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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 87: debated on Tuesday 26 November 1985

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Defence

Local Overseas Allowance

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received concerning Her Majesty's forces local overseas allowance; and if he will make a statement.

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied with the present levels of local overseas allowances for British forces in Germany; and if he will make a statement.

A number of representations were received from hon. Members and from service men in Germany following the reduction in local overseas allowance in Germany earlier this year. The reasons for this reduction were explained fully by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement when answering the debate on the Adjournment on 20 May.

I am satisfied that the LOA system represents an extremely important financial protection for service men when they are asked to serve in countries overseas that have a higher inflation rate than that in the United Kingdom.

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's answer. The reduction in the local overseas allowance for BAOR troops has a certain pin-stripe logic in Whitehall, but it means a pay cut for the troops. I have discussed this with the troops. They tell me that single men in particular have suffered a pay cut of between £20 and £30 a month. [Interruption.] Conservative Members do not like having to listen to this, but I am afraid that they will have to. Will the right hon. Gentleman address himself to that matter?

I must say to the hon. Gentleman and to those right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench who support him that the pin-stripe logic to which he referred commended itself to the previous Administration. They operated the same LOA system as we operate. Where the differences in the cost of living narrow between the United Kingdom and an overseas country, the LOA is bound to be reduced. I ask the House to bear in mind that our service men in Germany, following the Government's adherence—unlike our predecessors—to the provisions of the armed forces pay review, have had a pay increase this year in excess of 7 per cent., although they are living in a country which enjoys an inflation rate of less than 3 per cent.

While I understand the reasons for the change in the LOA, its effects upon BAOR are becoming quite frightening. A number of young, highly-qualified technical soldiers have given notice that they wish to leave the Army. These soldiers may or may not accept the argument about a lower rate of inflation, but their greatest argument relates to transportation back to the United Kingdom, since transport charges are a complete "fix" under the cartel.

I am glad to be able to tell my hon. Friend and the House that in the last few days we have announced an important concession. It will enable all service men to have the costs of the third school visit of their first child, for which at present they have to pay, met out of public funds. That concession will apply as from the school Christmas holidays. It has been widely welcomed in Germany.

As it costs £2·8 million to train a fast-jet pilot for the central front, and as we are seeking to save only £17 million on the local overseas allowance, only eight pilots have to leave the Royal Air Force for all the savings that the Ministry of Defence hopes to make to be lost. The commercial airlines are recruiting vigorously among jet-trained pilots. Is this not another example of the Government being penny wise and pound foolish? They are seeking to make short-term cuts without considering the long-term interests of the Royal Air Force.

The hon. Gentleman is confusing two completely separate issues. He rightly referred to the very considerable cost of training a fast-jet pilot. However, the relatively small adjustments of the LOA at the margin will not have a material effect upon the ability of the civil airlines to recruit trained RAF pilots.

Most people understand the reasoning behind the change, but I suspect that there would have been a great deal more support for it had there been an elongated introductory time scale to give service men a chance to adjust. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that this is not a false dawn for savings and that we are not losing the savings involved in this change to those who are opting for unaccompanied tours and the greater financial benefit that that involves?

The reduction in LOA in Germany had some phasing in, which was designed to get over the particular problem to which my hon. Friend refers. I remind him that it is important to ensure that normally there is immediate application of LOA changes, because a large number of them are upwards, and we want to give the service men the benefit of the LOA increases, such as those that have recently taken place in Cyprus, Italy, Sardinia, Gibraltar, Portugal, the United States, Denmark Belize, Norway and Hong Kong.

Tornado Aircraft

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to complete negotiations with British Aerospace plc for an attrition order of Tornado aircraft for the Royal Air Force.

Negotiations are in progress on the purchase of nine additional Tornado GR1 aircraft to help offset expected attrition losses. Orders have been placed for essential long-lead time materials.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the order for the nine Tornadoes and, I hope, a few more, will be placed soon? Will he also confirm that the extra orders placed for Tornadoes for Saudi Arabia and Oman, which are much to be welcomed, will not affect the RAF order to replace the aeroplanes that have been taken out for the Saudi Arabian order?

The time of a production order for these aircraft has to be considered in the context of the Saudia Arabian deal, but if we lose aircraft through accidents or whatever, they will have to be replaced.

There will be some diversion from the RAF to meet the Saudi deal. Our concern is to minimise that effect. We have a commitment to this aircraft, which will have to be replaced. However, the precise timing will depend on finance and on the extent of factors yet to be negotiated in the Saudi deal.

Would not the hon. Gentleman have saved himself some embarrassment if he had taken the advice given to him by the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) and ordered early so that he could have delivered both on time?

My hon. Friend understands, as the hon. Gentleman does not, that the point about diversity arises because the production lines at Warton will be full. Because of the substantial order obtained from Saudi Arabia, the production lines at Warton will be full well until the 1990s, and there will be excellent work for the European fighter aircraft programme as well.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the attrition rate for the Tornado in operational conditions on the central front will soon become high unless the aeroplane is equipped with an effective stand-off weapon? What progress is being made to procure such an air-to-surface missile?

We are studying this matter jointly with other countries, because it is important to ensure that the Tornado is effective. As my hon. Friend knows, it is also important to maintain the mid-life update.

Procurement Programme

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is satisfied with the present methods of defence procurement; and if he will make a statement.

We continue to seek improvements in the way that we procure the equipment the services require for a price which gives the taxpayer best value for money. To this end we shall pursue vigorously the twin aims of expanding competition and collaboration.

Why should defence contractors be able to hide behind rules of confidentiality from answering questions about the post-costing of defence contracts where excess profits have been made by them? Is the Minister aware that a prominent journalist wrote to me enclosing a list of post-costed defence contracts where excess profits had been made, all of which have been investigated by the Ministry of Defence? Is he aware, further, that I am prevented, by the rule of confidentiality, from raising that list in a public sitting of the Public Accounts Committee, when all those matters are in the public interest and should be made known to the public?

I shall certainly look at that point. Post costing occurs in non-competitive contracts. It is done in confidence because some matters are commercially sensitive, and, even if the contract is non-competitive in the United Kingdom, the intention may be to sell the equipment overseas. Therefore, commercial confidentiality is important. However, I shall investigate what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the defence procurement arrangements for the European fighter aircraft, which, as well as the United Kingdom, involves Germany, Italy and Spain? Will he take this opportunity to say whether the apparent efforts by the French to come back into the scheme are too late?

We are satisfied that work is proceeding with all speed on the project definition of the European fighter aircraft. As well as being a tremendous opportunity for British and European industry, it is a tremendous achievement. As for the French approach, we would have preferred the French to be in the project from the beginning, but we shall have to examine the details of what exactly they have in mind.

What assurances has the Minister given to Dennis Ferranti to enable it to go ahead with a massive capital expenditure on CNC lathes to make mortar shells, when those shells are currently made quite effectively by ROF Birtley?

I am not familiar with the case that the hon. Gentleman raises, but if he writes to me I shall look into it.

Trident

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on progress to date on the Trident programme.

The Trident programme is progressing satisfactorily. I have nothing to add to the answer given to the hon. Members for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) and for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) on 2 July 1985, at column 116.

In January this year, when the sterling-dollar exchange rate was $1·09 to the pound, Labour and Liberal Members were highly critical of the cost of the Trident programme. Since then, there has been a 34 per cent. increase in the value of sterling, with a commensurate decrease in the credibility of the Opposition. Can we now assume that the Opposition parties have become enthusiastic supporters—

Can we now assume that in relation to the Trident programme the Opposition parties are enthusiastic supporters, and does their care and concern about the cost and the jobs that go with it depend—

My right hon. Friend announced that the cost of Trident was £9·2 billion at 1984 prices, assuming an exchange rate of £1 to $1·38. If, as my hon Friend has said, the pound strengthens against the dollar, that will affect the price of Trident, given that there is a 45 per cent. import content. My right hon. Friend has stated to the House the effects of changes in the exchange rate—any hon. Member can calculate those for himself—and he will be presenting his annual estimate of the cost of the programme in the light of changes in the exchange rate.

Will the Minister confirm that the British-manufactured warhead for the Trident missile will have to be tested, if not at the United States nuclear test site in Nevada, somewhere else?

We shall have to carry out tests that are necessary, but I cannot confirm what the hon. Gentleman has said.

As and when Vickers is privatised, how does my hon. Friend intend to ensure that it does not abuse its monopoly position in the building of Ohio-class and SSN submarines?

It is the Government's intention that there should be a number of submarine builders in this country, just as there are at present. Vickers has a monopoly, not of conventional, but of nuclear submarines. We envisage that there will be plenty of competition for conventional submarines, and I am certain that the privatisation of Vickers, which I am sure will be achieved shortly, will do nothing but good and will be good value for the taxpayer.

Is it not the case that the exchange rate is wholly outside the control of the Government and most other Governments? That means that if the cost of Trident is £10 billion, £5 billion in dollars is wholly outside the Government's control. Is that not a foolish financial arrangement, apart from the fact that it is ridiculous to spend that sum on a weapon which can never be used?

One thing is certain. If we had attempted to build and develop the whole of Trident ourselves, it would have been an extremely expensive programme, and far more expensive than Opposition Members would have been remotely prepared to contemplate. At £9·2 billion, the programme is excellent value for money, given the deterrent power that Trident missiles and submarines have. That sum spent on any other weapon system could not purchase the equivalent deterrent capability.

Procurement Programme

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what are the priorities in his weapons procurement programme.

I refer my hon. Friend to the details given in chapter four of the 1985 "Statement on the Defence Estimates", which describes the equipment that is coming into service or being developed for the armed forces to enable them to discharge their responsibilities to greatest effect.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of those priorities, will my hon. Friend assure the House that we shall never again see such a scandalous fiasco as the Nimrod programme? When can he come to the House and make a statement on the cost of Ptarmigan?

Obviously, the Nimrod programme causes the Government considerable anxiety, and I hope to come to the House to make an announcement. At present we have completed our technical evaluation of options for development to an acceptable operating standard. We are discussing with the company proposals to reach that stage of development on a fixed-price basis. My hon. Friend is right in saying that this is a serious matter.

Is the Minister aware that the phrase, "We would not mind getting back into chemical weapons, if the public could be persuaded," is a non-attributable phrase used by certain senior Whitehall officials? In view of the fact that the Secretary of State's answers to my recent questions have been evasive, ambiguous and insulting to people who have a right to know what Government policy is, will the Minister make a definitive statement about the Government's attitude to chemical weapons?

We are trying to negotiate arms controls, and we are not planning to develop our chemical weapons. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has stated the position to the House on many occasions.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the regional economic dimension of weapons procurement policy, and consider the number of jobs, for example, on Tyneside, that are dependent on defence industries? Will he order his procurement policy in such a way that sufficient orders staged in the right way are maintained for such areas to keep the number of jobs at least stable, and preferably growing, in those industries?

I note what my hon. Friend says. Obviously, with a £9 billion defence equipment budget, our first requirement must be value for money, and, in general, contracts must be awarded to the lowest bidders, but we also bear in mind the health of British industry. That is not to say that there are not occasions when other factors come into play.

What priority do the promises made to Swan Hunter shipbuilders on Tyneside have in the Minister's weapons procurement programme?

Swan Hunter has received large orders from the MOD in the past. Swan Hunter can tender for the type 23s in future, and it has done extremely well from the defence budget.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Trident programme has high priority and is important to Scotland because it provides steel orders for Ravenscraig, the tubes are made at Babcock, and because it provides jobs at Coulport and Rosyth? Does he agree, therefore, that Scotland has a deep interest in that programme, and that it should continue to have high priority?

The Trident programme has a critical role, which is much appreciated. It also has a significant effect on employment, because there are 17,000 direct jobs and 13,000 indirect jobs dependent upon it, which makes Opposition Members' concern about what will happen at Rosyth a little hypocritical.

Reverting to the question of the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), who started this exchange, what exactly does the phrase "acceptable technical standards" mean when applied to the new Nimrod radar? How does it differ from the original specifications laid down by the RAF for that type of radar? When with we have something to plug the gap in our radar defences?

The hon. Gentleman has, if I may say so, been here long enough to know that his first question cannot be answered in public.

Does not the fact that one of the major priorities for the Government's defence procurement is the Trident missile system mean that there has been undue delay in the placing of other contracts for conventional weapon systems and that some of the equipment being used by our forces is becoming increasingly outdated? By concentrating on Trident and not spending money on conventional forces, is not the Minister missing an opportunity to raise the nuclear threshold?

It certainly does not mean that, because Trident takes 3 per cent. of the defence budget and 6 per cent. of the equipment budget. Furthermore, Britain spends as a proportion of its total defence budget a higher proportion on equipment than any other country in NATO.

Highway Code

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether his Department gives advice to visiting forces about adherence to the " Highway Code" during military exercises in the United Kingdom.

No. We expect visiting forces to see that their drivers are made familiar with the provisions of the "Highway Code".

Does the Minister recognise that sufficient incidents have now occurred to suggest that United States forces personnel are either unaware of the provisions of the "Highway Code" or are deliberately flouting them? Is not that particularly serious when they are driving large vehicles in large convoys, often carrying nuclear weapons? Does he approve of the practice of United States cruise carriers driving round with stickers in their windscreens proclaiming:

"We don't brake for CND"?

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that I do not believe that there is any evidence that United States service drivers commit more road traffic offences than anybody else. I can assure him that all United States service drivers have to pass a test, which is prescribed by all United States service authorities, before they are allowed to drive in the United Kingdom, and that includes a test of knowledge on the "Highway Code".

I recognise the driving skills of the United States Army in Britain. Surely the people who should be blamed are those members of the CND, especially Leicester CND, who deliberately get in the way of cruise convoy carriers as they are going from A to B. It is no good trying to pass the buck back to the United States Army.

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Those who obstruct the public highway and vehicles that are on it are not merely endangering themselves but can be endangering others.

How many launchers and missiles are now deployed in the United Kingdom, and have there been any new deployments in the past months?

We have made clear the present situation in the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" and we have also made clear the long-term deployment numbers. It is not my right hon. Friend's policy to give detailed arrival times, for obvious security reasons.

Aircraft Noise (Compensation)

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement on the progress of the departmental review on compensation for those living near operational Royal Air Force stations, and subject to significant disturbance from aircraft noise.

The review has now been concluded and a number of improvements were announced in the reply that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) on 14 November, at columns 260–61.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents living near RAF Cottesmore will warmly welcome the tone of the Department's response to their representations? Will he ensure that the number of people to get insulation this time will be rather more than the 10 who were offered it in the previous review?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments about the announcement. I recognise that he has been extremely persistent on behalf of his constituents in representing their concerns. We estimate that some 7,000 extra private dwellings around some 50 airfields will benefit from the new availability of noise insulation. As my hon. Friend will understand, I obviously cannot say how many more will benefit in the Cottesmore area, but I hope for his sake, and particularly for mine, that it will be rather more than previously.

Can the Minister give a much better reply to those who complain about noise from low-flying aircraft and who will not get compensation? Is he aware that many of the answers that he gives are far from satisfactory? Could training involving low-flying aircraft take place on one day a week so that residents can be notified in advance and prepare themselves for the nuisance?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand the problem. It would not be possible for the RAF to be able to maintain the standards of proficiency and expertise required on the basis of training on one day a week.

The announcement that the noise compensation scheme is to be introduced has been warmly welcomed by many people living near airfields. Can my right hon. Friend say when it will be known which houses and which parts of the villages are eligible for compensation?

We shall have to carry out a set of new noise contour surveys around the airfields to be able to give that information. As my hon. Friend is aware, we are reducing the qualifying grant level from 75 to 70 decibels. We shall carry out the noise contour survey as rapidly as we can, but it may take some months for certain airfields, and even one or two years, or longer, to cover all 50 airfields. We shall press on as rapidly as possible.

Arms Control

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has made to the United States of America Administration regarding the arms control talks in Geneva.

The Government have been in close consultation with the United States Administration on their approach to the arms control talks at Geneva, most recently when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary took part in President Reagan's meeting with the North Atlantic Council after his meeting with Mr. Gorbachev. They made it clear that we welcomed the successful outcome of the meeting, and fully supported United States positions at the Geneva negotiations.

Does the Secretary of State accept that we are now in a new situation with the atmosphere that was created at last week's summit? Does he agree that it is now time to consider asking the Americans to stand down on the issue of the strategic defence initiative research programme and the further deployment of cruise missiles in Britain, in order to give the Geneva talks a chance to achieve the radical reductions in nuclear arsenals that we all want to see?

The hon. Gentleman signally fails to understand that the reason for the better relationship between the superpowers is that we did not follow that advice.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the policy advocated by the Opposition were to be implemented—the unilateralist approach—that could substantially undermine the negotiations now taking place in Geneva?

My hon. and learned Friend is correct. If the Western Alliance had followed the advice of the Labour party there would be no negotiations, because it would have thrown away all the cards in advance.

The Secretary of State and his right hon. Friend will be aware that the two superpowers have been close to agreement for some time on non-proliferation and a chemical ban. Does he not think that those are matters on which urgent representations might have been made so that at least something could have resulted from last week's talks?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who has much experience of such matters, will realise that widespread and wide-ranging advice has been available on all matters. There has been the closest consultation in the Western Alliance on all issues of arms control.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be a gross error of judgment, whatever concessions may be made in later negotiations, for SDI to be conceded at this stage? Does he also agree that the more pressing priority is to give real impetus and concrete terms to an interim agreement on a reduction in intermediate nuclear forces?

I am sure that all those matters will be weighed within the consultative process of the Alliance. The House must realise that no agreement is possible now or at any time, on the research programmes involved in the strategic defence initiative, because many of those programmes will continue into the technologies that will be at the heart of the civil and military capabilities of tomorrow, whether or not there is a defence initiative.

Is it the case that one area where progress might be made following the summit is on an agreement covering intermediate forces in Europe? In that context, is it not unreasonable to expect the Soviet Union simply to ignore Britain's missiles? Will the Government review their policy of refusing to count Polaris or Trident among the number of missiles and warheads in Europe?

I cannot see what interest the hon. Gentleman thinks he serves by persuading Britain and, I presume, France to trade in their intercontinental deterrence systems to try to persuade the Russians to reach an intermediate agreement. We have always made it clear, from the date of the 1979 twin track decision, that an agreement was available on the intermediate range nuclear weapons systems. It still is.

Does my right hon. Friend recall Winston Churchill's famous words: "Peace through a balance of terror"? Does he agree that the talks will be successful because we are negotiating with a balance of terror?

Will the Secretary of State give the House some information about his discussions with the United States on United Kingdom participation in SDI? What percentage of the £26 billion over five years does he expect to get for British industry? What effect does he expect it to have on scientific research and development in the United Kingdom?

I have had very detailed conversations with my colleague Caspar Weinberger of the United States about two issues in connection with the research programme for the strategic defence initiative: first, that there should be a proper reflection of this country's technological capability and recognition of the dangers of a one-way flow of technology across the Atlantic; and, secondly, that it should be recognised that, for Britain to play a part, it has to be significant. I am glad to be able to tell the House that Mr. Weinberger and I reached agreement to recommend to our respective Governments the form of undertaking that we could enter into. I hope very much that we shall be able to make positive progress on that matter in the near future. In that case, I have no doubt that there will be substantial opportunities for British industry.

We welcome much that has come out of Geneva, but will the Secretary of State assure us that the views of Caspar Weinberger on this issue are representative of the Reagan Administration, because, in other areas relating to Geneva, they were not representative? Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman assure us of the Government's position in relation to what the Foreign Secretary said about star wars last March? In the absence of any debate or statement on star wars, what is the Government's position?

The Government's position is precisely as it was when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister met the President of the United States at Camp David and made it clear that we believed that research into the programme was inevitable and that any further advance in the context of the programme would come within the ABM treaty. That remains our position.

Defence Establishments (Location)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he has reached any conclusions in his review of the geographical distribution of units and establishments.

For a variety of reasons the services are disproportionately located in southern England and, as the House will be aware, I want to see what can be done to redress the balance. A more even geographic spread would benefit the regions and is highly desirable on those grounds, but all proposals must stand on their economic and operational merits.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Is it not archaic that so many units and establishments are located in the south-east facing the Channel, where the threat appears to have diminished, rather than in the north-east, nearer the NATO flank that we are pledged to defend?

I thought that my hon. Friend was about to suggest that we should address the threat from Liverpool. I should tell him that the Ministry of Defence is carrying out further work on this important matter.

The Opposition welcome the Secretary of State's statement that he wishes to move defence establishments from constituencies represented by Conservative Members, near Bath and in Hampshire and Sussex, to areas of high unemployment. I hope that we shall see some fruits of that desire. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that a defence establishment in my constituency was the first to be closed under the John Nott review. Will the right hon. Gentleman show his good will by keeping open factories and establishments in areas of high unemployment before he embarks on this exercise?

The right hon. Gentleman will realise that even I cannot keep open establishments that have long since been closed. All those factors will be carefully borne in mind, although I must introduce the caveat that the underlying commercial realities are bound to have a significant influence on our decision-making.

Is my right hon. Friend taking active steps to examine the scope for defence establishments to be located in the north-west?

We are considering how the decision-making process tended for many decades to concentrate facilities in the south. In that context, the location of some facilities in the north-west is bound to be on the agenda.

Dr Richard Wagner

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he next intends to meet Richard Wagner, Special Assistant to the United States Secretary of State for Defence.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Since Dr. Wagner alleges that the Secretary of State misled the House, will the right hon. Gentleman apologise and take this opportunity to explain to the House which new nuclear battlefield weapons will be used in future by our Army in Germany?

I have already made it clear to the House that I wholly reject the suggestion to which the hon. Gentleman drew attention, and I have made my views known to the United States Administration. The effects of SACEUR's proposals on the composition of our nuclear forces are being carefully considered. If I have any announcements to make, I shall make them in the House at the appropriate moment.

My right hon. Friend has already mentioned his important discussions on the strategic defence initiative with the United States Defence Secretary. He will be aware that representations have been made, I believe to the Prime Minister and to others, by leading representatives of the computing community in Britain, suggesting that the important objectives of the SDI are completely incompatible with what is known of the potential of computing and software here and in the United States. He will also have seen the papers published at the weekend by Professor Parnass, who was a member of the SDI software team, stressing that the objective is unattainable. Since this is a matter of the utmost significance, will we have an opportunity to discuss it?

Whether the House has an opportunity to discuss this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I dare say that my hon. Friend's views have already got through to that most important decision-maker. The attainments of the computing industry are secondary to the fundamental point that research programmes have been started in the United States. Those research programmes are of interest to us, whether or not they obtain the objectives.

The Opposition welcome what the Secretary of State said about Dr. Wagner's remarks. We also welcome the withdrawal of some battlefield nuclear weapons, but we are worried that, at the end of the day, we might have more powerful battlefield nuclear weapons in central Europe. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that, before decisions are taken, the matter can be debated in the House? Part of the problem about remarks by Dr. Wagner and others is that the House does not debate such matters. Apart from any other consideration, such matters should be debated in the House before decisions are taken.

The House must think it extraordinary that a representative of a Government who modernised our independent nuclear deterrent by the Chevaline process without telling anyone that they had done it should expect us to subject modernisation programmes for nuclear weapons systems to debate in the House. It is unthinkable.

Nuclear Weapons (Road Accidents)

12.

askd the Secretary of State for Defence how many road accidents have occurred in the last year on roads in the United Kingdom which involved a vehicle carrying nuclear weapons.

It has been the practice of successive Governments, for security reasons, not to comment on the methods of transporting nuclear weapons.

I am not asking about the methods of transportation. Why are the Government not prepared to give any information about accidents involving the transport of nuclear weapons, and in particular about the incident in Scotland on 20 June? Is the Minister aware that the results of the Ministry of Defence inquiry into that accident have not been made public and that there has been no inquiry whatever by the Strathclyde police?

I should have thought it was obvious that if the Ministry of Defence gave details of accidents involving nuclear weapons it would be disclosing the methods of transportation.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 November.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Has she had time to note that the latest trade figures show a surplus of £400 million? Does not the hat trick of trade surplus, reducing inflation and increasing growth give the lie to opponents who say that my right hon. Friend's economic policy does not work?

Yes, and I thank my hon. Friend for pointing these things out so forcefully. This is the sixth year of balance of payments surplus. When one adds to that the optimistic CBI forecast yesterday and today, it augurs well for the future and for employment.

Will the Prime Minister find time in her busy day to acquaint herself with the widespread concern expressed by employers and trade unionists in the textile and clothing industry about the latest negotiations for the new multi-fibre arrangement? Does she appreciate that if the Government weaken their position in those negotiations and allow a flood of imports, the result will be even higher unemployment in areas where it is already well above average?

I am aware of that concern. A new multi-fibre arrangement is being negotiated. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the possible knock-on effect on other industries and on export capacity. We have to take all those factors into account.

Will my right hon. Friend take the earliest opportunity to convey to the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe the deep sense of shock and loss felt in this country at the murder last night of the headmaster of Tegwani school and his English-born wife Jean? Will she also convey our sympathy to the Methodist Missionary Society? Does my right hon. Friend agree that terrorism and murder, wherever they occur, are an affront to the whole of mankind?

I shall gladly convey my hon. Friend's message and reinforce it with the Government's message. I agree wholly that terrorism is the enemy of democracy and that we must try to defeat it wherever it occurs.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Conservative candidate in the Tyne Bridge constituency is on record as saying that the people of that area have been brainwashed into believing that they are deprived? Is that Government's policy and the view of the Prime Minister?

Perhaps I may reply with some facts and figures. In 1985–86 the Manpower Services Commission will provide 25,000 places on the youth training scheme, 27,000 places on the community programme by April 1986, funding for more than 3,600 people on the enterprise allowance scheme in 1985–86 and training for some 13,000 adults in 1985–86, an increase of 82 per cent. over the previous year. Those are the facts. I leave the hon. Gentleman to make up his own mind.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 November.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the failure of the Labour party in Liverpool to fix a rate for the past 10 months, its failure to observe the law, its use of a private army to intimidate those who oppose its views and the fact that it has displayed a monumental contempt for the democratic process, for the welfare of the citizens of that city and for the welfare of its 31,000 employees, shows that it would be a disaster for Britain if the Labour party were ever to be returned to national government with such members? Should not the Leader of the Opposition stop wringing his hands and denying their existence?

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 November.

Is the Prime Minister aware that 415 pensioners have already died from cold this year? What will she do to stop that happening for the rest of the year?

The amount of money given for fuel allowance under the present Government greatly exceeds that given by any previous Government and greatly exceeds the increase in the price of fuel. It is an excellent record, and I commend it to the hon. Lady.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 November.

As the teachers' strike continues to inflict damage on our schools, does my right hon. Friend agree that there can be no lasting improvement until parents are given more choice and a greater say in school policy, and until headmasters are accorded the role of managing director, answerable to their boards and with authority to run schools properly, as is suggested in a recent and excellent pamphlet entitled "No Turning Back" drawn up by me and some of my hon. Friends?

My hon. Friend has been kind enough to send me a copy of his most excellent pamphlet. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has also read it and will digest its contents. I am sure also that my hon. Friend will welcome the Education Bill announced in the Gracious Speech, which proposes a strengthening of the parents' voice in the running of schools and clarification of the roles of governing bodies, head teachers and local education authorities. I share my hon. Friend's and parents' concern that, although they are paying full taxes and rates, children are not at the moment receiving the education to which they are entitled, because of the teachers' strike.

I thought that the Secretary of State for Education and Science might have been writing a response to the hon. Gentleman's pamplet "No Going Back" entitled "No Going Forward". [Interruption.] It is rubbish.

The Prime Minister met President Reagan last Thursday after his welcome meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev. We have asked her to make a statement to the House. Why has she not agreed to do so?

I gave a very full reply to a written question. It would be strange to make a statement on a summit that I did not attend.

I think I can say on behalf of the House and of people outside that that is not good enough as an answer. The matters raised in this first summit for many years are of vital interest to us all, and the Prime Minister's reflections on her meeting with President Reagan are naturally important. Why could she give a full press conference but not make herself available for proper questioning by hon. Members who represent the British people?

Immediately after we had the NATO meeting, I rightly gave a press conference. I do not think it right to give a statement to the House on a summit meeting which I did not attend and in regard to which I could therefore not reply fully. I had already put the statement issued from the summit in the Library of the House.

Why a press conference on a summit that the right hon. Lady did not attend, and no statement to the House for cross-questioning on a summit that she did not attend?

Because the press conference was given on the NATO meeting immediately after that meeting, not on the summit. The press conferences given by President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev and the official communiqué will give the right hon. Gentleman far more detail than anything that I could give.

Precisely. On that as on other things, there is "no turning back". The right hon. Gentleman got it wrong.

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 November.

In recognising our support for the Local Government Bill, which is now going into Committee, will my right hon. Friend confirm that it will help to stamp out abuses, such as that of the GLC spending more money on supporting anti-police groups in London than the Labour party spent nationally throughout its general election campaign in 1983?

As my hon. Friend knows, following the recommendations of the Widdicombe committee, the Bill is designed to prevent local government money from being spent on party political propaganda. That committee has a continuing remit. If it makes further recommendations, we shall follow them up with further legislation.

Q6.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 November.

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

Does the Prime Minister recall that in a recent television interview she told how Alderman Roberts, in his final speech, said that in honour he had taken up the gown and in honour he laid it down, and then she shed a little tear? There is no criticism of that, but how many tears will the right hon. Lady shed for the 700 miners at Herrington colliery who in honour took up the pick and shovel and in honour laid them down?

The hon. Gentleman is fully aware that there is a full and proper procedure for the closure of collieries—they were closed under the previous Labour Government—and that procedure will be followed.

Given the need for a far-reaching intergovernmental agreement this weekend in the EC, will my right hon. Friend assert that the Government will put their full weight behind developing a fundamental agreement that will really take the Community forward?

We are not aware of what will come out of the intergovernmental conference. If there are proposals for any treaty amendments, they will have to come before the House.

Is the effective cut in child benefit, which comes into operation this week, intended to be permanent, or temporary?

The right hon. Gentleman has heard the proposals for increases in social security which overall offer more than £2 billion. Child benefit has been increased substantially in recent years. For the future, the right hon. Gentleman must await further announcements.

Has my right hon. Friend noted the recent statement by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that the crime involving David Wilkie, which took place during the mining dispute, was not a crime? Will she condemn that disgraceful statement as an appalling example to our young people?

My hon. Friend will understand when I say that that is a matter for the courts, not for the Government. What Opposition Members say about it must be judged by the British people rather than by the Government.

Q7.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 November.

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

May I jolt the Prime Minister's conscience about the disastrous effects that her monetarist policies are having in Scotland and, in particular, in Lanarkshire? Is she aware that Scotland's steel industry is in a dreadful state and that there are to be 200 more redundancies at the Clydesdale works in my constituency? The men are already working short time, and those redundancies will add considerably to unemployment in Scotland. What does the right hon. Lady intend to do about it?

From the CBI survey and the figures, the hon. Gentleman will know that this year output is up for the fifth consecutive year. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that production capacity greatly exceeds orders for steel. There is no way in which we can continue to keep everything open in such circumstances. The previous Labour Government had to close some things, but held up many closures which should have taken place. This Government allocated £130 million in order to purchase quota to keep Ravenscraig open. That was this Government's earnest of good faith in the future of Ravenscraig.

Q8.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 November.

As the Prime Minister of a country that abhors terrorism and all that it stands for, will my right hon. Friend explain why the Tanzanian terrorists who came to Stansted have been given an amnesty and are to be allowed to stay in this country for a year when they have served their terms of imprisonment?

Because of terrorist activity, is it possible to prevent airlines flying to Greece, where arms have been taken on to planes at Athens airport?

We must await the inquiry into the events at Athens airport before determining precisely where the fault lies and reaching any conclusion.

On my hon. Friend's point about the Tanzanian hijack in this country in 1982, those involved were tried in our courts, found guilty and given considerable prison sentences. Some of them are now out of prison. An undertaking given at the time has been interpreted as our saying that the terrorists would not be returned to Tanzania. They have been refused asylum in this country, but will be allowed to stay for 12 months.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During Question Time I asked the Minister of State for Defence Procurement what assurances he had given Dennis Ferranti about the purchase of CNC lathes to manufacture mortar shells currently made by the royal ordnance factory on Tyneside. The Minister replied—

Order. That is not a point of order for me. I cannot be responsible for what a Minister says.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am not asking you to be responsible for what the Minister said, but to rule whether it is in order for anyone to mislead the House. The Minister said—

Order. This is an extension of Question Time. There is a major debate ahead of us. I cannot be responsible for answers given from the Front Benches, any more than I can be responsible for the questions asked.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that during Question Time the shadow Secretary of State for Defence made a statement to the House—

I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I cannot deal with his point of order because the matter that he raises is not my responsibility. What is the point of order for me?

Is it in order for an hon. Member to ask another hon. Member to write to him about a subject on which he has already written to him and to which he has already replied?

Statutory Instruments, &C

Ordered,

That the draft Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963 (Schedule 4) (Amendment) Order 1985 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Supplementary Benefit (Resources) Amendment (No. 3) Regulations 1985 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Agricultural Holdings (Fee) Regulations 1985 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948 (Variation of Fourth Schedule) Order 1985 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Asbestos Products (Safety) Regulations 1985 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Biffen.]