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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 78: debated on Tuesday 30 April 1985

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Defence

European Fighter Aircraft

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had with European aerospace manufacturers about the proposed new European fighter aircraft.

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had concerning the European fighter aircraft.

In addition to regular and continuing discussions with British industry, I visited British Aerospace at Warton on 20 March and Dassault, in France, on 2 April. The visits enabled me to see for myself the experimental aircraft programmes on which the companies are engaged. They also provided an opportunity to discuss the work undertaken on the proposed European fighter aircraft. While in France I had a brief meeting with Mr. Hernu. Consultation, national and international, is also taking place regularly and frequently at official level in preparation for the meeting of EFA Defence Ministers, which I shall attend in Rome in mid-May.

Does that mean that the manufacturers in France and British Aerospace are moving closer together regarding the EFA? Will the Secretary of State give us some genuine information about that?

The hon. Gentleman asks a critical question. It is extremely difficult to answer in general terms questions about many different ranges of manufacturing interests. There is no doubt that much more intense discussion is going on at industrial level, especially among the prime contractors, to find a solution to this interesting opportunity.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Royal Air Force cannot fly reviews or visits, but wants real aircraft? Is he further aware that in 1939 we had "Spits" and Hurricanes? We may not have had enough, but we had them. Does he realise that if he proceeds in this way we shall be short of fighter aircraft at the appropriate time?

That is not the message that I got when we visited British Aerospace. British Aerospace understands the complexities of funding the development of tomorrow's aircraft, and has played a critical role in advising about the options before me.

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that he is bearing prominently in mind the serious employment implications of having an early and positive decision about this project, and that it would be a great pity if the skilled teams at present at Warton were dispersed?

I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. There are critical military, industrial and employment issues involved, and we have these in mind.

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to say what discussions he has had with European aerospace manufacturers about collaborative projects for helicopters to meet defence needs? Does he agree that although it is true to say that the British helicopter industry will depend on successful European collaboration——

I seek to discover what discussions the Secretary of State has had with European aerospace manufacturers in general.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his brave try. Obviously, I have discussions on the full procurement area, and Europe is trying increasingly to seek solutions of common specification and procurement opportunity. That includes helicopters, and all the other military equipment that we must purchase.

Knowing as he does the imperative of reaching a decision next month when he has his meeting, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government's top priority is to produce an air frame and an engine capable of meeting the threat, and that he will not compromise on a lesser solution simply to induce the French to join a project with ourselves, the Italians and the Germans?

Of course, my hon. Friend is correct. We must begin with the threat that we face, but the House will appreciate that all the potential partners to EFA broadly agree about the threat.

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to confirm that the role of the aircraft for which he is pressing is the role of the RAF one, that the configuration of the aircraft is the configuration of the RAF one, which is what meets the needs of British industry, and that he is determined to go ahead with the needs of the RAF, and of no one else, as his prime consideration? Will he also take this opportunity to confirm that while we intend to maintain an independent British aircraft manufacturing industry, we intend to do the same for the helicopter industry?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that all those issues are carefully borne in mind, as are the conflicting claims upon the resources of the Ministry of Defence budget from other air force requirements and the requirements of other armed services. A wide range of factors must be taken into account, and the interests of the British aerospace industry will be at the forefront of one's thinking.

Defence Resources (Deployment)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if Her Majesty's Government will consider seeking to deploy defence resources from Germany to Scandinavia.

No. However, as I said in my reply to my hon. Friend on 26 March, there is a strong United Kingdom commitment, through NATO, to the defence of the NATO countries of northern Europe.

Given the existing deployment balance of the Warsaw pact and NATO, does my hon. Friend agree that NATO is far more vulnerable in Denmark and northern Europe than it is on the central front? Given the calamitous consequences for the United Kingdom should Denmark or Norway fall, should we not be thinking of ways to change that balance?

My hon. Friend will be aware that we must take into account primarily the deployment pattern of Warsaw pact forces. As he will be aware, the great concentration of those forces, both nuclear and conventional, is on the central front rather than in the northern region. Our deployment response must reflect that.

As to Scandinavia, does my hon. Friend agree that an important step forward has come about through the pre-positioning of equipment there so that we can fly in our forces speedily to reinforce the area referred to in the question, and heavy equipment will be available for their use?

My hon. and learned Friend is entirely right. The Norwegian Government's agreement to more prepositioning by Britain and the United States has been extremely helpful.

Royal Dockyards

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on discussions between his Department and relevant trade unions on the future of the royal dockyards.

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions he has had recently with trade union representatives from royal dockyards.

My right hon. Friend had discussions with trade union representatives at Rosyth and Devonport during visits this and last year. I met local representatives of industrial trade unions when I was in Rosyth on 17 April, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement and I plan to hold further separate discussions at Devonport and Rosyth shortly. Consultations by the Department with trade unions at national and local level are under way, both on the options for the future and on the interim measures necessary to improve performance.

May I tempt the Minister to ask the Secretary of State to have a much more open discussion about this matter? In view of the Secretary of State's liking for debates, will he come to Dunfermline and debate this matter with local Members of Parliament so that all the issues can be properly ventilated? Will be confirm that the sole assets of the companies that he will create will be the labour and skills of the work force? The companies will have no other assets.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman's second point, that is not necessarily the case, although under the preferred solution the assets of the dockyard would remain in Government hands. However, it does not preclude the contractor company from having its own assets in addition. As to consultation, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall be in Rosyth in May, when I hope to meet representatives of all the unions concerned. I made it clear when I was there in April that my mind is open and that I am prepared to listen to what they say. They have already argued their case in a document, but I made it clear then, as I shall in the future, that the Government's preferred option is that of commercial management.

Has the Minister read reports of a packed protest meeting in Plymouth guildhall last Friday night when the Government's proposals were met with outrage and even fury? Will he comment on the reported view of the Government's consultative exercise by Mr. Bill Goffin, a senior industrial trade union representative in the dockyards? He described their consultation intentions as pure and absolute hypocrisy?

I reject that absolutely. There have been suggestions that the consultation period will be neither genuine nor long enough. I have already assured the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) that the consultations will be genuine and that they will certainly be long enough in the light of the considerable discussion and debate about this matter that has taken place in the last year. I had a report of the meeting to which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) referred. It is clear that virtually everybody who has an open mind on this issue is fully persuaded that the present situation cannot continue and that some change must be brought about. The debate is now about which option is finally decided on. As I say, the Government have made clear in their consultative document the way in which they see the road, but there are other points of view.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the greatest assets that any company can have is the skill of its work force, but that another asset is the attitude of that work force? Is it not a fact that all the experience, for example, of British Aerospace since privatisation is that the attitude of the work force is directed to increased productivity and the increased sales penetration of the products?

It is clear that the future workload of the dockyards, and therefore employment in the dockyards, will depend on efficiency being improved and on that constructive attitude to which my hon. Friend refers. The reports that I have had in recent days of the attitude in the dockyards is, generally, of such a constructive attitude on the part of the men.

Is the Minister aware that the questions that have been asked on this issue have been put by Labour Members, on whom the task of arguing on behalf of the workers in the dockyards has fallen? Does he agree that it is significant that the right hon. Gentleman who was bullying his way to the Dispatch Box last week, the leader of the SDP, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who represents one of the constituencies affected, has not found time to come to the House to represent his constituents today—[Interruption.]—even though there is plenty of room on these Benches?

Order. I do not think that the Minister can answer that; it is not his responsibility.

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is perhaps more capable of making the point than I am. I was about to draw attention to the fact that the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) was not in his place. I am certain that the workers at the dockyards in Plymouth and the voters of the area will have noted that.

Is it not a fact that 9,700 people will also be absent from the consultation process, namely, the 9,700 who have lost their jobs in the naval dockyards since the Conservatives came to power in 1979? Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that it is with some cynicism that the dockyard labour force views the Government's proposals, having gone through the pain of such massive redundancies in the recent past?

I am persuaded that at least the dockyard workers in Rosyth are much happier at the prospect of the Conservatives continuing in office compared with the prospect under a Labour Government of the Trident programme being scratched.

Association Of South East Asian Nations

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will seek a meeting with his counterparts in the Association of South East Asian Nations.

My right hon. Friend would certainly hope to see his ASEAN counterparts individually as circumstances allow, and he will be seeing the Malaysian deputy Defence Minister during the latter's visit to London next month.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, which I welcome. Does he agree that on this, the 10th anniversary of the ending of the Vietnam war, the ASEAN countries in general, and particularly Thailand, are continuing to bear a tremendous burden from Soviet-backed Vietnamese aggression in the region? Will he do all he can to encourage the ASEAN countries in their valiant efforts to uphold and maintain freedom in South-East Asia?

We very much share the concern of the ASEAN countries about the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia. Equally, we share their concern about the very significant and major Soviet build-up in Cam Ranh Bay.

Does the Minister of State recall that a New Zealand battalion in that area is helping to maintain stability? This contribution from a non-nuclear power was somewhat vilified in this House and elsewhere during the visit of the Prime Minister of New Zealand.

If the hon. Member is referring to the New Zealand Government's present policy on ship visits, that is a disappointment to us and we very much hope that in the fullness of time they will reconsider their position on that issue.

Strategic Defence Initiative

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether the introduction of a strategic defence initiative for Europe will have implications for the Trident project.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether the introduction of a strategic defence initiative for Europe will have implications for the Trident project.

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether the introduction of a strategic defence initiative for Europe will have implications for the Trident project.

There is no separate strategic defence initiative for Europe. The effectiveness of Trident as a deterrent depends not on defensive measures taken by the West but on developments in Soviet anti-ballistic missile defences arising from their long-standing and extensive research programme in this field. However, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces has already informed the House, no developments in Soviet anti-ballistic missile defences are currently foreseen which are likely to negate the deterrent effect of the United Kingdom Trident force within the lifetime of the system.

Why, when talks are taking place about the star wars initiative, are this Government continuing with the £10 billion plus Trident project, particularly when a new hospital intended to serve the interests of my constituents has been eliminated from the 25-year programme and the Newcastle general hospital cannot afford £25,000 for a scanner to make possible the early detection of cancer? Does it not show that this Government are more interested in destroying than in saving lives?

No. All it shows is that we are continuing the policy of British independent deterrence in which the last Labour Government believed.

If the Soviet Union were to respond to the American star wars programme with the same type of programme, as the British Government claim they are already doing, would it not entirely negate the value of the Trident programme, and is that not the fallacy which underlies the present defence programme?

It depends entirely upon the judgment that the hon. Gentleman and the House make about the credibility of such a Soviet initiative and the time scale within which it could be brought to fruition. We have no evidence which leads us to believe that that is likely to happen within a time scale that could frustrate the purpose of the Trident programme.

Is it not becoming increasingly obvious that as Britain cannot afford the Trident project without seriously damaging the Royal Navy the time has come for the Secretary of State to inform President Reagan that this country cannot afford the colossal sums that would be involved in the so-called star wars project?

No, that is not becoming increasingly obvious, because all thinking people know that the average cost of Trident is about one-sixth of the total increase that the Government have brought about in the defence budget.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the essence of deterrence is the ability to deliver enough of the warheads to deter a would-be aggressor, and that all experience shows, particularly during the period when the Vulcan bomber was the deterrent force, that by the time Trident is phased out and the Soviet Union has the capability of destroying most of the weapons something new will have been developed?

My hon. Friend touches upon the difficulty of predicting the future with accuracy. However, the essence of all the Opposition alarms is that they told us that if we proceeded with our defence policy and modernised our nuclear weapons it would destabilise peace and the Soviets would break off the arms talks. The fact is that the Soviets are back at the conference table and peace has never looked more secure.

If the Secretary of State agrees with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who referred to the widespread and continuing discussion and debate on the strategic concepts involved in the SDI, surely the cost of Trident is so immense that those widespread discussions and debates need to be considered before Trident is proceeded with. Ought it not to be put into cold storage until the effects of the SDI upon our country's policy are fully known?

It may be the policy of the alliance parties to put defence into cold storage, but it is certainly not the policy of this Government.

Are not the Government concerned about embarking on another round of extravagant spending when clearly the chiefs of the Army, the Air Force and the Navy are concerned about lack of spending on conventional defence?

The Trident programme carries the whole support of the Chiefs of Staff and of the policy formation processes of the Ministry of Defence, but if the hon. Lady is so concerned with making known a decision about our determination to maintain Britain's independent nuclear deterrent, that explains why, when the Labour Government did it, they did it in secret with the Chevaline process.

Will the Secretary of State tell us what his views are on star wars? Does he agree with President Reagan that nuclear weapons are immoral and should be made obsolete, or does he agree with the Foreign Secretary, who made substantial criticisms of the star wars project? Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether President Reagan consulted his NATO allies before he made that speech, which turned upside down 40 years of NATO nuclear strategy?

The right hon. Gentleman must be fully aware that the discussions that have taken place between the Government and the United States Administration have been at the highest level, and that the Camp David communiqué, issued by the President and the Prime Minister, clearly set out the British Government's views.

Trident Missile

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement concerning the timing of the replacement of Polaris submarines by Trident.

The United Kingdom Trident II force is planned to enter service in the mid-1990s.

Will my right hon. Friend make it absolutely clear that the replacement of Polaris by Trident will in no way undermine our surface fleet?

I give that assurance categorically. The Polaris boats will remain in service until such time as the Trident boats are able to maintain continuous patrol.

If Trident is to continue to the point that the Minister has just mentioned, will he make arrangements for an alternative to the proposed dumping of asbestos from Faslane in my constituency, in the rural village of Glenboig, which is wholly unacceptable?

I think that the hon. Gentleman has already made points in regard to that matter. Of course, it has to be properly attended to.

Will my right hon. Friend estimate the savings to the nation as a result of the excellent performance of the pound over the past two months?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear what the effect of a one cent change in the pound-dollar relationship would be on the overall cost of the programme, but I cannot give my hon. Friend the exact figures at the moment.

Will the Minister answer the question asked by his hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Proctor)? Will he give the House a categorical assurance that the surface fleet will not suffer at the expense of expenditure on Trident or Polaris at the moment?

The answer that I gave my hon. Friend was that the deterrent would not suffer ahead of the introduction of Trident. If I misheard my hon. Friend, I apologise to him. The plans for the surface fleet are well known. If the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will have the patience to wait until tomorrow, more will be revealed on that matter.

Army Pay And Records Offices

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the progress so far on plans to consolidate on one or two sites Army pay manning and records offices.

Following the formal period of consultation, the detailed comments received from Ministry of Defence trade unions, as well as from hon. Members on both sides of the House, local councils and others, are now being fully evaluated. I hope to be able to make an announcement on the final decision by the end of May or early June.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. In view of the considerable financial advantages of consolidation on one or two national sites as soon as possible, and in view of the ideal location, modern buildings and access to a large labour market at the Army office in Leicester, will my right hon. Friend press on with his plans to centralise at Leicester and Glasgow as quickly as he can?

I have always admired my hon. Friend for his wisdom and objectivity, but I know that he has an interest in this matter. He points to the good sense and economies that will derive from rationalisation. We are now having to make quite certain that the selection of Leicester in addition to Glasgow is right.

Is this not merely an exercise in dispersing jobs from one part of the provinces to another, because no transfers from London are taking place? Are not people being taken from high unemployment areas, and are not the civil servants concerned notionally non-mobile, with, therefore, no rights to transfer? What will the Department do to provide jobs in areas from which jobs have been taken?

What is happening is part of the transfer programme. Concentrating on Leicester as well as Glasgow involves rationalisation as well as dispersal. As part of the exercise some of the moves will be from locations outside London to Glasgow. That will be compensated for by movements from London.

Trident Missile

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what was the cost of the Trident missile programme when it was first authorised; and what percentage this represents of the present estimated cost.

The cost of Trident I—the C4 system—as first announced in July 1980 was estimated at between £4·5 billion and £5 billion at July 1980 prices. In 1982, however, the Government decided to adopt instead the Trident II—the D5 system—the estimated cost of which at September 1981 prices and at an exchange rate of £1 to $1·78 was announced at £7·5 billion. Statistically this figure is 81 per cent. of the latest estimate of £9,285 million announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence in January. However, if the effects of inflation and movements in the exchange rate are set aside, the latest estimate is in fact less than that given in 1982.

Do not many military experts agree that Trident is unsuited to our needs and that it could impede the arms control talks? In view of the rocketing costs to which the Minister has admitted, would it not be better to scrap Trident now, when only a small percentage of the envisaged overall cost has been spent?

The Government want to ensure that the country's defence and peace are maintained. We are quite certain that it is right not only that we should have a nuclear deterrent but that we should have an independent nuclear deterrent. The Trident system is the most effective that we are likely to be able to command, and it can do the job effectively. As has been made clear on many occasions, as a percentage of the total defence budget it remains a small element. For instance, it costs less than the Tornado programme.

In the face of criticisms by CND activists on the Liberal Benches and a rag-bag of pacifists and unilateralists on the other Opposition Benches, will my hon. Friend give a clear assurance that the Government are prepared to will the means effectively to ensure this country's defence?

I can give that categorical assurance. We shall do so both through the provision of conventional defence and the nuclear deterrent.

Is not the only conceivable circumstance in which Trident might be used if Britain were threatened and America refused to come to our assistance? Does the Minister think that likely?

One can envisage certain situations in which Britain might need to make use of a nuclear deterrent.

Does the Minister accept that to call the possession of nuclear weapons a defence is an illusion? Does he agree that the possession of nuclear weapons makes it more likely that we will be attacked by nuclear weapons? Even at this late stage, will the Minister cancel the Trident programme so that we can meet our commitments for a conventional defence force? Does he agree that that is what the people want?

I am convinced that the absence of a deterrent would make war more likely, not less likely.

I strongly support the Government's policy on Trident. However, does my hon. Friend recognise that there could be a consequence for the Trident programme if, as I hope, the strategic defence initiative moves forward? At some stage, will my hon. Friend consider publishing documents to enable the House to judge the relativities of the SDI programme and Trident?

I think that my hon. Friend is right. This has to be examined. But he must remember that the strategic defence initiative programme is in its infancy, the research is likely to take one or two decades at least, and in the meantime it will be necessary to continue with the deterrent strategy.

Will the Minister now give us some details of the rate of exchange at which the current calculation has been made, and the difference in cost between the rate of exchange that he gave for the D5 and the present position? Will he concede that the real cost of Trident is the end of the British surface naval fleet as an effective force within NATO?

The point that the hon. Gentleman makes is nonsense. In reply to his specific question, as I think he knows, the exchange rate which was used in my right hon. Friend's latest estimate was $1·38. At that time it was pooh-poohed because the exchange rate was standing at something like $1·10 to the pound. The hon. Gentleman and the House will have noticed that there has been considerable movement since then.

As the Minister well knows, the pound is now standing at $1·21, which of course means that Trident is even more expensive than the latest estimates. Can he return to the question that was asked by his hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Proctor) and now give, since he failed to give it before, a clear assurance to the House that the purchase of Trident will not mean any cuts in the surface fleet or any inhibition on the replacement of existing warships?

The Government's policy in regard to surface ships has been made clear. It will be even clearer when the Statement on the Defence Estimates is published tomorrow. What the right hon. Gentleman must realise is that, thanks to this Government, expenditure on defence has increased by one fifth in real terms so that the total resources available to defence are one fifth greater than they were in 1979, and, therefore, there are more resources available for spending on conventional weapons, in addition to that which will be expended on the nuclear deterrent.

Cruise Missile Bases

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is satisfied with security at ground-launched cruise missile bases.

Will the Minister accept that the security needed to protect missiles in Britain is acting against the interests of the British people and that the very liberty that they are intended to defend is being destroyed by the action that is taken against people such as those in the peace movement?

I should have thought that most British people would welcome the fact that proper measures are being taken to protect important nuclear assets in the country.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the British manning of these sites whereby we have a ratio of four to one relative to our American allies provides them with almost complete security, and such penetration of these bases as there has been has been of the outer perimeter only?

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. It is certainly the case that we are never complacent on matters of security, and therefore keep all matters under review. We are satisfied that the present security arrangements appear to be satisfactory.

What security purpose is being served by large numbers of MOD police and barbed wire guarding the half-built peace chapel at Molesworth? Will the Minister now remove those police and the barbed wire, and allow the chapel to be completed and people to attend services there?

As the hon. Gentleman should be aware, the so-called peace chapel was constructed inside MOD property by those who engaged in acts of trespass.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the nation as a whole, and Cambridgeshire in particular, expects the maximum degree of security for a defence policy which was agreed in principle by the Labour Government in 1979? Will he ensure in particular that there is no interference with this defence establishment by a body such as CND, which has totally failed to reveal the full sources of its finances?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I can certainly assure him that we intend to discharge our obligations under the NATO-INF arrangements, including the security obligations in respect of ground launched cruise missiles.

Will the Minister tell the House exactly how he can justify the presence of seven policemen to guard the peace chapel, which is on land that will not be used for the building of missile sites? Seven policemen and a police dog were guarding about 100 sq yds of earth when Members of the House of Commons visited Molesworth last Wednesday. How can expenditure be justified on mounting such a guard for 100 sq yds of land when there are no plans to build upon it?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would expect all parts of the site to be protected properly. I am glad that he was able to have first-hand experience of the security arrangements at Molesworth.

Will my hon. Friend condemn the members of Peterborough CND who have been cutting up sections of the perimeter fence at Molesworth and sending it through the mail to senior public figures, including Members of this place? Does he agree that this criminal damage sits rather uneasily alongside their somewhat holier-than-thou attitude towards both law and morality?

I agree with my hon. Friend that such activities are not especially profitable and that those concerned could be much better employed.

Overseas Allowances

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the reduction in allowances of service men stationed overseas.

The system of local overseas allowance has been implemented by successive Governments for many years, and is a tax-free allowance paid to service men and women to meet the necessary extra costs to them of serving abroad. The current round of LOA reviews has resulted so far in these allowances being reduced in some cases and increased in others.

Does my hon. Friend agree that service men in Europe are there not by choice but because they were posted, and that an average single service man returning home three times a year to keep contact with his family or girlfriends has to pay £58 to £100—[Interruption.]—in air fares or £28 to £48 in ferry fares? Is it not a disgrace to lower the morale of British service men in Europe—the same service men who made us proud to be British during the Falklands campaign?

My hon. Friend has related his supplementary question to service men in Europe, and I can assure him that the current round of LOA reviews has resulted in an increase in the allowance for service men in Cyprus, Italy, Sardinia and Portugal. If we have a system for compensating service men for differences in the cost of living between the United Kingdom and the country overseas in which they are serving, it is inevitable that the LOA will decrease as their cost of living reduces, while it may increase in other countries where the cost of living rises. I understand fully the implications for those in Germany and their disappointment, but the current review has been rigorously carried out, and on the same basis there as in other European countries where the allowance has been increased over the past 12 months.

Is it not a fact that a "squaddie" in Germany who has £6 less in his wage packet sees that as a wage cut £6? Is the Minister not aware that that is how "squaddies" see it and interpret it? A private soldier is suffering a greater percentage loss than a major-general. How can the Minister justify that? How can we maintain the morale of the Army when already many skilled men are leaving it for jobs in "civvy" street? The LOA decision has been disastrous for the British Army of the Rhine and its morale at every level.

The hon. Gentleman talks about a serious impact on morale, but I do not think that the Government and Conservative Members generally need any lectures from the Opposition Front Bench on that score when we recall the Labour Government's attitude to service pay. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Labour Government let service pay lag by up to two years behind the recommendations of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. I remind him also that the rate of premature voluntary retirement reached all-time record highs under the Labour Administration.

Nimrod Aircraft (Raf Waddington)

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the availability for operational flights of Nimrods at RAF Waddington.

The first Nimrod AEW at RAF Waddington is not in RAF service but is undergoing trials. Our best judgment at the moment is that an operational AEW capability for the Nimrod could be achieved in 1987. The trials aircraft has a limited AEW capability which could be used in the event of emergency and which will be progressively improved as other aircraft are delivered.

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that, pending the somewhat tardy introduction of operational Nimrods, our AEW capability will be adequately maintained?

I can give that assurance. That capability will be maintained in three ways. One way is by means of the Shackletons, whose capability should in no way be belittled. The capacity of Nimrods will be progressively improved. NATO's E3A aircraft are available to provide cover if necessary.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 30 April.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with the Prime Minister of Canada. In addition to my duties in this House I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen. Later I shall be giving a dinner for the Prime Minister of Canada.

Having set yet another record last week—this time a record trade deficit to add to her records on unemployment, insolvencies, real interest rates, and so on—will the Prime Minister now refrain from regaling us with yet another list of irrelevant statistics? Will she this time answer one simple question: what happened to the £12 billion benefit to the balance of payments contributed by North sea oil, without which we would now be bankrupt?

In the first quarter of this year as a whole, our current account was almost exactly in balance. There are changes in particular months, but I think that the hon. Gentleman can look over the past four years with considerable satisfaction. Of course, oil is a great contributor to the United Kingdom economy. One cannot ignore one of our greatest contributors, and I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman should try to do so. The fact that North sea oil was discovered, explored and brought ashore so quickly was a great benefit and a tribute to private enterprise.

Will my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that, in view of the tragic deaths of as many as 20 people in Stafford as a result of the influenza outbreak, the Government will provide as much help as possible to the people affected by that outbreak?

I saw the reports of the outbreak in my hon. Friend's constituency and I made inquiries. I know that there are considerable difficulties in this area because of the sudden outbreak of a severe form of 'flu which is affecting many old people. I understand that health authorities normally meet this type of contingency out of their existing financial allocations. The district is receiving £33·8 million, which includes nearly £500,000 of growth money. I hope that the district will be able to do everything that is possible within that sum.

Will the Prime Minister give the House an assurance that she will accept the recommendation of the inspector against the construction of the 290 ft monstrosity at Mansion House? Given the right hon. Lady's known distaste for planning and conservation, does she accept that, if she allows this construction to go ahead, it will be regarded as a towering insult to the City of London?

The right hon. Gentleman is aware that this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. My right hon. Friend is considering the matter and will make an announcement when he is ready to do so.

Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity provided by the visit of the Prime Minister of Canada to emphasise the importance that her Government place on the relationship of this country with Canada? Can my right hon. Friend reveal the content of any bilateral discussions that have taken place between the two Governments? Does she agree that our social, economic and political relations will be as important in the futuré as they have been in the past?

I believe that our relationship with Canada will become closer. I understand that British investment will be welcome in Canada and that efforts will be made to achieve closer relations between the United Kingdom and Canada. Naturally, this morning, we discussed those issues that would concern us especially at the Bonn summit; in particular, how to sustain world recovery, the overriding problem of unemployment and the problems of the international debt, East-West relations and the strategic defence initiative.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 30 April.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

I am sure that the Prime Minister is aware that I and hon. Members from both sides of the House visited Moscow recently on behalf of Soviet jewry. We were all worried about the plight of the refuseniks who cannot leave Russia. I wonder whether the Prime Minister can give any help to enable those unfortunate people to leave that country and to go to the country of their choice.

The hon. Gentleman is correct. Whereas in 1979 about 51,000 Jewish people were able to leave the Soviet Union, the numbers have now fallen substantially. Some 900 only were allowed to leave in 1984. In the first quarter of this year, 338 left. It is only a small increase and we do not know whether the numbers will increase. We constantly raise the matter with the Soviet Union. I raised it with Mr. Gorbachev when he was here last December. We shall continue to do so because we believe that it is the right of those people to leave to visit relatives overseas or to go to Israel.

Will my right hon. Friend consider introducing in the near future effective controls on political expenditure by local authorities? In any such consideration, will she take into account the recent antics of West Yorkshire metropolitian county council, which has included the establishment of a Labour-controlled trust fund and a plan, which it hoped to keep secret, to allocate £3 million to Labour-represented wards only?

I do not believe that it is possible to control the expenditure of each and every local authority. One has to do it by indirect methods. One must acknowledge that the indirect methods have been successful in holding down the rate at which local authority expenditure has been increasing. Labour-controlled authorities have been the worst culprits, with rapidly increasing expenditure. Their rates have increased by far more than those of Conservative-controlled authorities. I believe that the practices that my hon. Friend mentioned will come within the purview of the new Widdicombe committee on the practices and procedures of local authorities.

It is good to see you back, Mr. Speaker. Does the Prime Minister recall saying during the last general election that there were no plans to change the earnings-related component of the state pension scheme? After her chat last night with the Chancellor and the Secretary of State about those matters, will she tell us and the 11 million people who are in the state earnings-related pension scheme whether that is still her explicit view of the matter?

As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, a fundamental review of the whole of social security has been undertaken. I believe that it is the duty of Governments from time to time to undertake such fundamental reviews. The review has covered four points—retirement pension, provision for children, housing benefit and supplementary benefit. The right hon. Gentleman is saying that at no time in a Government's lifetime must one undertake a fundamental review. I reject that proposition.

No, I am not saying that. Does the Prime Minister recall that when the review was set up in 1983 the Secretary of State said that his aim in setting up an inquiry

"is not to call into question the fundamental pensions structure that was established in the 1970s with all-party agreement, and to which I was a party."—[Official Report, 23 November 1983; Vol. 49, c. 360.]
Reviews are a natural part of government. Ratting should not be.

This is the most fundamental review ever undertaken since the time of Beveridge. The right hon. Gentleman will recall that Beveridge himself enunciated a firm principle that state provision should not be so great as to preclude private provision by voluntary means.

There is another principle—that when one undertakes a wholesale revision of a basic part of the welfare state, one at least tells the people when one stands for election. When and where did the Prime Minister ever say that she was going to end the state earnings-related pension scheme, the death grant and the maternity grant, to cut housing benefits and to take away allowances from the poorest in the country? Why will the right hon. Lady not answer straight questions on these matters? Why is she still such a twister?

I believe that it is a fundamental duty of government to undertake deep-seated reviews. No Government can displace that duty. We have undertaken a review. The matter will shortly come before the Cabinet. Discussion of it may take more than one meeting. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"]. I am well aware that the Opposition announce their reviews without ever having discussed them at all, and promptly reject them the next day. Yes, we shall undertake fundamental reviews. Yes, we shall widely discuss them. Yes, we shall bring them before the House and justify our conclusions here.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Labour-controlled Birmingham city council has announced a rate rise of 43 per cent.? Will she bear in mind the appalling position in which that will place many of my constituents and other Birmingham residents? Firms will undoubtedly close and the unemployment figures will be affected. Finally, is my right hon. Friend aware that the hospitals are demanding an extra £1 million? Can she do anything to help?

No. This is the effect of having a Labour authority in control. Rates rise enormously, putting a great burden on small businesses, which will result in an increase in unemployment. The Labour party always makes promises and never thinks about where the money is to come from.

Will the Prime Minister find a moment today to take note of the consternation and anger caused in Northern Ireland by the unheralded intrusion of the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary of the Irish Republic, particularly during an election campaign?

I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is referring to the visit of the Taoiseach, on an inaugural flight from Dublin to Londonderry. We were, of course, informed of that visit two or three days ago. The right hon. Gentleman is aware of their custom, and I understand what he says.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 30 April.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that yesterday's Government announcement about cervical cancer screening is nothing more than a public relations exercise, because no resources are being made available for the necessary computers or the staff to take the smears and do the laboratory tests? Without those resources, there will continue to be 1,000 preventable deaths of women every year. There is only one word for this meanness on the part of the Government—murder.

The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. Under this Government, spending on family practitioner services in England alone has risen from £1·4 billion in 1978–79 to over £3 billion in 1983–84. That is a growth in the volume of resources of nearly 10 per cent. The number of general practitioners has increased by over 2,000 to 23,000. Over a third of family practitioner committees are already using computers for their screening programmes or have plans to do so. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health has indicated that they should all do so. Computer programmes for that purpose will cost £4 million out of some £3 billion allocated to the family practitioner service.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 30 April.

During her busy day, has my right hon. Friend had time to see press reports of 10-year-old children smashing up a community centre, having been locked out of their junior school by striking teachers? Whatever the rights and wrongs of that pay dispute, does my right hon. Friend agree that responsibility lies wholly with striking teachers—and the Labour party, which backs every strike, no matter how damaging to children or destructive to the country they are? Are not teachers' strikes wholly wrong and damaging to all?

I believe that the teachers' strikes are wrong, in that they are directed at damaging the educational chances of children in their care. I strongly agree with my hon. Friend that teachers will find it difficult to discipline children if they set such an example. I fear that they will also lose the teaching profession the esteem in public opinion that it should have. I am pleased to hear that there is a possibility of the Burnham committee meeting within 14 days. I hope that it will find a satisfactory solution.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. After today's mauling, does the Prime Minister still want the televising of the House?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. [Interruption.] I am asking for your permission to raise a point of order, Mr. Speaker, not that of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). You, Mr. Speaker, are the guardian of the good name of the House. Would you please give a thought to the fact that, in the face of the bankruptcy of the Opposition's policies, they have descended today to using words such as murder, ratting and twister, which do no good to the reputation of this ancient House?

I heard those words. I did not rule them out of order because the House well knows that robust debate is part of our system. However, I must tell the House that moderation in our language is essential for civilised debate and I deprecate words of that kind.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I strongly support your view that robust exchange is in the nature and the best conventions of the House, but when I hear your deprecation, I feel obliged, as I used two of the words that were mentioned, to rise to say that when the policies that give rise to such language are moderated, the language will be moderated.

Prime Minister's questions have undoubtedly become noisier then they were in the past. I hope that the House will bear that in mind, as it is a very bad example to set to the rest of the country.