House Of Commons
Tuesday 2 July 1985
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]
ROYAL HOLLOWAY AND BEDFORD NEW COLLEGE BILL [Lords]
Read the Third time and passed, with amendments.
CLWYD COUNTY COUNCIL BILL [Lords]
Read a Second time, and committed.
BRITISH RAILWAYS (TROWSE BRIDGE) BILL (By Order)
YORKSHIRE WATER AUTHORITY BILL (By Order)
BERKSHIRE BILL [Lords] (By Order)
Orders for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time upon Thursday 4 July.
Oral Answers To Questions
Fleet Air Arm
asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement concerning Fleet Air Arm manning.
Recruiting problems coupled with the duration of training have created shortages in some areas, but steps are being taken to overcome deficiencies.
How much time will front-line air and ground crews spend with their families under the Government's lunatic cost-cutting programme, which is resulting in each of our aircraft carriers not being fully equipped with their own aircraft and manpower—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]
Order. The hon. Gentleman is not reading; he is referring to his notes.
I am not sure whether I should start again, Mr. Speaker.Is the Minister aware that a similar scheme was tried about 20 years ago, which resulted in a sharp increase in voluntary resignations? What level of manpower wastage does he expect from this policy, and what will it mean in money terms?
We are operating a policy of having two carriers fully operational at any one time, and there will be two air groups. We believe that position to be satisfactory. Overall, we have about 40 Sea Harriers in service or on order.
But is it not the case that we have three aircraft carriers and two crews and are awaiting 23 aircraft to come on stream? Until that happens, there will be problems with the use of any back-up force and difficulties such as we saw during the Falklands war.Will the Minister assure us that the problems that confront that section of the Fleet Air Arm will be alleviated quickly so that morale does not plummet further?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the air groups are needed only on operational carriers. In times of tension, training and reserve personnel and aircraft will be fully utilised.If the hon. Gentleman looks back to the period of the last Labour Administration, he will see that during 1977–78 more than 50 per cent. of Fleet Air Arm pilots chose to leave mid-way through their trained service at their first opportunity, primarily on pay grounds.
Does my hon. Friend agree that Fleet Air Arm personnel are highly skilled and highly trained? Does it not take some years to build up those skills? Is it not an unfortunate experience to see the Opposition trying to leap on the bandwagon by claiming that the skills are not currently available?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It takes about four years to train a Sea Harrier pilot, at a cost of about £2·8 million. We are taking a number of measures to improve the position. Recruiting to the Fleet Air Arm has been increased substantially, training capacity expanded, wastage reduced and the methods of pilot training are being studied.
Exercise Lean Look
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received since the publication of Exercise Lean Look.
My Department has received two letters.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his response. Does he agree that taxpayers are delighted with the Exercise Lean Look approach, not only because it is a more efficient use of resources, but because it allows the armed forces to do the job that they are properly entitled to do?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We share his pleasure at the success of Exercise Lean Look. It is having the desirable effect of enabling the Army to make a transfer of some 4,000 men in the support area to the front line, with a significant increase in front-line operational capability as a result.
I am not certain whether I am qualified to ask a question on Exercise Lean Look. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that a soldier, whether he is serving in the cookhouse, or the transport or fire departments, is a trained soldier, and that if some of those jobs can be done by private enterprise it is sheer common sense to release those men so that they may be used for what they were trained for—to fight?
I am sure that my hon. Friend is fully qualified to ask questions on all subjects, not least Lean Look. I assure him that we take the view that he does. It must be sensible to release the maximum number of trained service manpower to do the essential jobs which only they can do in the front line.
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what recent representations he has received from Scotland about future commitment to the Trident programme.
Since the beginning of 1985 the Government have received from Scotland on the general subject of Trident 23 letters, including one petition, and a number of postcards.
Will the Minister add to those the strong objections from my constituents at Glenboig, who do not want asbestos from Faslane dumped in their village? Will he consider also the important views recently expressed by Lord Carver, when he described the project as representing illusions of nuclear grandeur? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore justify the Government's obsession with such a project?
We do not agree with Lord Carver on this subject. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's constituency point, I am sure that he has now received the letter which the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), sent him a few days ago, in which he said that, as a result of further scientific evaluation of the asbestos problem at Faslane, it looks as if we shall now be able to avoid using the Glenboig tip in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.
Has my right hon. Friend investigated the likely effects of a Labour party non-nuclear defence policy? Does he accept that about 50,000 jobs could be lost in Scotland if it were implemented?
My hon. Friend is entirely correct. Apart from the significant employment implication of the Labour party's defence policy, not least in relation to the Trident programme, there are the significant and wider defence implications. We feel that it would be wrong on both national and NATO grounds for this country to go down the path of one-sided disarmament, which is the Labour party's policy.
Is not the Trident programme unacceptable in this country by all normal standards, bearing in mind that it represents overkill, overprice and, shortly, it will be over here?
I do not understand why the hon. Gentleman thinks that it is an unacceptable policy. It is the continuation of a policy that was followed by successive Labour Governments whom he presumably supported.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson) and I recently had a meeting with the shop stewards from Rosyth as well as from Babcock Power, all of whom stated clearly that their interest in the Trident programme is that it secures their jobs for a long period?
My hon. Friend is entirely correct. I know that it is very much welcomed in Scotland, not least in the Rosyth area, that we have made an undertaking for the refitting of SSBNs to be continued in that dockyard. The ending of that cycle of major refitting work would have some profound implications in that locality.
Is the Minister aware of the position in Rosyth dockyard, where the union has withdrawn cooperation because of its disgust at the way in which the privatisation scheme is being handled? Is he aware that the future of the dockyard is being jeopardised by the Government's hamfisted approach to consultation? Is he aware that the union wants the procedure extended?
There is absolutely no basis for saying that the future of that dockyard is being jeopardised by our proposal on dockyards. What would jeopardise it in no uncertain way would be the ending of the refitting work on the deterrent, which is likely to extend over 20 years and more.
Moscow Missile Defence System
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what information he has on the upgrading of the Moscow missile defence system and if he will make a statement.
A programme to improve the Moscow antiballistic missile system has been under way since 1980. It is expected that when completed the new system will comprise an improved force of 100 launchers and associated radars for location, tracking and engagement of targets. This will provide a two-layer defence system for Moscow with long and short-range interceptor missiles to engage targets both outside and within the atmosphere.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that notwithstanding the fact that the Soviet Union is upgrading the system with 100 accountable launchers and a new radar station at Pushkino, it still appears to be within the ABM treaty? Given Mr. Paul Nitze's remarks that it will have a ground-based launched laser this decade, the upgrading points to the urgent need for the USA to maintain research into SDI and a modernisation programme.
My hon. Friend, who has studied the matter, is well-informed. It is obvious that the Soviet Union has been indulging for some years in the research of technologies associated with strategic defence. Therefore, it is wise for the Americans to be so involved. I also confirm that the updating of the ABM system around Moscow is within the ABM treaty. Of course, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in her recent meeting with the President confirmed, both Governments believe that any future development within this critical area should be within the ABM treaty.
Does the Secretary of State agree that if the Moscow star wars policy enjoys the same success as the Reagan star wars policy has achieved, that will render Trident unviable?
Our view is that within the lifetime foreseen for the Trident missile the defences of the Soviet Union will not be adequate to remove its deterrent capability.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that not only are the Soviets improving point defences around Moscow, but are increasing the offensive capability, notably with the deployment of the new ICBM SS25 and the construction of new SS20 bases? Would it not therefore be prudent and right for the alliance to concert its efforts to provide a measure of defence against this awesome defensive capability?
My hon. Friend, who understands the matter clearly, is right. However, the situation is even worse, because the Soviet Union is increasing its offensive capability on a nuclear, chemical and conventional scale.
Does the Secretary of State agree with the recent speech of the Foreign Secretary when he expressed substantial reservations and criticisms of the star wars project, or does he agree with President Reagan that nuclear weapons should be made obsolete? Does he not agree that President Reagan's speech has turned upside down the whole theory on deterrence in Europe?
The Labour party is always calling for wider debate. When it gets it, it seems to be equally dissatisfied. The President has raised fundamental issues about the development of weapons systems and their capabilities and the relationship of defensive and offensive systems. I would have thought that debate was healthy. The President has also made it clear that he believes that the development of any SDI programme would have to be within the framework of the ABM treaty. That is also our view.
asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will estimate the value of work which will accrue to British contractors from the Trident programme; and if he will make a statement.
Approximately 55 per cent., or over £5,100 million by value, of the latest estimated total cost of Trident will be spent in the United Kingdom. In addition, a number of British companies are competing for work on the United States Trident II programme. To date, 104 contracts, at a value of over $37 million, have been placed with 43 United Kingdom firms. Many of these subcontracts are for initial quantities, with the potential for follow-on orders.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that it confirms that, whatever one's views on nuclear weapons, the reality is that defence expenditure means lots of jobs for Britain and that those who seek to slash that expenditure would imperil not just national security but deny vital jobs in an industry that is crucial for Britain?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Perhaps I may add just one statistic to those that my right hon. Friend gave. In terms of direct and indirect jobs, the Trident programme will provide about 300,000 man years of work.
If work does accrue, what safeguards are there against overcharging by contractors, such as Aish and Company? Has the Minister been following that case, in which a Mr. Jim Smith was sacked when he revealed overcharging on defence contracts amounting to £400,000? Are not the Government indebted to men like him, who have laid themselves on the line on a point of principle?
I am sure that the House would not wish me to comment on the case of the individual to whom the hon. Gentleman has referred. As to keeping costs under control, we have made very clear the effectiveness of our competition policy in keeping costs down and saving substantial sums of money. If that can be applied to the Trident programme, it will be.
As the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party are desperately trying to paper over their major divisions on defence policy, does my right hon. Friend agree that their recent proposal of a collaboration with the French on a nuclear deterrent would mean a loss of jobs for workers in this country?
I find it difficult to discover exactly what the SDP and Liberal party actually do believe on this issue. When I listen to the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and hear him advance the sort of proposals to which my hon. Friend has referred —indeed, suggesting that instead of Trident we should go for cruise missiles — I know that he is going for something that would be less effective and much more costly.
Will not the agreement with the Americans to buy Trident be financially disastrous for Britain? We spend £4,500 million in the United States, yet the Americans spend a mere pittance in Britain. Why are the Government persevering — when they are so concerned with public expenditure — with this financial extravagance when they are cutting back on the Health Service, local government services and the welfare state?
The right hon. Gentleman knows that the NHS has never been in better hands. We are spending very much more in real terms than any previous Government. The same applies to the defence programme. We are spending approximately one fifth more in real terms on defence than was spent under the previous Labour Government, and it is because of that that we are able to afford the systems to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred.
Identification Friend Or Foe
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made towards harmonising the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's identification friend or foe.
The recently announced agreement between the United States and German authorities represents considerable progress towards a future NATO identification system. It is hoped that final agreement on outstanding points of technical detail will be reached by the autumn.
It is welcome news to know that we have made some progress in that direction. What proportion of any work on the new IFF will be done in the United Kingdom, and what will this contract mean in terms of the two-way street between Europe and America?
I am not able to give the hon. Gentleman the details for which he has asked. However, I am glad that he welcomes this progress, because it is absolutely essential that we have a common system that operates throughout NATO, particularly in Europe. The progress that has now been made in this direction is most welcome.
Is not the problem with updating and standardising the IFF equipment the fact that the West Germans, the Americans and ourselves all believe that our own respective systems are the best? Would it not be possible to get experts from the NATO countries who are not so involved to come together to make an independent assessment of which is the best?
The progress to which I have referred was important in that the Germans have now agreed to use the D-band, and that is where the difficulty arose. The exact details of that must now be worked out. If that can be done, we can go forward on the basis of a D-band plus radar mode.
asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the preparedness of United Kingdom forces within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to withstand chemical warfare attacks.
In the light of the formidable Soviet offensive chemical weapon capability, we afford a high priority to protective and defensive measures for our armed forces against chemical attack, and to training service men in their use. We keep our defensive measures under review in the light of the threat. A new respirator, new protective clothing and new detection and warning equipment for our service men are being brought into service.
Does the Secretary of State not consider that the presence of Soviet chemical weapons and the fact that the United States seems to be gearing up with binary weapons reflects a situation of the most severe awareness and acuteness in terms of possible operations in the European theatre? What view does he take of the threat and of the fact that NATO seems to be mounting opposition in the most aggressive fashion? Can we not try to reach an agreement between NATO and the Warsaw pact countries for a complete ban on chemical weapons?
The hon. Gentleman is supporting a policy which this Government have been energetically pursuing. The difficulty is that the Soviet Union has 300,000 tonnes of chemical agent, which is far in excess of any defensive capability that it needs. The Russians train aggressively with it, modernise it and keep it up to date. Whereas Britain has made a one-sided gesture by getting rid of its chemical capability, the Soviet Union has gone in precisely the other direction. We are still pursuing the primary objective of a negotiated arms control arrangement, but it takes two to reach such an agreement. The Soviet Union has been singularly unforthcoming.
Is it not a fact that if the policy of deterrence, which the Conservative party unanimously supports, is carried to its logical conclusion we must, in order to deter the Russians from continuing to hold these disgusting chemical stocks, regretfully build up some of our own?
There is logic in my hon. Friend's question, and it is this logic that has led to renewed interest in this debate in the United States of America. We are still trying to persuade the Soviet Union that the best possible way forward is by negotiation. However, one cannot go on for ever trying to negotiate with people who modernise their capabilities.
To reduce the likelihood of chemical warfare, does the Secretary of State agree that it would be better if the Government continued to oppose the deployment of the "Big Eye" bomb, the 155 mm chemical shell, or any other chemical weapon by the United States forces, or those of any NATO country? Is it not a fact that the United States already has chemical warfare facilities in Europe?
The Americans have an aging capability. The question is whether they should allow that capability to become so out of date as to have no deterrent capability while the Soviets constantly modernise and increase their stocks. The intriguing question is from where the Opposition think the real threat to the peace and security of western Europe comes.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that all the items of our chemical defensive capability that he has listed are made at Porton Down in my constituency? Does he agree that a higher priority should be given to the provision of a defensive capability for our front-line troops?
I hope my hon. Friend will accept that we are giving very high priority to the defensive capability. That is why I listed the systems that are being introduced. There is no question but that this is overdue and necessary and that we attach very great importance to it. The issue is whether one encourages and supports the United States over the potential modernisation of its aging capability. By far and away the best way forward is to reach an arms control arrangement whereby these weapons are removed. That is what we wish to happen, and that is what we are trying to do. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues have put great energy behind that endeavour. The question is how long one can go on trying to persuade the Soviet Union to reach arms control arrangements when it will not come to such arrangements but constantly increases its offensive capability.
Is it not a fact that the only nation to use chemical weapons on a massive scale has been America in Vietnam? It defoliated over one third of that country, and it has not recovered to this day from that defoliation. Can we not use our prestige to try to bring America and Russia together in some way? We should also tell the truth about America's use of chemical warfare in Vietnam.
The hon. Gentleman must realise that the threat that this country faces comes from the existence of an increasing Soviet capability. That is the issue that a Secretary of State for Defence must address. It is no use saying that the Americans are behaving in some way reprehensibly, when they are not at the moment developing their offensive capability but are trying to secure arms control negotiations. The Opposition must address themselves to the point at which they are prepared to abdicate their responsibility as politicians potentially in government and risk the lives of those in the front line who might defend us.
If it is proved that the wearing of nuclear and biological kit by our service men reduces their efficiency to no more than 40 per cent., does that mean that we would require two and a half times the force level of the Soviet bloc if we were to take it on on equal terms, ignoring the benefit of the nuclear umbrella?
My hon. Friend asks an interesting question. The follow-through, however, is unrealistic, because we have other means of deterrence to secure the peace. We cannot envisage a simple exchange on a nuclear level. The issue that we must address is clear — how we persuade the Soviets to reach arms control agreements with us that will avoid the development of a western chemical capability.
The first point of the Secretary of State's statement that our troops will have the best equipment available will be welcomed on both sides of the House. We support further research into that method of ensuring the safety of our troops. We also support the vigorous action that has been taken by Her Majesty's Government on a chemical warfare treaty, but upon which point of verification have those negotiations broken down? Was it not the Americans who drew back at the last minute?
No, Mr. Speaker. The Americans have made one of the most generous and comprehensive offers of complete openness, which could provide a way forward. Both sides have not yet reached an agreement. We constantly try to put forward new initiatives. There is no question but that the Government are playing an energetic role. The problem will not go away. If we do not succeed in reaching such an agreement, there is then an obligation placed on those responsible for the freedom and defence of the west to address the fact that the Soviets are not just failing to negotiate, they are modernising and enhancing their aggressive capabilities.
Defence Ministers (Meeting)
asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the outcome of the European Defence Ministers' meeting in London on 17 and 18 June.
I and my ministerial colleagues from the independent European programme group met to review progress and to direct further action on the initiatives aimed at improving armaments co-operation which we launched in the Hague last November. Our talks were very constructive. I have placed a copy of our communiqué in the Library. In the margins of the IEPG meeting Defence Ministers concerned with the European fighter aircraft held further discussions to review progress.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Is he aware that there is an air of cautious optimism in the British aersopace industry over the likelihood of the European fighter aircraft going ahead? It is heartened by his firm stance in those discussions. Does he also recognise that a decision, preferably with the French, but, if necessary, without them, must be taken on 22 July if we are to ensure that that project goes ahead?
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his helpful observations. From the beginning of the discussion, the view has clearly been that we needed to reach an early decision, and the energy of all Ministers involved at the moment is devoted to trying to reach a collaborative agreement involving five nations, but of course, there comes a time when decisions must be taken.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have been raising that matter for over three years? Is he aware that there is anxiety in the country that delay in making decisions might mark him out as the Minister who failed to provide a proper, adequate fighter for the British people in 1990?
I think that I understand why the hon. Gentleman feels it necessary to make that remark, but it does not accord with the advice given to me within the Ministry. There has been no pressure to reach an earlier decision on this matter. Production and loading programmes and employment prospects are, of course, as well known to the Government as they are to the Opposition. They are not prejudiced by the time scale upon which we are currently embarked.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the cautious optimism in his remarks regarding the European fighter aircraft will be very welcome in large parts of the British aerospace industry? Will he confirm that it is the view of the Government that a solution to this problem which involved French leadership in design and manufacture, and therefore French leadership of the future of the European fighter industry, would be unacceptable to him and to the Government?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because all Ministers from the five countries are bound to be asked that very question in their own countries. The basis upon which we have sought to reach agreement is that there cannot be a winner and there cannot be a loser in any agreement that is reached. That is understood by all Ministers, who have very similar political problems to the ones that I have.
In view of the delay that has taken place, can the Secretary of State at least give an assurance that a decision one way or the other will be taken on 22 July? If it is not possible, for all sorts of reasons, to reach agreement with the French, will he make it clear that we will go ahead as part of another consortium, without the French? If that is not possible, will he now, for the first time, make it clear to the other partners that Britain will build its own fighter, which is so important for the Royal Air Force and the defence industries in this country?
The right hon. Gentleman can rest assured that I made that clear to my partners when I began these discussions nearly two years ago. Of course, everybody knows that there is a perfectly viable British alternative which we could pursue. We have made that absolutely clear. It was one of the first things stated when we opened the negotiations. But it is not my purpose to try to indicate a range of other alternatives while we are seeking agreement on the collaborative venture which is on the table.
asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many cruise missiles are presently stationed on the British mainland.
I refer the hon. Member to paragraph 27 of volume I of the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1985".
Has the Minister any idea of the number contained in the paragraph he has mentioned, the attendant costs of those cruise missiles stationed on the British mainland and the feelings among this generation of young people — [Interruption.] — when, on the one hand, they see the amount of money that is spent on cruise missiles, while, on the other hand, they live in a country where millions are denied the right to work and in a world where hundreds of millions are denied the right to food? Is that not a clear indication of the crazy priorities of the capitalist system?
If the hon. Gentleman refers to the Statement on the Defence Estimates he will note that three flights of ground-launched cruise missiles have now been deployed in the United Kingdom—48 missiles. On his wider remarks, I remind him that the INF deployment by NATO is in response to a very serious offensive threat by the Soviet Union. By way of perspective on the figures I have just given him, I remind him that at the end of 1979 the number of SS20 warheads facing western Europe was 243 and by the end of last year it had risen to 729.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in view of the Soviet nuclear position on SS20s, the majority of this generation are very relieved that Her Majesty's Government have decided to locate cruise missiles in this country? Is he satisfied with the security of the location of these missiles, and in particular is he satisfied that the amenities of residents in the area will be properly safeguarded in view of the fact that some county councils, such as Cambridgeshire, where the Liberals are in control, seem to have lost their nerve on this issue?
I am not surprised that my hon. Friend says that Liberal councillors have lost their nerve, and Cambridgeshire is not the only place in which that has happened. As to security, all the normal security arrangements take place and people are very highly protected, particularly in the most secure areas. I entirely agree with the earlier remarks of my hon. Friend, which I am sure reflect the views of the great majority of people in the country.
asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many representatives of Warsaw pact states have attended as observers at North Atlantic Treaty Organisation manoeuvres since the signing of the Helsinki Final Act.
Invitations to attend exercises in accordance with the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act are issued on a bilateral basis, and consolidated information relating to all NATO countries is not available centrally.
As we have sent only three observers during the 10 years since the signing of the Helsinki Final Act and none at all since 1979, is there any point in causing problems and difficulties at the talks in Stockholm by insisting that these voluntary agreements should become mandatory?
The hon. Gentleman has raised a very interesting point. He asks why Britain and other nations have not sent more observers to the Warsaw pact exercises since 1979. Since 1980, NATO has carried out 15 major manoeuvres and has invited Warsaw pact observers to every one. In contrast, the Warsaw pact has notified us of nine such manoeuvres and since 1979 has extended not one invitation to us.
Will my right hon. Friend tell the House how the British Forces Mission to Soviet forces in East Germany is operating? There have been disquieting reports of harassment of our military personnel in East Germany. Recently, one contingent was attacked in the course of its duties. My right hon. Fried will recall that some French officers were driven off the road and that Major Nicholson of the United States forces, who was in a similar position, was shot. Can my right hon. Friend tell me more about this matter?
I am familiar, of course, with the instance relating to the British Forces Mission to which my hon. Friend referred. As with the American case, we deplore any attempts to create harassment or worse for those members carrying out their mission responsibilities under the quadripartite agreement. We continue to ensure that our mission carries out its duties properly and responsibly.
General Charles Dalton
asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many meetings he has had with General Charles Dalton, United States Chief of Staff, at SHAPE in the last 12 months.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the threat made by General Dalton during a visit on 3 June to SHAPE headquarters by eight Members of Parliament, when he said that a future British Government would not be able to determine their own defence priorities without the threat of economic sanctions being imposed by a United States Government? How seriously does the right hon. Gentleman take this threat against our national sovereignty?
These remarks are purported to have been made during a visit by the parliamentary Labour party defence committee. Confronted with that galére, any American general could be forgiven for almost any observation.
asked the Secretary of State for Defence if there is any delay in the purchase of Westland plc helicopters by the forces.
No, Sir. In the last three months we have placed new helicopter orders with the company against identified requirements for nine Sea Kings and five Lynx worth a total of about £35 million.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the British Army's sudden conversion to using a larger helicopter places it out of step with the rest of the world's armies? My right hon. Friend must be worried that this delay will mean that we shall be ordering these helicopters from abroad rather than backing our domestic helicopter manufacturer, Westland, which has an excellent potential for development?
We have demonstrated the extent to which we have backed our indigenous helicopter capability. The Army has placed no order for a W30. A staff target was identified for which the W30 might have been suitable. Since then, the Army has been reviewing its requirements. I hope that, within a few months, it will decide what it wants.
Is it true that the modification of the AST404 has been the factor that has put Westland in difficulties?
Most certainly not. If AST404 had settled for a helicopter the size of the W30, and if resources had been made available for that staff target, we would have needed a competition and it would have been months or even years before the target could be fulfilled. Moreover, the W30 now available does not meet the requirements of the staff target.
Does my hon. Friend accept that a large number of overseas orders are hanging in the balance because other countries will not purchase British helicopters until they see the British Government showing confidence in the product? That is what is at stake. Is he aware that the future of the only British helicopter manufacturer is also at stake?
There are a number of potential orders. The main one, for India, is for a civil aircraft, so any demonstration of support for the military variety does not immediately impinge on that.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 2 July.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I shall be attending a dinner given by the United States ambassador to mark the 200th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two countries.
During her busy day will the Prime Minister reflect on the fact that at least two people have committed suicide since the Government introduced new and punishing board and lodging regulations? Will she take into account the fact that the Minister for Social Security admitted to the House last week that the regulations were fatally flawed? How many people have to die before she will withdraw these evil and ill thought-out regulations?
The regulations that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services brought before the House are reasonable. Action had to be taken because expenditure had risen from £100 million in 1980 to nearly £600 million in 1984. My right hon. Friend has issued extended exemptions and I understand that many of the cases to which reference has been made fall within existing exemptions.
Bearing in mind the current debate on standards in education, will my right hon. Friend try to find time today to remind all headmasters of their legal obligation to hold morning assembly and to insist that they carry on this vital part of school life?
I know that the suggestion that morning assembly should be dropped has caused great concern both among Conservative Members and among many parents. I remind headmasters that it is part of the Education Act 1944 and must continue.
Does the Prime Minister realise that as well as turning thousands of young unemployed people into vagrants the changes in board and lodging allowances mean that thousands of old and chronically sick people may be denied care in residential homes, or even evicted from charitable and private homes that may have to close? As the results of the regulations are so obvious and horrific, will the right hon. Lady have the plain decency to reverse the policy so that old and sick people, who are among the weakest and most defenceless members of society, can have the care that they need?
As I said in reply to an earlier supplementary question, I believe that the steps that we have taken are reasonable. Expenditure had risen from less than £100 million in 1980 to nearly £600 million in 1984 and there was considerable evidence of waste and abuse in the system of supplementary benefit board and lodging payments. With regard to the effect on people in residential care and nursing homes, the new limits should allow reasonable charges to be met in homes satisfying the registration requirements.
I hope that the Prime Minister will reconsider that. How can the changes be reasonable when they may lead to the closure of many homes run by charitable organisations and, in the view of responsible people in those organisations, may result in the denial of homes to people who need them? How can the changes be reasonable when disabled people may have to find a further £90 a week, which they do not have, to pay for reasonable standards of care in private and charitable homes? Will she please reconsider the whole policy, as plainly it is neither rational nor reasonable to treat old and sick people in this way?
The new limits should allow reasonable charges to be met in satisfying the registration requirements. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the limit is £110 a week plus the attendance allowance. For handicapped children the limit can go up to £170 a week. Existing claimants are protected by the transitional arrangements introduced by my right hon. Friend. We shall review the new limits within 12 months of their coming into operation.
Does my right hon. Friend consider that the energies of football hooligans, which are extraordinary but misdirected, suggest that a move towards a form of national community service would be constructive?
We have to deal with football hooligans in a different way and take all action that we possibly can to prevent their activity on football grounds and outside. The problem would not necessarily be solved by the kind of action suggested by my hon. Friend, although I understand the point behind his question.
Would the Prime Minister like to vote in the political fund ballot for the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union on 5 July? If so, I can offer her a ballot form. Indeed, Mr. Speaker, you may like to have a ballot form. The ballot forms are freely available in Liverpool at the place of work, despite the fact that at that place of work there are only two members of the trade union. Is that not disgraceful? It demonstrates——
Order. The same rules apply to everyone. The Prime Minister can answer only questions for which she has responsibility. She does not have a vote, and neither do I.
I am offering you the opportunity to vote — [Interruption.]
Order. I am trying to hear the right hon. Gentleman's rephrased question.
Under legislation which the House passed only a year ago workplace ballots are allowed. They are a rotten farce, as is demonstrated by the free availability of ballot forms. Will the Prime Minister change that legislation to make workplace ballots the exception and postal ballots the norm?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said. If his facts are correct, it would certainly be a great abuse, and a matter for the union to consider. Regarding legislation, the right hon. Gentleman knows that, whether it is a workplace or a postal ballot, it must be a secret ballot. If it is not, it is up to those affected to take action before the courts.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 2 July.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Will the Prime Minister today explain why the Conservative candidate in Brecon and Radnor has made no reference to her in his official election address? Does she—
Order. The same rules must apply to all. Again, that is not the Prime Minister's responsibility.
Does the Prime Minister share the view held by many people that the fact that her Government's candidate does not mention her name is a sign of the Government's weakness, and means that in future the Government cannot carry out their policies, or does she hold the view, shared by many people in Brecon and Radnor, that the Conservative candidate is merely trying to bring himself closer to the electorate?
I shall be glad to welcome him here as the new hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor.
As First Lord of the Treasury, will my right hon. Friend consider increasing public expenditure so as to give more money to the Leader of the Opposition's Private Office, since Mr. Ron Todd has said that the Labour party's economic policy is unacceptable, Mr. Scargill tells the right hon. Gentleman what to do and the parliamentary Labour party is for the most part, apparently, on holiday? Is it not time that the right hon. Gentleman recruited some new people, went back to the drawing board and started again?
It is rare to hear my hon. Friend asking for increased expenditure, but for such a good cause I shall give his request my most earnest attention.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 2 July.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
When the Prime Minister has dinner tonight with the American ambassador, will she express the general feeling of relief and welcome that is felt on both sides of the House and throughout the country on the release of the American airline hostages after their long ordeal? Since President Reagan stated yesterday that he is committed to combating terrorism whenever and wherever it occurs, would not his fine words seem a bit more genuine if he were to stop aiding and abetting the terrorists who are trying to overthrow the democratically elected Government of Nicaragua?
I have already sent a message to President Reagan saying that we share his joy and relief at the release of the hostages, and I am sure that the entire House will join in that. As for the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I point out to him that sometimes the stance of the Labour party on terrorism would be better if it voted for the prevention of terrorism legislation.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 2 July.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Has my right hon. Friend seen reports in today's press of Mr. Scargill's address to the National Union of Mineworkers? If so, does she agree with me that the only reason for Scargillism being defeated during the long strike was that the Government had the strength to withstand it? Is it not a fact that that is the only way of combating Scargillism?
Yes. If a Labour Government ever took office led by the present Leader of the Opposition, he would be an absolute pushover for the leadership of the NUM.
Is the Prime Minister aware that what we desperately needed after the long coal strike was statesmanship from the Government and understanding from the National Coal Board? Instead, we have had bombast from Ministers, including the Prime Minister, and arrogance from the coal board, including its chairman. Is she aware that this has created such deep bitterness in the coal industry that it will damage if not destroy the mining industry and the chairman of the board?
No. I believe that we need to give great understanding to the difficulties of the working miners and ensure that we give them all the help and assistance that they need. We must turn the coal industry into a profitable industry so that people, especially young people, can be sure of its future. We must follow the colliery review procedure and ensure that, when pits have to be closed, the National Coal Board enterprise agency moves in after the closures to help those who need assistance to find other jobs in their areas.
United States Of America (President)
asked the Prime Minister when she next expects to meet the President of the United States of America.
I have no plans to meet President Reagan in the near future, but I expect to meet Vice-President Bush during his visit to London tomorrow.
While we can rejoice with President Reagan that the American hostages have been freed, will my right hon. Friend recall that one of them was brutally murdered by the terrorists and that many people see this whole affair as a partial victory for terrorists? Will she join President Reagan in banning Middle Eastern Airlines until Lebanon, and Beirut in particular, ceases to be a haunt of terrorists and killers?
I agree that it is intolerable that Beirut airport should be used to launch terrorist attacks outside the Lebanon, and we have not forgotten the United States Marine who was so brutally murdered on that flight. Until the Lebanese Government can guarantee security at Beirut airport it may be necessary for the international community to suspend all services to Beirut. I hope that such action, which we will certainly support, will have the widest international backing. I shall be discussing this matter with Vice-President Bush tomorrow.
How can the international community have any efficacy in the control of terrorism when it does not observe the conventions which already exist for the control of terrorism? I refer to the Hague convention, the Tokyo convention and the Montreal convention. How can we believe that we can control terrorism through more conventions if we cannot adhere to existing international legislation?
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, we adhere to existing international legislation. I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Montreal hijacking agreement, which was originally the Bonn hijacking agreement and was reaffirmed at Montebello. It has sometimes been difficult to get all nations to adhere to that. I agree that it is of vital importance in stopping hijacking, that everybody accepts that convention.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Does it arise out of questions?
Yes, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the Secretary of State for Defence to refuse to answer a serious question on our national sovereignty, something that should concern every hon. Member? That sovereignty has been threatened by a senior military man at SHAPE headquarters and——
Order. I think that the hon. Lady is trying to carry on Defence Question Time, and in particular her question 12. I have no responsibility for ministeral answers.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Was it in order for the Secretary of State for Defence to attack hon. Members — including myself, incidentally, as I was on the delegation — who found that the——
Order. The House knows that we have a busy day ahead of us, and an Opposition day at that. We cannot carry on Question Time. I am not responsible for what the Secretary of State says, and I cannot be responsible for the attacks made across the Chamber. That is what the system is about.
Order. Is this another point of order? If it is an attempt to carry on Question Time, I shall not hear it. If it is a fresh point of order, I will.
I am looking to you for guidance, assistance and help, Mr. Speaker. A senior four-star American general threatened this country——
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman will have to find other ways to draw attention to this senior four-star general. There will be other opportunities.
Order. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any guidance. Long ago the House agreed that when we have Question Time we end it at the prescribed moment. We cannot continue afterwards.
European Council (Milan)
With permission Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the European Council on 28–29 June, which my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and I attended.Some time in advance of the European Council, the United Kingdom had circulated specific proposals for the development of the Community, covering completion of the internal market, strengthening political co-operation and improvements in decision making. Texts of these have been placed in the Library of the House together with the proposal we made at the European Council on exploitation in the market of advances in technology. The meeting offered the opportunity for action over a broad range of these proposals and a number of important decisions were taken. The European Council decided that, in making progress towards achieving the single internal market for goods and services in the Community by 1992, priority should be given to the removal of physical and technical barriers to the movement of goods to a free market in financial services, a free market for transport, the liberation of capital movements and full freedom of establishment for the professions. These are the United Kingdom's own priorities. On political co-operation, the European Council decided to set in hand the work necessary to reach agreement on the lines proposed by the United Kingdom, taking account also of a subsequent Franco-German text which was very similar. Such an agreement would allow the Community together to wield more influence in world affairs. On technology, the European Council expressed its determination to use the large Community market so as to strengthen technological co-operation in Europe in the face of the American and Japanese challange. As an incentive to manufacturers, we proposed that products resulting from collaboration should have a guarantee of genuine access to public purchasing throughout the Community. By contrast, when it came to procedures for decision making, a majority of the European Council preferred to postpone action and to put the issues to an intergovernmental conference to be convened under article 236 of the Treaty of Rome. The United Kingdom's view was that some positive improvements in the Community's decision-making could have been decided in Milan and did not require any treaty amendment. We regret this unnecessary delay but will naturally attend any such conference and shall continue to press for practical steps to improve decision-making which do not impair our ability to safeguard our national interests. As the House will recall, any changes to the treaty would of course require unanimity and would have to be approved by each sovereign Parliament. On the economic and social situation, the Commission is preparing a detailed report which will compare the Community's economic structure and performance with other major industrialised countries. It will concentrate on strategies to improve growth and employment. The Commission also reported on the steps being taken to give effect to the British initiative on deregulation at the last European Council. The European Council generally endorsed the report of the Committee on the People's Europe, which itself recommends cutting the burden of Community legislation and proposes easier access to medical care abroad. The European Council agreed on the need for Japan to increase significantly its imports of manufactures and processed food products and to liberalise its financial markets. This unanimous view will be emphasised to the Prime Minister of Japan during his forthcoming visit to Europe. I raised the need for further measures to combat terrorism and hijacking, with particular emphasis on the security of airports and air travel. Finally, the European Council discussed famine in Africa. Two thirds of the cereals food aid agreed at Dublin last December has already reached the countries concerned or is en route. We now intend to work out a co-ordinated programme against the effects of drought in the Third world and give priority to helping developing countries themselves to achieve greater security in their food supplies. By agreeing steps to remove barriers to trade and to strengthen high technology, the Milan European Council contributed to the Community's economic strength and to the creation of wealth and new jobs. It is regrettable, however, that the opportunity available to the Council to strengthen foreign policy co-operation and to improve decision-taking was not taken. These issues will now have to be discussed in a further conference. The United Kingdom will be present and will make a constructive contribution on the basis of practical proposals rather than vague aspirations.
I listened carefully to the Prime Minister's statement, but try as I might I could not find any adequate explanation of why she got the whole approach to the Milan summit so spectacularly wrong. Ten days ago the Government's position, as expressed to the House, was that they and a substantial number of other member Governments did not see any necessity for an intergovernmental conference such as is proposed. What substantial number of other Governments took the same view as the British Government? What number were the Prime Minister and her Ministers thinking of in view of the fact that in Milan last weekend they were outvoted by seven countries to three?Is it not the case that, as a consequence of the Prime Minister's clumsy failure in Milan and before Milan, we are not in a position to promote the changes in the Common Market that our country needs nor effectively to protect Britain's interests?
Tell us what changes.
She got us into this; she is going to have to get us out of it — [Interruption.]
The Government have now been sucked into an intergovernmental conference that the Prime Minister said would never take place and which she plainly does not want. I have to ask her whether she will attend that conference herself. Is the "we" to which she referred regal or national when referring to our country? Is it not important that the British Prime Minister actually does attend such a conference, in view of the plain fact that other countries can make changes in procedure without altering——
— without altering the treaty of Rome — [Interruption.] I understand the embarrassment of the Conservative anti-marketeers, but shouting will not cover their tracks. [AN HON. MEMBER: "You have got to cover yours."] I repeat: in view of the very plain fact that other countries can make changes in procedure at that conference without altering the treaty of Rome, and thereby by a majority vote enable themselves to determine vital future interests of the British people, is it not essential that the Prime Minister goes to that intergovernmental conference?The communiqué and the Prime Minister's statement referred to the Committee on the People's Europe. Before that enterprise goes any further, will the Prime Minister accept the fact that the people of Britain—and, indeed, the other countries of the Common Market — are not impressed by European flags and stamps and anthems; they want investment and growth and, above all, jobs. On the latter subject, I note from the statement that there is to be a detailed report comparing the Communities's structure and performance with other industrial countries. Are we supposed to be satisfied by such a statement? Are we supposed to be satisfied that 10 leaders of some of the strongest nations of the world got together over the weekend and all that they can offer to the 15·5 million unemployed in the Common Market is the prospect of yet another study to report in December? Would it not have been fitting for the British Prime Minister, who has the largest number of unemployed, to take the initiative at the summit to try to bring down unemployment? In the wake of Milan, is it not absolutely plain — [Interruption.] I know that Conservative Members do not like it, Mr. Speaker — [Interruption.]
Order. I do not need help from either side of the House.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Hooliganism is one thing that the Conservative party could teach Europe.In the wake of Milan, is it not absolutely plain yet again that six years of bluster from the right hon. Lady has not succeeded in winning one tangible, positive advantage or in protecting British interests or the British people? Faced with that reality, is it the case that the Prime Minister is vexed, or has she "but one emotion—fury", as her Mr. Bernard Ingham told us? Is it the case, as he said, that
How soon will the right hon. Lady join that extinct volcano?"The Richter scale ceases to operate when it applies to her. It is not irritation to the Prime Minister. It is total volcanic eruption. Krakatoa has nothing on it."?
I refer to the right hon. Gentleman's first point, on an intergovernmental conference. I do not think that an intergovernmental conference is necessary. We could have agreed great improvements in decision-making on the matters that were on the table, and that we had circulated well before the meeting. Some of us wished to; others wanted to go further than that, and they called an intergovernmental conference under article 236. That is a limited one. It must be initiated by proposals to amend the treaty, and the only ones before us on that occasion were article 57(2), which is an amendment on the qualifications and right of establishment, as well as article 100, which requires a unanimous vote for directives, which we happen to think is extremely important. No other article for amendment was suggested to go before that conference save one put up by the Commission, on the harmonisation of tax — article 99—which, fortunately, the Germans knocked down pretty quickly, and which we agreed should not be considered.The right hon. Gentleman said that the decision can be taken by majority vote. That is not quite right. One can call an intergovernmental conference by majority vote. Any recommendations that it makes to change the treaty would have to be done by unanimous vote and would also have to come before each Parliament. It would have to be by unanimous vote — [Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman would listen, he might learn a thing or two. With regard to some of the other things, there is a very large report before us, put up by our own Commissioner, on the internal market. It is absolutely vital that the European Council decides what priorities in that report be pursued first. It is not necessary, in our view, for it to take action on tax harmonisation. That can be put aside and considered by Ecofin, because it would cause difficulties for all of us. Therefore, we set out the priorities. They were set out on the first day. They were the ones that were adopted by that Council and put out in the communiqué. If the internal market is completed, it will provide more jobs for this country, in both financial services and insurance. At the moment it is disgraceful, so long after the treaty of Rome was signed, that there are still quotas on lorries, to our great disadvantage, and that we still cannot have shipping business from other ports in Europe on the same basis as they can from us. We still do not have a free market in air fares. All those things are extremely important in getting more jobs. With regard to the report on unemployment, the best report, if the right hon. Gentleman would like to read it, was submitted to the Dublin Council in December. Many of its proposals still hold true. Mr. Delors is proposing to put forward a new report along the lines that I have outlined. With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's final point on bluster and fury, I could not hold a candle to him in the emission of hot air.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the consistent effort that she has made to promote European progress on the basis of firm, practical action, while at the same time regrettably some of our European partners seem correspondingly reluctant to make practical decisions on a day-to-day basis, preferring apparently to kick the ball into the long grass? I welcome the fact that we are to attend the new constitutional conference, but can my right hon. Friend suggest any ways in which we can help to undo the damage that was done to the cause of European unity in Milan by some of our European partners?
That intergovernmental conference, as my right hon. and learned Friend knows, is normally the General Affairs Council of Foreign Ministers. I doubt whether it would take long, because there appear to be only those two matters before it. It would then have to report back to the European Council. As I have said, if it were to propose any changes in the Treaty, that could be taken through only by unanimous support. I saw nothing before us that would require an amendment to the treaty. We should not be too depressed. We have had setbacks in the Community before. Nevertheless, we have been able to carry out enlargement and make decisions on own resources, which mean that we shall pay less now than we would have paid otherwise. I think it is a temporary setback which I hope will be fully redeemed at Luxembourg, and all our efforts will be bent in that direction.
Can the right hon. Lady explain why she was apparently so incensed that the Franco-German paper took over so many of the ideas of the British Government? Surely if one wants to make progress in a negotiation, it is generally highly desirable that other parties should put forward one's own ideas, believing them to be theirs?
It seems strange, since they are on the table already, to duplicate them.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that most of us on this side of the House, and I suspect on the other side and in the country, strongly support her pragmatic approach to European co-operation? Is she also aware that it is very difficult to proceed by gentleman's agreement unless one is dealing with gentlemen? Is she further aware that she was absolutely right in the context of the Milan meeting to agree that we should participate in the October meeting? If we are to make progress with Lord Cockfield's proposals for the internal markets and with my right hon. Friend's own proposals for foreign policy, counterterrorism and other matters, we may have to embark on a system of rather tighter regulation than we would have preferred. Let us be in on it this time and not out of it, as we were when the Messina agreement was approved.
I do not believe that the internal market matters will be dealt with without that intergovernmental conference, although it would be relevant in the sense that the large number of directives that would need to be issued to complete that internal market would now have to be decided upon by unanimity. One of those proposed treaty amendments at the intergovernmental conference would change the unanimity rule, and I think most of us—I certainly—would wish to keep the unanimity rule on directives which could be quite vital to many of our industries. That is a matter that will be dealt with at the intergovernmental conference and I thought that our proposals, which would not have required treaty amendment, would be better. It is important that the internal market be completed, but I think it can be completed keeping the unanimity rule.
Can the Prime Minister be a little more specific about the timetable for the proposals under article 236 that she mentioned? Can she assure the House that any proposals emanating from the Council of the EC will be published and will be debated in this House under the usual arrangements before the actual conference takes place?
There are at present, as I said, only two proposals for treaty amendment and the hon. Gentleman, who is very familiar with the articles of the treaty, knows that that article has to be invoked first by a particular proposal for an amendment. European Assembly opinion on it has to be obtained and then the European Council has to decide what course to recommend. If, of course, it were to recommend any amendments in the treaty, then of course we should have to have a full debate in this Parliament, if the European Council itself decided to go ahead with those recommendations, but first the European Council, which will meet at Luxembourg at the beginning of December, would, I believe, decide whether it wished to go ahead with any recommendations from that previous conference.
In welcoming very much my right hon. Friend's firm refusal to support the proposals for European union, may I ask her whether she will not close her mind to the desirability, in the event of the breakdown of the next conference, of allowing the original Six to go ahead with a European union treaty for themselves, if they wish? In regard to what she has said about harmonisation, may we have a firm assurance that there is no question of Her Majesty's Government agreeing to the Commission's plans for the internal market if that involves harmonising VAT and charging VAT on food, electricity and gas?
My hon. Friend asked about European union. It is a term that is used very loosely. It causes great confusion. Its meaning is not precise. It means something different here from what it means in the Community. We had two proposals before us in Milan, one from ourselves for a treaty on political co-operation and a Franco-German proposal that was almost identical save in regard to three minor points, entitled "A Treaty on European Union". It was not that at all but an agreement on political co-operation. I usually ask my colleagues not to use this phrase because it causes confusion here.With regard to harmonisation of taxation, I do not believe that is necessary for completion of the internal market. Of course, we should resist it with all the power and strength at our command.
In view of the right hon. Lady's reference to jobs, can she confirm that she took the opportunity to inform the Community that we in Britain have made enough concessions on steel? Will she therefore confirm today a corporate plan that ensures that we shall have five major plants in Britain, including Llanwern and Ravenscraig?
I have no statement to make today about the steel corporate plan. We will let the House know as soon as a decison has been taken.
Was my right hon. Friend able to discuss with her colleagues King Hussein's peace initiatives in the middle east and to ensure that every possible support will be given to him to make some progress in that area?
Heads of Government had only a brief discussion about the middle east. As my hon. Friend is aware, we warmly support King Hussein's peace initiative and hope that it will succeed and result in direct negotiations between King Hussein's delegation and Israel. I believe that is the view held by a number of other countries in the Community.
Will the right hon. Lady oppose at the inter-governmental conference any amendments to the Treaty of Rome?
We must go to that intergovernmental conference and consider what is put before us. The statement I made at the European Council was on the matters before us. I saw no reason for amendment of the treaty.
Is it not obvious that insisting on constitutional reform before practical changes may risk those practical changes becoming either more difficult or even impossible? Is it not a pity that at this time we should hear fom the Leader of the Opposition nothing but wind, bluster and ignorance?
I agree with my hon. Friend. We needed practical changes and we have done a great deal at previous European Councils to make fundamental decisions without changes in the treaty. I thought that the South German News put it rather well this morning when it said that Milan showed the gulf in the Community between wishful thinking and reality. We were on the side of reality.
In view of the unanimity requirement of the inter-governmental conference and the advance notice given by several member nations that they are opposed to the items on the agenda, what decisions does the Prime Minister anticipate from that conference that were not already available at Milan, if the opportunity had been taken?
I believe that the decisions were available at Milan. They should and could have been taken there. I believe that they will have to come back to Luxembourg to be reconsidered.
Will my right hon. Friend welcome the remarks by the Leader of the Opposition in so far as they seem to imply that we should work for improvement of the Community from within and that this at least is progress since until recently he did not seem to know whether we should be in or out?
In so far as my hon. Friend concluded that that was the import of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, I accept that it is welcome.
May I commiserate with the Prime Minister on her humiliating treatment in Milan? Does she accept that the foolish headlines in the press last week about Britain taking over the leadership of the Common Market were just another illusory product of the European dream factory? Is not the Common Market largely a Franco-German benefit society in which our role is to soak up surplus manufactures and dear food? In view of that, should we not draw the appropriate and realistic conclusions?
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the documents that are available, he will find that the proposals on the internal market, and the priorities which the European Council decided upon, were those that we put forward to the European Council and which it accepted. He will find that the proposals for closer political co-operation are proposals that we put forward and circulated. Those are the proposals which, together with minor modifications by France and Germany, are likely to be accepted. That is really not a bad start. With regard to what else he said about Milan, I do not need to feel humiliated at all. I noticed that Le Monde this morning said:
"The stubbornness of the federalist plan has left a divided Community. They have chosen the very moment when Britain feels itself more European to block her."
Does my right hon. Friend agree that while the Germans and the Italians were federating in the last century, some of the smaller nations of Europe were looking towards setting up a federal Europe. We in Britain are not. Will she confirm that on no account during her premiership will we surrender the British right to the veto?
We have fought for the British right to a veto. Where we have unanimity in the treaty, it is inbuilt in the unanimity rules. Otherwise, we still fight for the Luxembourg compromise with one modification only: that when it is used the reason for which it is used, the right of vital national interests, should be clearly expressed. I agree wholly with my hon. Friend that there is no question of a federal Europe.
The right hon. Lady will be aware that in my constituency 1,400 jobs are to go in the railway workshops. I can go to streets in my constituency where people have not had a decent job in years. Many of my constituents are living in damp houses. Will the right hon. Lady explain how the European Community will help constituencies such as mine?
The hon. Gentleman is aware that there has had to be rationalisation of the railway workshops because the carriages in use are of a different design, last very much longer and do not require the same maintenance. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, there is unemployment throughout the European Community, and, in parts of it, it is higher than here. Elsewhere it is lower, although they have factors such as conscription which help their young people considerably. There will be a full report upon that. We are in the middle of technological changes which in themselves cause dislocation in society, and we have to do everything we can to mitigate the effect of those changes on the people who have to endure them.
Is it not now clear to my right hon. Friend that the anti-Europeans want a European union from which Britain is absent, and they are not prepared to pay any price to achieve a common market? Were they to achieve their objectives, would that not bring about the twin political and economic disasters which successive Governments have sought to avoid for 20 years.
As my hon. Friend is aware, I believe it is in Britain's interest to be in the Common Market to secure the full working of the treaty, particularly with regard to the internal market and the free movement of transport. It will be to Britain's advantage, not only on the trading side. It will also enhance the influence of Europe throughout the world. I work for both of those things.
Did the Prime Minister have the opportunity to investigate the loss of £76 million from the regional and social funds, money which could have been spent on roads, industrial development and jobs? Her answer will be of particular interest to Brecon and Radnor, because the county in which it is situated receives not one penny from the social fund. Is it because of bureaucratic bungling in Whitehall or in Brussels?
The hon. Lady is aware that I have already written about the social fund and some of the applications that have been made from the areas of Wales which she mentions to support those applications.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if it were not for the strangeness of a by-election on Thursday, the Opposition, who were castigating the Prime Minister today, would be praising her for defending Britain's national integrity and our right to put our country first? Is it not a fact that my right hon. Friend suggested only that we would carry out practical and sensible changes to the working of the Community instead of wasting aeons of time, money and talk on changing the treaty of Rome in a way that we all know will never come about because we will not be federalist? There will not be a change in the veto.
I agree with my hon. Friend. The Opposition's temporary conversion to the cause of Europe might be affected because they know the amount of inward investment into Wales by virtue of Britain being a member of the Common Market.
Even though she voted against it, does the Prime Minister propose to attend the conference?
It is not a conference of Heads of Government, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman realises. It is a conference of the General Affairs Council which would normally consist of Foreign Ministers. Only at the European Council are there Heads of Government.
Despite the proposals for a treaty of union, is it not clear that no major Community country is prepared to relinquish its national sovereignty to a federation? Therefore, is it not the case that much Continental criticism of my right hon. Friend and the United Kingdom is hypocritical? Is my right hon. Friend aware of the very great support she has in this country for the practical proposals she has put forward and for her steady advocacy of British and, indeed, European interests?
I thank my hon. Friend. Sometimes a lot of the rhetoric spoken about Europe gets in the way of practical proposals. It does not matter which country is involved, when things come up in Europe in which a vital national interest is affected, all countries, in practice, act in the same way as did Germany recently over the price of cereals.
Is the Prime Minister aware that her references to a majority of the European Council postponing a decision on decision-making actions is really doublespeak? Will she not accept that the recommendations of the Dooge committee, to which we entered so unnecessary a reservation, were not about doing away with the veto but about confining its use to genuinely vital national interests? That is not something like cereal prices. Difficult job as it is, the best way of achieving this is through an inter-governmental conference, as my right hon. Friends urged her to do in an early-day motion in April. How can she assure us that she will go to the conference in a constructive frame of mind when she has already said on BBC radio that it will fail? If it fails, it will be because she has made it fail. We shall be further isolated and will not achieve either budgetary discipline or the reform of the internal market. To say that only the Danes, the Greeks and ourselves understand reality is absurd.
The Luxembourg compromise is not part of the treaty and never has been. We were proposing changes in the Luxembourg compromise, not in its veto power, but that if that veto power were used the reasons should be set out clearly. The Luxembourg compromise has never been a part of the treaty and we do not need an inter-governmental conference to modify, to keep or to change it. The hon. Gentleman has got it quite right.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that she has substantial support in other member states for her approach of practical steps? Despite the difficulties, this is a developing and robust community with social, political and economic objectives, and we should play our full part in that and resist the temptation to isolate ourselves as we have always done in the postwar years. We should make sure that we join in fully and avoid the dangers and risks now after the very exhausting struggle over the United Kingdom budget contribution. We should avoid yet another debilitating struggle between "us and them" on taking the Community further forward on structural developments.
I agree that we need a step-by-step approach, but if my hon. Friend looks at the documents he will find that that is exactly what we had. We also had a balanced approach. We made proposals on completion of the internal market. We got the priorities right. That was the economic side, and that will help with jobs. We made proposals on political co-operation. That is a modest description, but it was political co-operation. That got a good deal of support, and it was a pity that we did not go through those proposals clause by clause and complete them. They do not require a change in the treaty, and they do not need to go to an intergovernmental conference. We also made proposals on how to make decisions better without changing the treaty. Therefore, we have the economic side, the political side and the institutional side. It was a very balanced package, and many people regret that it was not fully accepted.
Does the right hon. Lady accept that ever since she became Prime Minister she has preached to the House and the nation about the need to save money? At the weekend when she was interviewed on television and radio, and when it was said that she was in a fury, she said that the intergovernmental conference was a complete waste of time. Does she accept that if local councillors went to a conference which, beforehand, had been announced as a complete and utter waste of time, they would be wasting ratepayers' money? If this intergovernmental conference is a waste of time—to use her words— why is she sending someone? Who will foot the bill? Surely it is time that the Prime Minister added up the total of all these conferences. Four years ago she said that coal production in the Common Market would be doubled, but ever since pits have been shut in nearly every country. Surely to God it is time that the right hon. Lady reckoned up the total cost of this Common Market catastrophe? Instead of wittering on, should not we be coming out altogether?
I am afraid that fury is the only emotion that I am allowed by the press. It is rarely true, and I should be utterly exhausted if it was heard half as often as they say. We were disappointed, but that is hardly fury. I do think that the intergovernmental conference is not necessary. After all, that is exactly what I have said the whole time. We could have reached decisions at Milan, and the hon. Gentleman should address his remarks not to me but to my colleagues.
While the imminent possibility of a visit to this country by a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation will be most welcome to all of us who care about peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours, will my right hon. Friend make sure that it does not include any representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, otherwise the impression might get about that, for us, terrorism is respectable and can sometimes be rewarded?
My hon. Friend knows my views on terrorism. He will also be aware that at present on the West Bank there are people who, although members of the PLO, have roundly and strongly condemned terrorism. For example, several of the mayors of some of those cities have strongly condemned terrorism, and we must try to strengthen the hand of those people.
Instead of having a tiny tantrum after her failure in Milan, as the Prime Minister appears to have done, would not it be better for Britain if the Government were to commit this country to a European future by attending the intergovernmental conference at the highest level and by accepting whatever amendments to the treaty may be necessary to get European agreement? Otherwise does not the right hon. Lady understand that Britain will become increasingly insignificant in Europe and will end up as a minor country in the second or third tier rank of the Community?
No. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have had more regard than that for Britain's interests. There are 10 partners in the Community and there will shortly be 12. To get on best together in the Community as a whole, we must each respect the interests of others and go forward by trying to blend those interests together rather than disregarding them.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her pragmatic and balanced approach to the Milan conference. Lest the voters of Brecon and Radnor have not taken note of it, does she accept that the alliance is indeed in significant disarray over the use of the veto in Europe in that the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) insists upon the use of the veto even to the point of amendments to the treaty, whereas the leader of the Liberal party is pressing continuously for a federal Europe?
They always seem to be in disarray and say what suits their needs at the time.
Did the Prime Minister raise the question of the extradition of the Italian terrorists? If not, what will she do about it? Did not she get into difficulties in Europe because she wanted some economic integration whereas the others wanted political unity? Is she trying to pretend that economic integration does not ultimately lead to political federation?
No, the extradition of Italians did not come up in a Community context. I have made it perfectly clear that I am absolutely against a federal Europe, and so, I believe, are the overwhelming majority of our partners in Europe. There is no question of it.
As it is likely to be 35 years after the signing of the treaty of Rome before the Community eventually achieves the objective of a fully free and internal market, does my right hon. Friend recognise that there are powerful arguments for putting our maximum weight behind the initiative of Lord Cockfield and others? In that context, will she consider moving towards full British participation in the European monetary system?
It is important to get the internal market complete. We have quite a programme and have set a date of 1992. I do not believe that it would be advisable for this country to join the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system at present, but we belong to the European monetary system.
What role will be assigned to Spain and Portugal at this conference? If they are to participate passively or actively, what is the likelihood of the Gibraltar issue being raised informally with the right hon. Lady?
I see no reason why the Gibraltar issue should be raised in that context at all, and I do not believe that it will be. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the article under which the intergovernmental conference is called, he will see that the conference will consider only the specific amendments to the treaty that have been proposed. As I have said, only two have been proposed, and they were proposed by the Commission. The position of Spain and Portugal is for the presidency during the coming six months, but it was indicated that Spain and Portugal would attend that intergovernmental conference, as any recommendations that came out would affect them. They will probably be at the next European Council, as they were present at this one, as observers.
In adding my support to those who have welcomed the Prime Minister's vote against this unnecessary conference, may I ask my right hon. Friend, nevertheless, to say whether the terms of reference of the conference are those set out in the Dooge report, which was the main vehicle in recommending the conference—in other words, that the mere holding of such a conference would in itself be the first step towards so-called European union?
No. We spent a long time on the amendments that were to go to an intergovernmental conference. Only two amendments have been proposed, one on equivalence of qualifications and the other relating to the unanimity rule on directives. Germany disagreed that a third commission proposal on tax harmonisation should even go to the conference, and, had Germany not disagreed, we would have raised the matter as well. Therefore, this conference will have a very limited agenda. I am not sure whether the presidency, which for the next six months is held by Luxembourg, will then admit proposed amendments from either member Governments or the European Assembly. That will be a matter for the presidency.
If the Prime Minister put forward her proposals for improvement of decision-making in the belief that they were practical rather than vague aspirations, will she take the same view about them if they are proposed as treaty amendments and not merely resist, because other countries would prefer to see these practical proposals embodied in a revision to the treaty?
They do not need or require an amendment of the treaty. There would be a considerable advance in practice, which would mean considerable progress in the Community. None of them needs an amendment of the treaty.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the announcement that there is to be intergovernmental co-operation against terrorism is unanimously welcomed? Can she say how soon the new measures will be in place and, if possible, what they are likely to be and whether Greece will accept them?
Co-operation against terrorism goes far wider than the Community. It includes the economic summit nations but goes wider than that, and includes the Council of Europe. We did not discuss widely what those measures are. However, I can assure my hon. Friend that we co-operate and that we are trying to step up the safeguards, particularly at airports, for aircraft in flight and at the airports where those aircraft call. It is best to say no more than that.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that although in recent months I have increasingly had serious doubts about the European Community, I differ from those of my hon. Friends who criticise the European Community because I am bound to ask myself whether I should do any better in my right hon. Friend's seat, or whether they would do any better, or whether any other hon. Member would do better. I think not.
Can my right hon. Friend say whether, during the weekend in Milan, any of her European counterparts sought her advice about those policies that have led to Britain enjoying a faster rate of economic growth than any other member of the Community?
I cannot say that we spent a very long time discussing that matter. Nevertheless, one of the reasons for completing the internal market and technological co-operation is that it can lead to increased growth, an increased standard of living and an increase in the number of jobs. That is a matter that affects greatly all Community states.