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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 115: debated on Tuesday 5 May 1987

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Defence

Nato (Discussions)

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had with Defence Ministers in other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries; and if he will make a statement.

I have regular collective meetings with my ministerial colleagues in NATO as well as, from time to time, bilateral visits and meetings. A wide range of subjects of mutual defence interest are discussed at such meetings.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there could yet be a sting in the tail in the new climate on nuclear arms reductions? Does he agree that if all short-range and medium-range nuclear weapons were removed from Europe now, NATO would be left facing the Warsaw Pact in a position of great conventional inferiority? Would that not increase, rather than decrease, the risk of war? If my right hon. Friend agrees with me, will he ensure that his fellow Defence Ministers realise that as well?

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. In considering the recent proposal by Mr. Gorbachev we need to bear in mind NATO's overall deterrence requirements in the light of the totality of the threat that is facing us. I shall certainly take up that matter with my NATO colleagues when next I meet them.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what is the evaluation of the Secretary-General of NATO of the Soviet proposals on cuts in nuclear missiles in Europe? Is there any difference between the position of the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry and that of the Secretary-General of NATO? What progress can he report to the House on the matter'?

I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's concern about this issue. The Soviet proposals to extend the zero option further down the scale from the longer range intermediate missiles are being carefully studied throughout NATO. I certainly hope that agreement can be reached in this area in the near future. It would be an historic agreement if we could get it. It is most important to examine all the implications. All our allies are doing so, and we shall be doing so with them.

What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with his colleagues about the gross disparity in chemical weapons in Europe? Is he aware of the considerable feeling that in any future conflict the forces of the West would start with a great disadvantage? General Rogers has mentioned the possibility of the Soviets firing one chemical weapon on the front at each corps, and the effect that that would have. What new proposals will NATO come up with?

My hon. Friend is correct, in that the existence of large Soviet stockpiles of chemical weapons is a serious threat to our forces and the balance of forces between East and West. We have made it clear that that matter will have to be addressed, along with the imbalance of conventional forces if further proposals for arms control are to be considered.

In view of the Government's indications that the West should have the power to match the numbers of Soviet short-range nuclear weapons, do NATO Ministers have any plans for the manufacture of such weapons? What will they cost, and in which countries will they be deployed?

There are no such plans at the present time, but of course this is one of the factors that will have to be considered by the allies when considering the suggestion by Mr. Gorbachev that we should look for a zero option lower down the scale from the intermediate nuclear weapons.

Do my right hon. Friend and his colleagues agree that while hopes are justified, euphoria is certainly premature, and that it is absolutely essential that unity is maintained, because lack of it would be fatal?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The recent move by the Soviet Union shows that it has at long last come to the same proposals as the West has been pressing upon the Soviet Union for several years. That is solely because we did not listen to the siren voices of the Opposition and other people who would have had us give up these negotiating cards before they were of any use. My hon. Friend is right in saying that we have to be careful that before we agree to any deal we make sure that it works.

Does the Secretary of State not agree that since the Russians have a 3:1 superiority in medium-range weapons, that is SS20s, cruise and Pershing IIs, and a 9:1 superiority in short-range weapons, it is in the West's interests to agree to these proposals, subject to suitable verification, because such an agreement would enhance our security? Will he deny press reports that as a kind of macabre compensation for that scheme the Government intend to have more F111s at Upper Heyford and Lakenheath and more hydrogen bombs as a result of that agreement?

In reply to the right hon. Gentleman's latter point, we have no plans of that kind. On his former point, he is right to consider the question of imbalances at lower levels as well as at higher levels. It is not as simple as he says, in that one can take each category of weapons totally separately from any other. Therefore, that is why the new proposal by Mr. Gorbachev that we should look at a zero option below the intermediate range-long range level must be studied very carefully by all the NATO allies. We shall play our part in that.

Nato (Discussions)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he has any plans to meet the Soviet Union Defence Minister to discuss deployment of nuclear and conventional forces in Europe; and if he will make a statement.

I have no plans to meet the Soviet Defence Minister. The United Kingdom plays a full part in the multilateral negotiations and discussions aimed at reducing conventional forces in Europe and, together with other members of NATO, consults closely with the United States on the bilateral negotiations with the Soviet Union on nuclear and space issues taking place in Geneva. We also play a leading role in the conference on disarmament, which is concerned principally with achieving a global ban on chemical weapons.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and welcome all the initiatives being taken in furtherance of negotiations to reduce armaments. Does he agree that the security of Europe will rely on the nuclear deterrent as long as the Soviet Union and its allies have massive superiority in chemical weapons and in conventional forces?

I agree with my hon. Friend that deterrence combined with a flexible response certainly is, and has for some time been, the basis of the NATO Alliance's defensive posture. That has been supported by successive Governments. We should be very careful that these desirable developments in arms control do not put that at risk, and the Government intend to exercise that care.

Is the Secretary of State aware that while the Prime Minister and Chancellor Kohl go on dragging their feet over the zero-zero option there will be pressure on this country to accept balancing increments of nuclear weapons, not merely at airfields in Oxfordshire and in East Anglia, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) has warned, but at Holy Loch? Does he think that public opinion will stand for that? Does he want that exposed in the coming general election?

Those appear to be the hon. Gentleman's proposals, which certainly have nothing to do with me. I have no doubt that public opinion would stand whatever was put to it as a tenable case in these matters by the hon. Gentleman or by anyone else. The hon. Gentleman asked about balancing. These weapons systems must be looked at as a whole to see whether they enhance or degrade our deterrent posture, combined with flexible response. We must do nothing in haste to put that in danger.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm once again that Trident represents very good value in terms of its deterrent effect? Will he tell the House once again exactly what the unwise cancellation of Trident might mean if the money were devoted to upgrading conventional weapons, and how little that would mean in terms of the overall imbalance of conventional forces in Europe?

My hon. Friend is perfectly correct. There is no way in which the vital deterrent effect of the present Polaris and the future Trident programme could be replaced by the expenditure of any realistic sum of money on conventional weapons instead. It is simply not possible. On cancellation costs, it is very difficult to calculate in the abstract what would happen if this were done. Apart from losing a vast amount of jobs, there would probably be only a certain amount of the Trident money left to spend on other matters. Even if all of the money was used, it could provide only about one extra armoured division, which would make no detectable difference to the huge conventional imbalance that we presently face.

While it is perfectly correct that in the future NATO's deterrence must rest on a mix of nuclear and conventional capability, does the Secretary of State not accept the view of his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs that if we were to remove all the intermediate range nuclear weapons, NATO would retain over 4,500 nuclear warheads in Europe? Is that not quite sufficient on which to base nuclear deterrence?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point, but that is a considerable development on anything that my right hon. and learned Friend said, although I did notice something like that was said by Richard Perle recently. It is not possible sensibly to look at only that aspect. It is important to look at the whole range of weapons that would be available to the Western Alliance to maintain flexible response. It is the flexibility of the response that is the strength upon which NATO's strategy is based.

Assuming that my right hon. Friend, with responsibility for security, is aware that I was in Hungary last week, is he aware that during an interesting discussion with the mayor of a town called Gyula, which is on the Romanian border, and in the light of his earlier comments about Mr. Gorbachev, I asked the mayor whether he could envisage the day when Hungary might, of its own volition, leave the Warsaw pact. The mayor replied that even if such a delightful situation were to arise, it would be meaningless because the Soviet border was merely 160 km away. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that that is the chilling reality of life in Eastern Europe?

I confess to my hon. Friend that I was not following his travels in Hungary with great closeness, but he makes the valuable point that it is no use letting our enthusiasm for arms control, great though that is, blind us to the effects of any changes that are made. It is our responsibility to make sure that the reductions in those weapons systems that we hope will take place will not remove NATO's ability to deter attacks flexibly.

When the Americans are negotiating on behalf of Her Majesty's Government with the Russians, will the Americans be confirming on behalf of the Government that no decision has yet been taken on the replacement of the existing 155 mm nuclear artillery rounds deployed in Europe? If the Americans are to say that on our behalf, are his right hon. and hon. Friends going to sue Peter Kellner and The Independent for accusing them of telling lies in this House? If they are not going to sue, will they apologise to the House for making material inaccuracies on a matter of such importance?

I am not sure to what the hon. Gentleman is referring, but no such statement has been made and no such decision has been taken. Sueing people is not a matter for me.

Strategic Defence Initiative

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what further consultations his Department has had over the strategic defence initiative testing programme being drawn up by the United States of America.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement
(Mr. Archie Hamilton)

We are in regular contact with the United States authorities over the SDI research programme.

Will the Minister inform the House whether he intends to discuss with the United States the SDI testing of the patriot anti-aircraft missile or the development of the Rapier missile as an anti-tactical weapon? Does he agree that if any such testing takes place it will be a major breach of the ABM treaty?

Testing missiles is a matter for the United States. We have no locus in the interpretation of the ABM treaty.

Is my hon. Friend confident that what is being developed at the moment by our friend and alley the United States is within the ABM treaty? Will he state the number of British firms that have contracts for SDI, and the value of those contracts in terms of either money or jobs?

Some $34 million worth of contracts have been awarded already to British industry. A total of 400 companies and 100 academic institutions have expressed interest, and 36 are now involved. Therefore, it is certainly in our interests and we are going ahead with it.

The Minister must reflect on the answer he has given in relation to the interpretation of the ABM treaty. Is it not a fact that Her Majesty's Government have a memorandum of understanding with regard to that treaty? Will the Minister give us an assurance that, no matter how the United States tries to interpret the treaty, we will interpret it within the narrow definitions of the treaty?

All that I can do is refer the hon. Gentleman to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said. Deployment is clearly a matter for negotiation, as we have agreed, and we have received satisfactory assurances from the United States that there will be consultation about any significant change of policy in relation to SDI research.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, through our co-operation with our American allies on the whole of the programme, there is enormous future potential for our allies and our companies here and that it may give us an opportunity to get away from the awful doctrine of mutually assured destruction to something more sane?

I accept that there are enormous technical advantages to be got out of SDI. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister realised that when she came to an agreement with President Reagan some time ago.

Expenditure

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence by what percentage expenditure on conventional defence has risen in real terms since 1979.

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the current level of expenditure on conventional forces in real terms; and what was the level of expenditure in 1979.

In the last complete financial year the provision for defence expenditure was 26 per cent. higher in real terms than in 1978–79.

In 1978–79 expenditure on our conventional forces was some £14,400 million at 1986–87 prices. Last year, on the same price basis, and excluding Falklands expenditure, it was some £17,400 million—£3,000 million higher in real terms.

Over the whole period since we have been in office expenditure on our conventional forces, excluding Falklands expenditure, has totalled some £16,000 million more in real terms than would have been the case if expenditure had remained at its 1978–79 level.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an impressive rate of increase and that it fulfills previous manifesto commitments? Will he confirm that that figure would not be greatly altered by any changes in expenditure on Britain's nuclear deterrent?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. As we have said on many occasions, expenditure on Trident over the lifetime of that programme represents only about 3 per cent. of the defence budget.

Has the Minister taken notice of the ever-increasing evidence which shows that by going ahead with the Trident project our conventional forces have been placed in jeopardy? Indeed, it has been suggested in some quarters that Britain can no longer be properly defended. Is that not the warning that has been given repeatedly over months and years from the Opposition Benches? Would it not appear that the Government's chickens are now coming home to roost?

If the hon. Gentleman heard my original answer he will, I hope, appreciate that our conventional forces are £16,000 million less in jeopardy than they were when his party left office.

Essential to our conventional defence is the ability to produce and maintain certain armaments. My right hon. Friend knows that the Royal Ordnance factory in Nottingham has a unique facility for gun making. Does he not agree that it is essential, in the national interest, that that gun making facility is retained in the United Kingdom?

I am aware of the important defence facility in my hon. Friend's constituency, and I am sure that the quality of that will be taken into account fully by the new management of the establishment.

In spite of the increase in expenditure, is the Minister satisfied that we have sufficient supplies of modern helicopters, modern frigates and modern fighters?

In all those three areas we have made a substantial amount of progress since 1979. Unlike the Labour party, we are maintaining the essential requirement of balance between nuclear and conventional defences.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the growth in spending in real terms on conventional forces has led to the development of real jobs in Shrewsbury? Is he further aware that the policies of the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party, as put forward by their Front Bench spokesmen, would lead to the loss of those jobs in Shrewsbury? If Trident were to be cancelled, the cancellation costs would diminish further the conventional budget and lead to further job losses.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is right to draw the attention of the House to the fact that if the Trident programme were cancelled there would be a serious loss of jobs. As for jobs arising from expenditure on conventional forces, the commitment of the Opposition Front Bench to their long term objective to reduce defence expenditure to the average of the major NATO countries would result in a one third reduction in conventional expenditure by a Labour Government.

Is the Minister aware that an 86 per cent. increase still masks a decline in our escort fleet from 66 craft in 1980 to 48, as estimated by Jane's Defence Weekly next week?

We have had a policy since 1981 of a destroyer and frigate force of about 50. That is still our policy. The capabilities of the destroyer and frigate force today are a quantum jump ahead of what they were at the end of the 1970s.

Trident

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the value of contracts already placed in the Trident programme with British firms.

The estimated value of current Trident commitment in the United Kingdom is some £2,250 million out of the total amount committed of about £3 billion.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. As 62 per cent. of jobs on the Trident programme will be in firms in the United Kingdom, can he estimate how many tens of thousands of jobs would be destroyed and how devastating would be the effect in Cumbria if the Liberal and Labour party policies of one-sided disarmament took effect and Trident were cancelled?

I confirm that the amount of labour directly employed on the Trident programme will be 7,500 on average and 15,000 at the peak. The amount of indirect labour will be some 6,000 on average and 12,000 at the peak, so a significant number of jobs are involved in this programme.

Do I understand that the Government's policy is to go on producing useless weapons in order to keep people in work? Is that what the Government are saying? Has it ever struck the Government that the British people need all kinds of things besides weapons? If the Government's philosophy is to go on producing these useless weapons and boasting that it keeps people in work, but it has nothing in common with any kind of thoughtful process, why do they not switch to producing those things that are of some use?

The primary objectives of the Government are to ensure that this country is properly defended and to stop the next war. If we were to have a Europe with no nuclear weapons, it would make it free for conventional war. We have had two world wars so far in Europe and there would be nothing to stop a third. That would be devastating, and it is something that this Government are not prepared to encounter.

The Minister has accepted an invitation from me to visit the Cleveland Bridge Company at Darlington, which has recently completed the fabrication of 150 cradles under subcontract to Vickers for the Trident programme and is looking forward to more work in Faslane and Coulport. Will he explain to the work force what will happen to the work load if Labour comes to power and announces the cancellation of Trident?

I am happy to come to my hon. Friend's constituency and to explain the devastating effect of many of Labour's policies on jobs, about which Labour Members claim to be so concerned.

Is it not a fact that this country spends a greater percentage of its national wealth on arms than most countries in Western Europe? Is that not why our economic performance in this country has been so poor one of the worst in Western Europe? Will the Minister reflect on the fact that, after eight years, all that the Government's defence and economic policies have produced are the best defended dole queues in Western Europe?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman agrees that the country has been well defended, and, on top of that, the economy is booming.

Does my hon. Friend agree that a substantial part of the Trident programme is represented by a major civil engineering contract at Coulport in the west of Scotland? Will he take this opportunity to remind the House that every Opposition party is pledged to scrap that programme, with the result that thousands upon thousands of jobs in the west of Scotland would be sacrificed on the altar of their political ideology?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Some 2,500 jobs are dependent on that programme, and most of them are locally recruited, so its scrapping would have a devastating effect on local employment.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the House will be grateful to him for confirming what the Minister of State for the Armed Forces and the Secretary of State have said that at the moment £3 billion has either been spent or committed — I take committed to mean committed in legally binding contracts—on Trident? As three from nine equals six—[Interruption.] I am trying to be helpful to Defence Ministers—that leaves, and I am glad that it is confirmed, £6 billion to be spent on conventional defence if and when the Trident contract is cancelled.

There is no question of the Trident contract being cancelled, because there is no question of Labour winning the next election. That expenditure is spread over the years until the end of the century, which is a long time.

Procurement Policy

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the progress currently being made between the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries on co-operation over defence procurement.

Within NATO's conference of national armaments directors good progress is being made, both on projects responding to the Nunn initiative, and on other programmes. In Europe the revitalised Independent European Programme Group is achieving considerable success in the harmonisation of operational requirements and is continuing its efforts to promote greater collaboration in defence research.

Does the Minister accept that joint procurement and co-operation in procurement in Europe is no longer just desirable, but essential, if we are to retain an effective defence industry in Europe? Do the Government support the continued strengthening of the Independent European Programme Group in order to provide the political backing and commitment that that joint co-operation needs?

The group is getting the backing that it needs from British Ministers. I accept that we cannot afford to embark on many of the development programmes on our own.

Will my hon. Friend confirm, should there be any doubt in anyone's mind, particularly on the Opposition Benches, that the Government's commitment to the Euro-fighter project — the multinational project—is still as strong as it is ever was, and that any rumours to the contrary, emanating from Opposition spokesmen, should be dismissed as the rubbish that we know them to be?

It is complete alarmist nonsense. The EFA programme is a stage-by-stage programme and we are planning on the basis of the United Kingdom remaining part of it. We would expect a decision on the launch of that development some time later this year, I hope in the summer.

Has the Minister seen the article in The Independent yesterday by Mr. Peter Kellner containing allegations that Ministers have deliberately misled Parliament——

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not suggest by attribution that Ministers have misled Parliament.

On the assumption that the Minister must have read the article, will he address himself to the important question whether there is a NATO decision to modernise short-range nuclear weapons? Is there, or is there not, such a decision?

I am afraid that I cannot confirm that. I did not read the article and I do not believe everything that I read in the newspapers.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, although there is progress on European defence procurement, the progress on the harmonisation of weapons and ammunition has been lamentably slow in NATO? In view of the major contribution that we make to NATO, should not we do a great deal to try to overcome that problem, and will my hon. Friend undertake to see what he can do to try to push that forward?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Harmonisation has improved no end, but there is still much room for improvement. I accept that, and we shall continue with the programme that we have followed in the past.

Will the Parliamentary Under-Secretary give us a precise date for the signing of the development contract for EFA?

The original date was supposed to be 1 August this year. We are behind schedule, but the signing will occur later on.

Horseshoe Barracks, Shoeburyness

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is yet in a position to announce when he expects to have completed his assessment of the future defence role of Horseshoe barracks, Shoeburyness; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces
(Mr. Roger Freeman)

My Department has a continuing long-term requirement for the land used by the Proof and Experimental Establishment, Shoeburyness, lying within the Horseshoe barracks complex to the south of the Chapel road.

For the area of Horseshoe barracks itself which lies to the north of Chapel road we are considering various options. These include its rehabilitation for a military unit, its use as a training camp or its possible sale.

In view of the notable contribution made by Horseshoe barracks and related facilities to the defence requirements of the nation for many years, is my hon. Friend willing to visit Shoeburyness to meet the military personnel and local councillors before a final decision is made on this important issue?

Yes. I am happy to give that assurance to my hon. Friend. If that visit happens after a general election it will be a double pleasure, as I am sure that my hon. Friend will be returned with an increased majority.

How many officers from Shoeburyness, which is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), interviewed Mr. Colin Wallace? Is it not true that there is a memorandum in the Ministry of Defence which says that he may have been framed on a manslaughter charge? Will the Minister deny that that memo exists in his Ministry?

I regret that I am unable to give the hon. Gentleman an answer to his question, because it does not relate directly to the future of Horseshoe barracks, but I shall write to him.

Westland (Tv Programme)

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will acquire for the library of the Ministry of Defence a video recording of the Granada television programme "World in Action" on the Law Officer's letter in the Westland affair broadcast between 8 and 9 pm on Monday 30 March.

Do Defence Ministers accept that they have some responsibility for the Government's responses and evidence to the Select Committee on Defence? Why, then, did the Cabinet Secretary state to the Select Committee that the Prime Minister had no knowledge of the Law Officer's leak in relation to Westland? If the Granada television programme is inaccurate, do Ministers not think that they ought to call for an apology, if not take Granada to court? If the programme is accurate, has there not been some deception of the Select Committee?

The hon. Gentleman must accept that this is not a matter for me or for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I have nothing to add to the statements made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 23 and 27 January.

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that Granada Television makes some wonderful programmes, including "First Among Equals"? I wonder whether he will consider asking for all Granada's programmes to be placed in the Library for us to view?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, because it enables me to tell the House that I was able to see the Granada programme to which the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) referred, as a result of his question. Indeed, I would not otherwise have seen it.

Arms Sales

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will review his policy on arms sales; and if he will make a statement.

No. The general policy remains unchanged from that of the previous Administration; that is, within the limits of the United Kingdom's political, strategic and security interests, to encourage defence sales and thereby increase the wealth and job opportunities of this country.

Does the Minister recall that until April 1982 the centre of arms supply to the navy of the Argentine dictator was here, in London? As the Government have now arranged for HMS Glamorgan—along with many other arms—to be supplied to the dictatorship in Chile, which is still involved in murder, torture and the suppression of its people, will the Minister confirm that the Government's loyalty to their friends in the arms trade—the merchants of death—is greater than their respect for human rights?

The defence industry is a very important industry. Everything should be done to encourage the exports of defence equipment. On the question of selling frigates to Chile, I point out that one cannot involve a frigate in the suppression of the civilian population.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the Labour party's commitment, as represented at its conference last year, drastically to reduce arms sales abroad? That will obviously have great implications for jobs and employment opportunities throughout the country, specifically in the west midlands.

I agree with my hon. Friend. More than 100,000 people are now involved in defence export sales. I am sure that, with an election coming up shortly, they must be extremely worried about their future.

Is there not something radically wrong with a society, country and Government when the Government boast of increasing defence expenditure during the whole of their tenure in office — unlike expenditure for most of the Departments that they run — claim that employment relies entirely on defence weapons being bought, and now boast that wealth and job opportunities depend on ever-increasing arms sales, mostly to Third world countries where the people are crying out for the supply of things that are much more essential to human life than arms?

I have never been able to understand the neo-imperialistic attitude of the Opposition which says that we should dictate to Third world countries what they should and should not buy with the resources available to them.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, if there were the mutually assured destruction of an incoming Labour Government, the consequences of the Labour party winding up the Defence Export Sales Organisation, which made a profit for this country of over £5 billion last year, would be catastrophic for constituencies such as mine?

The defence manufacturing industry pays great tribute to the Defence Export Services Organisation, which does much to boost our sales abroad.

American Forces

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he next plans to meet the United States Secretary of State for Defence to discuss the level of American forces in Europe; and if he will make a statement.

I next expect to meet the United States Defence Secretary at the spring meeting of NATO's nuclear planning group when a range of Alliance defence issues will be discussed.

Will my right hon. Friend assure the United State Defence Secretary that the Government are firmly committed to nuclear deterrence and that, unlike the Labour party, we do not expect 300,000 United States troops to put their necks on the line defending us when we are busy shutting their bases and throwing away our nuclear weapons?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that it would be totally disastrous for the defence of the West if anything remotely resembling the policy that the Labour party has adopted on withdrawal of American forces were ever to be undertaken.

When the right hon. Gentleman meets Caspar Weinberger, will he congratulate him on being candid—more candid than the British Government have been so far—in his statement to Congress admitting that 155 mm nuclear shells were now being deployed by NATO? When the right hon. Gentleman returns from that meeting, will he explain to the House why I was misled by a ministerial answer to a written question in 1984 about the Montebello decision, when I was told that there were no such plans to deploy these nuclear weapons with a neutron potentiality?

The fact is that no such weapons are deployed in Europe by NATO or by any member of NATO. I think that the hon. Gentleman has had that information. On 24 March my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said to the House:

"as Defence Ministers have made clear … no decisions affecting the modernisation of the theatre nuclear weapons in service with British forces have yet been made."—[Official Report, 24 March 1987; Vol. 113, c. 162.]

Defence Export Sales Organisation

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence in how many countries outside the United Kingdom the Defence Export Sales Organisation has permanent staff based.

The Defence Export Services Organisation has permanent staff based in four overseas countries.

In view of the major contribution made by the Defence Export Sales Organisation, does my hon. Friend feel that there is any justification for scrapping it, as has been suggested? Does the organisation represent value for money in terms of what it delivers?

It represents very good value for money. We expect that last year will prove to be a record for defence export sales. The DESO will have played a key role in achieving that target.

Nuclear Weapons

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received on the implications of his policy of flexible response for the stage at which nuclear weapons are used.

Since the beginning of the year five letters have been received on the general issue of flexible response but I am not aware of any recent representations on the specific aspect referred to by the hon. Member.

Will the Minister confirm that there have been representations from NATO that the remaining stockpiles of nuclear weapons should be upgraded, and will he give some indication of when Her Majesty's Government intend to ensure the effectiveness of the remaining stockpile by upgrading those nuclear weapons?

I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the decisions take at Montebello. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I dealt with that in detail in our answers on 24 March. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has said, no decisions affecting the modernisation of the theatre nuclear weapons in service with British forces have yet been made.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 5 May.

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.

While the Opposition have a vested interest in generating misery, is my right hon. Friend aware that in the real world — certainly in my constituency — investment decisions are now being held up pending the outcome of the general election? Is this not the clearest possible evidence that those who are responsible in our country for creating new jobs and generating prosperity want a continuity of the present Government's economic policies and not a return either to the failed policies of the past or, even worse, new policies to fritter away the gains that have so dearly been won in the last few years?

Yes, I believe that overseas investors prefer a Government who believe in free enterprise and sound finance, and who practise both.

Does the right hon. Lady realise that she will have difficulty explaining why manufacturing investment in this country is 20 per cent. lower than it was in 1979 if all she has to say is that it is being held up pending the general election? In their time in office the Government have increased the tax burden on the nation by 17 per cent. and on the average family by 10 per cent. How could the Prime Minister claim last week that hers is the party that reduces taxation? Is it not obvious from that tax-raising record that she cuts truth, not taxes?

Since 1979 the family man on average earnings has had his income tax reduced by £10 per week compared with the tax regime that Labour left. In addition, this Government have got rid of four taxes that were imposed by Labour, and done many other things to reduce taxation.

Why does the Prime Minister so often seek to obscure the truth—[Interruption.]

The Prime Minister promised that taxes must and would be cut when she was first elected. The Prime Minister has presided over an 87 per cent. increase in VAT, a 50 per cent. increase in national insurance contributions, and higher rates and charges, which together mean that that average man with that average family is meeting a tax burden that is 10 per cent. Higher under her Government than under any previous peacetime Government. Does she not realise that it is the total tax that is important to the average family, not merely income tax—or does she not know anything about the average family?

The Prime Minister knows very well that there were choices. With the £3 billion from the 2p tax change the best that could be expected was an extra 80,000 jobs. With that £3 billion targeted on manufacturing, construction and vital services, 300,000 jobs could have been created in Britain. Does the Prime Minister not think that that would have been better value for money, better value for people and better value for Britain?

The right hon. Gentleman never says how many jobs would be lost by taking away the money from the people who would have invested it. He wants to talk about losing jobs. Look at his programme on defence, look at his programme on nuclear energy, and look at his programme for minimum wages.

Order. I have not called the right hon. Gentleman before on Prime Minister's questions.

With regard to certain speculation that has appeared in the press about the date of the general election, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that in exercising her constitutional duty of tendering advice she will be guided not by the ephemera of the opinion polls but by the best interests of the country?

During the past fortnight the Government have abandoned the search for sites for nuclear waste on land, announced 82 major road works programmes, given nurses their full pay award and now announced the saving of rural schools. In view of all these deathbed conversions, may we have a general election every year?

I seem to remember the right hon. Gentleman holding things up by virtue of the Lib-Lab pact.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a movement has erupted in Manchester composed of all parties—Labour, Conservative and alliance—against a 20 per cent. increase in the rates and the mortgaging of their future, and that this petition is a cry for help from the people of Manchester to the people outside it? Will she find time today to give it her support?

I hope, with my hon. Friend, that people will remember when they vote on Thursday that Labour authorities mean high rates, which mean fewer jobs and a great penalty on domestic rates.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 5 May.

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

Can the Prime Minister explain why a nurse sharing a room in Westminster will have to pay the same amount of poll tax as a millionaire living in Park Lane, and why my constituents will have to find an additional £60 a year in Wigan while she will save £37 per week when she retires to Dulwich?

I think that what the hon. Gentleman is saying is that one will pay a good deal less poll tax if one lives in a good Tory authority area than if one lives in a Labour authority area. [Interruption.]

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 5 May.

Will the Prime Minister acknowledge the invaluable role played by village schools in rural communities such as central Suffolk, and will she confirm—[Interruption.]

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that no strict criteria are laid down—financial or otherwise—for the closure of such schools and that the decision to close schools will be determined entirely on the ground of whether they are educationally satisfactory?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science recognises the wide support for village schools in the rural community. I understand that an answer will be given later this afternoon.

Will the Prime Minister undertake to circulate copies of the parable of the unjust steward to any Cabinet member who has not yet acted upon it?

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the ingenuity of his question.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 5 May.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that next week, for the first time, no fewer than 200 licensed conveyancers will take up their jobs? Is that not first-class news for home buyers and all those on the domestic front? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government are to be congratulated on giving this opportunity to buyers in what was formerly a very restricted market?

Yes. The powers in the Administration of Justice Act 1985 on licensed conveyancers come into effect on 11 May. Those powers will be generally welcomed by all house buyers and by both sides of the House. They will introduce more competition into conveyancing and that competition is already helping to reduce costs and secure better value for money.

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 5 May.

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

Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity today to tell the House whether the statement made by General Rogers to a Congressional Committee that a decision was taken to deploy nuclear weapons before the last general election is true, or a lie?

I am not responsible for the comments made by General Rogers. I know of no such allegations.

Will my right hon. Friend have time today to fit in a message of congratulations for the six newly elected Conservative councillors returned on Thursday with an increased share of the poll, and in particular for the victor in Devon, who succeeded with a 22 per cent. swing from the alliance to the Conservatives?

Yes, I gladly congratulate those councillors. I hope that the result augurs well for later in the week.

Q6.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 5 May.

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

Will the Prime Minister comment on the assertion in Sunday's Observer that she was the ultimate beneficiary of treachery and subversion?

Q7.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 5 May.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that most parents are appalled by the promotion of gay rights or lesbian rights, so-called peace studies in our schools and some of the more dangerous loony Left policies in places such as Brent? Is not the Government's suggestion that schools should be given more independence the only way to keep people such as Mr. Lawrence Norcross of Highbury Grove in place and in good heart? Should not those rights be given sooner rather than later?

Mr. Norcross was a highly respected and regarded head teacher who gave the children in his care an excellent education. The fact of, and the reasons for, his retirement will cause concern in the minds of many parents and underline the wisdom of Conservative policy to give more powers to head teachers and parents over the future of their schools.

Q8.

asked the Prime Minister of she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 5 May.

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

Does the Prime Minister accept that over the years artists have done significantly more for the well-being of nations than have politicians? Will she try to be a little more understanding about the problems of the arts, and especially those of Kent Opera?

This Government have increased, in real terms, the budget given to the arts, because we have great respect for the services that they provide and for the way in which they enrich the life of the nation. However, I do not entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's initial premise.