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Volume 84: debated on Tuesday 22 October 1985

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Wg/30 Helicopter


asked the Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had with Westlands about the future of the WG/30 helicopter.


asked the Secretary of State for Defence, if he will make a statement concerning the Puma and Wessex V replacement.

The review of requirements for support helicopters about which my predecessor informed the House on 26 March last is continuing.

My right hon. Friend and Mr. Gandhi discussed the order. Mr. Gandhi made it clear that he did not intend his visit here to be a purchasing visit. Decisions have not yet been announced, although we hope that the Indians will announce decisions shortly. The Government have made it clear that the £65 million of aid that has been earmarked is still available.

I remind the Minister that an engineering force of 8,000 workers depends on the Westland helicopter contract. Although it might be possible to get the Indian order, it probably means only one or two years' work. Does the Minister agree that the British Government should show confidence in British helicopters by buying them, thus encouraging sales to the rest of the world?

The Government have shown strong support for Westland helicopters in launch aid for the WG/ 30 and for the EH 101. We have placed £80 million worth of work there, orders for spares and support amount to £60 million a year, and I have mentioned the £65 million of aid that is available. The Government have shown that they are prepared to go a long way to support Westland. We want Westland to prosper. The company's ability to meet the armed forces' requirement is extremely important to us.

We welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box for the first time in his new capacity. Will he repeat that he shares our view that it is vital to maintain an indigenous helicopter building capability and that this matter must be considered in that context?

We want the company to prosper. That is why we have made such large resources available to it and why we have given it enormous support to help it sell its products. As my hon. and learned Friend says, the ability to supply helicopters and spares to our forces is extremely important.

I also welcome the Minister to his new appointment. Is he aware that Westland has shown great courage in carrying the considerable risks involved in the pursuit of the Indian order, at the behest of the Government? Why will the Government not now carry the minimal risk involved in underwriting that order until the Indians go firm in perhaps a matter of weeks? Does he agree that a company such as Westland deserves better from the Government'? Is not the Minister's shilly shallying threatening jobs and the integrity of a great company?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words, which preceded an outrageous suggestion.

The Government have provided large sums for the development of the WG/30, and have paid the bill for a large part of its development. The taxpayer has also provided aid to underpin orders. That seems to be considerable support, and that is what we have done. That amounts to considerable sums.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the extremely valuable, and probably unique, experience which Westlands now has of modem helicopters in combat following the Falklands war, and ensure that that valuable experience is put to the best use in the export market through the ECGD giving cover wisely, which it has not been doing sufficiently in recent months?

I shall certainly bear in mind my hon. Friend's comments. We shall do everything that we can to support the company in export markets.

I also welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post, but he seems to be starting as disastrously as his predecessor. How can the Government possibly justify seeking to maintain our defence industries at the expense of the overseas aid budget, when they should be spending money from their budget to support our indigenous defence industries? Will the hon. Gentleman, in his new position, take the opportunity to instruct his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the problem faced by Westland and many of our defence companies is the reluctance of his right hon. Friend to face up to the present strains and pressures on the defence budget, and that the best thing that his right hon. Friend can do is to cancel Trident and get on with our conventional defence?

The hon. Gentleman may not have been on the Opposition Front Bench for long, but he must have been there long enough to know that the WG/30 is not a defence helicopter. That is why it is perfectly proper for us to use the aid budget to help its sales. What does the hon. Gentleman want? Does he, or does he not, want us to help to sell the aircraft? If we did not support sales of it, he would be the first to criticise us. We have done everything we can, and we shall continue to support the sales of the aircraft.



asked the Secretary of State for Defence what are the current estimated savings by his Department for 1985–86 as a result of privatisation schemes.

No private capital has been introduced this year into any organisation which is the responsibility of my Department. The royal ordnance factories were established as a public limited company at the beginning of this year. When private capital is introduced, I am confident that the current trend towards increased efficiency will be strengthened.

While I welcome the plans to move defence establishments to the north, what total savings can be expected from using private contractors?

Regarding my hon. Friend's first point, we are studying that matter. We intend to see whether there can be some deployment of establishment and offices. No central estimate is available of the savings from commercial management and contractorisation, but I have asked that such a central estimate should be prepared, and I intend to make it available to the House. The present position is that 100 different functions have been contracted out, and 1,000 contracts for support services are being let annually. I intend at the earliest opportunity to make available to the House our estimate of the savings that have resulted from that.

If the Minister cannot tell us anything about the savings from his privatisation experiments, will he tell us something about the costs? Will he be making a statement about the overrun in costs and the deficiencies associated with the private sector refits of Redpole, Otter and Euryalus? Will he explain to the House why public sector money is being used to advertise the privatisation of the royal dockyards before the Minister has any parliamentary authority to go ahead with those schemes?

I did not say that we could not tell the House anything about the savings from commercial management. Of course figures are available. For example, the Department is saving about £12 million a year from contracts that have been let for cleaning in MOD establishments. I said that I intended that a global figure for savings from contractualisation should be made available to the House. HMS Redpole was put out for refit in East Anglia. It has gone into Rosyth for post-refit work and I very much regret that the labour force there is blacking the ship. Instead of blacking ships, it should be demonstrating its efficiency.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the least pleasant side of contractorisation and privatisation studies is the uncertainty that surrounds an otherwise loyal and stable work force? Can he help the Sunday school teachers in my constituency by telling us whether he intends to contractorise or privatise the shepherds on the Portland ranges?

In the seven weeks in which I have been in the Department I have not yet turned my mind to the shepherds, but I shall certainly give them the most careful consideration. There is always uncertainty when measures to improve efficiency are taken. That is inevitable, but we must pursue those measures.

Will the Minister withdraw the slur that he cast on the work force at Rosyth when he said that it should demonstrate its efficiency? The workers have done that over a very long period, to the benefit of the local economy and the Royal Navy. The real question is why the Government do not drop their privatisation plans, which will only further damage the prospects of the Royal Navy and of Rosyth.

I do not think that I cast any slur on anyone. My remarks were simple common sense. When work comes to Rosyth, what good does it do the men themselves or the reputation of Rosyth if a ship is blacked? The men ought to be demonstrating that if even if there is greater competition, they can compete efficiently.

Has the Minister had an opportunity to read the report produced by Dyfed county council on the likely effects of contractorisation on the Cardigan bay range? Does he agree with the estimate of job losses in that report?

I have not had a chance to study that report, but I shall do so and I shall be in touch with the hon. Gentleman.

Baor (Equipment)


asked the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to improve the equipment available to the British Army of the Rhine.

I refer the hon. Member to the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1985" and my right hon. Friend's statement in his opening speech in the defence debate on 12 June.

Has the Minister read the recent articles in The Economist, which show that Britain has the most poorly equipped army on NATO's central front, with less heavy artillery than the Dutch, fewer tanks than the French and the Germans, 100 fewer helicopters than we need to do our task and no anti-aircraft guns at all? If the Government are seriously interested in supporting NATO, why are they about to spend £12 billion on being independent, in a nuclear sense, from NATO instead of reinforcing NATO where it is weakest and fulfilling our scandalously inadequate commitment?

As the House well knows, we have extensive plans to strengthen the British Army of the Rhine. We plan to introduce six regiments of Challenger into BAOR. Some will replace the existing Chieftain regiments, and some new armoured regiments are being formed. We also have plans to introduce the MLRS—the multiple launch rocket system — a weapon of devastating quality, which will add enormously to our forces in Germany.

As regards the hon. Gentleman's question about Trident, no amount of expenditure of that money on conventional forces could possibly provide the same deterrent effect.

Is it not a fact that BAOR will never get the equipment that it deserves and should have while the Government stretch the defence budget over so many areas? Why do the Government not realise that the British economy and the British defence budget cannot possibly maintain a proper conventional contribution to NATO, to the proper defence of Britain, to the Trident nuclear missile system and to an increasing out-of-area capability? If the Minister is concerned about BAOR, he should cancel Trident and eventually end our out-of-area commitment.

I note what the right hon. Gentleman said about out-of-area commitments, and I am sure that his remarks will be well noted outside the House. The right hon. Gentleman has just made an extremely interesting initial policy announcement.

As to the effect of Trident on the conventional equipment budget, the right hon. Gentleman ignores the fact that we have increased the defence budget by 20 per cent. in real terms. Of that 20 per cent., only one-fifth has gone on Trident, so there is plenty of headroom for an improvement in equipment for our conventional forces.

Will my hon. Friend promise that there will be no cut in defence expenditure this year?

My hon. Friend knows that the Government's expenditure plans are set out in the White Paper.

I am coming on. My hon. Friend also knows that in the normal way in which public expenditure is reviewed, discussions are taking place within Whitehall.

Raf Pilots (Training)


asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the operational effectiveness of the current content and levels of training for pilots in the Royal Air Force.

We aim to produce RAF pilots of the highest standard of operational effectiveness. The operational performance of RAF crews in tasks such as intercepting Soviet aircraft in the United Kingdom air defence region; in regularly saving lives in search and rescue operations; and in the RAF's massive air lift of food in Ethiopia in very demanding flying conditions shows that such a standard is being achieved.

I recognise that low-flying is an important component of a high standard of training, but is the Minister satisfied that there are not large swathes of the country which are not taking their fair share of this disruptive activity? Does he accept that the activity should be shared more evenly? Is he satisfied that enough is done in the training programme to impress upon pilots the need to observe the 250 ft limit, which is not always observed?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for acknowledging the operational importance of low-flying training, which is fundamental to the survivability in modern warfare conditions of our advanced combat aircraft.

We examine closely the areas within which low flying is restricted. It makes sense to avoid areas of high population or where there are hospitals. Our broad policy is to try to spread the low-flying load as widely and therefore as thinly as possible so as to cause the minimum disturbance in any locality. We train our pilots intensively to ensure that the 250 ft limit is observed.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the RAF's airmanship standard is the highest in the world and that that can be maintained only if sufficient fuel is provided for adequate flying hours each month? Can he assure me that that will be available?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comment about the RAF's standard of airmanship, and I endorse what he said. I think that RAF pilots are second to none in the world.

We have been able to make some increases in fuel supplies after initial cuts announced this year. There will be only a small reduction this year. I can assure my hon. Friend that our combat pilots' flying hours are higher than the NATO minimum.

Is it true that the aircraft disaster over Cumbria three weeks ago involving two Jaguar aircraft flying in a dangerous manner cost the MOD £21 million? Is that not rather a lot of money to be involved when two aircraft were flying in the manner described by people who saw the accident?

Is the Minister aware of the unrelenting public hostility throughout Cumbria to low-flying exercises, and is it not time that the policy was reviewed? Is the Minister further aware that I have more letters in my office on this matter than on almost any other subject? May we have some action from the Government. who so far have been insensitive to protests from the general public?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reconsider the criticisms that he appeared to direct at the air crew who were tragically involved in that accident, even though the results of the board of inquiry are not yet known.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman and the House recognise that, in order to achieve the very demanding flying standards necessary in today's modern warfare conditions, the Royal Air Force combat pilots expose themselves to grave risks and must practise intensively to achieve their very high standards.

Will my right. hon. Friend pass on our condolences to the families of the pilots who were tragically killed in that accident? That crash, about which the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) spoke, happened in my constituency.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the vast majority of my constituents dearly wish that low flying was not necessary, but realise that it is preferable to have our pilots flying over the constituency at 250 ft than to have foreign aggressors at 10,000 ft?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I am sure that the relatives of the pilots will appreciate what he said.

I fully endorse his remarks about the critical relationship between demanding flying standards and the survivability of aircraft in modern warfare conditions.

Royal Dockyards


asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many representations he has now received following publication of the consultative document on the future of the royal dockyards; and if he will make a statement.

More than 100 letters have been received by my Department since the announcement on 17 April of a period of consultation on subjects relating to the future management of the royal dockyards. In addition, some 2,000 postcards have been addressed to the Prime Minister by dockyard employees. There has also been a continuing correspondence with industry on aspects of the plans to introduce commercial management to the dockyards.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that since he announced in July his firm decision to introduce agency management into the royal dockyards there has been a distinct lack of support and enthusiasm? Will he assure the House that between now and the Queen's Speech he will re-examine his proposals with a view to introducing a more sensible option for the future management of the dockyards?

I know that my hon. Friend feels strongly about this matter. There is, of course, a period of uncertainty in the early stages of any change. After careful consideration, the Government reached the view that it would be in the best interests of the Royal Navy, the local economies and, most certainly, the defence budget to move towards a process of commercial management. I would not wish to give my hon. Friend the false impression that I might be prepared to reconsider.

Will the Government reply to the criticisms of the Public Accounts Committee, especially that the proposals could increase the cost of the defence budget? In view of the massive strain now being placed on the defence budget, is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to consider this whole question afresh?

No, because one of the purposes of moving to commercial management was to secure tens of millions of pounds of possible economies from the enhanced efficiency in the dockyards. Obviously, that must be my prime responsibility as Secretary of State.

Should not the Secretary of State refer to the strictures of the Select Committee on Defence about his preferred option? Will he acknowledge that what is happening at Rosyth and Devonport is a diminution of morale in a very essential part of our labour force? Will he assure us that what happened with Redpole will not happen again—when a ship put into the hands of private enterprise had a number of deficiencies, was hawked into the yard at Rosyth and the work force took grave exception to the way in which it was treated? When does the Secretary of State hope to report to the House on the effect of that on our strategic deterrents?

The hon. Gentleman has given a very one-sided account of what happened. The work force at Rosyth would do itself more good if it was actually showing the efficiency that it can achieve. and which it pointed out as being an option within the management of the dockyards.

The most encouraging development that has emerged since I last reported to the House on this matter is that, following informal consultations with the dockyard industrial work force, it appears that we shall be able to secure the enhanced efficiency and the reduction of numbers that we seek largely through voluntary redundancy and early retirement.

In those circumstances, although a state of redundancy technically has to be declared, the process from today's position to the enhanced procedures and efficiencies appears to offer an easier passage than even I believed possible when I first made the proposals.

Is it not a fact that there is no support whatever, either in the House or among informed opinion outside, for the suggestion of commercial management that the right hon. Gentleman is putting forward? The proposal is based not on any form of rational analysis, but is purely party dogma. Will he, even at this late stage, drop this hare-brained scheme, which can only put thousands of people out of work, damage the economies of Devonport and Rosyth and provide a worse service for the Royal Navy in this crucial area?

I must take a view which puts on the one hand the views of the right hon. Gentleman and on the other the views of the Admiralty Board. I find no difficulty in reaching an easy decision to back the Admiralty Board.

Eastern Atlantic (Naval Forces)


asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement concerning United Kingdom naval forces in the eastern Atlantic.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to paragraphs 432 to 445 of volume I of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1985.

Will the strain on the defence budget have any effect on the ordering of the new frigates? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if it does, that will have serious repercussions for shipyards on the Tyne? Would it not make more sense to cancel the Trident project and concentrate the money on the more conventional service vessels?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, a substantial amount of shipbuilding is now taking place at Swan Hunter and that a substantial amount of repair work is going to the Tyne repair yards. The answer to his question about Trident is that we could in no way protect this country against nuclear blackmail with destroyers and frigates.

Will my right hon. Friend bring us up to date on his thinking about the replacement of Fearless and Intrepid, which are needed for the marine reinforcement of the northern flank, and which are likely to end their useful lives by about 1990?

As my hon. Friend will be aware, both Intrepid and Fearless are undergoing refits. That will improve their capabilities and extend their lives until the mid-1990s. As the House has been told, we are examining the various amphibious options for their replacement. That examination is on schedule and, as we have said, we shall be in a position to take decisions next year.

Submarine Statistics


asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many suspected incidents have been investigated by his Department over the past 12 months of submarines being involved either in collisions with other vessels or fouling fishing nets within United Kingdom territorial waters.

In the last 12 months, the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Transport have investigated two losses of fishing vessels as a result of fouling their gear where it was initially alleged that submarines might have been responsible. Both investigations concluded that submarines were not involved.

Will the Minister confirm that those two cases concerned the Mhari L, involving the loss of five lives earlier this year, and the South Stack from Holyhead, which was lost last summer with the loss of three lives? Will he further confirm that the Government have received strong representations from the Irish Government about dangers arising from submarines in the Irish sea? Will the Government now give a stronger warning to fishermen about the movement of submarines, to try to minimise the dangers arising from such movements?

The two incidents in the last 12 months to which I was referring involved the Mhari L, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and the Channel Avenger, which sank off Portland Bill in December 1984. As he will be aware, there have been a number of incidents in the last 10 years in which there has been some involvement of submarines with various fishing vessels. We keep our procedures carefully under review and, as far as practicable, every possible precaution is taken to avoid such incidents taking place, and I am glad to say that there have been no such incidents in the last 12 months.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that submarines involved in deterrent and other activities have been entering and leaving the Clyde area for the last two decades? During that time there have been a number of allegations. In a recent one, concerning the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang), it was alleged that a fishing vessel had been sunk after being involved with a nuclear submarine. That turned out to be untrue, with positive evidence to show that the ship had fouled something underwater and had had nothing to do with a submarine.

My hon. Friend is entirely right. There have been a number of incidents where the initial allegation has been that a fishing vessel has fouled a submarine. Subsequent investigations have shown that no submarine has been involved.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that on almost every occasion when an allegation has been made it has been met with a denial? It was denied that a submarine was involved when the Irish trawler was sunk, until it was proved conclusively that a submarine had been involved. Should not warnings be given to fishing vessels of the dangers that arise, especially in the Irish sea, from the activities of submarines?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that certain areas are marked on maritime maps as being those of naval activity, in some instances submarine activity. I think he will understand that, given the sensitivity of submarine operations, it would be irresponsible of us to give public acknowledgements of submarine routes and deployments.

Low-Flying Aircraft (Powys)


asked the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received concerning the frequency of military aircraft engaged in low-flying over Powys.

Over the past 12 months the Ministry of Defence has received 24 representations concerning the frequency of military aircraft flights in the Powys area.

My constituents, tourists, animals, young children and others are having tremendous hardship inflicted upon them by low-flying. Will my right hon. Friend seek immediately to reduce low-flying in Powys by 50 per cent.?

When the hon. Gentleman considers my answer, he will perhaps conclude that 24 representations over the past 12 months is not exactly symptomatic of what he fears on behalf of his constituents and their animals. 'We must return to the point that I made in answering a previous question on low-flying, which is that if we reduce low-flying in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and the county in which it is situated, that can only be at the expense of the constituents of other hon. Members.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that to maintain the combat efficiency, proficiency and flight safety of Royal Air Force aircrews it is necessary that they obtain adequate low-flying experience, including occasionally over Powys? Will he bear in mind that it is equally important to retain experienced crews? Will he consider the article that appeared in Flight International, on American flying reserves, which describes the excellent value for money that they provide for the United States air force?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his point about reserves, which I accept. I endorse fully what he has rightly said about the critical relationship between the effectiveness of the RAF and its ability to have regular and intensive flying at low level.

South Atlantic (Force Levels)


asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the reduction of Her Majesty's forces in the south Atlantic.

The Falklands force level is maintained at the minimum size necessary to defend the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, but it has proved possible to reduce numbers steadily over the past year or so. Once the new airport at Mount Pleasant and the garrison facilities are complete we should be able to reduce still further the level of forces permanently stationed on the islands.

Against this lessening cost should we not set the splendid training facilities for all three services on the Falklands and the British stake in the vast economic potential of the region? Secondly, are there not naval and air forces which are admirably suited to police a fishing zone, which has been so unconscionably delayed by the Foreign Office?

I think that my hon. Friend will wish to pursue his second point with my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. I endorse what he said about the training facilities on the Falkland Islands. The islands provide some near unique training opportunities for us, and that certainly should be put into the balance against the cost of the Falklands garrison.

Will the Minister formulate a considered response to the article in the Sunday Post on the conditions of the 3,000 civilian workers on the Falklands? The article alleges drunkenness, drugs and "wacky taccy" parties.

I think the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the conduct of the civilian work force is not a matter for Defence Ministers. I am not sure whether that is a matter for Ministers in any other Department, but, if it is, it would fall to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Will my right hon. Friend continue to emphasise that the garrison is purely defensive and represents no conceivable threat to the mainland? Will he emphasise also that it must not be considered to be a NATO base, because it is not one?

I assure my hon. Friend that the garrison does not represent any threat to the mainland. We seek to maintain the garrison only at the minimum size necessary to carry out our defence obligations to the Falkland islanders. The House will have noted the statement by the official Opposition spokesman that, for the first time, the Labour party apparently intends withdrawing out-of-area forces. This would, of course, include removing the defence forces from the Falkland Islands.

Will the Minister confirm, or deny, statements in the press about the possibility of a new aerodrome being built on the island of St. Helena? Is that, or is that not, the Government's policy?

I do not believe that the Government have reached any such conclusions on that matter.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that defence expenditure is well justified if it provides a framework within which the peaceful development of the resources of the Falkland Islands can be undertaken? If so, will he take note of the increasing puzzlement at the fact that we are allowing the vast marine resources that surround the Falkland Islands to be developed by nations other than Britain?

I understand my right hon. Friend's point. When I was in the Falklands during the recess the Falkland islanders expressed much concern about fishing exploitation. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary deals with that matter. Our defence dispositions show our determination to provide a continuing free way of life for the Falkland islanders.

Washington (Visit)


asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he next proposes to visit Washington for discussions with his United States counterpart.

I have no immediate plans to do so. On current plans, I will next meet the United States Secretary for Defence at the meeting of NATO's nuclear planning group in Brussels at the end of this month.

In view of some of the reservations expressed by senior American Ministers and others about western Europe's determination to defend itself, will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity of the next meeting to point to the recently signed European fighter aircraft deal that was entered into by four western European countries, not only for its own sake, but as an example of western Europe's determination to play an effective part in its own defence?

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. I think that the successful conclusion of the decision by Germany, Italy and Britain— I welcome the fact that Spain has now joined the arrangement — to build a European fighter aircraft is one of the greatest manifestations of Europe's determination to defend itself and of Britain's determination to play a full part in that process.

Irrespective of the decision made this week on chemical weapons by the United States Congress, will the right hon. Gentleman inform his counterpart in the United States that Britain will under no circumstances accept chemical weapons on its soil? Will the right hon. Gentleman say also that the American stocks that are held in West Germany will be neither added to nor improved?

I would be more likely to ask my counterpart about his views on the 300,000 tonnes of Soviet chemical weapons that are based in positions that could be used aggressively against the Western Alliance.

When my right hon. Friend meets the United States Secretary of Defence, will he urge upon him the necessity to consult the Secretary of State at the State Department so that they can get their act together to decide what is or is not allowed under the ABM treaty when pursuing their strategic defence initiative?

The Prime Minister has already agreed with the United States President our views about the ABM treaty and the strategic defence initiative. It would be something of an impertinence for a member of one Government to lecture another Government about what might appear to be two voices within one Administration.

Will the Secretary of State make it clear to the American Administration that Her Majesty's Government will not endorse a re-interpretation of the ABM treaty which would allow the development, testing and deployment of anti-ballistic missiles in space?

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that it was my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who first made clear the role of the ABM treaty in the context of SDI and, therefore, perhaps placed on the world record one of the most important decisions that Mr. Reagan has made in that context.

Royal Ordnance Plc


asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects that shares in Royal Ordnance PLC will be offered to the public.

Subject to the usual caveats of trading performance and stock market conditions, we would hope that the company could move to the private sector in mid-1986.

When does the Minister intend to meet the trade unions to discuss the implications for their members of privatisation? In particular, why has he refused their offer to submit the outstanding problem of pensions to arbitration?

I am perfectly prepared to meet the trade unions. It is important that I should do so at an early date. As regards pensions, the Government have made their position on no detriment clear. There have been a series of meetings between my predecessor and the trade unions. I do not believe that there is much to be added on that subject.