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Orders Of The Day

Volume 80: debated on Thursday 13 June 1985

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Defence Estimates 1985


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on amendment to Question [12 June]:

That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1985, contained in Cmnd. 9430.— [Mr. Heseltine.]

Which amendment was to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

"believes that the plans outlined in the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1985, Cmnd. 9430, in particular the Government's policies of buying, at an ever-increasing cost, the Trident nuclear system, will inevitably lead to further damaging cuts in Britain's real defence and in our conventional contribution to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation; believes also, that in view of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's present strategy of "first use" of nuclear weapons, a reduced conventional contribution will increase the risk of a nuclear war in Europe; calls upon the Government to cancel Trident, to remove all nuclear bases from the United Kingdom and work within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation for a substantial reduction in, and eventually the elimination of, battlefield nuclear weapons; notes with alarm the decline of the Merchant Navy; and urges the Government to take positive and immediate steps to arrest and reverse that decline"

[Mr. Denzil Davies.J

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

No fewer than 32 hon. and right hon. Members have intimated their wish to participate in this important debate. I propose to impose the 10-minute limit on speeches between 6 pm and 8 pm. I appreciate that this may mean that some Privy Councillors will speak during the period when the 10-minute limit is imposed. I hope that they and the whole House will feel that that is fair in the circumstances.

4.47 pm

I shall reflect only briefly on yesterday's debate before discussing my main theme. I was struck by the contrast between the two sides of the House — between the confidence and clarity on the Government side, and the confusion on the Opposition side. Most of the confusion came from the Opposition Front Bench, although one has some sympathy for the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) in having to play the almost impossible role of Labour's defence spokesman. The right hon. Gentleman must try next time to find a better argument to justify his apparent support for the use of tactical nuclear weapons at sea, against submarines, and total opposition to them on land.

There was also considerable confusion between the two partners of the SDP-Liberal alliance, especially in the mind of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who seemed at one stage to believe that deterrence could be maintained with an obsolescent system, but later in the debate, if he was not arguing for the continuing deployment of Polaris, appeared to prefer the sea-launched cruise to Trident, which would combine higher cost with lower effectiveness.

I shall be more charitable about the report of the Select Committee on Defence, whose message was expounded in a constructive speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins). The report presents a very definite challenge to the Government, but—and I seek for the politest of words—the Committee's interpretation of the facts is at variance wth mine. What the report does is to draw attention to the potential for savings throughout the defence budget, and it warmly commends my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his great energy in that regard. It makes special reference to the economies which can be, and are being, achieved through effective procurement. This, of course, is a prominent feature in the Statement on the Defence Estimates, and it is on this vital aspect of our defence strategy that I want to concentrate my remarks this afternoon. We can fulfil our defence commitments only if we have an efficient and effective procurement policy.

As the Statement on the Defence Estimates shows, and as my right hon. Friend reiterated yesterday, since this Government came into office in 1979 there has been a substantial real increase in the defence budget as a whole. Perhaps most significantly, the proportion of that budget spent on equipment has risen from 40 per cent. in 1978–79 to 46 per cent. in 1985–86. That is an increase of 40 per cent. or, if expressed in current money terms, of nearly £2·5 billion. Those facts provide the Government with the answer to most of their critics.

With this dramatic increase in the equipment budget the Government have gone a long way to meet the almost insatiable requirements of the armed services and to strengthen still further our contribution to NATO. However, as the sophistication of modern weaponry and systems increases, so does the cost—[Interruption.] I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Llanelli has only just joined us. I was not offensive towards him, and I would have preferred him to hear the remarks that I made about him. Nevertheless, we are delighted to see him.

Sophistication adds to cost, and while the accent in the last six years has been on making more resources available, our task now is to concentrate on maximising the return from those resources. Our procurement policy is dedicated to that end. We seek the maximum benefit for our armed services, the greatest satisfaction for the taxpayer, and the healthiest state of our defence industry.

Success should be measured not primarily by the expenditure committeed but by the output—by what is achieved for the money spent. To attain that target of best value for money we must operate our procurement policy in as commercial a manner as possible. With certain obvious exceptions, defence procurement is a commercial activity. The procurement executive within the Ministry of Defence must see itself essentially as a commercial organisation in its structures, practices and attitudes, and particularly, of course, in its relations with its suppliers.

The most obvious and important manifestation of this new commercialism is the exercise of competition. Properly used, competition will ensure the most efficient and effective use of our industrial resources. It embraces so much more than just getting the best price for any particular equipment, however important that is. Competition will stimulate innovation and the advance-ment of technology. It will improve quality and service. While better meeting the needs of the MOD as customer, it will strengthen the efficiency and competitiveness of British industry. Within some of the wider considerations of our procurement policy, our maxim now is, "Competition, unless … ".

Competition is, of course, not new to the MOD, but over the last two years there has been rather more than just a shift in emphasis in ministerial policy. There has been a change of gear, and increasing momentum. The results of this can be seen in the response of industry as it discovers that the MOD has become an increasingly demanding customer. The results can be seen in the way that our contracts are placed—and in the prices that we pay.

Over the past 18 months Ministers have carefully monitored the nature of contracts. The latest results show that the proportion by value of new contracts placed as a result of competition, or otherwise by reference to market forces, is running at more than 60 per cent., while the proportion of those placed on a cost-plus basis is only 7 per cent. of the total. Overall, the total value of work placed last year as a result of competition rose by four to five percentage points.

As for individual prices, the Select Committee chided us for including only one specific example of savings—that of the RAF trainer — in the Statement on the Defence Estimates. I shall now give some more examples of the success of competition policy, but I first enter one caveat. As it is rarely possible to know what we would have paid in the absence of competition, it is difficult, if not impossible, to quantify precisely what savings result from competition or, indeed, to forecast total future savings with accuracy. Nevertheless, we can produce some illustrative and guiding figures.

In many cases details of past savings are regarded as commercially confidential, but, as the Select Committee knows, I have made available to it classified information about a number of contracts where major savings have resulted from competition.

The case of the RAF trainer has been well and publicly aired. There can be no question but that we had a very keenly fought competition, and the estimated cost saving of about 35 per cent. was striking by any standards. That competition produced benefits for the Department other than just the price tag. The contract is on a firm price basis, fixed in cash terms, and with no risk to the MOD from cost escalation or foreign exchange rates. The right hon. Member for Llanelli may also wish to know that competitive pressures on the contenders produced more jobs for British industry, because the companies strove to maximise the United Kingdom content of their bids, while the final stages of the competition produced more offset work against the Garrett engine. We can expect that what happened in that case will happen in other competitions.

Indeed, the basic trainer competition was exceptional only in the interest that it generated, not in its principles. Competition is being applied with equal vigour in other areas—for example, in naval shipbuilding. The recent competition for two mine countermeasure vessels which was won by Vosper Thornycroft resulted in prices that were some 12 per cent., or nearly £10 million, below those included in our costing.

Although the first of class of the new type 2400 diesel-powered submarine — HMS Upholder — was ordered from Vickers, competitive tenders have already been invited for the next three submarines from Yarrows, Vickers, Scott Lithgow and Cammell Laird.

Let me clarify the position of the type 23 frigates. The first type 23 was ordered from Yarrows last year. My right hon. Friend announced on 28 January that Swan Hunter would be invited to tender for the second. Tenders for the third and fourth will be invited at the same time late this summer on a competitive basis from the frigate shipbuilding yards.

Is my hon. Friend not concerned that, even though the type 23 is cheaper and simpler than the type 22, it is none the less three and a half times more expensive in real terms than the Leander frigate? Does that not hold great implications for containing defence expenditure within a zero growth limit?

I am well aware of the interest that my hon. Friend takes in these matters, and he is well aware of what we have said about the targets for the numbers of frigates and destroyers. It was because of the escalation of the cost of frigates and destroyers that we had to see whether it was possibleę to produce a vessel with an adequate capability at a significantly lower cost. Much will depend on the competition. The likely price of the type 23 will be 75 per cent.—perhaps less—of the type 22 which it will replace.

Will my hon. Friend make quite certain that in future when there is a competition all sides know the rules? He will know that in respect of the competition for the RAF trainer there was a strong feeling that the rules were not known.

That competition was carried out totally fairly, but in reviewing the circumstances of it we may well find that procedures will be improved in one or two respects. It is essential to ensure not only that even-handedness is done, but, as so often in such cases, that it is seen to be done.

Would not the most publicly reassuring thing that the MOD could do be to publish the price tags of the final bids?

There are arguments for that, and I have raised the matter with individual industrialists. There are some obvious disadvantages, but also some advantages, and I gather that it is practised in some regards in America. We certainly need to consider it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Malone) raised the subject of the OPV 3 in yesterday's debate. When firms were invited to submit their ideas for an enhanced OPV-type vessel within a cost bracket of £25 million to £35 million, it was made clear that this was without any commitment by the Ministry of Defence to proceed. We have looked at the proposals put forward, and those by two firms — Hall Russell and Vosper Thornycroft — are judged to have the potential for providing a vessel of the type specified which would offer good value for money. We think it right to tell the firms the results of the evaluation, and this is now being done. It remains the case, however, that the OPV 3 has not secured a place in the forward defence programme when set against competing priorities for the Royal Navy and for the other services.

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement, who wound up yesterday's debate, has asked me to point out that with regard to the amphibious vessels as possible replacements for Fearless and Intrepid he inadvertently said that Ministers expected to make a decision "this year", when he should have said "next year". We need to be sure that these matters are properly understood.

As a member of the Select Committee, I appreciate the examples given by my right hon. Friend the Minister about the value of competition, but will he take this opportunity to reiterate the importance of buying British and maintaining a British industrial base in these matters? Will he comment on the overall figures, and also say something about procurement for space matters in relation to Skynet and for a future share in the NATO satellite?

I was concerned that my speech was getting too long, but I shall be coming to the proportion of our buy which is British. It is very high and I hope that it will remain so.

With regard to land systems, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred yesterday to a saving of some £100 million from the competition for the MCV80. That is a healthy 12 per cent. or so, and in cash terms, which seems to be the standard most used in this debate, it is equivalent to one type 23 frigate.

I wish now to tell the House of another successful cost-cutting competition and to make an announcement. We intend to place a contract with Vickers Defence Systems for the development and initial production of a new armoured repair and recovery vehicle for Challenger tanks. The ARRV is an important force-multiplier and the new vehicle will have a vital role in keeping our tanks in the front line, where they should be. This contract has been won by Vickers after a competition which has resulted in a saving on the initial budgetary estimate for the project of almost 20 per cent. This contract will include production of the first batch of some 30 vehicles. Once development is complete, I intend to meet the bulk of the Army's requirements for ARRV by a further competition. I am sure that the Select Committee and the House will welcome these concrete examples of the success of our policy.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give the cash equivalent for that saving?

I cannot give that figure at the moment, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome a saving of some 20 per cent. as a considerable achievement, thus making resources available for other purposes. If the hon. Gentleman does not wish to do so now, he will have the opportunity to lavish praise on the procurement executive and Ministers at the MOD when he makes his own speech.

The defence research establishments have carried out some fine work over the years, but development generally, and especially short-term development, will come to fruition more quickly and at lower cost if it is commercially driven. One of the Government's aims, therefore, is to make the best use of industry's capacity for innovation, limiting what is done in-house to essential activities of which only the research establishments are capable and to longer-term research.

My right hon. Friend has been very generous in giving way. There is an important Admiralty research establishment at Portland in my constituency. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the worldwide reputation of that establishment in anti-submarine warfare, but is he aware of the effects of the low salaries paid to the teams working there? The Government depend upon the highly qualified staff there to assess the work of industry. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the loss of highly-qualified staff from that establishment to outside industry affects the MOD's ability to make the right assessments for outside contracts?

The Government are always worried about the loss of highly qualified staff. The position of ARE, Portland has not been drawn to my attention before, but I know of one or two other areas where a potentially serious situation is developing. I assure my hon. Friend that I will examine the situation at Portland to see whether there is anything that we should or can do about it, and I am grateful to him for drawing it to my attention.

I want to refer to the use of cardinal point specifications in relation to research establishments. Those who follow these matters will be aware of these, but I shall give a brief explanation of them now. Cardinal point specifications are given to industry for a proposed project and contain a brief statement of the essential features of performance and support necessary to meet the services' needs. This means that industry is free to innovate and to propose solutions which meet those needs, but which also best suit their own capabilities and may have better export potential.

This approach is being applied for the first time to a major ship and its weapons systems — the new "one-stop" support ship for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the auxiliary oiler replenishment. Industry has been asked to take part in a design-and-build competition to find a prime contractor for the first two vessels. We are looking to the prime contractor to take on total responsibility for the design, building and fitting out of the ship. Another example of this was Phoenix.

I have stressed the benefits of competition, and they are clear in many cases, but it is not a policy which is. applied blindly, and it is not a short-term policy. We have to look to our longer-term interests, and particularly to security of supply.

I shall now deal with one of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall). Our record of placing business with British industry is one of which we can be proud. Allowing for necessary adjustments associated with collaborative projects, nearly 95 per cent. of our orders go to British companies. Nevertheless, we do not owe them a living. The best guarantee that those companies have of obtaining MOD business is to demonstrate that they can best meet our needs.

In a number of cases, of course, competition will not be practicable for prime contracts, and it is in such cases that we have a major problem to ensure best value for money. One answer lies in requiring the maximum possible level of competitive subcontracting. In the code of practice which we are currently discussing with industry it will be made clear that the proportion of competitive subcontracting in a bid will be a highly relevant factor. I do not doubt that in some cases production in-house may give, or appear to give, the prime contractor the most efficient option. I must, however, issue a warning. Any practice which frustrates competition and prejudices the development of small business will be judged critically by my Department.

I said at the beginning of my speech that there was a need for commercialism in the MOD. The operation of competition policy throughout our procurement demands a high level of commercial expertise among MOD staff. We are taking steps to ensure that this is so. That is why we appointed Mr. Peter Levene as chief of defence procurement. That decision is already showing that it was throughly justified. We are making arrangements to draw further upon the experience available in industry by the secondment of staff from the private sector, and relevant training is being provided.

I do not believe that achieving lower prices as a result of competition means that industry's profits were necessarily excessive before or that they will be inadequate in the future. That is not the argument. The pressures of competition ensure that industry becomes more efficient, offering a better service to the Ministry of Defence as a customer, and that it is capable of winning more business in a wider field, thereby providing more employment.

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman will not have another opportunity to speak. What he said yesterday was interesting, but I hope that he will not continue to make a speech from a sedentary position.

For many years I worked in the shipbuilding and shiprepair industries when there was competition. The industry declined until the only way to save it was to take it into public ownership. The fact that it continued to decline is not the fault of the industry. The Government did not give it the assistance which they ought to have provided.

Nobody can claim that the nationalised shipbuilding industry has been competitive. It was heavily overmanned because it depended largely on a sole customer. Essential as competition is, it cannot by itself be a sufficient basis for achieving the better value for money that we are seeking.

My second major theme is collaboration. I shall deal with the not entirely unfounded criticisms of the Secretary-General of NATO, Lord Carrington. In applying competition policy, we are taking into account our longer-term interests. As members of NATO, it is not in our long-term interests for each member state to develop and produce its own competing equipment. It makes no sense from an operational point of view for the various armed forces to have different equipment, and it makes no sense from an economic point of view for several nations to invest in developing and producing different and expensive equipment to meet a common threat. Resources are wasted through duplication of research and development, and higher unit costs resulting from small production runs make the equipment too expensive for our forces to buy in sufficient quantities, and too expensive for our industries to sell overseas.

NATO members have long recognised the potential military, economic and political advantages of collabora-tion. Indeed, we have some 20 years' experience of successful collaboration, as the White Paper makes clear. The Tornado is perhaps the best current example of the extent to which we can succeed in a major collaborative programme at the forefront of technology, but to obtain the maximum benefit from collaboration we must progress from an ad hoc and patchy pattern of working together to a more systematic process for securing wider — and more permanent—collaboration.

We must ensure that Europe builds up a competitive and dynamic defence technology and industrial base capable of making its full contribution to the overall Alliance effort. Europe must become more self-sufficient in defence equipment and take a larger share of world trade. Collaboration is the key to that.

While pursuing ways of improving collaboration, we must ensure that competition procurement is also maintained. We must keep in mind our aim — a technically better, but lower-cost product for the Ministry of Defence and a more competitive one for our industries to sell in export markets. That is not an easy task. It would be naive to believe that the needs of different nations can readily be harmonised, that the chauvinism to which Lord Carrington referred will be overcome, or that the interests of national industries will be reconciled, but there should, from now on, be an assumption that some collaboration is called for in all major projects.

Some hon. Members may not be convinced that collaboration can really work, but it must if the Government are to continue to equip our own forces adequately. It must work if Europe is to stand any chance of redressing the imbalance with America, in cost and in technology. Some collaboration is already taking place, but a system of collaboration must be developed.

The European fighter aircraft is in the forefront of our minds, but I can add little to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State said yesterday. It has come a long way. Many sceptics doubted whether the air forces of five countries could agree on a staff target, but they did. We are determined to bring about this major European venture, if we can. However, we shall not do so to the detriment of British industry. Rather, we would expect the greater export potential of the aeroplane to bring greater opportunities to our aerospace industry.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we have been saying this sort of thing for year after year, and that it is about time a decision was made?

I am sure that my hon. Friend, who must have discovered as much about the project as I have, will appreciate the progress that was made at Rome about the airframe and the engine. However, there is some way to go. If progress is not made, we must consider other alternatives.

A third vital area gives us scope for improving value for money for the Ministry of Defence. I refer to defence sales, which can assist in many ways. The longer production runs which result from sales can give cheaper unit costs for British forces. They assist in maintaining the United Kingdom's capacity in important areas where our forces' requirements are not sufficient to do so. Defence sales therefore make industry less dependent upon the Ministry of Defence and better able to stand on its own. Our success is increasing. One target is to reduce still further the imbalance in our trade with America, which must be one of our most demanding markets. The imbalance in trade between the rest of Europe and America is as bad as 1:6, but in our case it is 1:2. That is still not good enough and, with further work that is in hand, we shall improve it.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the superb efforts of our diplomatic staff and Army personnel in Washington, who are trying to sell the Americans the mobile subscriber equipment in conjunction with International Telephone and Telegraph Company Ltd., Plessey and Rockwell, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned yesterday?

I am aware that they are doing an excellent job. It is a multi-billion dollar project. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) made his contribution during a recent visit to America. We must all pull together on that matter.

Central to the Government's defence strategy and the debate is our policy of independent nuclear deterrence. I do not need to rehearse all of the arguments and shall therefore concentrate on those which impinge on defence procurement. One of the grounds on which the decision to proceed with Trident is criticised is that we cannot afford it. We cannot afford not to have Trident.

As the Minister is referring to Trident and its cost, will he answer the question that I posed yesterday to the Secretary of State and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement? How will we keep control over Trident when it is in the ocean? Will not the control system be extremely expensive? Is not the control system excluded from the White Paper? If we continue to use the Polaris communication system, what is the point of having a newer system?

I should be very happy to write to the hon. Gentleman about that. The present communication system used in Polaris will be used in Trident, but we are working on a new system—the extremely low frequency system —which is very much at the development stage. It is not designed specifically for use with the nuclear deterrent, but it will be applied to the submarines, for which it is most suitable. We are at an early stage, but there is no problem with regard to the communication system, which will be transferred from the Polaris system. I think that the hon. Gentleman is chasing a hare which will not run.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the ELF development project has been costed, and whether it is within any of the budgets that have so far been presented for Trident?

My understanding is that the project is still very much at the research stage and that the first step will be a technology demonstrator programme. At this stage it is impossible to give the cost, and it is not our habit to give costs in regard to programmes of that sort.

I think that it would be better if I did not give way any more, because if I were to do so I would unduly try the patience of my hon. Friends even further than I have already.

We cannot afford not to buy Trident. It is the most cost-effective deterrent that we can buy, and it is perfectly manageable within our planned overall defence expen-diture. The cost of buying the equivalent level of deterrence through conventional armaments would be astronomical. Indeed, conventional strength alone, at whatever level, can never be relied upon to deter an enemy who is armed with nuclear weapons.

We have handled programmes of Trident's magnitude before. I do not remember an outcry against Tornado, which was seen as an essential update of the RAF's capability. That programme has taken a higher proportion of available resources than Trident will, and a greater proportion of the equipment spend, both on average and at peak. Those facts are there for Opposition spokesmen or for any other hon. Member to see.

The plain fact is that, thanks to the Government's policy, expenditure on equipment has increased by about £2·5 billion since 1979. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said yesterday, defence expenditure as a whole has increased by about £3 billion in the same period in real terms. Given a level spend, on which the Select Committee's case is postulated, the cost of Trident on today's estimates can be seen to be about one fifth of the additional sums that will be made available over the procurement period.

The expenditure on Trident is large, and we have sought to contain it by commonality with the Americans in hardware and shared servicing facilities, but the critics destroy their case by over-exaggeration. They also point to other likely pressures on equipment spend, and nobody is denying that those pressures exist. While the critics are ringing their alarm bells, Defence Ministers are demonstrating how they will cope with the sorts of problems envisaged.

Procurement is not the only area in which savings can be made, but it is in procurement that the biggest scope lies. As I have shown, through the exercise of competition we are now consistently scoring savings on individual projects of 10 per cent., 20 per cent. or more. It would be unrealistic to suggest that we can achieve this across the board, but on a spend of some £8,000 million on equipment each percentage point saved represents a major piece of equipment or provides a healthy contingency against unplanned demand.

Thanks to the priority which the Government have given to defence expenditure and to our approach to spending, I have no doubt that our forces will be armed with the right balance between nuclear and conventional weapons, sufficient to make their proper contribution to NATO and to maintaining peace.

5.24 pm

That was a somewhat disappointing speech by the Minister of State after what we had been led to expect yesterday. Before I refer to what he said, I wonder whether, in his reply, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will elaborate on one major statement by the Secretary of State yesterday which was not pursued to any great extent. It was about the out-of-area exercise that is likely to take place to test our capability. Apart from matters on which we might disagree, such as whether we should have such a force, the House is entitled to know where the exercise will take place, how much it will cost and which host nations will be involved. Today's issue of The Guardian suggested that it would in the middle east, that 10,000 men were likely to be involved and that it would be rather expensive. I suggest that the likely location would be Oman. If that is so, the House is entitled to know about the matter, particularly the cost.

Secondly, I should like to refer to the Secretary of State's rather strange tantrum yesterday over the amphibious capability of the Navy. He said:

"I must say a little more about the amphibious capability replacement, about which I have told the House the precise story."
Here is the tantrum
"If the idea should once get about in the Ministry of Defence that that part of each individual armed service was likely to get preferment over all the rest of the priorities by leaking its concern either to the press or to hon. Members in order to embarrass Ministers in the Ministry of Defence, it would bring our legitimate planning process to a grinding halt. That is precisely what has happened in this case. I am not prepared to be sucked into that process." —[Official Report, 12 June 1985; Vol. 80, c. 914.]
The Secretary of State was not prepared to be sucked in, yet there has been a correction of yesterday's statement, and we have been told that we might have a statement in a year's time on the future of those vessels and their replacement.

However, the important thing is that that problem arose directly from the Secretary of State's own proposals for reform within the Ministry of Defence. When he took away service chiefs' control over those matters, the forces and services felt that they were likely to be overlooked, and that their case was not properly being heard. Thus they were likely to react in precisely that way. Last Wednesday's Daily Telegraph said of the matter:

"Underlying the basic concern that the Chiefs of Staff have lost the right to influence important decisions on new equipment —and thus the responsibility to fulfil their responsibility for combat efficiency — is the belief that it is not right that a central staff general should have the power to direct the choice of a new ship, or that an air marshal should have the last word on the army's next battle tank."
That is what the problem is all about. The article also states:

"Mrs. Thatcher will find that the division between authority and responsibility could lead to a situation in which she might be advised on a task force's fitness for war by a central staff committee free of responsibility for its performance in action."
There was a more threatening, and, knowing the Government's attitude, more sinister paragraph that said:
"There is concern in the Services about the method of selecting and promoting officers for senior appointments in the all-powerful central staff. It is feared that future promotion could be based as much on an officer's ability to work agreeably with government staff as on his military prowess."
We have already seen that in operation in the Civil Service. If somebody is appointed to the general staff on the basis of his agreement with policy, rather than on his ability as a military and serving officer, it would be to the detriment of the services. Under this system that is likely to happen.

The hon. Gentleman should not believe everything that he reads in the papers.

The hon. Gentleman should not say things like that, especially of the Department. The newspapers were correct and the Secretary of State has been in the courts about the matter. He should be careful with such statements. I am surprised he says that about the "Torygraph", which is the bible of the Tory party.

The debate yesterday was on the decisions of the Secretary of State on procurement now that we are nearing the end of the period of expansion—the 3 per cent. development—and are in a zero growth position. The general feeling of the Select Committee faced with this problem was that, after questioning the Minister and Ministry officials, it could not come to any concrete conclusions about whether with the funds available we could meet our commitments, either in terms of deployment, or in acquiring new weapon systems. The report states:

"We had hoped that the Ministry of Defence would be able to demonstrate to us that the scale and phasing of major projects into the 1990s could be made consistent with the likely demands on the defence budget for pay, fuel, stocks and other items … We wanted to examine in-service dates, operational life, scale and phasing of expenditure. Our purpose was frustrated by vague and evasive answers and elegant but unhelpful hypotheses."
It gave a list of examples, but it missed a little gem in answer to the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates). The question was:
"Given that (a) I think Mr. Gainsborough was very frank when he said five and no more at the moment"
—the regiments of tanks—

"and (b) you are going to be able, because of the cost penalty of running on Chieftain well into the next century, even to do that on the budget you have at the moment, I want some idea of what the penalty is in taking the decision that you cannot afford the capital cost to equip the rest of the British Army with Challenger?"
The question was perfectly clear, but it is only as clear as the answer. Major General New replied:
"When that moment comes, and it is not yet, and when the studies have been completed, and they have not been completed yet, and when the international work, which I am quite willing to describe because I am deep in it up to my neck, but not in this open session, has come to its next decision point, then is the moment we decide to go one way or the other. We have the capability of going one way or the other. To what extent we do not know yet, because we have not reached that point."
That precisely sums up the attitude of the Secretary of State yesterday. He adopted the same policy, and said:
"I cannot say precisely how the defence budget will develop in volume terms in the next few years. This depends on a range of factors, some positive, some negative. I cannot engage in a detailed line-by-line, figure-by-figure analysis of the gloomy picture painted by the Defence Committee… There is, then, no hidden motive behind my reluctance to disclose all the assumptions being made in 1985 about the programme stretching 10 years ahead and beyond."—[Official Report, 12 June 1985; Vol. 80, c. 913-14.]
But there is a reluctance. There is something hidden which the Secretary of State either does not know or does not want to tell the House, the Committee or the country. He does not want to tell us, because he wishes to leave those problems to be solved by his successor or, if he hangs on until the general election, by the Labour Government. Even Conservative Members recognise that that is the Secretary of State's position.

I thought that the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Spelthorne, did a marvellous job yesterday. I have also been a chairman of a Select Committee, when the Labour Government were in power, which produced a report which the Government did not like. I said in the House how marvellous the Government were, and then tore to pieces their policies and strategies. That was done so beautifully yesterday by the right hon. Member for Spelthorne that I am sorry that he is not here today to hear me pay him the compliment. He did it delightfully, and in the best traditional way — by attacking the Opposition furiously, and then carving up the Government. The right hon. Gentleman understood the points being made and the effects of the policies. The fear is that we shall reach a position, by the postponement of orders, the arrangement of studies and the postponement of decisions, which will lead to the structural disarmament of our forces.

The right hon. Member for Spelthorne pointed out carefully something which the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement did not pick up yesterday evening—the importance of exchange rates in working out our budgets. He asked when will the frigates come, and when shall we fulfil our duties in the north-east Atlantic? Shall we have the number of frigates that the Committee and the Ministry say are needed by 1991? If they are going out to tender, when will the keels be laid? Those are the key questions, and we have received no answers to them.

The hon. Member for Beverley (Sir P. Wall) mentioned Intrepid and Fearless. If an early decision is not made about them, we shall lose our ability to supply directly our entire northern flank and Norway. We have already heard from the right hon. Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann), my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin) and from the chairman of the 1922 Committee, the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), about the enormous problems caused by the rundown in our merchant fleet. That rundown is as much about structural disarmament as anything else. It is no good saying that, on paper, we can meet our present commitment. We wish to know whether the Government are continuing and developing the exercise started by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy), when he was the Minister responsible for such matters, of going out occasionally to discover where the ships are, to whom they are chartered, whether they still exist, who owns them, and under which flags they fly. That must be a horrendous task due to the decline in our merchant fleet.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important matter. If the Government argue that there are sufficient ships on the register, that others are flagged out, which can be requisitioned in time of hostilities, and that the laws are adequate for that purpose, the argument can be made the other way round. Plenty of the ships which fly the "red duster" and which are registered in Britain belong to other members of NATO. Will those countries use their laws to requisition ships that are at present flying the "red duster", and will that not deplete further the fleet that we believe, on paper, will be available to our forces in time of war?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, whose intervention cuts out another two paragraphs of my speech. He makes exactly the point that I was about to make. It is important to know how the register works and to which countries those ships are committed. The Opposition and the National Union of Seamen believe that those problems are not being faced.

Exactly the same position applies to the European fighter aircraft and our need to replace our old Phantoms and Jaguars. We could all echo the point made by the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) and some of his colleagues about the need to make that decision. Other matters, apart from the defence commitment, are at stake as a result of decisions on merchant shipping, weapons procurement and aircraft build-jobs, and the sustaining of design teams and our capability. The longer such decisions are pushed aside, the more at risk such people become.

There has already been a call at Warton for 500 voluntary redundancies. The trade unions there feel that that is just the tip of the iceberg. There has been a slowing down of the Tornado project and a failure to decide on the EFA. If we do not have a European agreement but want collaboration, what will the Government do? Will they go for the national option? Some of us would regard that with grave suspicion and would not wish to see it happen.

I echo the words of the hon. Member for Woking. We want an aircraft which meets the RAF specification for defending our skies and not one which depends upon the French.

Yesterday many hon. Members accepted what the Select Committee said. The Government's replies have been evasive. They have not accepted the arguments or faced up to the problems that will result from a zero-growth policy.

Without the full disclosure that exists in the United States, the Government can pull the wool over the eyes of the Committee, the House and the country. Debate in a democratic society must be informed debate. People must be able to make a judgment with knowledge of the resources available and the schemes being implemented. It is not a matter of wanting to know the new secret technology or to tell the Russians about it. That does not happen in the United States, unless someone is a seaman by the name of Walker.

We need to know whether the commitments and decisions being made are equal to or surpass the funds that will be available. That is important. That is why the Secretary of State let down the Committee and the House yesterday when he said:

"I cannot engage in a detailed line-by-line figure-by-figure analysis of the gloomy picture painted by the Defence Committee."—[Official Report, 12 June 1985; Vol. 80, c. 913.]
It is the Secretary of State's duty to tell the House and the Committee what is going on.

The Government are trying to find an excuse to bamboozle the House on the effectiveness of their policy on competition. I welcome anything that saves money or obtains value for money in the defence budget. However, I draw the attention of the House to an important statement by the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro):

we have made one decision and must make another, and both are crucially important. The first decision related to training aircraft. 1 hope that the Ministry of Defence will never again embark on a cheapest tender policy. It may have reduced the eventual price well below what was anticipated, but the Ministry's attitude must be to go for the best buy. It is necessary to take into account the quality, specification, performance and handling of an aircraft and balance that against costs. To go for the cheapest aircraft, even if its performance is acceptable, is not to buy the best aircraft for the Royal Air Force."—[Official Report, 12 June 1985; Vol. 80, c. 966.]
The principle should apply to all contracts entered into by the Ministry of Defence. It is not sufficient merely to go for what appears to be the cheapest.

Now that a decision on the Tucano has been reached, will the Minister tell us whether any of it will be manufactured in west Belfast? Will he also tell us about the battle that is going on with British Aerospace about the debriefing, because as I understand it, while the Ministry would like to regard the subject of the procedures which were followed as closed, the company is still not satisfied about it or about the naming of one of its employees as being the person to whom the information was given. He steadfastly denies that he was given any information about the final date. The procedures should be tidied up. We do not want one of our major companies to feel not that it had been outbid but that it had been cheated by the Ministry. That is not good for the Government's relations with industry. We do not want to see matters continue in that way.

I do not believe that the term "cheated" is one that the company would use. It is not one that the hon. Gentleman should use. He asked whether the company considered the matter closed, and it has assured us to that effect.

On what date did the company say that? Did it not ask the Minister further questions after the question had been tabled in the House and the reply given? Is not the company still in correspondence with the Minister?

I made the categoric statement that the company has assured us that it considers the matter closed.

The Minister has not answered the questions that I asked, because he cannot. He knows that that is not the case.

We obviously all welcome savings wherever they occur. We welcome them in the new Vickers order. However, we do not know the criteria used and how much money is involved. If the Government are not prepared to tell us that, we must look at the matter suspiciously. Even the savings that have been announced do not reach the overspends on some of the contracts. For example, there was a £600 million overspend on Nimrod. That project has advanced no further and all the problems remain. There have been overspends on the torpedoes, but the problems remain. No savings are likely to be achieved on that project. Will the Minister tell us when he replies whether Mr. Levene's target of 10 per cent. savings across the board on contracts will be achieved?

Employment in the United Kingdom is of interest to us. The Minister claims that he has increased employment by some of his policies, but we have lost nearly 100,000 jobs in the defence manufacturing industries since the Secretary of State has been in office. Those are serious job losses. They are in no way compensated for by Trident, as the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) tried to suggest yesterday. The cost of the jobs created by some of these major equipment contracts is horrific. In Scotland, the cost per job on Trident is £309,000, and on Tornado is £271,000. If one argues for such projects on a job-creating basis, even some Conservative Members would argue that more jobs could be created more cheaply than by pursuing the Trident project.

I should like to consider the subject of Trident in a way different from that mentioned by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement, who made a strange statement yesterday. He said:

"Let me say in the clearest possible terms that there has been no real increase in the estimate for Trident D5 since it was first announced—no real increase at all. The difference between the current and original estimates is due entirely to inflation and exchange rate movements."—[Official Report, 12 June 1985; Vol. 80, c. 988.]
Judging from that, the hon. Gentleman should be in the Treasury with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It would be marvellous if we could all run our budgets in that way. As the right hon. Member for Spelthorne pointed out, the mere change from $1·38 to $1·26 in the exchange rate was £180 million. If one has a fixed number of pounds which, because of exchange rates, buy fewer dollars and one is buying goods in dollars, there is a real increase in cost. I do not know who wrote the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I would make him pay for that. I am told that the hon. Gentleman is a chartered accountant. I can understand why he came into the House—this Government have always operated a system of creative accounting.

An important question relating to Trident is the Government's attitude to arms control. They believe that we need not bother about our Trident, that Britain need not play an important part in arms control and that we can leave the matter to the Americans and Russians because they have more bombs, warheads and missiles. The problem with that is that the Russians take our attitude and missiles into account. In their negotiations they take into account the commitment from France and the United Kingdom. If there were an argument for proliferation and for other countries to have their own atomic and nuclear weapons, it is contained in that callous disregard and in the attitude that we need only worry about the big fellows having them.

Paragraph 14 of the defence Estimates states:
"the vast majority of the world's nuclear weapons are in the hands of the Superpowers: clearly, therefore, these arsenals must be the first priority for reductions."
It is not our arsenals, but those of the superpowers that must be reduced. If one is not prepared to include those arsenals in negotiations, it is an open invitation to other countries to create their own atomic arsenals. That is a major reason why we are against this country owning any form of nuclear bases and weaponry. If we do, we cannot prevent other countries from forming arsenals or speak to them about it. It is an inducement for the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

It ill becomes the hon. Gentleman to make himself the advocate of the Soviet view in this case. Since he is well aware that today we have the capacity of guaranteeing on station one single ballistic missile submarine, and that that will remain the case even when we have Trident, what does he suggest for a country committed to a nuclear deterrent, as we are? Does he suggest that we should have half a submarine?

The Conservative party may be committed to a nuclear deterrent, but we are not, and we will not have a nuclear deterrent.

I am pleased to hear my hon. Friend wholly renouncing nuclear weapons. Will he make it absolutely clear that we renounce nuclear depth charges? Will he educate Conservative Members about what the use of nuclear depth charges might mean for our own, ships and submarines?

We do not intend to maintain any nuclear capability, whether it is Polaris, nuclear depth charges, bombs or Tornado. The Labour party policy is not to have any of them, and that is made clear in our amendment.

Will the hon. Gentleman sit down? He will get his chance in a minute.

A major reason why we will not have nuclear depth charges is that they are no good as weapons. An American admiral said:

"the most concrete objection is that any initiative use of nuclear weapons at sea would be very much to the disadvantage of the Allies, because we are the outfit with the big ships and we are the outfit largely dependent on service ships to keep the seas open. The differential advantage we might get from going after a submarine with a nuclear depth bomb is just not worth it. In addition it has the interesting characteristic that if you blow one beneath the surface of the sea, you will ring the ocean acoustically for several hours and lose the capability to track anybody. As a tactic that is soft-headed, deeply obnoxious— and militarily futile."
Moreover, if Boris comes along in the first of a group of submarines and is blown to pieces, behind him will come Igor, Ivan and the rest of them in their submarines, and pass through the disturbed acoustic and sonar screen to reach their objective. Nuclear depth charges are self-defeating. I would not expect the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) to accept this because it was the reason why he resigned from the Government, but the defence Estimates of 1981 at figure 8 on anti-submarine warfare show that there is no need for nuclear depth charges. It shows the submarines being attacked by hunter-killer submarines, of which we shall have fewer because we are to have Trident—that is a further reason for not having Trident. Those estimates show nuclear depth charges being used by destroyers and helicopters, and how effective our anti-submarine warfare capability is.

There is an interesting question on anti-submarine warfare, from which the House has shied away for some time. The Minister should tell us how damaging the unearthing of the Walker spy ring in the United States has been to Britain's naval defence. Much of what comes from the United States seems to indicate the undercutting of our whole basic defences and the control of the Iceland-Greenland-England area, which was popularly known as the Denmark strait. The role of the hunter-killer submarine and the weapons that we already have make the idea of nuclear depth charges obnoxious and foolish in military terms. Our view about whether we should have them is clear in our amendment.

Regarding the Labour party's amend-ment, the Labour party pay lip service to our conventional forces, but if it were successful in removing any form of nuclear deterrent, what precise protection could be afforded to British troops in the event of chemical or biological warfare? We would have no deterrent.

First, if the hon. Gentleman listened to what his right hon. Friend said about the capability and effectiveness of our chemical defences, he would see that that matter does not arise in the Mickey Mouse suits that the troops have. Secondly, it is not the Government's policy to introduce chemical warfare, and we support them in that. The hon. Gentleman also raised the general question whether new technological and other devices can be as effective to the defence of our troops as risking the possibility of a nuclear war. We are not prepared to risk that.

The military concept of star wars is extremely dangerous. More importantly, people have not yet taken on board the genuine and considerable threat that it poses to British industry, British research capability and our ability to sustain modern technological advance. Originally President Reagan suggested that there should be a grand partnership, and that we might even share our knowledge with the Russians to show our bona fides. That statement has long since gone out of the window.

American action in relation to industry has been in direct contradiction to the fine words of the President because industrial developments have taken a different tack. In recent years in COCOM America has urged that the lists of goods and products which may not be exported to the Eastern bloc should be considerably expanded. Indeed, the Americans have even suggested that there should be a body of military advisers in Paris deciding, or at any rate recommending, what should be done

The United States Government claim direct control over re-exports in the form of re-export licences, with direct sanctions against foreign offenders. Hon. Members will recall the row that broke out over that, in particular with the pipeline system. We also had enormous problems over the NATO frigate because of the views of the United States. Instead of limiting lists in this connection, the American Government are seeking to expand them, not only in terms of weapons and weapon technology but about everything that might have a dual use, be it new materials, robotics, biotechnology, aviation or space travel. All such matters are coming under United States restrictions.

The same can be said of the way in which the Americans treat the free flow of information in the academic sphere. There is now increasing evidence that the United States is screening participants going to American symposia. The United States armed forces are beginning to limit the amount of public tendering for some of their contracts.

The same can be said of classified material. Perhaps the trend of which I have spoken applied to the Trident contract in the United Kingdom; mainly an American subsidiary got the bulk of the small amount of work on the project that came to this country. The Americans are using those methods to prevent a transfer of technology, and they are using their Federal Acquisition Regulations to that end.

President Reagan has signed a Distribution Licence Order which limits what can be done. Clauses in American university research contracts limit the amount of information that can be passed on. This increasing militarisation of science and research means that if we were to flirt with the Americans and enter the star wars business, we should find our basic research encompassed by American contracts, directions and regulations in such a way that any possible spin-off that might be of benefit in the development of the weapons—that is, if we were to join them in that, and I am not in favour of doing that —would be tied up.

The history of this issue shows that while the two-way street of exchange may be improving in some ways— for example, in relation to purchases of weapons—the transfer of technologicial information from the United States to the United Kingdom is very limited indeed.

When President Reagan said that he wanted to get rid of mutually assured destruction and wanted a policy based on mutual security and understanding, everybody applauded him. Monsignor Bruce Kent and E. P. Thompson did not lead any demonstrations down the streets of Whitehall against that suggestion. Unfortunately, as we look at the development of that concept in the last two years, we see how right people were to be suspicious about what the President said.

It is clear that the US President is doing a number of things. First, unilaterally he is upsetting the stability of the Western Alliance as it now exists. Secondly, he is disturbing the whole nuclear basis of the defence of Western Europe in terms of the graduated response. Thirdly, he is putting at risk the ABM treaty. Fourthly, he is bringing into focus the fact that if we were to become associated with his latest ideas, we should be seen to be endorsing the creation of instability and insecurity in the world. Those are some of the problems with which hon. Members must wrestle in debating these issues.

Does the hon. Gentleman have no sense of balance? Is it somehow all right for the Soviet Union to build up a massive arsenal of offensive nuclear systems, of both strategic and intermediate range, but it is not all right for the President of the US to launch a technical research initiative to see if it is feasible to construct a space base for ballistic missile defence? How is that in any way destabilising? Surely it is offensive systems which destabilise.

I have not gone into the argument in great detail because many other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. Since the decision was first made, the US Administration have said that there will be not the abandonment of ABMs but an integration of the star wars concept with existing missile systems. They are saying, therefore, "We shall knock out the Russian ABMs but maintain our own," and that creates instability as well as an arms race, and it is bound to increase if the Americans go ahead with their plans.

I appreciate, I assure the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), that the Russians are involved in these things. The Americans are involved, as I have explained, and even we have technology which could be adapted to those concepts. Nevertheless, specifically and directly to take up the major defence resources of the West by adopting the American type of scheme would create a more horrendous arms race than we have had up till now.

Indeed, the Secretary of State agrees with that to a degree because he said in evidence to the Select Committee:

"I think that the arms race has a momentum, and I think that the development into space is a logical step of the evolution of the technologies of war. I do not think there is a new issue which has been raised, other than the scale and resources which would be involved."
We passionately disagree with the right hon. Gentleman about that. In our view, a great qualitative jump in the arms race would take place. It is a frightening prospect for mankind and we should not go ahead with it.

For those reasons, we are not prepared to support the Government Estimates. In our view, they are bad for the defence of the country, will increase instability in the world, will ruin British industry and will prevent the nation establishing a proper, sensible, cohesive and coherent role within the NATO Alliance.

Order. I remind the House that the ten minutes rule is now in operation.

6.8 pm

Irrespective of the ten minutes rule, it is up to hon. Members to be brief, so enabling others to speak, some of whom will have been precluded from speaking by the great length of the speech of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), who did not observe any restraint. Accordingly, I shall limit my remarks, as I say, irrespective of the rule that now applies.

In the first part of his speech the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North spoke almost entirely of forecasting. He spoke in a gloomy way of the problems that would face a future Conservative Government in the 1990s. Part way through he showed a little of his old spark by admitting that his previous remarks had been largely wasted because, in his view, there would not be another Conservative Government, anyway, so that whether sufficient funds existed in the 1990s would not be a matter to worry either us or him.

I was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman mention two issues later in his speech and, because of the time factor, I shall limit my remarks to those. Although the anti-Trident campaign continues, I hope that it will not be repeated year after year in the way that it has gone on in the past. A few years ago it was recommended by a Select Committee that, if we were to have a sovereign nuclear deterrent, we should adopt Trident.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not here at the time. I assure him that that course was adopted, and that policy has been implemented ever since. With a weapon such as Trident, it is not possible to adopt an on-off policy. The Trident issue has been decided and, so long as the Conservatives are in office it will be maintained. That being so, let us not, year after year, battle about whether we should have gone for a different concept. I was a member of the Select Committee which thought that, of all the options before us, Trident was undoubtedly the best.

Some defence strategists genuinely believe that there is either a less expensive way to maintain our sovereign nuclear deterrent or that we can leave the interests of our country to be protected by the United States nuclear umbrella and spend more on our conventional forces. I regard that as an outdated argument which would not get general support in the House.

I understand that the Labour party will fight the next general election campaign on a policy of no nuclear sovereign deterrent and, as I understand it—I stand to be corrected—getting rid of all American nuclear bases and facilities. If that is the Labour party's policy, is it sure that it knows what the impact will be on the coherence of NATO? Other free democratic countries — Italy, Germany, Belgium and France—have decided that they will maintain their own, or support American nuclear deterrents on their soil. Are we to be the only significant NATO power that does not do so?

Is the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North prepared to make a specific pledge that if the Labour party cancels Trident it will devote all the money that it saves to other military purposes? Is he prepared to say what he hinted at in the earlier part of his speech, that the money would be used to increase the scope of conventional forces? The hon. Gentleman knows that he could not give such a pledge. We all know that the Labour party will fight the next general election campaign not just on nuclear abandonment, but on transferring resources from armaments to other sectors. Let us be in no doubt that the Labour party is being both hypothetical and hypocritical when it suggests that it is interested in saving money for conventional defence by giving up Trident. It may have other reasons for doing so, but that is not one of them, because every penny that it would save would go on other sectors, and other manifesto promises.

I have not yet heard a declaration from the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North as to whether the Labour party supports the next stage in the CND's programme, which many Labour Members support. The CND has gone on record as saying that giving up our nuclear weapons and reliance on American nuclear weapons leads logically to giving up our membership of NATO. It says also that in the meanwhile, to set an example, we should not try to persuade the Russians unilaterally, or even reciprocally, to give up any of their nuclear arms. We should know whether the Labour party supports that proposal as well.

I plead with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and the Leader of the House for a full day's debate on SDI. The other place has had two such debates, and in the Western European Assembly, to which I belong, we have had at least two and will have some more in the autumn. There are constant debates in the United States, and the House should be given the opportunity for the true picture to be properly painted. This cannot be done properly by a Minister in a few minutes or even half an hour.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North gave a false impression of what SDI is about. Any citizen would be delighted with a Government who said that instead of a continued arms race they would provide a system which ensured that those now living under the threat of nuclear war would, for the foreseeable future, have that threat removed once and for all. Any Minister who put forward such a programme and was believed would get support across the board, because that is what we have all been looking for.

The argument that negotiations are the only way to achieve peace and that SDI stands in the way of such negotiations is wrong. On the contrary, it has already been shown that it is the only bargaining factor that interests the Russians. I have too much respect for the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North to believe that he really thinks that half—or even a whole—British submarine will affect the outcome of the negotiations. The Russians want to get the Americans to give up research into the system which they have already put into effect around Moscow, and which they are intending to put into effect elsewhere.

Nowhere in history has there been any case of a country voluntarily giving up a weapon as a result of round-the-table negotiations. Weapons have been given up over the centuries when they have become obsolescent. Bows and arrows were given up because of suits of armour, not because of field of the cloth of gold negotiations. Rifles and machine guns were made obsolescent by the invention of the tank. Capital ships became obsolescent and disappeared from the seas because of the creation of aircraft, not because of talks around any negotiating table. We should learn that lesson, and we should be immensely grateful for the fact that the Americans have concentrated on a genuine system of protective defence and have not yielded to the temptation of engaging in yet a further bout of what has rightly been called MAD—mutually assured destruction. That should commend itself to all of us, even the egregious Mr. Kent.

6.16 pm

One of the many-strange and incomprehensible features of this White Paper is that it fails to address the key questions of communications, operational control, political control and intelligence. In short, it ignores the whole question of military and political crisis management.

Last Monday night, a well-researched "World in Action" programme raised vital questions, not only about these issues, but about the behaviour and actions of political and military leaders under pressure. One of the reasons for nagging on about the Falklands war is to get at the truth. Another reason is to ensure that, given the truth, we can learn from errors the problems and flaws inherent in our systems of political and military control.

If the information provided by "World in Action" is correct, and Sir Sandy Woodward, through Northwood, actually did issue the initial order to sink the Argentine cruiser, without political authority, this is tantamount to the military initiating a fighting war, without political assent. If "World in Action" is incorrect, and Admiral Woodward never issued such an initial order, and Admiral Herbert never countermanded it, then the House should be told.

It is not sufficient to say that these are past minutiae. Important questions about control must be answered. Could such a situation conceivably recur? What steps have been taken to prevent such a recurrence? The 10 million "World in Action" viewers must also have an interest in knowing whether "World in Action" was correct, and, if not, in what specific ways the programme was misleading or incorrect. It appeared to me that Mr. Stuart Prebble and his colleagues had produced a remarkably well-informed programme.

Argument about the alleged leak to the "World in Action" of the draft reports of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs must not be allowed to overshadow what purports to be a startling disclosure. It appears that the crucial joint chiefs of staff meeting on 2 May was not even informed that the Belgrano had been under observation for at least 15 hours by the Conqueror, having been picked up on passive sonar before 1600 hours on Friday 30 April.

The explanation is simple. The 44-year-old cruiser was not considered enough of a threat to be worth worrying about. I must tell my parliamentary colleagues that I have learnt that there was strong opposition not only from the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) but from senior naval staff at Northwood over a period of days to attacking either the carrier or the Belgrano. This was for an understandable reason. They knew that the most dangerous retaliation would come, not from the 6 in guns, range 13 miles, of the old USS Phoenix, or even from carrier-based aircraft, but from land-based aircraft.

A judicial inquiry ought also to set out all the known facts about the supposedly missing log books of the Conqueror. I do not believe that any log books went missing. It is inconceivable that when HMS Conqueror arrived at Faslane someone, or members of the crew, just filched a log book as a memento for his sideboard. It is an insult to the Royal Navy to suppose that it operates like that. I veer to the opinion that the missing log book was a cock-and-bull story devised by Ministers or their aides as a smokescreen for the morning that the Secretary of State for Defence was to give evidence to the Select Committee.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The purpose of this debate is to discuss the motion, that the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1985" be approved. The defence Estimates contain references to future provision for the defence of the Falkland Islands but no reference to the 1982 operation that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is describing.

We are discussing the motion and the amendment. As the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) knows, defence debates range very wide. All defence matters are related.

A judicial inquiry ought also to ascertain what unofficial as well as official messages had been received from Lima and Washington about the Peruvian peace plan. I remind the House of the following exchange on 28 March 1985. The Prime Minister's reply was:

"The authoritative report was the telegram from Her Majesty's ambassador in Lima."—[Official Report, 28 March 1985; Vol. 76, c. 293.]
What unofficial contacts took place? A judicial inquiry should consider whether Chequers received all the intercepted Argentine signals, particularly those of major significance, and, if not, why not? Was Chequers supplied with all decoded signals? These are questions concerning crisis management. We had better learn. I quote the following passage from the "World in Action" programme:

"Four hours later another Argentine signal was sent. This time, it was unmistakable. It confirmed the previous order to the attack groups to return to home waters. If this signal was intercepted, Britain could scarcely justify sinking Argentine ships as self-defence … There have been many unofficial reports from GCHQ that the second recall signal was decoded and passed on. As yet, no proof has been produced that it was."
But of course this signal, sent at 1.19 am, was, like all other signals, decoded and passed on, as The Observer of 6 January 1985 put it, unchallenged:

"The intercepted Argentine signals were decoded and telexed at the time directly to GCHQ at Northwood and to Mrs. Thatcher's office."
A report by Sir Brian Tovey admits that the cryptanalysts at GCHQ did, indeed, decipher this vital message. Neither their skill nor their computers failed them. In effect, the Tovey report states that there was complete evidence available to the Government, before the order to sink, that the Belgrano and the rest of the fleet were safely on a course for home. Tovey's statement went to Sir Robert Armstrong. I am not even sure that the Secretary of State for Defence has seen it. Ponting certainly has not, and since he compiled the "crown jewels", how can the Secretary of State for Defence be certain, to use his own words, unflattering to his Prime Minister, that there was no "Watergate round here"?

Ministers might care to study Mr. Duncan Campbell's significant article in the New Statesman of 3 May 1985. I do not know his sources, but I suspect that they are different from mine.

We now need a clear account from the Prime Minister of how the signal at 1.19 am was handled, who had it, who decrypted it and to whom it was sent.

I believe that knowledge of what happened to this particular signal may well have been suppressed from the present Secretary of State. Maybe it was considered better that he should not know. During the time that the Tovey report was being compiled, was I under surveillance? I am just curious.

Last Sunday the Prime Minister responded to Mr. Frost. She said:

"There were no particular peace proposals. It is alleged that there were some from Peru at that time. There were not. They had not reached us."
This is at variance with the statement of the right hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Parkinson) and the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East on the subject.

Why was the decision to sink the Belgrano taken not by the War Cabinet but by an impromptu group of persons called together by the Prime Minister without any minutes being taken? That is a matter for control. The 44-year-old cruiser posed no kind of immediate threat at the time. What a way to run a war.

How is it that a Prime Minister can authorise a shooting war, according to Lord Lewin, without apparently being given, or asking for, an assessment of the potential retribution? The implications for the control of nuclear weapons are spine chilling. This is the Prime Minister who claims to have a veto on cruise missiles. How, if the admirals do not tell the Prime Minister what is going on, can she claim to have "full political control"? One cannot allow admirals to give orders in an undeclared war, before a British life has been lost in action, to start shooting, without the politicians knowing.

The Prime Minister claims that the Belgrano was a threat, but the Conqueror had orders to sink it when it approached the exclusion zone. Why were these orders changed to sink it when it was heading away?

Last Sunday the Prime Minister said:

"You run a war through your admirals … Do you really think they say to a Prime Minister, do you really think that in the middle of a war they come up and say: 'That ship has changed direction'?"
Incidentally, it was an undeclared war. This is the Prime Minister with her finger on the nuclear button. Does she know nothing of NATO's strategy of flexible nuclear response, a strategy based upon political leaders being fully and frequently informed on the progress of a conflict? Or will the Prime Minister leave it all to the admirals? On the one hand, is she prepared to run a war though the admirals, while on the other she claims to have full political control? It is like trying to be an Iron Chancellor and an Iron Lady committed to £18·9 billion of defence Estimates at the same time.

Finally, there is one other matter that the House, for all our traditional cosiness, ought to face up to. On our television screens last Sunday morning we saw the British Prime Minister saying to Mr. David Frost:

"If you think I know in detail the passage of every blessed ship, you cannot think what you think the Prime Minister's job is …in charge of a war again, I would take the same decision again."
If I were David Frost, I should have said: "But Prime Minister, this was not every blessed ship. This was one ship—the ship, and a thousand men or more—that you had ordered destroyed, a very special ship. Is it bonkers to ask if you made no attempt to find a rational cause to reverse your orders? Is it bonkers to be amazed that you did not instruct your military to keep you fully and frequently advised? Is it stark staring bonkers to wonder whether, for humanitarian reasons, you hoped that it might go away and give you the opportunity not to start the killing?"

I make no apology for saying that the whole question of the political control of a war is a matter of overriding importance.

6.26 pm

I shall make only one comment about the speech of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). I am sick to death of his obsession with the Belgrano. I am more concerned about the British lives that were lost in the Falklands. The Belgrano was a risk and we were justified in sinking it. That is the end of it. The points that I wish to raise in this debate are more relevant to the discussion than the speech of the hon. Member for Linlithgow.

The Statement on the Defence Estimates deals, under the heading "Rationalisation of support", with an issue that is very close to home: the future organisation of the royal dockyards. Paragraph 518 says:

"We have been considering the arrangements under which the Royal Dockyards at Devonport and Rosyth should be managed in the future to enable them to meet the Royal Navy's needs in the most cost-effective manner. No decisions involving major change will be taken until a period of consultation has been completed."
It is on that point that I would take issue with my hon. Friends.

I do not believe that the consultation period is sufficiently long to be really meaningful. The Government are asking for the results of consultations to be in by July, a very short time. It has been argued that, owing to the leak of a report by Mr. Levene, people have had longer to consider the issues, but I consider that this is a specious argument. It is not one that I accept. The consultation period should start when the Government place the proposals before the public. I shall accept nothing less. I beg my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and his colleagues to allow a further period to elapse during which proper consultations can take place. The issues are very important. We cannot afford to make mistakes about the future organisation of the dockyards. Therefore, it is very important that full consultation should take place.

The city council has set up a steering group, as a result of which a report has been commissioned from Peat Marwick and Mitchell. An interim report was produced which has been sent to me in the last few days. While that report appears to accept much of the analysis of the Government in their open document, it queries whether an agency agreement is the right solution. By that, of course, it means the bringing in of a private firm to manage the dockyard for a period of years. Clearly, if it were to be for a period of only five, six or seven years, and another firm were then to be brought in, that would be unacceptably destabilising. May I have confirmation from the Minister of what I believe the Government intend—that the firm, if satisfactory, could expect to continue for a considerable number of years, and that the period of five or six years would simply be a let-out clause if the particular firm proved, unfortunately, not to live up to the expectations of it?

I feel that we should get rid of the dead hand of the Civil Service in running what is essentially an industrial organisation, although I remain open as to what other form it might take at present. We shall never get away from all the rules and regulations unless we detach ourselves from the Civil Service set. Therefore, I hope that the Government will look very seriously at that point.

I am, of course, concerned about the issue of redundancies in the meantime, prior to reorganisation, since there will be about 2,000 job losses at Devonport, and no local Member of Parliament can view that with equanimity, bearing in mind the level of unemployment. The trouble is that nobody knows for certain whether his or indeed her job is going, and that makes for a loss of morale and real anxiety. If only my hon. Friends could be persuaded to say that there would be no compulsory redundancies, that would take much of the sting out of the matter, and I ask that that be considered. I know that the majority of the redundancies will come through voluntary means, early retirement and the like, but no individual in the dockyard knows how it will affect him or her. It would be a valuable contribution to increasing morale in the dockyards if my hon. Friends could make the commitment for which I have asked.

We are concerned about alternative job opportunities, and I am glad that there has been set up a development agency for Devonport, located in the civic centre. It would be interesting to have some idea of how that agency is working. If my hon. Friends are not able to reply to me tonight, perhaps they will do so in the near future.

It is also important to spell out what possibilities there are for non-naval work in any new set-up. It has always been a minus factor for those working in the dockyards that the work provided by the Navy inevitably goes up and down, and that when there is less work there are redundancies. Good non-naval work which could keep them going in the leaner times would do a great deal to assist, and would make the life of a dockyard city much more acceptable than it is now.

I make a particular plea on behalf of those men who moved with their families from Chatham when that dockyard was closed—in itself a traumatic experience for them—and who now face further difficulties and uncertainties about their future. They have a particular claim on our sympathy and our understanding, and I hope that the Ministers will bear that in mind.

I have a further concern, and that relates to the training of apprentices in the dockyard. It was mentioned in the open document, but there was no full explanation of what was to happen there. It is my understanding from some of the instructors at the apprentice training centre in Devonport that they are still totally unclear about what their future may be. That is not good enough. Apprentice training is in any case vital if the dockyard is to be run efficiently in the future. Those who instruct at the centre need to know what their opportunities are to be in the future. Some information about that would be very helpful.

All in all, I have severe reservations about the way things are going, although I accept the need for change. I hope that every opportunity will be taken to ensure that the dockyard remains as a more efficient, viable unit, and one which plays a very important part in the economy of the city of Plymouth and will, I hope, do so for many years.

I do not wish to conclude my speech without a reference to the Royal Marines. No doubt Ministers will heave a sigh if once again I refer to the issue of the amphibious capability of the Royal Navy, but I do so because I was not at all happy about the words used in my hon. Friend's speech in opening the debate today—not this year; next year. I was reminded of the game children play with plum stones and other stones—"This year, next year, some time, never". We want to be absolutely certain that the role of the Royal Marines is backed up by such an amphibious capability. It is a jargon phrase. What it means, in effect, is that, where there is not a proper port for ordinary landing, there is the means of landing the Royal Marines through the amphibious ships. Without that capacity, much of their role and future is thrown into jeopardy. That is how important it is. Certainly it is extremely important for the role in Norway.

6.36 pm

I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the House for the fact that, for domestic reasons, I was unable to be present yesterday, but I have read the report of the debate and hope that hon. Members will allow me to make my contribution on that basis.

The rules say that I have 10 minutes. I do not like the rules. Frankly, I resent them, as I speak for the Liberal party and the Labour spokesman took 41 minutes. But I must abide by them. Against all my inclinations, therefore, I shall not give way, and I shall also gallop.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) dealt yesterday with the Select Committee report, which he rightly described as "a devastating criticism" of Government policy. I shall repeat only one thing that he said, because it must, from the alliance position, be underlined repeatedly. He said:

"This is the last year in which we can make a decision not to go ahead with Trident without effectively pouring money down the drain. The Government must reassess the Trident decision." —[Official Report, 12 June 1985; Vol. 80, c. 933.]
The justification for Britain retaining an independent deterrent, if it is a fully integrated member of NATO, with all the logic that that has, has always escaped me. Given the Western Alliance, given our interdependence, in what circumstances is it envisaged that an independent deterrent would be required? Why do we need it rather than West Germany or Italy? Surely we have outlived those mirages of greatness that we long pursued during the twilight of empire. I fear that both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence are susceptible to such mirages and do not count their cost.

The defence debate is now very much overshadowed by the discussion of the strategic defence initiative. That is also true of the Geneva talks. The Secretary of State for Defence was cautious yesterday in his references to SDI, and his caution was reinforced by his welcome references to EUREKA, concerning which the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs had made an earlier statement. I attended the Assembly of Western European Union last month, when Baroness Young was questioned on EUREKA and found herself unable to say anything, yet in another part of Paris the Foreign Secretary was giving the go-ahead to it. It says little for the seriousness with which the Government treat that Assembly if, in the context of the so-called reactivation of WEU, it cannot be told things before the New York Herald Tribune.

I do not think that the Secretary of State for Defence should be cautious about star wars. He should be saying loudly and clearly that we do not want any further escalation. If the proposition is seen in the context of saying to the Soviet Union that that is what will happen if there is no agreement in Geneva, that is a different matter. But to pretend that this is some great step towards eternally safeguarded peace is yet another mirage.

President Reagan has said that when it is completed it will be deployed only after negotiation with the USSR. I doubt whether that gives Mr. Gorbachev nights filled with Elysian dreams of waving fields of corn in collective farms. I spoke the other day to an American defence expert who said, "I am not married yet, but this will not really be ready until my sons are at college". If we reach that stage, the United States of America can attack the USSR without fear of retaliation. That may sound absurd, but that is what they will say. Mr. Gorbachev will have his own programme and more millions will be poured into systems to defeat undefeatable systems. Man — and, indeed, woman—is endlessly ingenious.

I do not see where that leads us, other than to yet more escalation. The concentration must now surely be on Geneva, which, in a parched, underprivileged and population-burgeoning world, must surely be the last hope for some kind of sane deal between the two systems that now dominate the world. I say "now", because last week I had the opportunity of talking to the Foreign Minister of the People's Republic of China, who asked me about SDI. China has a nuclear capacity; it has an enormous and diligent population; it feeds its people. It has shown a wise, long view and restraint over Hong Kong. If we in the West cannot sort things out, we will end up being told what to do.

In our country — flawed democracy as it is — we should be able to reach some sort of sensible consensus about our views on how our society should be best defended against any threats. But we are becoming more and more cleaved, and for that I believe the Government have great responsibility. I am not a unilateralist—far from it—but I do not treat those in my party who are unilateralists with contempt or simplistically label them as fellow travellers. Under a Communist system, most of them would be in the labour camps. They are concerned, worried and frightened people watching impotently as their rulers not just fail to find accords, which would give them and all of us security, but are very much seen as not making the necessary efforts to do so.

One may say that the Greenham Common women are nuts, and go down in a flak-jacket and laugh at them. I do not agree with them and I have found it difficult to have any dialogue with them. But they represent a powerful plea for real action on disarmament. I understand and agree with the argument about one-sided defence often put forward by Conservative Members, but I also recognise the view that if the rockets go up there can be no one-sided survival.

No Liberal can defend a Communist system. No Liberal can be other than appalled at the treatment of the Sakharovs and the Shcharanskys and numberless, nameless others. But no Liberal who has made the effort, as I and my right hon. Friend the leader of the Liberal party have, to talk regularly to the Soviets and to visit the Soviet Union can take the facile "Empire-of-evil" view, nor accept that managed agreement is impossible and that all that is left to us is to build the munitions dumps higher and higher.

I have little time left, and I wish to put on the record the amendment tabled by the alliance which was not selected:

"Line 1, leave out from 'House' to end and add 'fully supports the United Kingdom's continued membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation; regrets the forthcoming reduction in Britain's conventional defence which will lower the nuclear threshold and create an unacceptable reliance on "first use" of nuclear weapons; calls for the cancellation of Trident in order to avoid a new and provocative proliferation of the arms race and to release resources needed to strengthen Britain's conventional defence; considers that the high level of Soviet and United States nuclear arsenals threatens world peace and could be reduced without jeopardising mutual deterrence; regrets the preoccupation with the Strategic Defence Initiative which is technically questionable and obstructs progress towards peace and disarmament; and urges the Government to use all its influence, in conjunction with our European partners, to persuade the United States to take a constructive position in the Geneva discussions with the Soviet Union in which British nuclear forces could be included.'."
I believe that that makes a good case. We argue that it is possible to find the will effectively both to defend our country as necessary and the will to find a managed solution to the endless escalation of arms development and expenditure in the West and the East.

6.45 pm

I wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his White Paper—both its style and its content. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister of State on his opening speech — a mastery of constructive ambiguity that would have gladdened his father's heart.

The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), who opened for the Opposition today, repudiated the general strategic concept of the White Paper. I find that a tragedy. I have been in the House for some years. When I first came here Mr. Attlee had just launched the British independent deterrent. Then Hugh Gaitskell was going to fight again and again to prevent unilateralism. Nye Bevan was not going to be a streaker in the conference room. Harold Wilson was persuaded by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) to keep Polaris, in spite of his election pledge the other way; and the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), the Father of the House, adopted the Chevaline improvement in Polaris. Now, suddenly, we are faced with the official Opposition departing from the basis of a bipartisan Alliance policy. I find that a tragedy.

I find it difficult to explain, especially as anti-Americanism has grown among Opposition Members. After all, the further we are from the Americans the more important it is that we should have the means of defending ourselves. To abandon all nuclear weapons—our own and those in the United States— and suggest that we should confront a nuclear superpower with only conventional forces is to return to a position where we would be dervishes with bows and arrows fighting against machine guns.

The escapism of the Opposition was well illustrated in two interesting speeches — one by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin) and the other by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). The right hon. Member for Deptford suggested that peace should be kept by United Nations blue helmet troops. The hon. Member for Walton said that we must make a gesture; we must begin to disarm nuclear weapons unilaterally. That is the sort of speech that would be all right in a university union debate. It might just wash in a maiden speech. But both the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman lost their political virginity a long time ago. Listening to them reminded me of two old madames preaching the virtues of no sex before marriage.

The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) said that he was in favour of a British nuclear deterrent but against the Trident. Political reasons might incline him to be so. He said that there must be alternatives. He knows perfectly well that the most parsimonious Government that Britain has ever had is this Government. They would have taken any alternative if it had been worth taking. The Government analysed the figures and knew that there was no alternative. What would be a criminial waste of money would be to invest in a second-rate deterrent that did not have the credibility to deter.

I have reservations, too, about the right hon. Member's idea of withdrawing battlefield weapons 150 miles. If one looks at a map of Germany, one finds that withdrawing 150 miles would place the weapons along the Rhine. If I were a German I would not feel sympathetic towards that manoeuvre.

The critics of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have agreed on one point. The Select Committee on Defence and the right hon. Members for Llanelli and for Devonport have said that they do not believe that my right hon. Friend's defence programme can be financed within the existing Estimates. They may be right; I do not know. However, I have confidence in my right hon. Friend. He will do his best, and his best can be pretty good. In any case, he should not have any sleepless nights about it.

The Estimates for the Home Department are decided in Cabinet. That is not the case with the defence Estimates. They are decided in Moscow and, to a lesser extent, in Washington. It is the threat that determines the programme, and the threat is growing. Let us have no illusions about that.

No doubt, the stately minuet at Geneva over arms control is continuing with due dignity, but the issue will be decided on the periphery.

The arms race has run for a long time. The issue will be settled in Afghanistan, Angola, the Horn of Africa, Cambodia and Central America. For a long time, the Soviets have openly declared their support for what they call "freedom fighters" and have supported them by proxy. At long last, the United States has decided to fight back. The United States could no longer look the other way. When the United States Congress votes publicly to support resistance in Afghanistan and Nicaragua, something is happening. The omens are clear. I hope that we will support the United States because we know more about this type of warfare than almost any other country. We must draw this conclusion: if the Estimates to which we are working are not sufficient, they will have to be stretched and the necessary financial resources will have to be found.

6.52 pm

I do not propose to follow the remarks of the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), but I may refer to some of his points tangentially.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) on her speech on the dockyards. I shall not say much about the dockyard at Rosyth, which affects my constituency, because the Select Committee on Defence will consider the Government's proposals and take a considerable amount of evidence. I would not want to prejudge its report. I shall adopt the same view that the Government seem to adopt—all the options are open. The Government's preferred option still needs critical examination.

Referring to putting the contracts to refit the Otter and Euryalus to tender, paragraph 511 of the statement says that the comparison

"will enable us to compare the performance of commercial yards on this type of work"
with that of the dockyards. I hope that the Government will give a detailed assessment of the comparisons. I echo the words of the hon. Member for Drake: the period of consultation has been too short. Unless the Government can produce before 5 July the necessary figures for the Select Committee clearly showing the basis of comparison, their case will be in considerable doubt. We are entitled to a detailed consideration of cost.

I share the concern of the House at the demise of the Merchant Navy and urge all hon. Members not to be complacent about its numbers. They are "unduly" inflated because of North sea activity. I hope that that activity will continue for a considerable period, but it might not. I believe that the type of vessels that now operate will not necessarily fit our future defence requirements. I shall say nothing about Trident because the Select Committee will report on that aspect.

The right hon. Member for Pavilion referred to the threat that we face. This aspect is given considerable emphasis in annex A of the statement. It is, however, a guarded analysis. I part company with the right hon. Gentleman in certain respects. The statement gives us the impression that the Warsaw pact is monolithic. It is not. One cannot have a situation in which Poland or Rumania does not want to renew the agreement for five years or one in which Albania wishes to withdraw from the pact and still argue that the pact is monolithic.

Recently David Holloway said:

"The non-Soviet members nominally contribute 55 divisions to the Pact's order of battle, compared with the 31 Soviet divisions in Eastern Europe."
How much do the non-Soviet forces really add to Soviet military power? Would the Poles fight? They are the best-armed and the best-equipped members of the pact. How would the East Germans or Rumanians perform? I am not complacent about this matter. I have paid many visits to the area with other Select Committee members. I am not a defence expert and I do not have a military background. I make no apologies for my Merchant Navy background. I thought, because of my background, that it would be useful to become a member of the Select Committee to analyse the difficulties and complexities of this subject. It is difficult to become an expert on it. I feel for Ministers who must make the decisions. I have tried in all humility to gain some knowledge of this subject. The Soviet Union has not been looking since 1917 for buffer states to defend themselves. This has been happening for about 250 years.

I turn to the strategic defence initiative. We have heard a great deal about President Reagan's speech in March 1983 but little about the sums involved. This is part of the dilemma. As I understand it, we are talking of sums not far short of $30 billion to be spent before 1989. That is more than twice Britain's total annual defence expenditure. We must recognise the pull that that expenditure will exert in the military industrial context. The Nitze criteria—that we will not embark upon this programme unless it is "reliable, survivable and cost effective"—are impossible to fulfil.

We have had a meeting with Dr. Keyworth, the President's scientific adviser. According to the United States Information Service, he said:

"I'll reiterate a prediction. Before the president leaves office, we're going to be able to demonstrate technology that convinces the Soviets that we can—if we choose—develop a weapon to shoot down their entire ICBM fleet as it tries to enter space."
I understand that the President has about another three years in office. Therefore, if we are to accept Keyworth's view, such a prospect is not as distant as we might imagine. Keyworth is highly intelligent and is nobody's fool, but he frightens me to death. That is the view which we must answer in the context of our research and development prospects.

Yesterday I crossed swords with the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen). Today I warn the House that we must be extremely careful about nomenclature. What the Americans mean by research and development may not be what we mean. In any case, the 1972 ABM treaty clearly circumscribes development. Article V of that treaty states:

"Each Party undertakes not to develop, test, or deploy ABM systems or components which are sea-based, air-based, space-based, or mobile land-based."
Therefore, research can be carried out only if the systems are fixed, and that places severe constraints on them.

That is not the type of system which Dr. Keyworth seems to describe. He is describing systems that can take out Soviet ICBMs at the boost stage. These are extremely dangerous and difficult developments, and it would be wrong of us—I support the suggestion of a full-scale debate on this issue — to stand back and say, "Everything is fine. All we will do is participate in research." I again stress that what we mean by research and development may not be what the United States means. In any case, I doubt whether we shall frighten the Russians to death on the basis of carrying out research.

I am concerned not so much about the cheapness of the nuclear deterrent as about the cheapness of chemical warfare. The West is ill-prepared to counteract what the Soviets or the United States are doing. If we are to do anything through the United Nations or the world community, we must reinvigorate national opinion on chemical warfare, because if our only answer to chemical warfare is the nuclear deterrent we are in severe trouble.

Labour members of the Select Committee, with other hon. Members, spent a lot of time preparing this report. I hope and trust that that report and the Government's White Paper will be widely discussed in the nation. In particular, I hope that the Select Committee's report will be read by all my constituents.

Royal Assent

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified Her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

  • 1. Industrial Development Act 1985
  • 2. Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act 1985
  • 3. Coal Industry Act 1985
  • 4. Motor-Cycle Crash Helmets (Restriction of Liability) Act 1985
  • 5. Luton Borough Council Act 1985
  • 6. Greater Manchester Act 1985
  • 7. Royal Bank of Scotland Act 1985
  • 8. Bath City Council Act 1985
  • Defence Estimates 1985

    Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

    7.4 pm

    I hope that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) will forgive me if I do not comment on his interesting speech.

    The debate has been characterised by a total muddle and incoherence by the Labour Front Bench on nuclear policy. It is clear that, in spite of the protestations of Labour Members about this White Paper, they would spend not a penny more—indeed, very much less—on defence. To put it mildly, there was also a difference of opinion between the Liberal and Social Democratic parties.

    The debate has been characterised by an optimism on the part of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that increased competition plus the speculative nature of the forward programme will in some way ensure that it will be all right on the night. I do not entirely share his optimism. However optimistic or pessimistic the view of my right hon. Friend or the Select Committee about the amount of money that will be available for the equipment programme, no one has argued that in real terms there will be an increase over the next few years. Indeed, we have heard to the contrary, and all we have discussed so far is by how much it will decrease.

    Yesterday, as reported in column 913 of the Official Report, my right hon. Friend said that over a 10-year period costings become increasingly speculative. That is undoubtedly true in respect of some projects and some items of equipment and stores. But the House will be aware that a new frigate, submarine, aircraft or armoured fighting vehicle takes about nine to 10 years from the design stage to the in-service stage. Therefore, many hon. Members — both those who served on the Select Committee and those in the House—fear that equipment that will be needed to replace outdated weapons and capabilities by a specific time will not be available because of financial pressures.

    The cat was let out of the bag in one of the Select Committee's evidence-taking sessions. In paragraph 675 on page 129 of the report, I asked the Assistant Undersecretary (Systems), Mr. Reeves:

    "If you pluck a year out of the air—1990—and take the three programmes the Type 23, the EH101 and Trident…those three programmes would represent a major part of the Royal Navy's equipment programme".
    Mr. Reeves replied:

    "I think you have interesting and contrasting building blocks here. Trident has a certain political commitment; the EH101 has a certain international commitment; the Type 23 and its expenditure pattern has an element of discretion attached to it. Those three instances could be multiplied several times and you would find these building blocks with different degrees of solidity."
    I then said:

    "Because of the Italians and the total commitment to Trident, the Type 23 programme looks as if it will go pretty far right."
    Mr. Reeves replied:

    "I did not say that."
    I then said:

    "No, but we can draw our own conclusions",
    as indeed we can. That is what worries the Committee and many hon. Members.

    When we talk of flexibility, we talk not about cuts but about pushing items of equipment further right. In a nutshell—and my right hon. Friends know it—the fact is that in the next 10 years a great deal of new conventional equipment will be required by all three armed services to keep our forces up to date and able to meet the threat that faces us. In addition, there is to be massive expenditure on Trident. There will also be an equipment budget which will be declining in real terms from an admittedly high plateau. Within the next few years there will be substantial problems for the MOD. I would describe it as a defence review in a stealth configuration. I hope I am wrong, but I believe that I am right.

    A number of hon. Members have referred to amphibious warfare. I regret the remarks made by the Secretary of State yesterday about lobbies from the Royal Marines, Royal Navy or wherever trying to embarrass Ministers. On reflection, I think that my right hon. Friend will wish that he had not made that remark. It does him no credit and was totally out of character.

    Paragraph 428 of last year's Defence White Paper stated:
    "We are currently examining the provision of future amphibious capability once the existing specialised ships come to the end of their lives in the 1990s".
    Paragraph 430 of this year's White Paper states:

    "We are considering a range of options for providing a future amphibious capability once the existing specialised ships come to the end of their planned life".
    We have heard that the same decision has been taken for next year, so presumably the type can stay in place for next year's White Paper. That is not good enough.

    The French have a similar capability with their Orage and Ouragan ships, which are the same age as Fearless and Intrepid, but are replacing those ships with the new TCD 90 class and ordering not one or two but three for delivery by 1993. The Royal Marines have a right to be fearful about this. Only three or four years ago their whole existence was in jeopardy. Fearless and Intrepid were to be disposed of prematurely and only the Falklands war and certain other matters prevented that.

    The Select Committee stated clearly and unequivocally in paragraphs 25 to 27 that there is an urgent need for an early decision to replace those aging vessels. Those of us who went last week with the Select Committee to NATO's northern flank in Norway had discussions with NATO commanders and Norwegian forces and generals as well as with Norwegian politicians. We were left in no doubt about the overwhelming political and military importance of our amphibious capability. If Ministers are thinking of replacing that capability by airlifts, I must tell them that they are wrong. The importance of amphibious capability lies in its flexibility. Having seen the thousands of islands around 68° and 69° north, we realise that that flexibility is vital. Equally, if Ministers think that they can get by using merchant ships, I remind them that, in view of the lack of damage control in such vessels, even a minor accident can quickly put them out of action, as shown by the accident off the coast of Holland a few days ago. I am arguing not for a one-by-one replacement of Intrepid or Fearless but for urgent and positive decisions, perhaps with a small number of less expensive ships. That decision is needed quickly by the Royal Marines and our northern flank partners and not least by the Dutch with whom we work.

    The contribution of the Merchant Navy is vital and the Select Committee has now produced a report on this. Some argue that it will be a short war next time so it does not really matter, but in my view that is nonsense. In a report to Congress a year or so ago Mr. Weinberger warned of the fallacy of assuming a short conventional war and spoke of

    "enhancing the readiness, mobility and sustainability of our forces".
    Part of that sustainability is the need for 600 merchant ships in the first month of any crisis or conflict to steam across the north Atlantic to these islands and to continental Europe with men, reinforcements and supplies. The harsh fact is that not just this country but other NATO countries are allowing the merchant fleet to run down to a dangerous extent. I remind the House once again of what was said by the man who in the autumn will become the new Chief of Defence Staff. After the Falklands crisis, Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse said:

    "I cannot say too often or too clearly how important has been the Merchant Navy's contribution to our efforts. Without the ships taken up from trade the operation could not have been undertaken and I hope this message is clearly understood by the British nation."
    Admiral Fieldhouse understands that very well; but do Parliament, the Government and the country understand it?

    7.13 pm

    The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) is remembered for having resigned from the Government over indefensible defence cuts, and we admire him for that.

    I wish to comment briefly on the theme that has run through all ministerial speeches in this two-day debate. Ministers have all been at great pains to persuade us that we are getting value for all the taxpayers' money spent on defence, but I believe that the opposite is true. I cite just one example. The Select Committee report gives the amount to be spent on the Falkland Islands from 1984 to 1994 as £3,220 million, which is money down the drain. Every other party in the House is committed to getting rid of that burden from around the taxpayer's neck. The taxpayers and the British public are being massively conned by some of the suavist and smoothest con men in the business, both within and outside the House. I believe that there is waste on a monumental scale in the most profligate Government Department in Whitehall.

    I will cite just a few examples. On 8 April, The Observer ran an article referring to a series of articles published in November 1983. In 1983 it wrote of

    "institutionalised inefficiency and waste on a large-scale"

    "lack of accountability within the Ministry of Defence".
    It points out that Ministery officials have devised a number of ways of answering questions and ensuring that auditors, the guardians of the public purse, do not see potentially embarrasing documents. Moreover, parliamentary att-empts to penetrate the system are easily thwarted. The example was given of a three-inch file of British companies making Exocet missile parts, but as such documents do not officially exist no one in the House can see them and even the Comptroller and Auditor General cannot see them.

    On torpedoes, The Observer stated in its article of 13 November 1983:

    "The Navy's latest torpedo, the Tigerfish, is considered so unreliable that submarine crews are reluctant to fire it. There are grounds for believing that its successor, Spearfish, recently ordered by the Ministry of Defence at a cost of £950 million, will be equally disastrous."
    Tigerfish apparently proved its unreliability in the Falklands war. According to The Observer, 70 were fired at a cost of £50,000 each but

    "The commander of the submarine which sank the Belgrano chose to fire Second World War generation torpedoes in preference to the Tigerfish he carried."
    I was a member of the Select Committee on Public Accounts when we called into question the value of another torpedo, the Sting Ray, the only torpedo mentioned in the White Paper and costing about £700 million at constant 1984 prices. In March, the report by the Comptroller and Auditor General on the torpedo programme estimated the cost of the three torpedoes at £5,000 million up to the mid-1990s, but no other navy within or outside NATO seemed remotely interested in them. The Comptroller and Auditor General summed up as follows:

    "Successive torpedo projects have suffered delays and cost increases and optimum weapon effectiveness has not been achieved. This suggested to me that the taxpayer in the past may not have received good value for the considerable sums spent."
    That is a typicl understatement of the case from the cautious Comptroller and Auditor General. It is a polite way of saying that the poor British taxpayer has been ripped off by Marconi and others in the defence business. At paragraph 19, the Comptroller and Auditor General says:

    "A major difficulty is the lack of competition in the United Kingdom for the prime contractor role."
    Marconi, now Marconi Underwater Systems Ltd., has a monopoly in torpedo development and production in the United Kingdom and is sitting very pretty. I remember two years ago, when Sir Frank Cooper, then the permanent secretary at the Ministry, was asked how many defence contractors had gone out of business in the great recession that we had suffered from in the previous few years, he smiled and said, "I cannot think of one."

    A later report from the Comptroller and Auditor General on design and procurement of warships, which was published about a week ago, exposes similar problems and abuses. Paragraph 11 of the report says that the five main warship yards have made £185 million profit on the building of warships since 1980–81, as against losses of £525 million on other work in the same period. Paragraph 12 says:

    "in terms of the prices paid for warships … and the profits made by the warshipbuilders in the past suggest that the MOD have not always received good value for money".
    Again, we have the polite, moderate and cautious words of the Comptroller and Auditor General which show, once again, that taxpayers are being robbed of vast amounts of money by the armaments industry.

    Vickers Shipbuilding Engineering Ltd. is the monopoly supplier of nuclear submarines to the Royal Navy and depends entirely on Ministry of Defence orders. It is one of the seven British Shipbuilders yards which are to be handed over to private owners. The Comptroller and Auditor General's report says that such companies have consistently overestimated the number of man hours necessary to complete contracts. The overestimates averaged 21 per cent., the worst example being 43 per cent. Non-competitive contracts for nuclear submarines are expected to be worth more than £2 billion up to 1990. Hundreds of millions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money is being swallowed up every year by defence contractors whose accounts are never properly checked in Whitehall or elsewhere.

    We are now embarking on the Trident programme. I shall say nothing about its morality, but the only people who are laughing are the companies in the United States and Britain which will build the components. My God, the figures are worth quoting. The Sunday Times of a few weeks ago described the enormous duplicity, immorality, dishonesty and fraud which is being perpetrated in the United States and which is now being perpetrated in Britain. That article mentioned $748 being asked for a pair of air force pliers, $436 being asked for a navy hammer and$7,600 being asked for an air force coffee pot—

    Order. The hon. Gentleman must conclude his speech—he has had his 10 minutes.

    We do not believe a word that Ministers say when they say that they have defence expenditure under control. On the contrary, they are willing partners in a massive fraud being perpetrated on British taxpayers.

    7.24 pm

    I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be delighted to have such a close ally in the appointment of Mr. Levene, whose job it is to ensure that good value for money is obtained.

    If the figures which the hon. Gentleman quoted are anywhere near accurate, they show that there is much work for Mr. Levene to do.

    I attended the Select Committee's interview of Mr. Levene earlier this week. What he said shows that he will direct his attention towards that problem and try to ensure that as few as possible cost-plus contracts are entered into, but that there will be many more fixed-price contracts. I welcome that step, as the world is highly competitive and we are in direct competition with other European countries, America and, perhaps in future, Japan.

    Further economies could be achieved in the fisheries protection service. I understand that no fewer than 16 vessels provide the service, but that only four of them are required. In 1981 there were proposals to transfer the service to the Merchant Navy, where considerable economies could be achieved. I understand that as recently as last January the Inspector of Fisheries looked into the matter and that four excellent companies are able and willing to provide the service. They are P and O Fleet Mastercare, Townsend Thoresen, Sea Containers and F. T. Everard. I hope that the Ministry and, if necessary, the Cabinet will examine the cost comparisons closely to ensure that there is no waste so that resources can then be moved to other parts of the defence budget.

    The two-way street is important. Matters have improved considerably recently. There was once a highway to Britain from America and a narrow country lane from Britain to the United States. The imbalance has been partially rectified, and trade is now merely 2:1 in their favour. There is still some way to go, however, and I hope that the lessons of Trident, which I fully support, have been learnt and that, in future, any such massive programme will be backed up with a direct offset arrangement.

    The United States needs our moral support for the continuation of the nuclear umbrella, quite apart from a financial contribution towards the cost. We did not use our negotiating opportunities to the best advantage. Had we obtained offsetting arrangements, we should not have to work so hard to sell Plessey's excellent mobile subscriber equipment system, which my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) mentioned earlier. There is no comparison between that system and the RITA system which the French Thompson organisation is selling hard. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces has lent his weight to the Plessey project, because I remember seeing him in Washington when the Defence Select Committee was there earlier this year. I understand that one of the main reasons for his visit was to draw attention to the advantages of the system. The French are devoting their energy to selling a system which is not in the same class as Plessey's tried and tested equipment, being part of the incredible Ptarmigan system.

    While so much is being spent on defence, I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends also to consider service families. In the past we have been able to rely very much on the nuclear umbrella. For the past 40 years it has served us extremely well. However, we are now moving into a new era in which several much smaller powers can acquire the knowledge that is necessary for nuclear weapons. Arms have been supplied by some powers to terrorist organisations, and that nuclear knowledge may be used for terrorist purposes in future. Coupled with that fact, if we have the strategic defence initiative, it could lead to 95 per cent. of the nuclear weapons in the world being rendered obsolete, which could mean a new situation for the nuclear umbrella.

    If we are asking service personnel to go off and fight for their country, we have an obligation under the defence budget to consider what happens to their families. Therefore, I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his Ministers to work closely with the Home Office in considering what should be done in civil defence. In other countries, as much as 3 per cent. of the total defence budget is allocated to civil defence measures, but in this country we spend less than half of 1 per cent. on that. There is a great difference. If we are to work towards the type of result that the strategic defence initiative may produce, we must be ready for what might happen at the end of the day. It would be a costly exercise to try to make the necessary arrangements in a hurry, whereas if it were done over a period of 10 or more years there could be a series of phased developments, particularly in the sphere of shelters. Therefore, the Ministry of Defence has an interest in the matter. I have already mentioned this matter to the Secretary of State and I hope that it will be taken up and looked at carefully.

    There is just one other matter that I should like to mention in the short time available. It seems entirely wrong that so many countries are sheltering under the defence provided by relatively few. I am thinking particularly of the Secretary of State's remarks the other day on the poor contribution by one of our NATO allies, Denmark. Other countries, particularly Japan, were limited back in 1945 by the United States to total defence expenditure not exceeding 1 per cent. of their gross national product. That has given Japan and other countries an enormous advantage, in that they have not been burdened by the heavy defence expenditure that we have had to undertake over the years. They have the advantage of relying upon us to keep the air and sea lanes open for the benefit of their trade, both in supplying their goods round the world and receiving the oil which they desperately require to keep their industry going. That is entirely wrong. I understand why the United States did that in 1945, but we have had plenty of time to put the matter right. Whether that is done directly or indirectly is a matter for discussion among Governments, but undoubtedly a better solution must be sought and a more satisfactory answer obtained.

    7.34 pm

    I preface my remarks by expressing my gratitude to those who, in their wisdom, limited speeches to 10 minutes. If that had not been done, non-Privy Councillors would not have had a look in, in such a debate.

    Secondly, I should like to comment on the procedural impediments in the House to a proper debate on defence. We are one of the few legislatures that does not consider the Estimates seriously, rarely voting on them and not proceeding line by line. Although many kind things have been said about the Select Committee on Defence, which is under the able chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins), and of which I am a member, we have no real input into the Estimates process, unlike most other legislatures. We probably have the weakest Committee system, certainly the weakest Defence Committee system in the whole of the Alliance with the exception of Iceland, which, as it has no defence, finds having a defence committee surplus to its requirements. Despite our lack of power, we managed to inspire the Secretary of State to a fine series of rhetorical flourishes yesterday, with our reports on merchant shipping and defence commitment and resources.

    The Secretary of State lashed out at everyone. Last week it was the Danes. This week it was our Select Committee on Defence for some of the things that we dared to say. That Committee is under no obligation to produce reports that make the Ministry of Defence happy. That is the responsibility of the Ministry's public relations experts and Tory Central Office. It is not our task. We analysed carefully and produced what I believe is a competent piece of research, which will be read diligently in the Ministry of Defence, if that has not already been done.

    The Secretary of State struck out at his own Department, defence contractors, the military and the Labour party—indeed, everyone except himself and the Treasury. I am afraid that the Secretary of State is angry because our Committee has finally rumbled him and pointed out that the emperor has far fewer clothes than he has hitherto presented to the world. In his speech yesterday, in criticising the Select Committee on Defence, the right hon. Gentleman looked at our worst case analysis and his best case analysis, and tried to point out the difference between what we say is available for defence and what he says is available. Perhaps our figures were too generous to the right hon. Gentleman's Department. We did not take into account the large pay increase that was given to the services recently. During his interview with us earlier in the week, Mr. Levene talked of a 10 per cent. efficiency saving in defence procurement, which was different from our calculations. Our figures, with which the Secretary of State disagrees, go wider than he is prepared to admit. The simple fact, which anyone can see, is that there is a considerable discrepancy between the Government's aspirations and what is available for defence. It is what some people would call a funding gap. No amount of massaging of the figures, or use of mirrors or conjuring tricks will eliminate that fact. The Government will simply not have the money available to do what they wish.

    The Secretary of State proudly told us what his Department had done in the past five or six years, but one must tell him honestly that, with the exception of a few years, his Government have not met the 3 per cent. real increase target to which the previous Government agreed. His Government are now abandoning it. Therefore, they are in considerable difficulties. I would accept a non-nuclear defence policy — not because I have moral objections to nuclear weapons. I find all nuclear and chemical weapons objectionable. I believe that if there is going to be a funding gap, the only function that can be withdrawn, albeit reluctantly, is the nuclear function, as long as the resources committed to conventional defence will compensate.

    That can be strongly justified to NATO. The Government, in committing themselves to NATO and to a significant out-of-area capability—the Falklands and so on—will simply have to have a defence review, and abandon a function, or half a function. It must be unpalatable for Conservatives to admit that fact, but I suggest that in addition to reading the White Paper they look carefully at the report of the Select Committee on Defence.

    The Select Committee investigated many problem areas, including the flying white elephant Nimrod and the gross inadequacy of our air defence. The Conservative party criticised Labour's record in air defence, yet a Conservative Minister slaughtered our air defence 30 years ago. The idea of bringing out the museum Lightnings has been laughed off as the Army's equivalent of digging up General Custer. What we need, but will be unable to afford under the Government, are far more Tornados for air defence. The arming of Hawks is not remotely adequate, because they have no radar. They will need Phantom jets to take them out and point them in the direction of an adversary, which will no doubt release its load many miles away. We shall be sending out gallant men unprepared.

    The Government are struggling in every way possible to bridge the gap that they know exists between what they want to spend and what they can spend. One example that has come to light is our third aircraft carrier, the Ark Royal. It is lunatic planning to decide to have three aircraft carriers but not to have the men, aeroplanes and helicopters to put on those carriers. Shuffling two crews among three carriers is the height of folly in peacetime, and would be suicidal in time of war.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) criticised COCOM. I sympathise with some of his economic arguments. It is the height of lunacy to export or give away equipment of a non-military character to the Soviet Union that can easily be used for military purposes. Research has shown how costly it is to compensate the West in military terms for the quantum leap forward that the Soviet Union has been able to make in many technologies, based not only on intelligence and spying, but on the legal, and sometimes illicit, exports of what might appear to be non-military equipment.

    During the next three years, the Labour party will have the difficult task of convincing the public that its alternative defence policy will provide adequate security for Britain. The policy that we presented at the previous general election did not work, and contributed heavily to our defeat. Unless we are careful, we might do the same in 1986 or 1987.

    During visits of the Select Committee to other countries, I have met many Democratic Socialists. To most of them, defence is vital. Only in Britain and a few other countries are democratic Socialists considered as being endorsers of pacificism or semi-neutralism. Last week, we were in Sweden. Being a Democratic Socialist in Sweden and believing in defence is an expensive business. It has 350 fighters— almost as many as we have—and an enormous commitment to civil defence. Almost everyone between the ages of 17 and 47 is committed to participating in the defence of Sweden. In France, Socialism does not mean pacifism. The Socialist-led coalition in Italy is investing heavily in defence. Socialists in Spain and Portugal would not deny their citizens adequate defence. The last thing that one could call Chinese Socialists is pacifist or neutralist or people who are naive about the Soviet Union.

    We can convince the public only if we convince ourselves first. Any party whose defence programme includes policies that the public perceive as inadequate will deservedly be rejected by the electorate. I am not sure that we are up to it, but the Labour party's task is to provide a proper alternative defence policy that is not a carping membership of NATO, like the Greek variety, but is a genuine commitment to NATO.

    7.44 pm

    Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State stressed the vital importance of our membership of NATO. He was right to do so, for it is impossible to exaggerate how important it is to NATO to have Britain as a member, and how important it is for us to be a member of NATO. I shall concentrate my remarks on some of the strains that confront the Alliance.

    My first concern arises from the decision to proceed with research on the strategic defence initiative. I approve of the decision, and I wish our American allies every success. However, a basic misunderstanding of SDI seems likely to fuel uneasiness about American intentions in researching those sophisticated systems.

    Last week, with other right hon. and hon. Members, 1 was privileged to be briefed on SDI at the Pentagon by the programme's director, General Abrahamson. That briefing set SDI in context as the series of research programmes that it is. The programme is wholly compatible with the anti-ballistic missile treaty, and is comparable to the research permitted under that treaty, which the Soviets have been carrying out for many years. Only the Soviets have deployed an ABM system to protect Moscow.

    As my right hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett) said, for 20 years, NATO has relied on the principle of mutually assured destruction. We have relied on a nuclear retaliation capability large enough to counter any potential aggressor. For many years, it has been assumed that neither NATO nor the Warsaw Pact possessed the technology to construct a comprehensive and effective defence against nuclear offensive systems. That assumption must now be set aside. Scientific and technological advances suggest that we must now consider seriously a defence option, especially a non-nuclear option, which might allow us to move to a much more secure and stable basis for deterrence.

    Apart from technical feasibility, the other parameter that has changed has been the scale of Soviet offensive and defensive growth since the SALT process began, in addition to which there has been growing non-compliance and deception by the Soviets that threatens the entire military balance. Not only does the Soviet Union possess the only ABM system; it possesses the world's only deployed anti-satellite capability. The Soviet Union clearly believes in both offensive and defensive deterrence.

    In view of the massive build-up of Soviet forces, offensive and defensive, nuclear and non-nuclear, it is clear that NATO must respond by modernising its retaliatory capacity and updating its strategic and longer-range intermediate nuclear forces. Hence the deployment of MX missiles and the development of Midgetman, the deployment of cruise and Pershing missiles and, for Britain, the ordering of Trident. In addition, NATO must explore new deterrent options. Hence the desirability of SDI, for it is directly aimed at negating the destabilising effect of Soviet growth in offence and defence. If it concentrates Soviet minds on defence, it will have a highly beneficial stabilising effect.

    It is unfortunate that those who scoff at NATO and at our defence should have tagged SDI with the perjorative epiphet of star wars. SDI is a research programme with several different elements, which is carried out at several different locations. I should stress that it is a research programme. Although research will cost about $26 billion during the next few years, deployment of such a system if the research is successful would cost anything between $500 billion and $1,000 billion. The jump between research and deployment is a quantum leap. Research is permissible under the ABM treaty; deployment would require negotiation. But we should be deluding ourselves if we thought that the United States would give the Soviets a simple veto on deployment.

    We should encourage our American allies to carry out the research, in the hope that they will achieve the concept of a multi-layered defence system. We should share in that research and, if it is successful, we should share in the decision as to whether SDI should be deployed.

    My second anxiety relates to the current American attitude to the ABM treaty and the unratified SALT II treaty. In the case of the ABM treaty, the Americans have every good reason for cynicism. It is clear that the Soviet construction of a huge new phased-array radar near Krasnoyarsk is an ominous departure from and breach of the ABM treaty. That installation will increase the Soviet Union's capability to deploy a territorial ballistic missile defence system. Claims that it is a part of a space tracking station are demonstrably a cynical untruth.

    The SALT II treaty, although unratified, has generally been adhered to by the USA for six years. This week, President Reagan has committed himself, on the advice of Secretary of State Shultz, to broad observance of SALT II whilst reserving the right to counter Soviet breaches such as the construction of the SS-X-25 missile.

    The announcement that the United States would take out of service a Poseidon submarine later this year when the new Trident submarine goes to sea is to be welcomed. It is in sharp contrast to Soviet activity. Nevertheless, the tensions and strains in connection with SALT II and the ABM treaty have contributed to our uneasiness.

    My last worry about the NATO Alliance relates to the south-east flank. I have recently been to Bulgaria with a number of other hon. Members. There we were told by senior members of the Government that Bulgaria is keen to promote a Balkan nuclear-free zone. There is little doubt that the initiative for that came from Moscow, to which Bulgaria offers close support. It is an idea which is easily accepted by Yugoslavia, Rumania, Bulgaria and even Albania, to whom no one would be silly enough to offer nuclear arms. It is an idea that is seductive to Greece, ruled as it is by the unpredictable Mr. Papandreou. In his bid for re-election, Mr. Papandreou offered as an election bid the expulsion of American bases in 1988—shades there perhaps of another Socialist party aspiring to government.

    Only Turkey with its vital strategic position is not attracted by a nuclear-free zone, but who can tell what the effects of the current resurgence of Moslem fundamental-ism will be on Turkey and its present western-inclined Government?

    I am worried about the stability of the south-east flanks. I floated that anxiety in Washington last week and received a glib assurance from a staff man at the Pentagon that the Alliance is in fine shape. I remain to be convinced, because I believe that there are strains and tensions in the Alliance which run deeper than mere "domestic tiffs".

    It behoves us all to work hard to conserve and foster the vitality and strength of NATO, our most important partnership. Opposition Members should drop their malicious and divisive proposals to throw out American bases or even some classes of American weapons. It is the height of hypocrisy to suggest that we should deny bases to American nuclear weapons whilst hoping that America will continue to offer us protection under its nuclear unbrella.

    The threat posed to the Alliance by the erratic Mr. Papandreou is nothing when compared with the threat posed by those who would expel the Americans and their weapons from Britain. Such a catastrophe would surely spell an end to the Western Alliance.

    7.52 pm

    Like the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman), I have been subject in Washington to briefings on SDI. It must be a growth industry at present in Washington. I reached conclusions slightly different from those of the hon. Gentleman. The doubts and reservations about SDI that transcend the political spectrum in Europe are well founded. It is difficult, for example, for those of us who have been brought up to believe that the deterrent has maintained peace throughout the post-war years suddenly to be told by the American Administraton that the whole idea of deterrence is immoral and will not last.

    The critics of SDI are correct to suggest that it involves the risk that a potential aggressor will increase his offensive capability to swamp the defensive system. The critics are also right to suggest that, while the SDI approach has an impact on arms control, it may well lead to the unravelling of the ABM treaty, and cuts that we want to see in the INF and the START will be much more difficult in view of the American priority on the SDI.

    If the SDI approach were to be effected it could well result in the decoupling of Western Europe from the United States, because the development of an SDI approach on both sides would undermine the effect of the United States nuclear guarantee to Western Europe.

    Finally, there is the opportunity cost of the SDI operation. The sums of money involved, as we are aware, are gigantic. One cannot help feeling that they might be directed better to other parts of the defence budget.

    It is not just money. I had the opportunity about a month ago to be in the national laboratory at Los Alamos in New Mexico looking at some of the techniques and technology involved in the SDI operation. The scientists there are in no doubt that SDI will attract the best and brightest brains in American physics. With the current state of the world, I cannot help thinking that their expertise and abilities might be better directed to other projects.

    The American belief that it is possible to accommodate the improvements in conventional defence that are necessary, the modernisation of the nuclear deterrence and SDI during a period of pressure on defence budgets mirrors the belief of this Government that it is possible to have Trident and all the other improvements in defensive capability that we want.

    I am glad to see that the Select Committee on Defence is examining the impact of Trident on the defence budget. I look forward with great interest to see what conclusions it reaches. I hope that it is rather more successful in getting clear answers from the Ministry of Defence than it has been in the past. I hope, for example, that the Committee does not find itself, as it was on this occasion, frustrated by vague and evasive answers, and elegant but unhelpful hypotheses.

    It is perhaps worth recalling that the Select Committee on Defence studied the issue in 1981. It produced a detailed report after more than a year's investigation of the future of the strategic deterrent in this country. Even then the Select Committee on Defence had problems in obtaining clear information, because the report's first conclusion states:

    "It is a matter of regret to us that we have found the Ministry unwilling to discuss in any detail the opportunity costs of purchasing the Trident system".
    In recommendation 14, the Committee, in a sense, trailered the type of problem that we are discussing tonight. It said:

    "Against the background of current reviews of defence, commitments and expenditure, it is very difficult to see how it will be possible to give top priority to the Trident programme throughout the decade without displacing or squeezing out some other equipment programmes."
    That is part of the case against the Trident that has been deployed during the debate.

    Conservative Members said yesterday, and they have said it again today, that there is no alternative to Trident. That ignores a good deal of the academic work done by Professor Freedman, Dr. David Greenwood and others which suggests that there are alternatives. The most likely alternative is a cruise system. The Minister of State merely dismissed the cruise alternative as being less effective and more costly. I am not aware of any recent work which the Government have produced which would show that cruise is more costly than Trident. There is a good deal of independent evidence to the contrary.

    When it comes to effectiveness, no one would dispute that any form of cruise deterrent system would not be as effective and sophisticated as Trident. We must then face the question of what type of deterrent we need in this country. I argue that we need only the minimum deterrent. The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) correctly said that it would be a foolish waste of resources to purchase a deterrent which was not effective, but I would argue the reverse. It is equally foolish to waste resources on a deterrent which is far more sophisticated and accurate and which has a longer range than we need in this country. When we have a deterrent system whose warhead potential is 14 times the potential of Polaris, it is certainly too sophisticated for us. We should also bear in mind the impact of that on arms control negotiations.

    I am surprised that hon. Members have attempted to devalue cruise. It is worth reminding ourselves that the United States is involved in massive investment in cruise. The United States’ current programmes, for example, involve more than 5,000 air-launched cruise missiles, of which 1,000 are already deployed, and almost 2,000 sea-launched cruise missiles. The Department of Defence describes the Tomahawk cruise missile as

    "a highly capable and versatile weapon system that can be launched from a variety of surface ships, submarines and aircraft."
    I do not argue that the Tomahawk is a perfect replacement for Trident, but the way in which it has been dismissed in the debate runs contrary to the evidence before us.

    Finally, I wish to comment on the issue of manpower in the armed forces. That is not mentioned in the White Paper. I notice that the Select Committee report states that the White Paper

    "contains surprisingly little about recruiting, retention, pay and allowances, maintaining skills, morale and career prospects at a time when these issues ate causing concern to service men and their families. More space should have been given to these aspects."
    Yesterday the Secretary of State fairly referred to the problems of increased outflow from the armed forces as a result of pressure from industry. He referred to fierce competition from the private sector regarding technical posts. The picture that he presented was that that sort of competition from the private sector would become stronger as the economy improved and, presumably, unemployment became less of an automatic recruiting sergeant for the armed forces.

    We must bear in mind that population changes make it difficult for us to get the manpower that we need in the armed forces. The reduction in the numbers of 16 to 19-year-olds in our population, for example, will continue throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Although the problem was referred to in the 1981 White Paper, it has not been referred to since. That problem will continue even beyond 1991. In 1983, for example, we had 1·929 million men in the 16 to 19 age range, but by 1995 that figure will have dropped to 1·39 million. I know that that is a general problem in Europe, but the Government must devote much more attention to it.

    We can improve our reserve capability, but that will not solve all the problems. We can use modern technology to replace men, but that will not solve all the problems. We can pursue the strategy, which the Secretary of State set out yesterday, of trying to ensure that the armed forces keep pace with pay and conditions outside. That is right, but it will not solve all the problems. That is yet another area where the pressures of trying to make good deficiencies in manpower will add to the pressures on the defence budget. That brings us back once again to the impact of Trident.

    Because we do not believe that the Government are taking sufficiently seriously the impact of those budgetary problems on our defences, we shall not support them tonight. Equally, we shall not support the Labour amendment, because the commitment to remove all nuclear weapons from the United Kingdom is wholly irresponsible.

    8.3 pm

    I declare my interest as a director of a shipping company, but also as one of a growing number of right hon. and hon. Members who have become concerned about the decline of our merchant fleet and, in particular, its ability to carry out its role in time of war. That growing anxiety has been reflected in the significant number of times to which the subject has been referred in the debate.

    The lack of any evident will on the part of the Government to face that problem has been especially worrying. However, I feel rather more at ease this year about that than in last years debate, not because the decline has halted—far from it—but because I see signs that we are all at least beginning to face the issue. Last year the Government were still resting on their Falklands laurels. No criticism came from the public. After all, the Merchant Navy had more than proved itself in the campaign, when there were more merchant ships taking part than those of the Royal Navy. No mention of the Merchant Navy appeared in the Statement on the Defence Estimates, an extraordinary omission.

    At that time the then president of the General Council of British Shipping and a few worried members of the shipping industry and of this House seemed to be the only warning voices to be heard. It was then that the Defence Select Committee played precisely the role that Select Committees should play. In its report last year, the dangers were for the first time exposed and an answer was demanded. That was backed up by two powerful speeches — one by the Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins), and the other by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), who as we heard again today is extremely knowledgeable about anything to do with the sea. Subsequently, my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann) set up the all-party maritime group, supported by some of the most influential Members of the House. Finally, we have had the first report from the Defence Select Committee on the use of maritime shipping for defence purposes, which was published only this week. During the past year the pressure on the Government has really built up.

    In this year's Statement on the Defence Estimates we have the interim reaction to that pressure. We are promised a major study by consultants into the future trend of availability of those parts of the merchant fleet for which there is a defence need. The results are due to be available by the middle of the year—in other words, very soon. That is a welcome sign that the Government appear to be waking up to the defence consequences of the decline in the British merchant fleet. The consultants’ studies will surely secure a basis of facts, on which the continuing debate can be based, although the Defence Select Committee's report makes one wonder how far Ministers had taken the issues on board when they embarked on this course. Indeed paragraphs 25 and 31 of the report are pretty damning.

    The first report published this week shows the Select Committee system working at its best. The Members have got their teeth into the subject, and will not let it go. While recognising the need for confidentiality, the consultants’ report will clearly form the basis for discussions in the coming months. As much of it as possible should be published, and the Select Committee should be given full access to it.

    Paragraph 9 of the report gives a clue to the reasons for apparent past ministerial disinterest. Few problems were likely to arise in the days when the merchant fleet was much larger than it is now, both in total and in respect of each of the ship types. When there was such a large pool of ships to draw on, one could afford errors in estimating the future size of the fleet. As the report says:

    "fluctuations in the availability of ships for any reason would be covered by the excess of vessels in the Merchant Fleet over those required for defence purposes."
    Meanwhile, before the report of the consultants, one of the most intractable problems has been brought to light by the Defence Select Committee report and by several hon. Members during this debate, and has been underlined in the presidential address of the new president of the GCBS, Mr. Brian Shaw. He said:

    "another striking feature of British Shipping is how increasingly international it has become. Companies not only operate as partners in international consortia; they are sometimes multi-national companies in their own right. Moreover foreign ship owners no longer begin at Calais. Something like a quarter of British owned shipping is now registered outside the U.K. and the proportion is now rising."
    He goes on:

    "There is a growing fleet of British-owned ships sailing under a variety of non-United Kingdom flags. We have experienced the development of consortia, joint ventures, interlocking share-holdings across international boundaries and we have seen the management in operation of ships increasingly as an activity carried on quite separately from ship-owning."
    Thus, the ease and speed with which the Government were able to commandeer the pick of the merchant fleet for the Falklands campaign was misleading. The time has come to establish what ships will be legally and practically available to the Navy in a longer term war.

    Another feature of the shipping industry—common, I suppose, to most industries today— is the speed of change. It is not only the numbers and ownership of ships which are changing, but the types. Within a few years, the size of tankers doubled. The same is now happening with container ships, which are thus much more vulnerable in war.

    The summary of the British merchant fleet, which I understand is now to appear yearly in the statement, assumes a new importance and should be in more detail to reflect the increasing specialisation which is the order of the day. For that reason, I commend paragraph 45 of the Select Committee's report. It is probably the most important recommendation in the document, for it says:

    "We believe that in future Defence White Papers, the Merchant Navy should be treated formally as a defence resource. From now on, there should be statistical information on the availability of merchant shipping by category, including only those vessels susceptible to requisition."
    It goes on to say that the manpower figures should also be given.

    I hope that the consultants’ report will go beyond the role of the Merchant Navy in its direct support duty to the Royal Navy and will deal with the problem of keeping the country supplied in wartime, which was a large part of its duty in the last war. For example, the position of our ports in time of war needs consideration, as an increasing proportion of our supplies now arrive in container ships. Container terminals, which are dependent on a few huge cranes, must be more vulnerable than a conventional port. We were told in the Felixstowe debate that there was an excess of container terminal capacity in Britain. That may be inconvenient now, but it could be a great boon in time of war.

    The report points out the extent to which responsibility for providing an adequate merchant fleet in wartime is divided between a number of Departments and, therefore, tends not to be the prime responsibility of any one Department. For instance, I do not suppose that the Merchant Navy's role in war was uppermost in the Chancellor's mind when he dealt the shipping industry such a blow in his 1984 Budget.

    To meet the dilemma, my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton has advocated a Minister for Shipping. I doubt whether such a Minister would be senior enough to be effective. Nevertheless, we must find a method by which responsibility for the policy of shipping and the monitoring of its achievement is carried out at the highest level of Government.

    8.14 pm

    Despite the cosy and comforting tone of the White Paper, there are a number of disturbing areas which it does not address, one of which is secrecy. Another is the extent to which the United Kingdom has mortgaged its future, not only to the nuclear arms race but specifically to United States nuclear arms policy.

    The White Paper has done nothing to lift the obsessive secrecy which pervades any important discussion about defence. As the Select Committee reports in paragraph 36:

    "We wanted to examine in-service dates, operational life, scale and the phasing of expenditure. Our purpose was frustrated by vague and evasive answers and elegant but unhelpful hypotheses."
    Many of my hon. Friends have had similar experiences with Ministers in recent months. For example, written answers were given to me on 29 October of last year on the question of FOFA, the follow-on force attack concept. I asked the Secretary of State what view of the FOFA concept had been taken by the NATO military committee, and was told that that committee's business was, by its nature, confidential. I then asked whether the FOFA concept would be on the agenda of the December meeting of NATO defence ministers, and I received the reply that the business of the ministerial committee was confidential —[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—"Hear, hear" say Conservative Members. They do not feel the same in America, because three days earlier General Rogers held a briefing for journalists and the details of that press conference were reported fully in the International Herald Tribune on 26 October. That clearly showed that he gave clear answers to the questions that I had asked our Minister.

    The White Paper, in justifying the increase in the number of warheads of the Trident D5 purchase, says:

    "The United Kingdom's deterrent force, when equipped with Trident, will remain the minimum size compatible with cost-effectiveness and credibility."
    As the Government have not yet released details of the number of warheads that will be produced for the Trident system, how can the House judge either contention?

    Ministers have repeatedly denied that "Air-Land Battle" has been used on NATO exercises. Yet Casper Weinberger told Congress that it was used on NATO's Reforger 82 exercise. He also made it clear that the declared intention of the United States Defence Department was to bring about European acceptance of the "Air-Land Battle" doctrine, involving the offensive use of chemical and nuclear weapons in deep attacks. Who is telling the truth, our politicians or American politicians?

    I know who I prefer to believe. [Interruption.] I do not believe our politicians, and that is clear to all on the Opposition Benches. If we do not receive answers from Ministers, I cannot believe what they do not say— [Interruption.]—because they do not say it. They hide behind the tag of "confidential." In the United States., on the other hand, Congress is open on these issues and at press briefings full answers are given to questions that we in this House are denied.

    Last week a group of Members of Parliament went on a visit to SHAPE and NATO for round-table discussions chaired by top military personnel, including Chief of Staff General James E. Dalton, General Bernard Rogers' chief of staff. When asked for information concerning battlefield nuclear weapons and about exactly what General Rogers had sought at the nuclear planning group at Montebello in 1983, he replied:

    "The British Government has been told."
    Pressed about the modernisation of the weapons, he said:

    "It is up to your Government to tell you, not me."
    Asked to what the allies were likely to agree, he said:

    "Ask your own national Government."
    That is precisely the problem. We ask hundreds of questions but find ourselves, like the Select Committee, frustrated by vague and evasive answers.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay) yesterday illustrated the point when he attempted to get answers to questions about American nuclear-tipped artillery shells and their deployment. How much longer in a so-called democratic society must we rely on the American press and Congress to give us the answers that our politicians should be giving us?

    The White Paper says:

    "We welcome this debate for it is vital in a democratic society that people should clearly understand the issues involved in maintaining defences sufficient to deter aggression. We believe it is appropriate, this year to address these questions in detail."
    However, in effect, there is no debate. Nuclear weapons, our defence policy and the secrecy surrounding them are negating the very values in our society on which we so often pride ourselves.

    What is even more sinister is that, while the Labour party intends to see that the defence of the United Kingdom is put on a rational and stable fooling— if Conservative Members waited until the end of my sentence they would not laugh quite so hard—one of our major allies, the United States, is apparently prepared to frustrate the policy of a democratically-elected Government. When asked what the American reaction would be to a British Labour Government abandoning nuclear weapons for Britain, General Dalton replied that the United Kingdom has "a key geographical position". When asked what kind of pressure might be put on a future Labour Government and whether the pressure might include economic sanctions, General Dalton replied, "It might be."—[Interruption.] Obviously Tory Members do not believe in democratically-elected Government.

    When a democratically-elected Government was overthrown in Chile in 1979—

    Did not General Dalton also say that the American Government were pressurising the Government of Canada because they were not happy with their performance and that they were also dissatisfied with the 1 per cent. spending on defence in Japan and were going to put pressure on that Government as well? Does this not show the lengths to which the American Government will go to get their own way?

    I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. He also heard General Dalton say what I am telling Conservative Members, although they obviously do not want to listen.

    Henry Kissinger said about Chile in 1979 that the revolution was in the best interests of the Chilean people. We have seen what the Americans are doing to a democratically elected Government in Nicaragua. We have seen their reaction to New Zealand, when that Government refused to toe the line.

    Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Defence told us that each of us is a sovereign nation. That suggests that we have our destiny in our own hands. Can we believe that when we see how more powerful countries, and even multinational companies, can destroy the economy of a country by their actions?

    Can my hon. Friend elaborate that point? She appears to be announcing an important new papal doctrine from the lips of General Dalton. If the United States is prepared to inflict economic sanctions on Britain, they should remember that economic sanctions have political consequences. Interfering in the affairs of a democratic state amounts to a denial of the democratic system. Were there any witnesses to this statement? Can my hon. Friend give us the names of those present so that we can find out whether they can verify what she is saying? Obviously, NATO will have to respond to what my hon. Friend is saying.

    I thank my hon. Friend for making that important point. Nine Members of Parliament were present at this meeting, and during the round table discussions chaired by General Dalton there were also present Minister-Counselor Grey, from the United States, Rear Admiral John Rodocanachi from Canada, who is assistant chief of staff in the intelligence division, a German general, Major General Jurgen Schluter, deputy assistant chief of staff, policy division, Rear Admiral Kenneth A. Snow, deputy assistant chief of staff, operations division and Air Commodore Pilkington.

    The people at NATO were so concerned by what General Dalton had said that public relations men followed us about for the whole of the rest of the next day, apologising for the way in which General Dalton had responded to our inquiries. They said that he had been so frank because he was letting his hair down because he was retiring in July. We are extremely glad that General Dalton was prepared to let down his hair and be so frank about the intentions of the United States military if a future Labour Government were to implement their non-nuclear policy.

    The Defence White Paper is a bland and complacent document. It completely ignores four things. The first is the growing absurdity of the so-called flexible response. The second is the extent to which the Government are prepared to mortgage our future to United States nuclear weapons policy. The third is the serious financial implications for our conventional forces if Trident is allowed to be constructed. The fourth is the need for clear and detailed information, not least on financial matters, if we are to have democratic debate in anything other than name. In short, the White Paper is much prose to little effect. It is thousands of words that do nothing to paper over the many cracks in Britain's defence posture, which the Government have brought about by muddled thinking and downright evasiveness.

    8.26 pm

    I am prepared to admire the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) for the way in which she has persevered with the issues that she has raised. However, I listened closely to her speech, but I could not agree with a word that she uttered from start to finish. There were two basic errors.

    First, we would all be interested to learn the state of the art of communicating with our nuclear submarines. I would be fascinated — but so would people in the Kremlin. There must be rules and regulations about what is brought into the public domain. Secondly, it is incredibly naive to think that if there were an invasion of West Germany it would not be part of NATO's plan to attack forces piling up in East Germany. That has been part of NATO's defence strategy for many a year, and I hope it will continue to be so.

    In many ways, the debate has an air of unreality. I cannot remember the golden years—they have certainly not been around for the past 20 years — when our defence budget was not under pressure. I remember only too clearly sitting on the Opposition Benches and watching with horror as Labour Ministers slashed the defence budget by about five or six times. If anybody thinks that a Labour party returned to government—I do not think that it will be — would increase spending on conventional weapons, he is living in a fool's paradise.

    I am a 100 per cent. supporter of the Trident decision. I cannot think of a better weapons system to act as a deterrent. I find absurd two arguments in particular of those trotted out against it. The first is that it is too sophisticated. The Trident system is due to last until I reach the age of 82, when I hope to be coming up to being one of the older and perhaps more senior Members of the House. The thought of our not going for the latest and best technology when we have such a period of time ahead of us is absurd. Secondly, the concept that the present Polaris submarines should be allowed to continue beyond their natural lifetime is highly irresponsible. What about the poor crews who have to go to sea in them?

    A vexed issue is the huge and increasing stocks of chemical weapons in the hands of the Soviet Union. Rather chillingly, the White Paper talks about 300,000 tonnes of nerve agencies. How should the West respond to that sort of threat? We might respond in three ways. First, we can look the other way and pretend that we do not know anything about it. I would not back any Government that adopted that point of view. Secondly, we could develop our own offensive chemical weapons capability, a capability that we rightly gave up after the war. If one thinks through the implications both at home and abroad, it is not a course that I would recommend to my Front Bench. There is too much evidence that other countries follow one's bad examples, not necessarily one's good examples. The unilateral disarmers might remember that point.

    There is a third response, which I call the Admiral Sir James Eberle solution, which is fairly brutal: that we should make it perfectly clear that we are not going to develop an offensive chemical weapons capability. I do not think that Congress will allow the United States to develop its stocks. We should also make it perfectly clear that if, in the event of hostilities, there were to be a major use of chemical weapons by the other side, we should feel free to give serious consideration to using tactical nuclear weapons in reply. That may fill many hon. Members with shock and horror, but it is facing reality.

    I have always been in two minds about the Mount Pleasant airfield in the south Atlantic. Of course it was expensive and of course it would change the environment of the islanders, but the case for building it was probably overwhelming. I do not see how our garrison could be scaled down without it. The runway at Stanley will soon need to be repaired, anyway.

    It is very important that our defence policy for the rest of this century should not be distorted by the Falklands campaign. That would be most foolish. Our defence posture in the Falklands is a burden on the defence budget. Admiral Stavely has referred to the shortage of ships in the north Atlantic. He claims that the fleet is at about half strength. It is a big naval commitment. For most of my political life Britain has been withdrawing its forces from the far-flung corners of the empire back to northern Europe and the north Atlantic. I do not see how we will have the ability in future to send another task force 8,000 miles down the Atlantic sea lanes. Should we have the merchant ships if a similar operation had to be carried out in a year's time, let alone in 10 years' time? I hope that the Ministry of Defence is feeding to the Foreign Office some of the long term implications of our strategy in that part of the world.

    Finally, I wish to refer to a subject that is given a special little essay of its own in the White Paper, the British training teams abroad. They do a remarkable job. It is a rare privilege for a country to be invited to send training personnel to build up from scratch, or to rebuild the defence forces of a country. We have tremendous expertise. Some of our best soldiers, sailors and airmen are involved in these programmes. In real terms, however, we have cut back upon the expenditure on those programmes. I ascertained that fact from the Library this afternoon. I know that more people are serving abroad—in about 30 countries, I believe—but it is shortsighted to cut back on the amount of money that is put into that effort.

    Our defence policy is very much on the right course. It backs up our foreign policy. Lord Home of the Hirsel used to refer to dealing in conciliation from a basis of strength. Our Foreign Secretary is, I understand, to be the first British Foreign Secretary to visit each eastern European capital. That policy is reinforced by the fact that in the last Parliament we spent so much time upon strengthening our defence capability. We are taken seriously. Lord Mountbatten made a famous speech in May 1979. It is much used by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I see that on the CND bumf they write on top "The speech we overlooked." I did not overlook that speech. Lord Mountbatten said:

    "To begin with we are most likely to preserve the peace if there is a military balance of strength between East and West. The real need is for both sides to replace the attempts to maintain a balance through ever-increasing and even more costly nuclear armaments by a balance based on mutual restraint. Better still, by reduction of nuclear armaments I believe it should be possible to achieve greater security at a lower level of military confrontation."
    That is very much where I stand. Anybody who read the major speech made by the Prime Minister in Hungary recently knows that is very much where my right hon. Friend stands. It is a thoroughly sound and sensible approach for this Government to adopt.

    Ministers in the Ministry of Defence may feel that the campaign against CND has gone well, that our defence posture is sound and that to some extent, therefore, we can rest on our laurels. That is a fundamentally false assumption. A great deal of evangelical work lies ahead of us in two areas. First, the very success of NATO means that it is not understood by a growing number of people in our constituencies. Secondly, the need for NATO to have a back-up of nuclear weapons is not understood in the schools and universities of this country. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done there.

    It used to be said of the Stonewall Jackson brigade in the American civil war that it started at dawn—except when it started the night before. I commend that sort of spirit to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement. God forbid that he should have too many late nights, but let him and his colleagues get up early. They have a fundamental job to do of great importance to the safety of this country. They have to explain what our defence policy is all about. In return, my right hon. Friend has the privilege of responsibility for the finest, fittest, most skilled and most courageous service men in the world.

    8.36 pm

    I regret that I have to say to the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) that I agree with very little of his speech. However, he referred to his abhorrence of chemical weapons. I should like to say a few words about chemical weapons and their possible use in war. Paragraph 18 of Annexe A of the "Statement of the Defence Estimates" is headed "Chemical Weapons". This paragraph of 15 lines contains a vitally important sentence:

    "Among NATO members, only the United States has chemical weapons; but she has produced none since 1969 and has only a limited and ageing retaliatory capability, which is not declared to NATO."
    That sentence raises a number of questions: what are these weapons? Where are they located? What does "not declared to NATO" really mean? One could even ask questions about their control.

    Chemical and biological weapons are the subject of the Geneva protocol of 1925 which outlaws the use of these weapons. While nations agree to a no-first-use policy, it did not stop the signatories, including the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom from using them in retaliatory circumstances, nor did the protocol stop production and stockpiling. Chemical weapons are barbaric, destabilising and socially abhorrent, yet on a recent visit to SHAPE and NATO the message to the parliamentary group was quite clear. In view of the Soviet Union's superiority in chemical stocks, it is necessary further to develop this type of weapon so that NATO military commanders have it at their disposal in a battle situation.

    In a world where some countries have the capacity to use nuclear weapons not only to destroy the territory of an aggressor but to destroy all living matter on earth, to develop and deploy new chemical weapons is the height of criminal insanity. As a consequence, disarmament talks would become even more difficult as a new arms race began. It would undoubtedly lead to a proliferation of committees and increased tension and suspicion.

    The Government's view on chemical weapons was put during a debate in another place. Lord Trefgarne echoed the Prime Minister when he said in the House of Lords on 23 April that Britain had abandoned its chemical warfare capability in the 1950s and that that policy had not changed, nor was any change proposed. So far so good. However, I shall now return to the questions that I proposed a few moments ago, and examine together Lord Trefgarne's statement and the text that I quoted from the White Paper. I shall demonstrate clearly that the Government are more closely linked to chemical weapons than they want the public to know.

    For a start, the paragraph in the White Paper is misleading, because it does not let an uninformed reader know that the USA has chemical weapon stocks in the Federal Republic of Germany. It does not tell the reader what kind of weapons are stored there, and it misleads by suggesting that they are not part of NATO's armoury.

    In the debate in another place to which I referred previously, Lord Trefgarne acknowledged the existence of the US chemical weapon stocks in the Federal Republic of Germany but dismissed the information given to him by Lord May hew when he said:

    "I do not think he will be surprised when I tell him that it is not really a matter for me."
    I am surprised that a Minister can utter those words when the United Kingdom is a member of NATO and US forces —except for a few on specialist duties—are committed to NATO and armed with chemical weapons.

    Lord Trefgarne also emphasised, in replying to a point raised by Lord Kennet, the need to uphold NATO's deterrent strategy of flexible response. In reply to another of Lord Kennet's points about chemical weapon release procedures, he said:

    "Political control of the limited US stocks is therefore naturally a matter for them."
    I shall return to the question of political control procedures, but, as the writers say, the plot is beginning to thicken.

    Further evidence to substantiate the link is provided by David Summerhayes, disarmament adviser to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—at the time of writing, anyway—and former head of the British delegation to the Committee on Disarmament. His article, entitled, "Chemical Weapons: Postures, plans and prospects for control", was printed in the November/December 1983 edition of "Review", which is published by the armament and disarmament information unit at Sussex university. He wrote:
    "The US is the principal stockholder of chemical weapons for the NATO alliance, with the bulk of these stocks held as filled munitions or in storage tanks in the Continental US."
    But he also said that

    "NATO has only a small stock of US-provided chemical weapons in West Germany … while the remainder would have to be transported across the Atlantic if an attack were ever launched against NATO".
    That is quite explicit. It is NATO that has the chemical weapon stock, and the United Kingdom is a member of NATO.

    No, I am trying to finish my speech.

    Another piece of evidence demonstrating that this country is closer to chemical weapons than many understand is Casper Weinberger's report to Congress in 1982 that the United States' doctrine of airland battle had been used during the NATO exercise code named Reforger. Airland battle is described in the "US Army Field Manual 100–5" as follows:

    "By exending the battlefield and integrating conventional, nuclear, chemical and electronic means, forces can exploit enemy vulnerabilities anywhere."
    The Secretary of State emphasised yesterday the United Kingdom's commitment to the doctrine of flexible response, and this allows a wide range of weapons to be used in the face of an attack by an aggressor. Further, General Rogers has asked for the production by the West of the new binary chemical weapons, and for them to be stored in Europe.

    The several pieces of evidence that I have cited demonstrate clearly that, despite the Government's posturing against chemical weapons, they are double-dealing with the public because they have committed British troops to a military alliance that has chemical weapons in its armoury. Furthermore, one of the countries, the USA, is developing new, more powerful and more deadly chemical weapons. We are in danger of entering a period that could lead to a disaster of catastrophic proportions. Will the Minister comment on the anticipated role of British troops if General Rogers decides to deploy chemical weapons?

    Another aspect of the policy raises important questions. In reply to a parliamentary written question from my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), asking for a statement on the work of the Chemical Defence Establishment at Porton Down, the Minister replied that the primary role of the CDE is to carry out research and development in order to improve our defences against attack by chemical weapons. That answer hides the vast amount of research carried out for the Ministry of Defence and the CDE at Porton Down by universities and other institutions.

    Earlier this year, representatives of the group of scientists working party on chemical and biological weapons met Members of Parliament in the House of Commons and stressed the concern about the growth of funding by the MOD in universities. In fact, they said that the level is so high that it threatens the whole direction of higher education. The working party also stressed that some of the research was related to chemical and biological weapons.

    A further example of university involvement is contained in an advertisement in the 16 May issue of the New Scientist. Applications were invited for research studentships at the university of Southampton, and one of them was for research on

    "novel synthetic approaches to some of the toxins and related alkaloids."
    It was in the name of Dr. P. J. Parsons and CDE Porton.

    What research is being carried out in our universities on chemical weapons, and how much are the Government hiding by placing the research with outside bodies? Those are very serious questions that need to be answered.

    Much pressure is being exercised in the United States by the President and the military for the development and deployment of new chemical weapons, particularly the big eye bomb and the 155 mm shell. Although the binary chemical weapon, the big eye bomb, is flawed, pressure is mounting for its deployment.

    According to the Washington Post of 31 May this year, Deputy Assistant Defence Secretary, Thomas J. Welch, said, in an interview, that

    "Big eye is lethal enough to kill enemy troops. It is a bonus and we are not going to give it away because the chemical isn't pure."
    Such is the haste of the Administration in the United States to get the bomb on to the soil of Europe. Those weapons are intended for Europe, and in particular for areas such as mine, in the north-east of England. Primary targets will be airfields, docks and shipyards, because the use of those weapons will be to slow down supply lines. The military would not be particularly interested in using them in battle situations because it would slow down its own troops, with the enormous amount of protective clothing needed— and, of course, the gas would spread uncontrollably.

    Civilians are not to be equipped against the danger with the necessary specialist equipment. None of the research that I know of at Porton Down—and I have visited the establishment — is aimed at providing people in the docks and civilians on airfields with the necessary clothing. The people I represent would like to know, as a matter of urgency, the Government's real position, and it would help if the Government would give detailed answers to the following questions. What did the British Government actually say to President Reagan's review commission on chemical warfare when it visited Britain in March this year? What are the exact terms of and our obligations to the quadrupartite agreement on chemical weapons? How would the Government respond if big eye were deployed in Europe? Finally, what research on chemical weapons is being carried out in British universities and similar institutions?

    The whole of human life on earth is already in great danger of total annihilation. A decision to manufacture and deploy chemical weapons might be the one that pushes us over the ever-looming abyss. All of us in this House have a duty to our families and to the people we represent to prevent the seemingly inevitable from happening. Only by destroying, not adding to, existing weapon stocks can we build the peace that we all desire.

    The Secretary of State said that nuclear weapons had kept the peace for 40 years. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin) destroyed that argument yesterday. However, the Secretary of State is not talking of peace; he is talking about the absence of war. I and my colleagues want to live in a world of mutual understanding between nations and real peace.

    8.50 pm

    I marvel that the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) could speak for 14 minutes on chemical weapons without making any reference to the 300,000 tonnes of modern binary weapons held by the Soviet Union. But, of course, we well know the standpoint of the hon. Gentleman and many of his hon. Friends. They are concerned to draw attention to outdated 20-year-old residual American offensive capability.

    I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the clarity of his White Paper and the wide range of information that it contained. I noted his criticism of the Defence Committee's report on the defence commitment and resources in his robust opening speech. What he is achieving through competition and increased efficiency is of very great importance. I certainly welcome what he is doing. I wish that I could share his belief that the savings will be on a scale great enough to bridge the resources gap that appears to be looming.

    From next year, not only are we to abandon the 3 per cent. commitment, but in each of the two following years there will be a net reduction in real terms in defence expenditure, albeit very small. But, as the Chief of Defence Staff pointed out to the Defence Committee, the real danger is that zero growth could end up as negative growth with a shortfall of up to 7 per cent.

    The position inevitably will be aggravated by the fact that forces' pay is running ahead of the normal retail price index. Technological information in modern military equipment is running ahead by a factor of two or three of that index, and there are the exchange rate effects on the Trident purchase. All those are to be found at the expense of something else in the defence budget. If my right hon. Friend's optimism does not prove well founded—and I hope that it will be—cuts in manpower, capability and commitments are inevitable.

    It is tragic that the Labour party that has for so long played such an honourable part in the defence of this country should have abandoned the bipartisan policy that has guaranteed our country's peace for 40 years. The Labour party of today would make itself the Trojan horse for the fulfilment of the key Soviet strategic and foreign policy objective of the unilateral nuclear disarmament of the United Kingdom, the removal of American bases from this country and the consequent break-up of NATO as an effective deterrent to war and to Soviet expansionism in Europe.

    Other speakers have referred to the report on the use of merchant shipping for defence purposes. I merely make the point that, for the first time, we as a nation do not have sufficient merchant vessels in each category to meet our war requirements. The British merchant fleet has dropped from 1,600 in 1975 to a mere 700 eight years later. It is continuing to decline at the rate of about 100 per annum. How much longer are we to tolerate the unfair competition from the Soviet Union, both in cruise ships and in freight? How much longer are we to use British taxpayers' money to give our Soviet bloc competitors an advantage? I have in mind that magnificent deal whereby we build ships for the Polish merchant fleet to put British seamen and British shipping lines out of work. Surely that should be urgently reconsidered by my right hon. Friend in consultation with his colleagues.

    I come now to the strategic arms race, to SDI and to the whole question of arms control. We have reached a critical point in the strategic arms race and the prospects for arms control. President Reagan has declared that the United States will continue to observe the SALT II limitations, which will involve the decommissioning of a United States Poseidon submarine, in spite of what the United States believes to be a clear violation of the existing arms control agreement.

    I welcome the President's decision, for without it the prospects of achieving in Geneva meaningful progress in arms limitation talks would have been slim indeed. However, as we are currently faced with negotiating with a new and more vigorous Soviet leadership, and as we stand on the threshold of dramatic developments in military technology, it is important to take stock of the position today.

    Since the signing of the ABM treaty in 1972, the strategic balance between the superpowers has undergone a major transformation. Those fundamental changes are today placing extreme pressures on existing arms control treaties.

    Since 1972, the Soviets have been working all out to acquire a first strike capability—something that they are close to achieving. Since that date, they have deployed more than 650 SS18S and SS19 missiles with a total between them of more than 5,000 independently targetable nuclear warheads, which combine the accuracy of 250 yards with a destructive power of half a megaton, which gives both of those categories of missiles a silo-busting capability. On the other hand, the Americans have no more than 900 comparable warheads, namely, the Minuteman 3, with the mark 12A warheads.

    The chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Vessey, has testified that already 70 to 75 per cent. of the United States Minuteman force could be destroyed in a pre-emptive strike. That figure is expected to rise to as high as 90 or 95 per cent. within the next few years with the deployment of the fifth generation Soviet ICBMs. That degree of imbalance between the superpowers in first strike capability not only might incline the Soviet leadership towards a dangerous gamble— although that has not been inherent in its nature thus far — but more realistically makes likely a position in which the United States might feel constrained to launch on warning. Such a position is profoundly unsatisfactory, destabilising and dangerous because there would be less than 30 minutes in which to assess the threat and take decisive action. This enormously increases the possibility of mistakes.

    The Soviet Union is not only far ahead of the United States in first-strike capability but has the only operational anti-ballistic missile system in the world and has demonstrated an anti-satellite capability, achieving success in four of its last five tests. In defiance of the ABM treaty, the Soviet Union has established a large phased-array radar at Krasnoyarsk in central Soviet Union and has tested its SA5 and SA12 surface-to-air missiles in an ABM mode close to 100,000 ft, far higher than any aircraft can fly.

    This combination of factors has provided the urgency behind the President's decision to forge ahead with SDI, which holds profound implications for our national interests for arms control. It is not up to us whether this technology goes ahead. It is not even up to the United States. The Soviets are forging ahead. For a decade already they have been spending as much on defence as offence.

    It is vital that the United Kingdom should form its view and exercise its powers of influence over our great ally to ensure that the right decisions are taken at this critical time. I trust that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will move quickly to identify those areas of research that will have application to British defence interests. It is obvious that, if we are to be participants in research, our influence will be far greater than that of a bystander. We must be involved. We must make sure that Britain's voice is heard.

    9 pm

    My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was rather peeved at some of the points made by the Select Committee on Defence. His colleagues on the Front Bench received it with a certain stoicism which, I suppose, we can respect. If they are not pleased at the quality of our report and do not believe that we have got it right, to a large extent that is their fault. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made much of the fact that the ability to cope with defence commitments on the present admittedly high plateau without increases had a thoroughly sound defence basis. It was militarily sound; it was acceptable; and they could cope. That may be the case today — although the Committee had its doubts—but it certainly was not the case when the decision was made two years ago. At that stage, neither my right hon. Friend nor his team had looked at the problem. It was a political decision. Therefore, it was totally reasonable for the Select Committee to look at what might be a perfectly correct and sound political decision to ascertain the defence and military fall-out from that decision.

    If we got it wrong — my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said that he would have come up with a different answer—I say, "Give us further and better particulars" because we want to arrive at a sensible solution and to form an informed judgment for the House and the country. I speak only for myself, but I suspect that I would carry my Select Committee colleagues with me. If we have not got it right, it is because of the decision taken at the highest level by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team that there are certain aspects of future defence policy that they are not prepared to share with the Defence Committee. That saddens me. Perhaps they do not trust us. I have had the privilege of being on that Select Committee for six years. Not one secret or confidence has leaked out. Whatever the Government have told us— they have given us some extremely sensitive information—it has remained within the four walls of the Committee Room. We have never let anything get out, so the Government should trust us.

    If the Government believe that they must be diverse in their options during the next four or five years, that is something that, again, the Committee would understand. The Committee believes that there is a serious problem ahead. We have tried to report on it. If we have not got it right, it is largely the fault of Ministers and officials in the Ministry of Defence who have not shared the problems with us as we hoped.

    My next point concerns Trident and the nuclear deterrent. I shall skate over the argument quickly. The leader of the SDP made an uncharacteristically bad speech yesterday. I say "uncharacteristically" because normally he is pretty sound on defence. Yesterday, he was in tremendous difficulty because he had the CND wing of the alliance sitting behind him and many young Liberals sitting outside waiting to jump on any sensible defence remarks that he made to show that the Liberal wing of the alliance speaks for a very different voice from that of the right hon. Gentleman.

    The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) remarked on the horror that would be felt in the United States. He said that last week he had been in the Congress when the Americans realised the consequences of our decision not to increase the defence budget from 1986. We went there just before Easter and spoke to the Senate armed services committee—Senator Nunn, who in the past has been critical of our European defence efforts, was there— and to the House armed services committee. They were well aware of the difficulties that we would face because they were facing up to them. They were looking at the consequences of what would happen.

    I am sure the House will agree that, were the Americans or the Alliance to be alarmed because we were unable to devote more financial resources to our defence budget over the next few years, that would be nothing to the alarm and instability within the Alliance that would follow a unilaterial decision by the United Kingdom to opt out of the nuclear business.

    I shall not go into the military arguments, but I hope that the Minister will say something about the political arguments. They are much too neglected, and many people outside this House do not understand them. We must consider the effect among the people of the United States if it was felt that we were opting out of a responsibility that we have carried for the last 30 years —[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) may laugh, but there is a streak of isolationism in the United States, as anyone who has spent some time there will realise. It is under the surface. So long as America feels that Europe is making a sufficient effort in the defence of the West things will be fine, but if it believes that we shall merely load more responsibilities on to the United States and live under their defence umbrella that will have a destabilising effect.

    The consequences within the European part of the NATO Alliance will also be extremely grave. We occupy a very special position among the European partners of NATO, and we can look with pride on what we have done. However, if we declined to contribute our nuclear deterrent to NATO, we would fundamentally change the relationships and responsibilities within that Alliance. That would change the whole perspective of the Alliance, vis-a-vis West Germany, which provides more conventional forces and assets in the European theatre than we are able to do. This would unbalance the way in which the Alliance is structured and the way in which we play such a leading part, both politically and militarily.

    We may talk about the military balance between conventional and nuclear forces and the desirability of a deterrent which, while cheaper, would be less effective—

    I notice that you are about to bring my remarks to an end, Mr. Speaker, but I was told that I could speak until 9.10 pm.

    Political destabilisation would in the long term be far more serious for the Alliance, because we might be able to overcome any military destabilisation with American assistance.

    9.7 pm

    As a non-member of the Select Committee on Defence, it is nice to have an opportunity to contribute to the debate. I must declare an interest, because I still serve with the Territorial Army in the light infantry battalion, and that will add a certain bias to my few remarks.

    Paragraph 418 of the statement, which relates to the British Army of the Rhine, says that 55,000 troops are based in BAOR, with a further 100,000 reinforcements, but many hon. Members may not appreciate that 50 per cent. of infantry reinforcements are formed in the Territorial Army.

    Paragraph 420 explains that 1(BR) Corps faces a substantial tank threat. In that regard, I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State announce yesterday that a sixth regiment is to get Challenger main battle tanks. I hold a biased view on this matter, because the engines are manufactured in my constituency. That was an extremely welcome announcement, as was the announcement that we are to get more MCV80s, the armoured fighting vehicle, and Saxon, the armoured personnel carrier. They are manufactured in Shropshire, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley), and fortunately many of my constituents are employed there.

    The statement goes on to mention the role of the Milan anti-tank guided weapon system and anti-tank weaponry. I hope that while we all call for more expenditure on conventional defence we shall envisage a greater establishment of that anti-tank guided weapons system for the Territorial Army element—15 and 49 brigades— which forms part of the reinforcements for 1(BR) Corps.

    Only a few weeks ago the Commander of the United Kingdom Field Army and Inspector General of the Territorial Army spoke in the media of the balance between the Territorial Army and the Regular Army which provides the main core of instructors for the Territorial Army. He rightly reminded politicians that, although he welcomed the expansion of the Territorial Army, as I hope we all welcome it, we must bear in mind the demands that it places on the Regular Army and the instructors that it is required to provide for the 73,000-strong Territorial Army.

    My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to that welcome expansion. The increase in equipment is also welcome, but we must also keep a sharp eye on morale in the Territorial Army. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will be able to give some encouragement today to those members of the Territorial Army who are unemployed. The issue has been raised many times since I came to the House and Ministers from both the MOD and the DHSS have promised that it will be investigated. Those who are honest enough to declare that they receive pay from the Territorial Army have their benefit stopped immediately by the DHSS, although there may be a delay of six weeks and often much longer before they receive their Territorial Army pay. That causes great hardship to those who give their∗ time and declare their earnings legitimately, as so many in the black market do not. I hope that the Government will take this on board as a matter of continuing concern to Members in all parts of the House who support the Territorial Army.

    Finally, I should place on record a special word of thanks to the employers who support the Territorial Army.

    Their business is clearly affected, as they lose staff for at least 14 days training per year. Fortunately, however, employers in this country are prepared to do that and to encourage the Territorial Army in that way. I am sure that that support is greatly welcomed by Members in all parts of the House.

    9.12 pm

    In this lengthy two-day debate many hon. Members have participated. The debate has perhaps lacked cut and thrust because with the 10-minute rule people are naturally reluctant to give way unduly. I do not wish to break any conventions in that respect but if the opportunity arises we shall have to see what happens.

    The debate was preceded by a variety of leaks and considerable speculation, much of which seems to have been distressingly accurate in respect of the Secretary of State. Virtually everyone who spoke referred to the report produced by the Select Committee on Defence and to the evidence that that Committee considered. Members in all parts of the House agree that the spending spree is over or at least is coming to an end. The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) said that more money would have to be found even from this most parsimonious of Governments, but I do not think that any extra money will be forthcoming so the anxieties expressed by Members in all parts of the House about their pet projects are doubtless well founded. Certainly, I do not think that there is much likelihood of adopting the policy suggested by the SDP—that everything would be all right if we would only employ sea-launched cruise missiles, which that part of the alliance at any rate seems to regard as the acceptable face of nuclear war.

    Our amendment makes it clear that we want no part of Trident and that a Labour Government would cancel it forthwith. We have heard many speeches for and against Trident, including some rather reluctant support from Conservative Members, but the Government seem determined to proceed with the project regardless of the cost. There is now time for an assessment of the cost. We have had the debate about rising and falling exchange rates, but it is important that there be some detailed examination of costs. The Select Committee would appear to be the most appropriate vehicle for such an examination.

    In 1982, missiles would have accounted for 17 per cent. of the cost, or £1,278 million. That cost appears to have dropped to 14 per cent. in 1985. If those figures are correct, they can have been caused by one of three reasons. First, missiles cost 30 per cent. less in dollars than they did in 1982. Secondly, the reduction might be accounted for by a drop in production costs in dollars, although that is unlikely. Thirdly, some of the missile costs might have been switched elsewhere. Spending less on missiles would be consistent with having only three Trident submarines. That option has not been discussed today, but it must be exercising the Government. It is possible to have three submarines — one in refit, one in base and one operational. That would be the last face-saving gesture if the Government wished to retain the independent nuclear deterrent.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) considered communication and control facilities, and my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) referred to the problems of communication and control in the south Atlantic. If we could not get that right—nobody denies the difficulties—the facilities that we operate for Polaris must be upgraded. We do not want Trident but were we to have it and to have a system of communication and control—

    The Minister says that this is an obsession. It is an illustration of a cost which the Government have never stated. The Secretary of State slid over it yesterday and the Minister of State refused to answer questions about it today. Nevertheless, it could cost upwards of £600 million. It has never been made clear to the House whether that cost has been included in the budget or whether it will have to come along later. In the light of experience of the increasing cost of such projects, it is only reasonable to raise the matter now. We want to know whether £600 million is an accurate figure for a command and control system, whether it has been included in the budget and, if it has not, where the money will come from.

    We are extremely worried about other aspects of the procurement side of Trident. The claims about the amount of work which would go to British companies have not been met. If the costings done on an exchange rate of $178 to the pound are to be taken account of now, when the exchange rate is about $1·25 to the pound—

    $1·28 today, $1·26 yesterday and $1·24 the day before. Unlike the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins), I have not had the luxury of an opportunity to look at the tapes this evening. Instead of quibbling about figures such as that, the Defence Select Committee, of which the right hon. Gentleman is Chairman, should examine this major item of expenditure again and seek clear information about these matters, not least the British share of contracts for the project, which seem at the moment to be at a depressingly low level.

    How does the hon. Gentleman answer the question that the costs of the Tornado programme were half as much again as Trident on a much smaller budget? Therefore, is not all this spurious? Is not the Labour party just against Trident, with no intention of moving the £500 million a year that would be saved into any conventional area?

    I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point. It is about time that we pinned this one to the wall. Frankly, they are not valid comparisons— the two budgets are extremely different. When Tornado was being funded, it was on the basis of a rising budget. We have been told that at best there will be level funding for the next four years. Therefore, there is no comparison on that basis.

    The impact on our conventional defence—our "real defence", as our amendment says— is all too clear. Virtually every speech made by hon. Members on both sides of the House has returned to the theme that we do not have enough money, and certainly the biggest single element in the budget will be Trident expenditure.

    More than anything else, reference has been made to the provision of type 23 frigates. We welcome the announcement; we are happy about it. However, we want to know from the Minister when the hulls will be laid, and whether the target of providing us with a fleet of 50 ships will be met by the end of the decade. The Minister of State for Defence Procurement did not make that clear. He did not tell us what would be happening beyond next year. The year after that there will be a Labour Government, and a different set of priorities. However, the Government of the day owe it to the Navy and the country to explain what will happen in the ordering of type 23s.

    Many ships will be up to 25 years old within a couple of years, and they will have to be replaced. Of the 12 frigates and destroyers that are at present on order, three were ordered under the Labour Government. There will be increasing problems with aging craft in a short time. If the Government want to secure a fleet of 50 ships which, by and large, is agreed as being desirable on both sides of the House, they will have to set in train a more positive plan of ordering than the present plan, given that it will take between five and six years from the date of ordering to completion.

    The Minister did not intervene yesterday when the right hon. Member for Spelthorne, the Chairman of the Select Committee, attacked my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) about the costing for those frigates. The figure of £110 million has been quoted. A figure of £150 million was quoted in yesterday's edition of The Times. Perhaps the Minister will let the House know which of those figures is correct.

    It is there, but it has been in there before, and it has changed. The most up-to-date costings suggest that it is more than that. Perhaps the Minister will give a revised figure.

    If we cannot get such information, we want to know when the hulls will be laid. Many hon. Members were concerned about the Secretary of State's response to the other ships that were being requested—the amphibious class. Many people took offence at the Secretary of State's carping criticism of officials, the people whom he was seeking to blame for the leaks and the campaign for replacements for Hermes and Invincible. Apparently, people leaking under a Labour Government are acceptable and should be cheered along, but people who do so under a Conservative Government are to be condemned.

    We realise that not for those individuals will be the fate that was provided for Sarah Tisdall, because they are too influential. What they are saying has too much support on Conservative Benches. At the end of the day, the Government will have to provide the backing for amphibious craft that the country wants. The Government will take on junior clerks and clerical officers, but they will not take on the brass hats—they will simply try to insult them from the Dispatch Box.

    Hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed anxiety about the merchant marine. We are grateful to the Select Committee for its report, and I understand why, at this stage, the Minister is reluctant to debate it. However, I cannot stress strongly enough the purposes of the Merchant Navy, which include the transatlantic reinforcement of Europe, the reinforcement of Europe from the United Kingdom, transferring British and American equipment to Europe and direct support for the Royal Navy. The gross registered tonnage of the fleet has declined by about 59 per cent.—from 50 million tonnes in 1975 to 18·642 million tonnes last year—and the number of ships has declined from more than 1,600 to just over 700. Those figures are extremely worrying, because we know the role that the merchant marine played in the south Atlantic and that it would have to play in any conventional war.

    We know from the Select Committee report that the Government are confused. Paragraph 13 states:

    "The use of statistics on several different bases does not … affect the actual availability of hulls needed for defence purposes. Nevertheless, it is essential to assess defence needs as a proportion of the total fleet; and the use, even by the Government, of different statistics for the latter has confused debate and has made the Government's response less convincing."

    Will the hon. Gentleman pay tribute to what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, whose presence on the Front Bench this evening is appropriate, said about the Merchant Navy? Is not the Minister who should be here the Chancellor of the Exchequer, since it is fiscal policy that is at fault? It is one reason why there is so much flagging out and why, because of unfair competition from overseas countries that subsidise their fleets and practise protectionism, the merchant fleet is declining at such a rate. Should not the Chancellor be here?

    The hon. Gentleman has made his point, despite being denied the opportunity to make a speech. The Opposition believe that the Chancellor should be blamed for almost everything. However, I am grateful that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport is here this evening.

    The Select Committee report is littered with examples of confused thinking from the Government. There is confusion about the availability of ships for requisition and about the state of ships that have been flagged out. We await the report of the shipping economics advisory group. It will probably take both Departments about two months to come to a conclusion. When they reach a conclusion, I hope that it will be the subject of a debate in Government time. I hope that, as a result of the Select Committee report, we shall have a clear definition of the collection of data, the instructions or advice that the consultants were given. So far, there has been a clear lack of preparation and foresight by both Departments in giving any instructions to the consultants. That is not in keeping with the Prime Minister's statement that the Merchant Navy should be regarded as the fourth part of our defences.

    Ships' crews are another difficulty. Not only do we need ships, but we need men to serve on them. There has been a steady outflow of men from the Merchant Navy and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) said, the Government take into account men on oil-related work in the North sea, which might not be the most appropriate training for the work that would be undertaken during a war. If that requires Government money, as has been said, we may be able to use the Department of Transport, because if the Ministry of Defence does not have the money perhaps the Department of Transport can be touched for some of the resources required.

    Other points have been mentioned. The royal dockyards and SDI were referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes). Unfortunately, the hon.

    Lady is not here. Her request for an extension of the consultative period on the royal dockyards was a perfect example of the ingenuity of a Back Bencher who does not want to appear too disloyal to her Government.

    There is no way that there will be a change in the timetable for consultations, as far as I can see. If there is a change in that consultative process the legislative programme for them will be scuppered. The Government would not then be able to rush through the Bill next year and, as they hope, have it passed before a general election.

    In the long term, of course, there is the issue of star wars. It will not go away. The current special diplomatic initiative of the Reagan Administration will be with us for some time. I am confident that Conservative Back Benchers are somewhat out of step with the Foreign Secretary who seems to be a good deal more sceptical about the value of SDI than most of the people who have slavishly followed the propaganda that the American Administration have been pouring out.

    Any suggestion that we shall see a practical demonstration of SDI within three years is wishful thinking. It will be impossible. I hope that it will not happen because it will be at the expense of the ABM treaty. I am relieved to know that we cannot be involved in the project because we cannot afford it. Thoughts of our hi-tech industries becoming involved in it are unrealistic. Given the budget about which we are talking today, no amount of competitive tendering, fixed-price contracts or shaving of expenditure will enable us to indulge officially in the star wars fantasies.

    The Labour party's responsibility towards defence is to ensure that the country plays its role in NATO and to ensure that a Britain free of nuclear bases can assist in restoring stability to Europe and, I hope, to the rest of the world by committing the resources necessary to prove to the Americans, our other Alliance partners and the Soviet Union that we are interested in peace and disarmament but that we are prepared to defend Britain in a way that is consistent with our resources and our standing in the world. The White Paper does not do that, and, therefore, I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to join me in opposing the motion.

    9.33 pm

    If the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) wants his party to play its role in NATO, it should take some account of what NATO thinks of the Labour party's current policies which it regards as detrimental to NATO's interests.

    We have had an interesting debate. I am sorry that some of my hon. Friends who have waited patiently through one day, and possibly two, have been unable to contribute.

    The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) made a far-reaching statement on nuclear weapons policy on behalf of the official Opposition. I listened carefully. He said that his party's policy was to get rid of all nuclear weapons in this country. I should be grateful if he would clarify—I shall of course give way to him—whether it is the Labour party's policy to get rid of British nuclear weapons as well as American nuclear weapons.

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for confirming that. I hope that he and the rest of his party are giving considerable thought to the extraordinarily anomalous and ridiculous position of depriving British Armed Forces of nuclear weapons in this country and having nuclear weapons still at their disposal elsewhere. That is a ludicrously inconsistent policy, and he should recognise it.

    Much the most telling speech from Opposition Members came from the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who told his colleagues that being a Socialist does not mean denying the citizenry adequate defence. He stressed the difficulty that the Labour party would face in convincing British citizens at the general election that they would be adequately defended by Labour policies. He was absolutely right.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) referred to our policy on dockyards. She asked whether a contractor would be able to manage for more than five or six years. Weė have said that at the end of the initial contract the management of the dockyards will be thrown open to fresh tenders. Clearly, that is the best way of ensuring adequate competition, and keen prices and performance. However, there is no reason why a contractor whose performance has been good should not win a renewal of his contract.

    My hon. Friend also asked about compulsory redundancies. To make the necessary improvements in the dockyards we need to begin efficiency measures now before the introduction of contractor management. We believe from our experience that the bulk of any jobs reductions can be achieved by natural wastage, early retirement and voluntary redundancy. While compulsory redundancies cannot be ruled out, we expect them to be largely avoided.

    The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) asked about comparisons between refitting Euryalus and Otter in the private sector and the cost of work done in the royal dockyards. A direct comparison with a Leander frigate and a submarine being refitted at Devonport will be made, and the Ministry is establishing a special exercise to ensure that as detailed and accurate a comparison as possible is made.

    The Minister's earlier remarks do not sound as if the Government are open minded about the three options. He has given a far indication that the Government's preferred option is the only option and, therefore, that the consultation period is a farce.

    The hon. Gentleman would not be right in coming to that conclusion. We have made it clear that our mind is open and that we are conducting consultations.

    A great deal of the debate has inevitably been taken up with weapon systems and the question of the defence budgets, to which I shall return. As hon. Members pointed out, the men and women of the armed services are every bit as important. Those who keep aircraft serviceable around the clock in the freezing Falklands weather, those who live and work cheek by jowl for months on end in submarines, and those daily at risk of bomb or bullet in Northern Ireland are just a few of those in our Armed Forces of whom our country and those of all political complexions are justly proud.

    The Government are aware of their responsibility to give those men and women a fair and proper reward for their skills and for the demanding and sometimes dangerous circumstances in which they serve. I can fairly say that the Government's record on looking after the Armed Forces pay and conditions is thoroughly creditable and, certainly, a significant improvement on that of our predecessors.

    When we came to office in May 1979 the annual rate for premature voluntary retirement exits of men across the three services had risen to 4·4 per cent., which is the highest level recorded during the past 10 years. In addition, the Labour Government had allowed service pay to fall significantly behind the rate recommended by the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. In contrast, I am glad to say that in 1984–85 the rate of premature voluntary retirement exits was down to barely more than half what it was when we came to office.

    In addition, as a result of the full and non-phased implementation of the AFPRB's 1985 pay recommendation announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last week, service pay is currently right up to the recommended AFPRB rate. Indeed, apart from a seven-month period last year, that has been the case throughout the entire six years we have been in office.

    I entirely agree with what my right hon. Friend has been saying. However, will he look into the question of amenities at some stations, particularly RAF stations, where the facilities for service men, their wives and families have fallen considerably? In my constitutency, at RAF Marham, the swimming pool and theatre have been closed for two or three years.

    My hon. Friend has ingeniously introduced a constituency point which he has already raised with me. We shall look into the matter. It does not offset the basic point that I made, namely, that on service pay and conditions generally we have done creditably since 1979.

    A number of hon. Members referred to the strategic defence initiative. I do not disagree with those who see the SDI as of potentially profound significance for stability. But I disagree with those who see it as an initiative of the United States alone. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) pointed out, the Soviet Union was first in the field with an SDI research programme, which dates back to the 1960s and which has included extensive research into technologies directly relevant to ballistic missile defence including high-energy lasers, particle beams and heavy lift capability.

    Moreover, the Soviet Union has already gone far further down the track of ballistic missile defence than has the United States in terms of actual deployment. The Soviet Union has the only deployed ABM missile field — that around Moscow — to which it is, of course, entitled under the ABM treaty. The Soviet Union has the only deployed operational anti-satellite system.

    The Soviet SDI programme, about which we have heard little or nothing in the speeches of Labour Members, is well described in the latest edition of "Soviet Military Power," a copy of which is in the Library and the assessment in which, in this area, we broadly agree.

    In view of the high dependence of the entire nuclear deterrence posture of the West on ballistic missile systems, both land and sea-launched, it would be risky in the extreme to turn a blind eye to the extensive ballistic missile defence research programme being undertaken in the Soviet Union and not to develop an equivalent research programme in the West.

    I am glad to note that the Select Committee takes the same view. I also endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett) said about the contribution that the American SDI research decision has made to getting comprehensive arms control negotiations at Geneva under way.

    I come to the question of the adequacy of the public expenditure provision for defence in the years ahead, a subject which many hon. Members have raised. My right hon. Friend dealt with this yesterday. While I do not want to duplicate what he said, I wish to make three specific points.

    First, we are, happily, not starting from the baseline of defence expenditure that the Labour party promised to introduce at the last election, a baseline of cutting the United Kingdom's defence expenditure to the same proportion of resources as the other major European countries

    If that policy were followed today, it would mean that Britain's defence budget this year would not be £18 billion but £12 billion, a cut of £6 billion, which would be achievable only by the total decimation of our conventional equipment programme. Happily, thanks to this Government's policies, we look ahead with defence expenditure lifted on to a vastly higher plateau than it was in 1979.

    Some will say, "Yes, that's all very well, but you now have Trident which we didn't have in 1979." To them, I would reply that they should compare the average annual expenditure on Trident during its procurement period which on present figures can be put at some £500 million a year, with the real increase in the size of the defence budget this year compared to 1978–79, which is some £3,000 million—some six times greater than the average annual cost of Trident. I can only say that if Labour Members want to claim that the provision for defence expenditure today is out of line with our defence commitments, then they had better acknowledge it must have been monumentally out of line in 1979.

    My second point is that the level of expenditure on our conventional forces is of a quite different order of magnitude today compared to what it was six years ago. I have just said that defence spending this year will be some £3,000 million higher in real terms than when we came into office. The House may be interested to know that it breaks down into approximately £600 million more for the Army, £1,100 million for the Navy, and £1,300 million for the RAF. Most of those sums represent increased expenditure on our conventional forces, and they are very big annual figures indeed.

    My last point on defence expenditure is that it must be stressed that we are one nation in a 16 nation alliance— an alliance in which the burden of defence is shared by all and in which all are expected to pull their weight.

    There is no doubt about Britain pulling her weight. Of the major European members of NATO, we have the highest proportion of our GDP going to defence. We have the highest defence expenditure per head, despite being well down the European league table of GDP per head. Other NATO members undoubtedly could do more, but on the figures that I have given there are no reasonable grounds at all for saying that Britain is not taking a full and fair share of Alliance defence expenditure.

    The single most important decision in Britain's defence policy is whether we should continue to have our own independent nuclear deterrent. Yesterday, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) said that he hoped that we would not be left with the alternatives of having Trident or no deterrent at all. The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) echoed that point today. I am sorry to disappoint them, but those are indeed the only sensible alternatives—Trident or no deterrent.

    The other choices that the right hon. Member for Devonport tossed around yesterday make neither military nor financial sense to Britain. The right hon. Gentleman suggested replacing Polaris with another version of Polaris. That would be nonsense. The Polaris production line has been shut for over 15 years. It would cost a fortune to recreate it, and as the 1980 Open Government Document said in dismissing this option in paragraph 47:

    "Missile system costs could well be twice those of Trident, for a smaller and less assured capability".
    The right hon. Member for Devonport then suggested going into partnership with the French on their M5 missile. I can only say that there are no grounds for thinking that such a partnership would produce a cheaper deterrent for Britain, or one as effective as Trident.

    The right hon. Gentleman then returned to his old hobby-horse of a sea-launched cruise missile deterrent. His argument that we should choose this option for our deterrent because the Americans are deploying sea-launched cruise missiles ignores the fundamental point that the Americans can afford both a primary ballistic and a secondary cruise deterrent at sea. We cannot. We have only one option.

    We have to choose the most cost-effective system and for the reasons that I spelt out in detail in the Navy debate on 29 November, the most cost-effective option is unquestionably a submarine-launched ballistic missile. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) rightly said today, "It would be a criminal waste of money if we were to invest in a second rate deterrent that would not deter."

    For Britain to base her strategic deterrent on cruise missiles would mean both a more expensive deterrent and a less certain one. It would require many more missiles, and submarines, and it would be more vulnerable. The Sunday Times, in much the most detailed and dispassionate analysis of the deterrent options carried out by any newspaper in this Parliament, came to this conclusion:

    "Britain's deterrent needs to be credible in the Kremlin's eyes and that means it must be invulnerable. Cruise carries too many risks to be certain of deterring the Soviet Union in a crisis. We conclude that Britain made the right choice in opting for Trident and that we can afford it".
    The right hon. Member for Devonport has a fairly awkward choice to make about where he stands on the future of Britain's deterrent. Either he can continue to be nearly a lone voice advocating a non-credible deterrent that clearly is a bad buy, or he can join the Liberal one-sided disarmers on the Benches behind him. Or perhaps he will do the sensible thing and agree with the Conservative party that Trident is the only answer if we are to have a nuclear deterrent.

    As for the cost of Trident, there are those who have expressed the view that we cannot afford it, but our view most certainly is that we can afford it. By way of perspective, it is worth pointing out that the average amount per year that we shall be spending on buying Trident is no more than the amount that we spend each year upon research and development just for military aircraft, it is only half as much as we spend each year on training, it is only a third as much as we spend each year on the British Army of the Rhine and it is only one sixth as much as we spend each year on service pay and allowances. We believe that Trident is affordable and that it makes good sense for this country to have it.

    The essence of the defence case for Britain maintaining her deterrent is the same today when it is rejected by the Opposition parties as it was in the 1960s and 1970s when they accepted it. Trident adds significantly to deterrence overall by resting NATO's deterrence on more than a single national source. For that reason, NATO supports us in maintaining the credibility of our strategic nuclear deterrent. Trident will give an increase in deterrence vastly greater than can be obtained by any other method of spending the same sum on conventional weapons, and Trident represents an ultimate insurance for Britain against nuclear blackmail.

    In election after election the British people have consistently shown that they favour the maintenance of Britain's nuclear deterrent, and we are in no doubt that their judgment is right.

    I now want to turn to another extremely important subject that has been raised on a number of occasions during the debate, namely, the future of American nuclear bases in Britain. The Leader of the Opposition in a recent television interview reportedly said that under a Labour Government the removal of American nuclear bases from Britain would take place.

    "Within a year, and certainly not much longer."
    The avowed intention of the Labour party, repeated by the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) again yesterday, to boot the Americans out of their nuclear bases in this country is profoundly short-sighted and, if carried out, would be profoundly damaging. Militarily it makes no sense at all. When my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), in an acute intervention yesterday, asked the right hon. Member for Llanelli whether he accepted the need against Soviet submarines for the nuclear depth charges provided by the Americans and operated from this country, the right hon. Gentleman had no answer whatsoever to offer. —[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, I agree, thought up an answer overnight. He came to the conclusion that American nuclear depth charges are militarily useless. I can only say to him that the entire Labour Government, from 1974 to 1979, took a totally different view.

    I hope that the Labour party is not under the illusion that the repercussions of telling the Americans to go home would be limited just to Britain. They would not be. The repercussions would be felt across the European NATO countries, they would be felt across the Atlantic, and they would be felt not least on Capitol Hill. In Europe, if a British Government sent the Americans packing certain other Governments in NATO countries would undoubtedly come under pressure to follow suit.

    Across the Atlantic, the reaction in Congress to American eviction from Britain is not difficult to predict. It would be to say, "Well, if you don't want us in Europe, you needn't have us, and we will start thinning out our European conventional forces as well as the nuclear ones that you don't want, and save our valuable foreign exchange". It is certain that that would be the reaction. Therefore, this particular Labour policy could well result in setting in motion a chain of events leading to a substantial reduction of the American presence in Europe — a presence which has been a key element in the successful maintenance of deterrence in the post-war period. That is why that piece of Labour party policy is profoundly irresponsible. But it is not only profoundly irresponsible; it is also glaringly inconsistent.

    The Labour party professes itself to be committed to NATO, and the Opposition spokesman repeated that commitment at the end of his speech. As a member of NATO our own country, like every other NATO country, automatically enjoys and willingly accepts the protection of the American nuclear umbrella that is provided by American nuclear weapons based outside Europe and within Europe. For that reason, every British Government, since 1948, including every post-war Labour Government, have willingly accepted the basing of American nuclear-capable aircraft in Britain. They have also, since 1960, willingly accepted the basing of American nuclear missile-firing submarines in British waters.

    If we accept the benefits of NATO, including American nuclear protection, it is weak, faint-hearted and morally indefensible to say that we want the protection of American nuclear weapons provided that they are based in somebody else's country. The policy of serving notice to quit on the American nuclear bases in Britain is a policy without either defence responsibility or moral justification.

    The Government have carried through a major improvement in defence over the past six years. While most other expenditure programmes have had to be reduced, expenditure on defence has been increased by approximately one fifth in real terms—a very substantial uplift. I am sure that no other Government, of whatever political complexion, would have given such a degree of priority to defence expenditure over the past six years as this one. That priority is very necessary against the rate of improvement in Warsaw pact capabilities, which shows no sign whatever of slowing down.

    Our uplift in defence expenditure has enabled us to restore pay comparability for the Armed Forces and to halve the record rate of premature voluntary exits that we found on coming into office. It is enabling us to carry through a massive and comprehensive re-equipment and modernisation programme of our conventional forces in all three services. It is enabling us to bring about a much needed expansion of our reserves and territorials. It is enabling us to build up war stocks and to make improvements in sustainability, to which the Warsaw pact has been devoting huge resources in recent years.

    We have not just been in the business of spending more money. We are equally in the business of getting better value for money and greater efficiency wherever we can. My right hon. Friend's radical reorganisation of the Department is without question a major improvement and a major success. The drive for still more efficent use of service manpower is being carried through in all three services, and with the striking result already achieved by the Army. The drive for more competition is already showing some significant cost savings, and more savings will undoubtedly follow.

    The Government have properly discharged their fundamental responsibility to maintain the peace with freedom that we have enjoyed in Europe these past 40 years, and we shall continue to discharge that responsibility.

    Question put, That the amendment be made:—

    The House divided: Ayes 157, Noes 367.

    Division No. 237]

    [10 pm


    Anderson, DonaldHardy, Peter
    Archer, Rt Hon PeterHarman, Ms Harriet
    Ashley, Rt Hon JackHarrison, Rt Hon Walter
    Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
    Bagier, Gordon A. T. Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
    Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Haynes, Frank
    Barren, KevinHealey, Rt Hon Denis
    Beckett, Mrs MargaretHeffer, Eric S.
    Bell, StuartHogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
    Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
    Bermingham, GeraldHome Robertson, John
    Bidwell, SydneyHowell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
    Blair, AnthonyHughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)
    Boyes, RolandHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
    Bray, Dr JeremyHughes, Roy (Newport East)
    Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
    Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Janner, Hon Greville
    Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)John, Brynmor
    Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
    Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)Kilroy-Silk, Robert
    Buchan, NormanLamond, James
    Caborn, RichardLeadbitter, Ted
    Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)Leighton, Ronald
    Campbell, IanLewis, Ron (Carlisle)
    Campbell-Savours, DaleLewis, Terence (Worsley)
    Canavan, DennisLitherland, Robert
    Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
    Clarke, ThomasLofthouse, Geotfrey
    Clay, RobertMcCartney, Hugh
    Clwyd, Mrs AnnMcDonald, Dr Oonagh
    Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)McKelvey, William
    Cohen, HarryMacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
    Coleman, DonaldMcNamara, Kevin
    Conlan, BernardMcTaggart, Robert
    Cook, Frank (Stockton North)Madden, Max
    Corbett, RobinMarek, Dr John
    Corbyn, JeremyMarshall, David (Shettleston)
    Cowans, HarryMartin, Michael
    Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Maxton, John
    Craigen, J. M. Meacher, Michael
    Cunliffe, LawrenceMikardo, Ian
    Cunningham, Dr JohnMillan, Rt Hon Bruce
    Dalyell, TarnMiller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
    Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
    Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
    Deakins, EricMorris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
    Dewar, DonaldNellist, David
    Dixon, DonaldO'Brien, William
    Dobson, FrankO'Neill, Martin
    Dormand, JackOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
    Douglas, DickPark, George
    Dubs, AlfredParry, Robert
    Duffy, A. E. P. Patchett, Terry
    Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Pike, Peter
    Eastham, KenPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
    Edwards, Bob (Wh'mpt'n SE)Randall, Stuart
    Ewing, HarryRedmond, M.
    Fatchett, DerekRees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
    Faulds, AndrewRichardson, Ms Jo
    Fisher, MarkRoberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
    Flannery, MartinRobinson, G. (Coventry NW)
    Foot, Rt Hon MichaelSedgemore, Brian
    Forrester, JohnShore, Rt Hon Peter
    Foster, DerekShort, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
    Foulkes, GeorgeShort, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
    Fraser, J. (Norwood)Silkin, Rt Hon J.
    Garrett, W. E. Skinner, Dennis
    George, BruceSmith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
    Golding, JohnSnape, Peter
    Hamilton, James (M'well N)Soley, Clive
    Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Spearing, Nigel

    Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)White, James
    Stott, RogerWilliams, Rt Hon A.
    Strang, GavinWinnick, David
    Straw, JackWoodall, Alec
    Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)Young, David (Bolton SE)
    Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
    Tinn, JamesTellers for the Ayes:
    Torney, TomMr. John McWilliam and
    Wardell, Gareth (Gower)Mr. Allen McKay.
    Weetch, Ken


    Adley, RobertCope, John
    Aitken, JonathanCormack, Patrick
    Alexander, RichardCorrie, John
    Alison, Rt Hon MichaelCouchman, James
    Alton, DavidCranborne, Viscount
    Amery, Rt Hon JulianCrouch, David
    Amess, DavidCurrie, Mrs Edwina
    Ancram, MichaelDickens, Geoffrey
    Arnold, TomDorrell, Stephen
    Ashby, DavidDouglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
    Ashdown, PaddyDover, Den
    Aspinwall, Jackdu Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward
    Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.Dunn, Robert
    Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Durant, Tony
    Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Dykes, Hugh
    Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
    Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Eggar, Tim
    Baldry, TonyEmery, Sir Peter
    Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Evennett, David
    Batiste, SpencerEyre, Sir Reginald
    Beith, A. J. Fairbairn, Nicholas
    Bellingham, HenryFallon, Michael
    Bendall, VivianFarr, Sir John
    Bennett, Rt Hon Sir FredericFavell, Anthony
    Benyon, WilliamFinsberg, Sir Geoffrey
    Best, KeithFletcher, Alexander
    Bevan, David GilroyFookes, Miss Janet
    Biffen, Rt Hon JohnForman, Nigel
    Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
    Blackburn, JohnForth, Eric
    Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterFowler, Rt Hon Norman
    Bonsor, Sir NicholasFox, Marcus
    Bottomley, PeterFranks, Cecil
    Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaFreeman, Roger
    Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)Freud, Clement
    Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Gale, Roger
    Boyson, Dr RhodesGalley, Roy
    Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardGardiner, George (Reigate)
    Brandon-Bravo, MartinGardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
    Bright, GrahamGarel-Jones, Tristan
    Brinton, TimGilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
    Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Glyn, Dr Alan
    Browne, JohnGoodhart, Sir Philip
    Bruinvels, PeterGoodlad, Alastair
    Bryan, Sir PaulGorst, John
    Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A. Gow, Ian
    Buck, Sir AntonyGower, Sir Raymond
    Budgen, NickGrant, Sir Anthony
    Burt, AlistairGreenway, Harry
    Butcher, JohnGregory, Conal
    Butler, Hon AdamGriffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)
    Butterfill, JohnGriffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
    Carlisle, John (N Luton)Grist, Ian
    Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Ground, Patrick
    Carttiss, MichaelGummer, John Selwyn
    Cartwright, JohnHamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
    Cash, WilliamHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
    Channon, Rt Hon PaulHampson, Dr Keith
    Chapman, SydneyHancock, Mr. Michael
    Chope, ChristopherHanley, Jeremy
    Churchill, W. S. Hannam, John
    Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)Hargreaves, Kenneth
    Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Harris, David
    Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Harvey, Robert
    Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Haselhurst, Alan
    Colvin, MichaelHavers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
    Conway, DerekHawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)
    Coombs, SimonHawksley, Warren

    Hayes, J.Mates, Michael
    Hayhoe, BarneyMaude, Hon Francis
    Hayward, RobertMawhinney, Dr Brian
    Heathcoat-Amory, DavidMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
    Heddle, JohnMayhew, Sir Patrick
    Henderson, BarryMeadowcroft, Michael
    Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelMellor, David
    Hickmet, RichardMerchant, Piers
    Hicks, RobertMeyer, Sir Anthony
    Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Miller, Hal (B'grove)
    Hill, JamesMills, lain (Meriden)
    Hind, KennethMills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
    Hirst, MichaelMiscampbell, Norman
    Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Mitchell, David (NW Hants)
    Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)Moate, Roger
    Holt, RichardMonro, Sir Hector
    Hordern, PeterMontgomery, Sir Fergus
    Howard, MichaelMoore, John
    Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)
    Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
    Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
    Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)Moynihan, Hon C.
    Hubbard-Miles, PeterMurphy, Christopher
    Hunt, David (Wirral)Neale, Gerrard
    Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Needham, Richard
    Hunter, AndrewNelson, Anthony
    Hurd, Rt Hon DouglasNeubert, Michael
    Irving, CharlesNewton, Tony
    Jackson, RobertNicholls, Patrick
    Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickNorris, Steven
    Jessel, TobyOnslow, Cranley
    Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyOppenheim, Phillip
    Johnston, RussellOppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
    Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Osborn, Sir John
    Jones, Robert (W Herts)Ottaway, Richard
    Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
    Kellett-Bowman, Mrs ElainePage, Sir John (Harrow W)
    Kennedy, CharlesPage, Richard (Herts SW)
    Kershaw, Sir AnthonyPaisley, Rev Ian
    Key, RobertParkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
    King, Roger (B'ham N'field)Parris, Matthew
    King, Rt Hon TomPatten, Christopher (Bath)
    Kirkwood, ArchyPatten, J. (Oxf W & Abdgn)
    Knight, Gregory (Derby N)Pawsey, James
    Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
    Knowles, MichaelPercival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
    Knox, DavidPollock, Alexander
    Latham, MichaelPorter, Barry
    Lawler, GeoffreyPortillo, Michael
    Lawrence, IvanPowell, William (Corby)
    Lawson, Rt Hon NigelPowley, John
    Lee, John (Pendle)Price, Sir David
    Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkPrior, Rt Hon James
    Lester, JimProctor, K. Harvey
    Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)Pym, Rt Hon Francis
    Lightbown, DavidRathbone, Tim
    Lilley, PeterRees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)
    Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)Renton, Tim
    Lord, MichaelRhodes James, Robert
    Loyden, EdwardRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
    Luce, RichardRidley, Rt Hon Nicholas
    Lyell, NicholasRidsdale, Sir Julian
    McCrea, Rev WilliamRobinson, Mark (N'port W)
    McCrindle, RobertRoe, Mrs Marion
    McCurley, Mrs AnnaRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
    Macfarlane, NeilRossi, Sir Hugh
    MacGregor, JohnRost, Peter
    MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)Rowe, Andrew
    MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)Rumbold, Mrs Angela
    Maclean, David JohnRyder, Richard
    McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)Sackville, Hon Thomas
    McQuarrie, AlbertSainsbury, Hon Timothy
    Madel, DavidSt. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
    Major, JohnSayeed, Jonathan
    Malins, HumfreyShaw, Giles (Pudsey)
    Malone, GeraldShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
    Maples, JohnShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
    Marland, PaulShersby, Michael
    Marlow, AntonySilvester, Fred
    Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Sims, Roger

    Skeet, T. H. H.Vaughan, Sir Gerard
    Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)Viggers, Peter
    Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Waddington, David
    Soames, Hon NicholasWakeham, Rt Hon John
    Speed, KeithWaldegrave, Hon William
    Speller, TonyWalden, George
    Spence, JohnWalker, Bill (T'side N)
    Spencer, DerekWalker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
    Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Wall, Sir Patrick
    Squire, RobinWallace, James
    Stanbrook, IvorWaller, Gary
    Stanley, JohnWalters, Dennis
    Stern, MichaelWard, John
    Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
    Stevens, Martin (Fulham)Warren, Kenneth
    Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)Watson, John
    Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)Watts, John
    Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
    Stokes, JohnWells, Sir John (Maidstone)
    Stradling Thomas, J. Wheeler, John
    Sumberg, DavidWhitfield, John
    Taylor, John (Solihull)Whitney, Raymond
    Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)Wiggin, Jerry
    Tebbit, Rt Hon NormanWilkinson, John
    Terlezki, StefanWinterton, Mrs Ann
    Thomas, Rt Hon PeterWinterton, Nicholas
    Thompson, Donald (Calder V)Wolfson, Mark
    Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)Wood, Timothy
    Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)Woodcock, Michael
    Thornton, MalcolmWrigglesworth, Ian
    Thurnham, PeterYeo, Tim
    Townend, John (Bridlington)Young, Sir George (Acton)
    Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)Younger, Rt Hon George
    Tracey, Richard
    Trippier, DavidTellers for the Noes:
    Trotter, NevilleMr. Robert Boscawen and
    Twinn, Dr IanMr. Ian Lang.
    van Straubenzee, Sir W.

    Question accordingly negatived.

    Main Question put:—

    The House proceeded to a Division—

    (seated and covered)

    On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I must ask for your clarification in case there has been a mistake I find it quite extraordinary that the Opposition should vote against the Defence Estimates—they do not usually do so—because it means that they are voting against the defence of the realm. If they won, we should have no money to pay the Army, the Navy or the Air Force and—

    Order. I think that that is a speech that the hon. Gentleman might have made if he had been called. How people vote in this place is not a matter for me.

    The House having divided: Ayes 353, Noes 168.

    Division No. 238]

    [10.15 pm


    Adley, RobertBaker, Nicholas (N Dorset)
    Aitken, JonathanBaldry, Tony
    Alexander, RichardBanks, Robert (Harrogate)
    Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBatiste, Spencer
    Amery, Rt Hon JulianBellingham, Henry
    Amess, DavidBendall, Vivian
    Ancram, MichaelBennett, Rt Hon Sir Frederic
    Arnold, TomBenyon, William
    Ashby, DavidBest, Keith
    Aspinwall, JackBevan, David Gilroy
    Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Biffen, Rt Hon John
    Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Biggs-Davison, Sir John
    Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)Blackburn, John
    Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter

    Bonsor, Sir NicholasGow, Ian
    Bottomley, PeterGower, Sir Raymond
    Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaGrant, Sir Anthony
    Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)Greenway, Harry
    Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Gregory, Conal
    Boyson, Dr RhodesGriffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)
    Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardGriffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
    Brandon-Bravo, MartinGrist, Ian
    Bright, GrahamGround, Patrick
    Brinton, TimGummer, John Selwyn
    Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
    Browne, JohnHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
    Bruinvels, PeterHampson, Dr Keith
    Bryan, Sir PaulHanley, Jeremy
    Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A. Hannam, John
    Buck, Sir AntonyHargreaves, Kenneth
    Budgen, NickHarris, David
    Burt, AlistairHarvey, Robert
    Butcher, JohnHaselhurst, Alan
    Butler, Hon AdamHavers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
    Butterfill, JohnHawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)
    Carlisle, John (N Luton)Hawksley, Warren
    Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Hayes, J.
    Carttiss, MichaelHayhoe, Barney
    Cash, WilliamHayward, Robert
    Channon, Rt Hon PaulHeathcoat-Amory, David
    Chapman, SydneyHeddle, John
    Chope, ChristopherHenderson, Barry
    Churchill, W. S.Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
    Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)Hickmet, Richard
    Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Hicks, Robert
    Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
    Clarke, Rt Hon K, (Rushcliffe)Hill, James
    Colvin, MichaelHind, Kenneth
    Conway, DerekHirst, Michael
    Coombs, SimonHogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
    Cope, JohnHolland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
    Cormack, PatrickHolt, Richard
    Corrie, JohnHordern, Peter
    Couchman, JamesHoward, Michael
    Cranborne, ViscountHowarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
    Crouch, DavidHowarth, Gerald (Cannock)
    Currie, Mrs EdwinaHowell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)
    Dickens, GeoffreyHowell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
    Dorrell, StephenHubbard-Miles, Peter
    Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Hunt, David (Wirral)
    Dover, DenHunt, John (Ravensbourne)
    du Cann, Rt Hon Sir EdwardHunter, Andrew
    Dunn, RobertHurd, Rt Hon Douglas
    Durant, TonyIrving, Charles
    Dykes, HughJackson, Robert
    Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
    Eggar, TimJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
    Emery, Sir PeterJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
    Evennett, DavidJones, Robert (W Herts)
    Eyre, Sir ReginaldJoseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
    Fairbairn, NicholasKellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
    Fallon, MichaelKershaw, Sir Anthony
    Farr, Sir JohnKey, Robert
    Favell, AnthonyKing, Roger (B'ham N'field)
    Finsberg, Sir GeoffreyKing, Rt Hon Tom
    Fletcher, AlexanderKnight, Gregory (Derby N)
    Fookes, Miss JanetKnight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)
    Forman, NigelKnowles, Michael
    Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Knox, David
    Forth, EricLatham, Michael
    Fowler, Rt Hon NormanLawler, Geoffrey
    Fox, MarcusLawrence, Ivan
    Franks, CecilLawson, Rt Hon Nigel
    Freeman, RogerLee, John (Pendle)
    Gale, RogerLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
    Galley, RoyLester, Jim
    Gardiner, George (Reigate)Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
    Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)Lightbown, David
    Garel-Jones, TristanLilley, Peter
    Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir IanLloyd, Ian (Havant)
    Glyn, Dr AlanLloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
    Goodhart, Sir PhilipLord, Michael
    Goodlad, AlastairLuce, Richard
    Gorst, JohnLyell, Nicholas

    McCrea, Rev WilliamRossi, Sir Hugh
    McCrindle, RobertRost, Peter
    McCurley, Mrs AnnaRowe, Andrew
    Macfarlane, NeilRumbold, Mrs Angela
    MacGregor, JohnRyder, Richard
    MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)Sackville, Hon Thomas
    MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
    Maclean, David JohnSt. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
    McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)Sayeed, Jonathan
    McQuarrie, AlbertShaw, Giles (Pudsey)
    Madel, DavidShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
    Major, JohnShepherd, Richard (Aldhdge)
    Malins, HumfreyShersby, Michael
    Malone, GeraldSilvester, Fred
    Maples, JohnSims, Roger
    Marland, PaulSkeet, T. H. H.
    Marlow, AntonySmith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
    Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
    Mates, MichaelSoames, Hon Nicholas
    Maude, Hon FrancisSpeed, Keith
    Mawhinney, Dr BrianSpeller, Tony
    Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinSpence, John
    Mayhew, Sir PatrickSpencer, Derek
    Mellor, DavidSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
    Merchant, PiersSquire, Robin
    Meyer, Sir AnthonyStanbrook, Ivor
    Miller, Hal (B'grove)Stanley, John
    Mills, lain (Meriden)Steen, Anthony
    Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)Stern, Michael
    Miscampbell, NormanStevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
    Mitchell, David (NW Hants)Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
    Moate, RogerStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
    Monro, Sir HectorStewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
    Montgomery, Sir FergusStewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)
    Moore, JohnStokes, John
    Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)Stradling Thomas, J.
    Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)Sumberg, David
    Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)Taylor, John (Solihull)
    Moynihan, Hon C. Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
    Murphy, ChristopherTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
    Neale, GerrardTerlezki, Stefan
    Needham, RichardThomas, Rt Hon Peter
    Nelson, AnthonyThompson, Donald (Calder V)
    Neubert, MichaelThompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
    Newton, TonyThorne, Neil (Ilford S)
    Nicholls, PatrickThornton, Malcolm
    Norris, StevenThurnham, Peter
    Onslow, CranleyTownend, John (Bridlington)
    Oppenheim, PhillipTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
    Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Tracey, Richard
    Osborn, Sir JohnTrippier, David
    Ottaway, RichardTrotter, Neville
    Page, Sir John (Harrow W)Twinn, Dr Ian
    Page, Richard (Herts SW)van Straubenzee, Sir W.
    Paisley, Rev IanVaughan, Sir Gerard
    Parkinson, Rt Hon CecilViggers, Peter
    Parris, MatthewWaddington, David
    Patten, Christopher (Bath)Wakeham, Rt Hon John
    Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abdgn)Waldegrave, Hon William
    Pawsey, JamesWalden, George
    Peacock, Mrs ElizabethWalker, Bill (T'sida N)
    Percival, Rt Hon Sir IanWalker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
    Pollock, AlexanderWall, Sir Patrick
    Porter, BarryWaller, Gary
    Portillo, MichaelWalters, Dennis
    Powell, William (Corby)Ward, John
    Powley, JohnWardle, C. (Bexhill)
    Price, Sir DavidWarren, Kenneth
    Prior, Rt Hon JamesWatson, John
    Proctor, K. HarveyWatts, John
    Pym, Rt Hon FrancisWells, Bowen (Hertford)
    Rathbone, TimWells, Sir John (Maidstone)
    Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)Wheeler, John
    Renton, TimWhitfield, John
    Rhodes James, RobertWhitney, Raymond
    Rhys Williams, Sir BrandonWiggin, Jerry
    Ridley, Rt Hon NicholasWilkinson, John
    Ridsdale, Sir JulianWinterton, Mrs Ann
    Robinson, Mark (N'port W)Winterton, Nicholas
    Roe, Mrs MarionWolfson, Mark

    Wood, TimothyWoodcock, Michael
    Tellers for the Ayes:Yeo, Tim
    Mr. Robert Boscawen andYoung, Sir George (Acton)
    Mr. Ian Lang. Younger, Rt Hon George


    Alton, DavidGolding, John
    Anderson, DonaldHamilton, James (M'well N)
    Archer, Rt Hon PeterHamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
    Ashdown, PaddyHancock, Mr. Michael
    Ashley, Rt Hon JackHardy, Peter
    Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
    Bagier, Gordon A. T. Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
    Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Haynes, Frank
    Barron, KevinHealey, Rt Hon Denis
    Beckett, Mrs MargaretHeffer, Eric S.
    Beith, A. J. Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
    Bell, StuartHolland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
    Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)Home Robertson, John
    Bermingham, GeraldHowell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
    Bidwell, SydneyHughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)
    Blair, AnthonyHughes, Roy (Newport East)
    Boyes, RolandHughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
    Bray, Dr JeremyJanner, Hon Greville
    Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)John, Brynmor
    Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Johnston, Russell
    Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
    Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)Kennedy, Charles
    Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)Kilroy-Silk, Robert
    Buchan, NormanKirkwood, Archy
    Caborn, RichardLamond, James
    Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)Leadbitter, Ted
    Campbell, IanLeighton, Ronald
    Campbell-Savours, DaleLewis, Ron (Carlisle)
    Canavan, DennisLewis, Terence (Worsley)
    Cartwright, JohnLitherland, Robert
    Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Lloyd, Tony (Stratford)
    Clarke, ThomasLofthouse, Geoffrey
    Clay, RobertMcCartney, Hugh
    Clwyd, Mrs AnnMcDonald, Dr Oonagh
    Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)McKelvey, William
    Cohen, HarryMacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
    Coleman, DonaldMcNamara, Kevin
    Conlan, BernardMcTaggart, Robert
    Cook, Frank (Stockton North)Madden, Max
    Corbett, RobinMarek, Dr John
    Corbyn, JeremyMarshall, David (Shettleston)
    Cowans, HarryMartin, Michael
    Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Maxton, John
    Craigen, J. M. Meacher, Michael
    Cunliffe, LawrenceMeadowcroft, Michael
    Cunningham, Dr JohnMikardo, Ian
    Dalyell, TarnMillan, Rt Hon Bruce
    Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
    Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
    Deakins, EricMorris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
    Dewar, DonaldMorris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
    Dixon, DonaldNellist, David
    Dobson, FrankO'Brien, William
    Dormand, JackO'Neill, Martin
    Douglas, DickOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
    Dubs, AlfredOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
    Duffy, A. E. P. Park, George
    Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Parry, Robert
    Eastham, KenPatchett, Terry
    Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)Pike, Peter
    Ewing, HarryPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
    Fatchett, DerekRandall, Stuart
    Faulds, AndrewRedmond, M.
    Fisher, MarkRees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
    Flannery, MartinRichardson, Ms Jo
    Foot, Rt Hon MichaelRoberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
    Forrester, JohnRobinson, G. (Coventry NW)
    Foster, DerekRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
    Foulkes, GeorgeSedgemore, Brian
    Fraser, J. (Norwood)Shore, Rt Hon Peter
    Freud, ClementShort, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
    Garrett, W. E. Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
    George, BruceSilkin, Rt Hon J.

    Skinner, DennisWallace, James
    Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
    Snape, PeterWeetch, Ken
    Soley, CliveWhite, James
    Spearing, NigelWilliams, Rt Hon A.
    Stewart, Rt Hon D.(W Isles)Winnick, David
    Stott, RogerWoodall, Alec
    Strang, GavinWrigglesworth, lan
    Straw, JackYoung, David (Bolton SE)
    Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
    Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)Tellers for the Noes:
    Tinn, JamesMr. John McWilliam and
    Torney, TomMr. Allen McKay.

    Question accordingly agreed to.


    That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1985, contained in Cmnd. 9430.

    Child Abduction And Custody Bill Lords

    Order for Second Reading read.

    Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 69 (Second Reading Committees),

    That the Bill be now read a Second time.

    Question agreed to.

    Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 42 (Committal of Bills).

    Child Abduction And Custody Bill Lords Money

    Queen's Recommendation having been signified—


    That for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Child Abduction and Custody Bill, [Lords], it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of—

  • (a) any expenses incurred by the Lord Chancellor or the Secretary of State by virtue of the said Act; and
  • (b) any increase attributable to the said Act in the sums so payable under any other Act.—[Mr. Peter Lloyd.]
  • Statutory Instruments, &C

    Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 79(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.)


    That the draft Pool Competitions Act 1971 (Continuance)

    Order 1985, which was laid before this House on 20th May, be

    approved.— [Mr. Peter Lloyd.]

    Question agreed to.



    That Mr. Robert Hayward be discharged from the Energy Committee and Mr. Michael Portillo be added.— [Mr. Marcus Fox, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.]

    Scottish Grand Committee


    That, in the course of its consideration of Scottish Estimates, the Scottish Grand Committee may meet in Edinburgh on Monday 8th July at half-past Ten o'clock. — [Mr. Peter Lloyd.]

    War Pensioners

    Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Peter Lloyd.]

    10.28 pm

    I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the subject of the problems facing war pensioners. I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for being here to answer the debate after what I know has been a demanding week for him. I took up some of his time this afternoon when he saw a deputation from Southend.

    One thing on which we are all united is the sentiment that we owe a huge debt to the millions of Britons and members of the Commonwealth forces who fought for the preservation of our freedom. We owe a particular debt to those who were injured in the conflict, and to the widows and families of those who lost their lives. In times of peace, we have a special obligation to those who sustain injury or illness in the continuing battle to preserve the peace through service in the armed forces. Although I appreciate that Governments of both parties have consistently claimed to give a high priority to this basic duty and obligation, I believe that the time has come for a comprehensive review of our procedures and policies, and tonight I shall make several suggestions which I hope will be considered by the Minister as a matter of urgency.

    The first proposal is that much more must be done to inform ex-service men of their entitlement to pensions and to give them advice on how claims can be submitted and considered. Many ex-service men have developed illnesses and disabilities stemming from their war service many years ago, but they are unaware that they have the right to apply, even after the lapse of time involved. This may appear to be an unusual proposition, but I know of several cases in my constituency where ex-service men were prompted to apply, and obtained the pensions to which they were entitled, simply because individuals with specialist knowledge went out of their way to give advice.

    In that connection, the Minister will be aware of the outstanding campaigning and sheer hard work carried out by many interested people throughout the country, and of the endeavours in the Southend area of Mr. Holtham of the Far East Prisoners of War Association, and Mr. Micky Strauss, who, as a disabled ex-service man, has devoted much of his life to his former comrades-in-arms.

    My argument is that this is not an area that we should leave to the dedicated work of individuals, because, inevitably, some will slip through the voluntary net. There is an urgent need for the Department to initiate a publicity campaign to advise ex-service men of their rights and to provide convenient and suitably qualified facilities to give advice on the claims mechanism. The least that I would ask is that pamphlets be displayed in post offices and in other public offices, and that some newspaper advertise-ments be submitted for publication in the national press.

    My second proposal is that there is an urgent need for steps to be taken to speed the processes of dealing with claims. Many of the claimants are aged 70 years or more, and it seems outrageous that months pass before decisions are made. There are also long delays in the appeals procedure. I appreciate that medical issues cannot be decided within 24 hours, but I hope that the Minister will be aware of the resentment that exists over the long delays — especially in the assessment of claims relating to tropical diseases.

    The third issue on which I would appreciate advice is the onus of proof. Of course, it is no easy task to make a decision on the relevance of disabilities and illnesses stemming from military service years ago, and to isolate that factor, but when we consider the contribution that has been made by ex-service men, there is a need for more flexibility and humanity to be shown.

    My fourth suggestion relates to what I consider to be an unjust anomaly for those whose pension entitlement stems from service before and after 1973. My understanding is that a private soldier who left the services with a 100 per cent. war disablement before 1973 receives £58·40 a week, which seems extremely low. However, I understand that those who left the forces with 100 per cent. disablement after 1973 receive £86·60 a week. Likewise, pre-1973 war widows receive £46·55 a week, while those whose husbands were killed after 1973 receive £95·43 a week. There should be no differentiation between ex-service people who suffer from the same disability, or widows who have lost their husbands serving their country, because of the time of disablement or death. Surely one man's arm or leg is as valuable as another's, and one widow's husband was as dear as the next's. Is there any prospect of removing what seems to be an absurd anomaly?

    Another strange anomaly relates to the distinction made between payments to war widows of officers and those of other ranks on remarriage or on the death of the second husband. Perhaps the Minister would also comment on that.

    My final point relates to the size and scale of service pensions. Of course, I am aware of the enormous problems facing all Governments in the area of public spending, but there can be no greater priority than the care and welfare of those who abandoned their homes and loved ones to secure the preservation of our freedom and way of life. The information that I have shows that Britain does not excel in the league table of pension provision for ex-service men among the nations of the free world. Does my hon. Friend agree with that on the basis of the information available to him?

    May we have my hon. Friend's firm pledge that he will fight to ensure that the highest possible priority is given to our war pensioners and war widows, to whom we owe the kind of debt which cannot be quantified in cash? That debt demands the provision of substantial and continuing resources to deal with their problems.

    I am grateful for having had the opportunity to put my points, and I thank my hon. Friend for the attention that he has paid to what I have said.

    10.34 pm

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security
    (Mr. Ray Whitney)

    I am greatful to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) for initiating this debate about war pensioners. He was kind enough to give me a detailed idea of the points he intended to raise and that will enable me to give him a detailed reply.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) recently initiated a similar debate about war widows, and in this year, which marks the 40th anniversary of the ending of the second world war, it is appropriate that we should remind ourselves of the debt that we owe to those who were disabled or bereaved in the service of this country. We all understand that nothing can fully compensate those who have been seriously disabled as a result of service in the armed forces, but the special circumstances of their disablement are recognised in the preferential provisions made for them under the war pensions scheme administered by my Department. There are still about 225,000 war disabled pensioners. I should like to give the House some details of the benefits that those pensioners receive under the war pensions scheme.

    The rate of war disablement pension depends on the degree of disablement. A pensioner whose disablement is assessed at 100 per cent. receives a basic pension of £58·40 a week. There are proportionately lower rates for lower degrees of disablement, down to £11·68 a week for a pensioner whose disablement is assessed at 20 per cent. Awards for disablement of less than 20 per cent. take the form of a lump sum gratuity. In addition to the basic war disablement pension, there is a range of additional, supplementary allowances which are paid as part of the weekly pension. They are, in the main, designed to provide extra help for the more seriously disabled. My hon. Friend will be aware of some of the details of those special allowances.

    A severely disabled war pensioner with maximum allowances can receive a total pension in the region of £200 a week and, moreover, that sum will be entirely free of income tax. I am quoting these figures not in any boastful way, because, as I have said, no amount of money can compensate someone for such grievous disablement, but to show hon. Members that the war pensions scheme seeks to ensure, as far as it can, that financial worries of war pensioners are reduced to the minimum.

    It is important to make it clear that the proposals for the reform of social security in the Green Paper recently published by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State do not relate to war pensions and allowances. The war pensions scheme was specifically excluded from the scope of the social security review. In consultation with the ex-service organisations, we shall be looking separately at any implications that the proposed changes may have for war pensioners and war widows.

    It has long been the policy of Governments of all complexions that war pensioners should be accorded preferential treatment. Indeed, that preference has been progressively extended over the years as additional pensions have been introduced into the war pensions scheme. As recently as 1983, we introduced the new war pensioners mobility supplement for pensioners with serious walking difficulties occasioned by their war disablement. The supplement is paid at a preferentially higher rate than the national insurance mobility allowance and, unlike mobility allowance, has no age restriction. Nearly 11,000 pensioners have benefited so far from the new supplement.

    Adequate financial provision for the war disabled is most important, but the Government's responsibility does not end there. Any war pensioner who needs treatment for his war disablement is given priority treatment within the National Health Service, subject only to emergency and other very urgent cases. If the necessary treatment is not available under the NHS, the DHSS can approve and pay for private treatment. Treatment may also be arranged in hospitals with special facilities for war pensioners and, in some circumstances, in service hospitals. All medicines prescribed under the NHS for a pensioner's war disablement are free of charge, and any aid or appliance is also provided free of charge.

    The DHSS also runs a special war pensioners' welfare service which provides help and advice for war pensioners on any problems which they may have. Through a nationwide network of specially trained welfare officers, help is given with pensions, allowances and more personal matters, such as work and housing. The service is available on call from pensioners, and it also takes the initiative in visiting the more severely disabled war pensioners, for whom regular personal visits can be arranged either from welfare officers or voluntary visitors. The welfare service also runs a national homecrafts scheme, through which the Department's handicraft instructors can assist pensioners to take up a wide range of crafts.

    We are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) for raising this difficult issue. Will my hon. Friend the Minister consider getting his Department to publish a small work outlining what he is saying now? It is vastly complicated, and many of us would like something like a child's guide which draws together all the strands, including war pensioners from the Falkland Islands.

    I entirely accept my hon. and learned Friend's point, and in response to our hon. Friend I shall shortly deal with publicity.

    At this stage, I should like to pay a warm tribute to the enormous contribution made by the voluntary sector in safeguarding the interests and well-being of war pensioners. My hon. Friend has already mentioned the work of the Far Eastern Prisoners of War Association in his constituency. It is not possible to praise too highly the valuable part played by this and many other organisations. I speak as someone who has for many years been a proud member of the Royal British Legion. We all know of the contributions that it makes. The success of a partnership between the public and private sectors with common aims and interests is surely seen to no better effect than in the area of war pensions and war pensioners.

    Both my hon. Friend and my hon. and learned Friend raised the question of publicity. My hon. Friend pointed to the possibility that there may be former members of the armed forces who do not begin to suffer from the effects of injuries or diseases arising from their service until many years later and may not then realise that they can still claim a pension. We recognise the need for publicity. Information about war pensions is already included in literature issued to all service personnel on discharge. It explains to them about the availability of pensions, and how to make a claim if, either then or at any future date, they suffer from a disability caused or made worse by their service. Leaflets about war pensions are also available at DHSS offices and from ex-service and other voluntary organisations.

    While I take my hon. Friend's point, there is already a considerable level of awareness of the war pensions scheme among service and ex-service personnel. In 1984, for example, we received significantly more than 4,000 new claims in respect of service after 2 September 1939, and 38 claims from ex-service men from the great war.

    Nevertheless, I accept that we could do even more— as my right hon. and hon. Friends have pressed me to do — to publicise the availability of war pensions. The House will be glad to know that we are preparing a new leaflet aimed specifically at ex-service personnel. It will outline the allowances available under the war pensions scheme, explain who may be eligible and make it clear that "war pensions" are not necessarily restricted to people who served in war time but can be paid in respect of any disablement due to service after 2 September 1939. The distribution arrangements for the new leaflet have still to be finalised, but we shall take into account the points made by my hon. Friends about the need for improved publicity.

    That is splendid news and I am delighted with what the Minister has said. Will he, in the review, consider the possibility of the pamphlets being made available in post offices?

    I shall give careful consideration to that point.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East referred to the problem of deciding claims for war pensions. As he will appreciate, this can be a complicated business, particularly when it may be necessary to look back over a period of 40 years or more. Like my hon. Friend, I know well from experience in my constituency what problems can arise in individual cases.

    It is true that recently the time taken to decide war pensions claims has been even longer than usual due to staffing difficulties in the medical sections of the Department. I am pleased to say, however, that there has been an improvement in recent months. The number of claims awaiting medical decision is less than half what it was six months ago and there are now no delays in priority cases, claims from ex-far eastern prisoners of war and claims for supplementary allowances.

    My hon. Friend raised the question of the onus of proof in deciding claims for war pension, a subject which is put to us from time to time. If pension is claimed within seven years of the man leaving the Services, his claim automatically succeeds, unless the Department can show that the disablement for which he is claiming is not due to service. The onus of proof in these cases is placed squarely on the Department. Where a claim is made more than seven years after the end of service, the onus shifts to the claimant. But the law requires that the claimant shall be given the benefit of any reasonable doubt.

    If the claimant is dissatisfied with the Department's decision, he usually has a right of appeal to the independent pensions appeal tribunal. Hon. Members will agree that the terms under which claims are decided are very favourable, particularly when it is recalled that there is effectively no time limit on claiming a war pension.

    I recognise the force of what my hon. Friend said about the pensions payable to war pensioners and war widows from before 1973.I should stress that the pensions payable under the war pensions scheme administered by my Department are made on the same basis, irrespective of the date of service. The disparity to which my hon. Friend refers arises from the improved pensions payable since 1973 under the occupational pension scheme for the armed forces administered by the Ministry of Defence in its capacity as the service man's employer.

    The cost alone of making restrospective the 1973 improvements in that scheme is prohibitive—about £600 million a year in current terms. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that to have failed to make those improvements because they could not be made restrospective would not have been in the best interests of current and future service men and their families.

    My hon. Friend mentioned an anomaly in the rules governing the payment of war widow's pension to widows who remarry and then are widowed a second time. The widow of an officer does not receive a gratuity on her remarriage, but if her second husband dies and she can show that she is in financial need her war widow's pension can be reinstated. These provisions date back more than 60 years and the reasons behind them are largely historical. I have previously debated this subject with my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth, and I take note of my hon. Friend's comments on the issue.

    Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East raised the question of how we treat our war pensioners compared with other countries. First, let me say that comparisons between one country's provisions and another's are not easy to make. I am sure that my hon. Friend recognises that. Regard would need to be had not only to the rates of pensions and allowances themselves and the cost of living in those countries but to such things as the conditions for entitlement under respective schemes and whether pensions were taxable or means-tested in any way. One needs to have regard also to the non-cash provision, such as priority treatment and the war pensioners' welfare service, which I have mentioned, and to other, more general provisions, like arrangements in the National Health Service and social services.

    All in all, I think that our provisions for war pensioners generally compare favourably with those of other countries. What matters, surely, is not what other countries do for their war pensioners but what this country does for its war disabled; and on that our record is good.

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having raised this matter, and I am glad of this opportunity to assure him and other hon. Members of the Government's continuing commitment to the cause of war pensioners and war widows.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Adjourned accordingly at ten minutes to Eleven o'clock.