular reference to Stansted airport. It was signed by 105 right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House. Will my right hon. Friend give that matter priority in his consideration of debates before the House rises for the Summer Recess?
I am sure that my hon. Friend will accept that the British Airports Authority has elaborated plans which are now subject to a wide-ranging inquiry. It would be helpful to have the outcome of that inquiry before the House sought to make a judgment. I cannot hold out hope of a debate on the motion before the Summer Recess.
May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to a number of prayers on the Order Paper in the name of myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends dealing with industrial training? Will there be an opportunity to debate them in the near future?
I shall take note of what the hon. Gentleman says. I believe that we shall have a debate on industrial training, but I shall be in touch with him on that matter.
Could the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the statement by the Secretary of State for Industry last Monday on the cutback of assisted areas? Is he aware that in my constituency, since May 1979, there has been a 180 per cent. increase in unemployment and a 200 per cent. increase in payments to people who are unemployed and in receipt of supplementary benefit and that at the same time intermediate area status is being abolished? That applies not only to Keighley but to many other areas. We should have a debate on that issue. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that when there are three million people on the dole assisted area status is an important symbol of possible assistance?
I accept the direction of the hon. Gentleman's argument. After my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry made his statement, he was subjected to an extended period of questioning, although I agree that that still left many hon. Members hoping to be called. In those circumstances, I cannot hold out hope of a debate next week or before the end of July.
As there are firm indications in Southend and Shoeburyness that many train drivers will be driving trains on Monday and signs of a lack of support throughout the country, may we have a debate tomorrow on a simple motion urging ASLEF to hold a ballot before it brings about another strike which will cause immense damage to British Rail and dreadful inconvenience to the travelling public?
I cannot give such an undertaking in respect of tomorrow's business. Were my hon. Friend successful in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, I suspect that he could make the speech in the private Members' debate on Monday.
Is the Leader of the House aware that a report that is of great importance to disabled people by the Committee on Restrictions against Disabled People has been published? It contains 42 recommendations, including one for antidiscrimination legislation. May we have a debate on the report as soon as possible?
I have a lively sympathy for the subject that the right hon. Gentleman raises. I must be candid and say that there is no likelihood of a debate in Government time before Parliament goes into recess. There is plenty of scope for hon. Members to use their ingenuity to see that the matter reaches the Floor of the House.
In view of the inadequacy of the European Community's response to the barbaric Israeli invasion of Lebanon, will it be possible to have an early debate to discuss the requirement that the Palestinians should leave Beirut, as that is one of the Israeli war objectives? We have just fought a war in the South Atlantic to stop an aggressor getting away with his spoils. The requirement will give the Israelis a further excuse to stay in the Lebanon until the Palestinians withdraw. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a debate would enable the House to put forward proposals so that we could help to bring about the end of that violent war, whereas the Community has done absolutely nothing?
Within the recent past the House has had the chance to discuss the tangled issues of the Middle East and show the wide range of views that there are within the House. I cannot offer the likelihood of a second debate so soon after the first. We might have a prudent regard for realism. Motions and decisions of the House are not likely to be that much more effective than those of the European Community when it comes to influencing fighting on the ground in the Middle East.
On a matter upon which the House has some influence, will the right hon. Gentleman consult the Home Secretary about making a statement on his proposals for increasing the deposit at parliamentary elections? The level was fixed in 1918 and the present increasingly farcical element caused by the deposit becomes obvious with each by-election.
I shall certainly draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the point made, not for the first time, by the hon. and learned Gentleman.
To enable wives and husbands of hon. Members to attend and listen to the business of next and every week, will my right hon. Friend consider setting aside a portion of the Strangers' Gallery specifically for them?
That is something that might reasonably be considered by the Services Committee.
May I remind the Leader of the House of the Falkland Islands (British Citizenship) Bill 1982 that was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) and given an unopposed First Reading on 22 June? It seeks to give Falkland Islanders the British citizenship that was denied them under the British Nationality Act 1981. Will he give Government time to ensure the passage of the Bill? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that if he does not do that it will be considered an affront to the brave British troops who released the Falkland Islanders from the yoke of a Fascist dictatorship and will be an insult to those who fell in the battles for the Falkland Islands?
I cannot give that undertaking, but the important thing is that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already made it clear that no Falkland Islander, whether or not he has the right of abode, will have difficulty over admission to this country.
As civil defence is an element of defence, and that is a matter for the Home Secretary and outside today's debate, will my right hon. Friend find time for a separate debate in the near future on the important subject?
I recognise the importance of the subject. But I have to give the same surly negative reply that I cannot guarantee to find time. I should like to take my hon. Friend to one side to suggest how with a little ingenuity he can get the topic into the appropriate defence debate.
Is the Leader of the House aware that some of us are getting tired of the inspired leaks in the press about who is to be the next Speaker when the present occupant of the Chair retires? If there is to be discussion, should it not be open and not this hole—
Order. I can save the time of the House. There is no need to discuss the matter just yet.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I did say "when the present occupant of the Chair retires".
There is no danger of that just now.
May I say how relieved I am to hear your remarks Mr. Speaker?Would my right hon. Friend consider finding time next week to discuss the effects of Russian policy on South Asia? Is this not a particularly appropriate time to discuss it when one inoffensive and scholarly British subject has been sentenced on trumped-up charges for no reason whatever for 10 years by the Kamal regime in Afghanistan?
I realise that the case causes great distress in the United Kingdom. But the opportunity to debate such matters, important though they are, must be considered, in the context of the Government's legislative programme and the general desire that we should rise for the Summer Recess at a civilised traditional time.
When will the Leader of the House make a statement on the Summer Recess so that hon. Members—particularly my Scottish colleagues with children at school—may make holiday arrangements?
When the accommodating behaviour of the Opposition enables me to make a statement with confidence.
Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the answer that he gave the Leader of the Opposition about the possibility of a debate on disarmament? Is it not slightly incongruous to suggest that speeches on disarmament should be made in debates on the Defence Estimates? As we had the United Nations special session on disarmament only last month and at present two major rounds of talks are going on in Western Europe on the limitation of nuclear weapons, should not the House make its view known on this crucial subject?
As disarmament is normally discussed not in absolute terms but in terms of the level of arms and the balance between conventional and nuclear weapons, there is nothing extraordinary about discussing such matters in the defence debates.
In view of what the Prime Minister said earlier about a national thanksgiving at St. Paul's for our victory in the Falklands campaign, will my right hon. Friend be making a statement next week? Is the report in The Times correct that the service will take into account the views of those who opposed the expedition? Is that not absurd? Can those people have their cake and eat it? Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the thanksgiving will not be watered down in any way at all?
I do not believe that I can helpfully add anything to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said during her Question Time. As soon as it is possible, a statement will be made, but I can give no undertaking that that will be next week.
That the matter of road and sea transport in Scotland, being a matter relating exclusively to Scotland, be referred to the Scottish Grand Committee for their consideration.— [Mr.Biffen.]
[FIRST DAY'S DEBATE]
I beg to move,
That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1982, contained in Cmnd. 8529.
I have selected the amendment in the name of the party below the Gangway.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I request that you are a little more precise because of the nature of the people who have suddenly discovered an arresting interest in prayers, which they never betrayed when they were on the Labour Benches, and then litter themselves on what is traditionally the Tribune Bench, which is part of the Labour Party.
Although this does not directly relate to my ruling on the amendment, I would have thought that the House welcomed anyone who took a new interest in prayers.I have selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen).
The opening words of the White Paper on defence policy last year were
That duty rests on three defence commitments. The first is the maintenance of a credible strategic nuclear capability to deter nuclear blackmail by our enemies. My hon. Friend the Minister of State will say more about that in the second debate next week. The second is the collective security provided through our contribution to NATO of strong naval, army and air forces for the defence of the West. The third is a force structure, within the NATO framework, which has the balance and flexibility to enable us to respond to a challenge to British interests at home or abroad. The events of the past few weeks have concentrated all our attention on the third commitment—our ability to respond in defence of uniquely British interests—although our determination to resist aggression will have strengthened the whole deterrence strategy of the West. In these past few weeks we have seen British power projected over 8,000 miles into the South Atlantic to restore the rights and freedom of British citizens. I must single out for a special mention at the outset the Royal Navy: putting the Fleet to sea in such a short time and sustaining it over such a long distance into the South Atlantic have been a remarkable achievement. The many essential refuellings and transfers at sea in often appalling weather required seamanship of the highest order. When the historians come to write about the operation I believe that achievement by the Royal Navy will have a special place. Our armed forces conducted themselves at every stage with great gallantry under intense attack and in the most hostile climatic conditions. A major amphibious landing has been successfully conducted; a major and decisive land battle has been fought by the men of 3 Commando Brigade, 5 Infantry Brigade and the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the Parachute Regiment against great odds over the most inhospitable terrain, thus writing another historic page in the annals of the Royal Marines and the British Army. Incidents of individual courage, initiative, and also compassion, on the part of our forces have been shown at every level and at every stage of the operation. I pay my tribute from this Dispatch Box to the men and women of all three Armed Services and to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service, the Merchant Marine and to the many military and civilian personnel who provided support for the task force. A special place in our thoughts will remain for them and most particularly for those who were injured, and for the families and friends of those who gave their lives that others could be free. Our forces in the South Atlantic were for the most part equipped with weapons, ships and aircraft which had been optimised under successive Governments for battle under very different circumstances. Some, such as our amphibious force, amply demonstrated the advantage that their inherent flexibility confers. The quality of our men and equipment on sea and land and in the air was amply proved. Let me give a few examples. Twenty-eight of our 32 Sea Harriers were deployed to the area and they achieved at least 28 kills without a single loss in air-to-air combat. There were more than 2,000 operational sorties from the carriers, and one of the most remarkable features of the whole operation was the 90 per cent. availability of all aircraft embarked. The first order that I intend to place following the Falklands crisis is for new Sea Harriers. All seven Sea Harriers lost will be replaced—and I intend to fund out of the existing programme, rather than out of replacement funds, a further seven Sea Harriers, making an immediate new order of 14 in all for British Aerospace. The crisis showed that flexibility, adaptability and the imaginative use of national resources were crucial to the success of our operation. Particularly notable was the extensive use made of air-to-air refuelling. Seven Hercules and 13 Nimrods have already been adapted for it, and that will greatly enhance our capability. Hercules regularly made, and are still making, 25-hour, 8,000-mile round trips from Ascension to drop supplies to the task group around the Falkland Islands. Nimrods flew more than 110 maritime surveillance sorties—including regular air-to-air refuelled flights of 19 hours to the Falkland Islands area. RAF Harriers were flown to Ascension direct on a nine-hour, air-to-air refuelled mission and then—almost miraculously—four were flown non-stop to the deck of HMS "Hermes", another nine-hour flight. The performance of the Victor tanker forces was outstanding and six Vulcans and four Hercules are being converted to the tanker role. We will be devoting increased resources to in-flight refuelling as a major force multiplier—it will be particularly valuable in the United Kingdom air defence region, extending our ability to maintain combat air patrols over the North Sea for long periods and it gives us the ability to extend dramatically the flexibility and scope of the projection of our air power. The first VC10 tanker for the RAF had its maiden flight a few days ago. One notable feature of the Falklands campaign was the enormous contribution made by shipping taken up from Britain's merchant fleet and its Merchant Navy crews. At peak, more than 50 vessels were involved. The campaign has proved beyond a shadow of doubt that necessary modifications, such as fitting helicopter platforms and at-sea refuelling facilities, can be made quickly and efficiently. From the container ships not only did helicopters successfully carry out limited operations, but Sea Harriers made several flights in the vertical take-off mode from those ships. As part of the studies of the campaign, we shall be taking another look at such use of civil resources in wartime. The Ministry of Defence does not claim to have any monopoly of good ideas in this area and I hope that organisations and individuals will come forward with their own suggestions—a point I made when identifying the importance of this area in chapter 2 of the defence White Paper in the section on the use of national resources."The first duty of any British Government is to safeguard our people in peace and freedom."
On the Merchant Navy, is it not a fact that if we are to get this type of resource it is essential that we retain the standing of the British flag fleet and ensure that replacements for the "Atlantic Conveyor" and other ships are built in the United Kingdom?
I share the hon. Gentleman's wish that the maximum number of our merchant fleet, now and in the future, should be built in British yards. I do not need to say that the ultimate choice is for the shipping company concerned.During the whole Falklands operation, our helicopters all performed magnificently. They flew round-the-clock in all weathers to provide anti-submarine warfare support for the task force, to carry out reconnaissance and to carry troops, stores supplies and men. The assault helicopters were most successful in the ground attack role. Our experience during operations in the South Atlantic has demonstrated clearly that helicopter support is vital in the land battle. It is difficult to see a situation in which there could ever be too many helicopters available to our forces. I intend to authorise immediately the placing of new orders for helicopters to replace losses during operations and also to strengthen our reserve holdings where necessary. We recently ordered five Sea Kings; that order with be increased to 16—eight in the ASW role and eight in the commando role. In addition we shall purchase three Lynx and up to five Gazelles, and we shall replace all three Chinooks lost in the "Atlantic Conveyor". These and other equipment orders that I am announcing today will, of course, be subject to satisfactory terms of contract, including price. At this point, I should also like to confirm to the House that HMS "Endurance" will continue in service, and after a refit she will continue to deploy to the South Atlantic. I shall return to the Falklands crisis later in my speech, but I must first touch on other matters. When I published the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" last week, I said that it would serve partly as a reminder and also as a tribute to our Armed Forces who are now engaged elsewhere than in the Falklands. Their tasks may not have attracted the headlines in the past few weeks, but their work has been no less important. Regrettably, the internal security situation in Northern Ireland still requires the presence of substantial numbers of Service men. They continue to play a vital part in support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in containing terrorist attacks and bringing their perpetrators to justice. Their task is frequently dangerous and disagreeable, but their presence is an essential part of our efforts to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland can be freed from the fear of terrorist violence. Further afield, our forces in Hong Kong, Cyprus and Belize continue to contribute to the maintenance of peace. Our relations with countries in many parts of the world are also strengthened by the military assistance that our Armed Forces are able to provide. Their professionalism and technical skills are rightly held in high regard. This year Service personnel are on loan to 30 overseas Governments. That aspect of the work of our forces attracts little public interest, but it is nonetheless very important in helping to maintain peace and stability around the world.
In view of the news that we have received today from Belize, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that we have sufficient forces there to deter an aggressor?
I am satisfied that our forces there are adequate at the present time. We are giving assistance to the Government there in the training of their defence forces. That is an important feature for the future.It is to our NATO contribution that I must devote the major part of my remarks, since the main threat to the security of the United Kingdom remains the nuclear and conventional forces of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact. In last year's White Paper we stated:
I make no apology for reiterating those words; none is required, given the realities of the threat. Those who argue the case for renegotiation of the Brussels treaty, the further reduction of our continental commitments, or our withdrawal, ignore three elements in our current strategy. The first is the straight military fact that there is no adequate substitute for in-place forces. None of our allies is ready to fill the gap; they are already committed and extended to forward defence. A reduction in our commitment would not strengthen the security of the United Kingdom; it would weaken it. Exercise Crusader proved that our reinforcement plans work, but it also demonstrated that there are finite limits to the size of reinforcements"The Central Region is the Alliance's heartland in Europe; the forward defence of the Federal Republic is the forward defence of Britain itself."