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Defence

Volume 124: debated on Tuesday 8 December 1987

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European Fighter Aircraft

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is his latest estimate of the number of European fighter aircraft the Royal Air Force requires.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement
(Mr. Tim Sainsbury)

It is too early in the project to forecast with certainty the eventual size of a United Kingdom purchase of European fighter aircraft. The work-sharing agreement for development is, however, based on the declared requirement for 250 aircraft.

Does the Minister accept that unless the Government give a firm commitment to purchase 250 aircraft, the unit cost of each aircraft might make its eventual cost prohibitive to some of the nation? If the order is to go ahead, it requires a firm commitment from the Government to purchase 250 aircraft. Will the hon. Gentleman say when development work on the EFA is likely to start?

I hope the hon. Gentleman will recognise that it is difficult to give a firm order to purchase an aircraft until there is an aircraft design to purchase. Therefore, it is too early to give such a commitment. I hope that development work will start early next year.

Has my hon. Friend any long-term plan for when the aircraft will become operational, and will he say when it will go into service with the RAF?

Trident

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the current and projected number of people employed on the Trident project.

We estimate that, in the financial year 1987–88, 12,000 direct and 10,000 indirect United Kingdom jobs are being sustained by the Trident programme. The number of jobs will rise to a peak of 15,000 direct and 12,000 indirect over the next few years.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that those statistics confirm that the Trident programme is a first-class investment for creating jobs and safeguarding the defence of our country? Furthermore, does he agree with the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) that it is high time that the Labour party changed its defence policy?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the defence policy, such as it is, of the Labour party is looking particularly unconvincing at the moment. My hon. Friend is correct that Trident is a good investment. No amount of investment in conventional weapons would come remotely near to providing the security and defence that the Trident programme will offer us.

Will the Secretary of State reflect on the possible implications for the Trident programme of the INF agreement and further deliberations on strategic arms reductions? Will he comment on an article in The Daily Telegraph today, which says that the agreement between ourselves and the United States is of a commercial nature, not intergovernmental, and that, therefore, the security of that arrangement is not good in view of the United States' intention to reduce strategic arms?

With regard to today's events, the hon. Gentleman may have noticed that last year Mr. Gorbachev said publicly:

"We decided today to withdraw completely the question of French and British missiles and let them remain as an independent force, let them increase and be further improved."
Thus, that is not in question in today's decision.

As to the second half of the hon. Gentleman's question, we have been given perfectly full assurances by the United States Administration that they will fulfil in full the requirements that we have asked of them on the Trident system.

I thank my right hon. Friend for speaking to my constituents after he visited Barrow last week. Will he confirm that the Trident project is providing jobs for many subcontractors around the area, and that it is vital to the economy of the north-west?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. There is no doubt that the progress that has been made on HMS Vanguard and HMS Victorious at the shipyard in Barrow is extremely good. It is a good job and I have no doubt that it is providing a lot of jobs in the area.

Is it not a fact that if the Americans and Russians agree, as is quite likely, to a 50 per cent. across-the-board cut in each other's strategic systems, it will mean that the United State's navy will have 12 Trident submarines? If the Government go ahead with their purchase from the United States, the Royal Navy will have four Trident submarines. Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that, with the Royal Navy having the equivalent of almost one third of the American submarine strategic force, the Americans, let alone the Russians, will allow that position to continue?

There are a lot of ifs in that question. The fact remains that the American Administration and the contractors in America have given the firmest assurance that their contractual obligation to us under the Trident programme will be fulfilled, whatever the circumstances.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we will welcome whatever agreements are reached between the Soviet Union and the United States? Even if they agree to a 50 per cent. reduction in strategic weapons systems,the fact is that many of the American weapons systems are land-based. The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) chose to ignore that. Even if the United Kingdom possessed four nuclear submarines and the United States had 12, the balance would be more than made up by the American land-based systems.

My hon. Friend is perfectly correct. The agreement refers to land-based systems, not to submarine-launched systems. There is also the great assurance that I have quoted from Mr. Gorbachev, who said that the British system was in no way involved in the discussions.

Royal Ordnance

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the implications for competitive procurement for his Department arising out of the reorganisation of Royal Ordnance plc.

Decisions on the internal reorganisation of Royal Ordnance plc are a matter for the company. We do not expect the company's recent announcements to have any effect on the procurement decisions of the Ministry of Defence and we will continue to pursue our policy of maximising competition at both main and subcontract level.

Following the reorganisation of Royal Ordnance plc, is the Minister entitled to expect some improvement in the level of tender submitted by the company, given the National Audit Office figure of a £37 million discount to British Aerospace on the disposal of Royal Ordnance plc?

The price that the Government obtained for the disposal of Royal Ordnance plc was a good one. It was a competitive purchase. The value of assets is clearly what the purchaser will pay for.

I support competitive procurement, but will my hon. Friend note the importance of that major employer to the city of Nottingham? Will he also welcome the custom and practice of the present management in keeping not only staff fully informed of what is going on but, happily, also local Members of Parliament?

I am well aware of the importance of Royal Ordnance plc to Nottingham, and I welcome what my hon. Friend has said. I hope that the continuing improvements in efficiency by the company will provide it with wider opportunities to develop its market, including its export market.

In view of the conclusion in the report of the National Audit Office that the Royal Ordnance factories were substantially undersold because of the rush to privatisation, will the Minister comment on the fact that British Aerospace stands to make up to £100 million on the sale of the factory in Enfield alone?

I do not accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman's question that the Royal Ordnance factories were undersold. As I said earlier, it was a competitive purchase, and a good price was paid.

On 2 April this year my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced that negotiations were under way with Royal Ordnance for the exclusive supply on long-term contracts of propellants, explosives and some ammunition. As other British companies are capable of supplying some of those products, does that covert deal not drive a coach and horses through the policy of competitive tendering?

Last year, in the House, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to arrangements for long-term contracts for the supply of propellants, explosives and ammunition. We are aware of the interest of other British companies in the supply of such products, we are in touch with at least one other company, and we are awaiting proposals, which will certainly be carefully examined.

North Atlantic (Naval Strategy)

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement concerning Royal Navy strategy in the north Atlantic.

The Royal Navy's strategy in the north Atlantic was described in the 1987 Statement on the Defence Estimates, at paragraphs 404 and 405, to which I have nothing to add.

Will not the Royal Navy's strategy be subsumed by the interests of the United States because of the deployment of sea-launched cruise missiles? Is it not a fact that even the Navy's rules of engagement are being changed to suit the interests of the United States rather than British interests? Will the Minister come clean about this?

The strategy of the Royal Navy is part of the strategy of the navies of NATO, and the rules of engagement, like all other aspects, are resolved within NATO by agreement between all its members.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Royal Navy's strategic options have broadened somewhat since 1979 in view of three facts: in 1979 we had not a single carrier-borne fixed-wing aircraft—[interruption]

I was asking my hon. Friend whether our strategic options had broadened since 1979, as then we had no carrier-borne fixed-wing aircraft, only one frigate in the Royal Navy with a hard kill anti-missile system and no credible modern torpedo suitable for modern warfare on any of our submarines.

It is our policy to keep the Royal Navy up to date. Indeed, that is why we have been introducing so many new ships. Since the Government came to power in 1979 we have ordered 60 major ships for the Royal Navy, about half of which have still to enter service. Ten of the ships still on order are frigates, and the value of the investment represented by ships still on order is £4 billion.

The Minister said nothing about the need for modern and adequate mine-counter measures, which seems incredible in view of fairly recent developments. Can he assure the House that these will be available by the early 1990s, given the present very unsatisfactory state of the modernisation programme?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman recognises the importance of mine-counter measure vessels, as do the Government. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have a programme of introducing Hunter class and single role mine hunters, and the success of our vessels in the Gulf has shown how very good their equipment and manpower are.

Will the Minister outline the attitude of the other northern members of the Alliance who are participating in the review of combined maritime policies and tell the House whether they support Britain's attitude of slavish acceptance of United States maritime strategy in northern waters?

The whole maritime strategy of all partners in NATO in the NATO context is defensive.

Stockholm Document

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied with the application of the inspection arrangements agreed under the Stockholm document.

Yes. The Stockholm document is concerned with confidence-building in Europe through greater transparency in military activities. The provision for verification of compliance, through on-site inspection by participating states, is a significant way of achieving greater trust and confidence on all sides.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Has he yet considered any challenge inspections or even observation inspections of Soviet military exercises? Does he consider that any of the forthcoming exercises are suitable for a challenge?

Yes, we have indeed considered challenge inspections. Looking to next year, we have an indication of notifiable exercises. The figures available to date indicate that there will be seven observable exercises in the Warsaw pact countries — three in the German Democratic Republic, two in Czechoslavakia, one in Hungary and one in the USSR. On our side, there will be nine suitable exercises in NATO countries—seven in the Federal Republic of Germany, one in Denmark and one in Norway—and two in Switzerland.

Given that we accept that confidence-building is so important, is the Secretary of State aware that last Thursday nuclear warheads were brought into the cruise missile base at RAF Molesworth, that last night that base was put on black alert—which I understand is the highest state of alert—and that, because of the presence of police, we must assume that a convoy run was being planned? Does he really think that that is in the spirit of detente surrounding the signing of the INF treaty today? Will he guarantee that no further exercises of that kind will take place in this country and that, following the INF agreement, to which we look forward, there will be no increase in American-owned nuclear weapons coming into Britain?

I appreciate the hon. Lady's question, but I can neither confirm nor deny any of the facts that she has suggested; and, with great respect to her, they bear no relation whatever to the question.

Is it acceptable to my right hon. Friend that any inspection teams representing Warsaw pact forces should he comprised of members who have formerly been banned from Britain for alleged acts incompatible with their diplomatic status?

I understand that any personnel who have been declared persona non grata would not be acceptable on inspection teams.

Inf Agreement

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will directly discuss with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ways of reducing minimum nuclear forces following the signing of the intermediate nuclear forces agreement.

17.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will directly discuss with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ways of reducing minimum nuclear forces following the signing of the intermediate nuclear forces agreement.

There are regular exchanges between the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union on nuclear arms control issues.

Why cannot Britain enter into bilateral talks with the Soviet Union on nuclear disarmament? Is it the Prime Minister who is blocking the progress of negotiations with the Soviet Union on nuclear disarmament agreements?

We do, as I have said, have discussions with the Soviet Union about arms control matters, but negotiations have been through the superpowers. I may add that if the hon. Lady's views, as expressed in the motion to which she put her name recently, were to be carried out, Britain would have no nuclear weapons and so would have no role in discussing and influencing the reduction of nuclear weapons in the world.

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to welcome the INF agreement and to confirm that it would never have come about if the Opposition's policies had been pursued?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. If I had taken the Opposition's advice, and, indeed, that of CND, there would be no cruise missiles in Britain or Western Europe today and there would be a huge battery of them lined up pointing in our direction from the other side.

Does the Secretary of State have any cause to fear that although the Soviet Union may abide by the letter of the treaty, it may seek to undermine it by further nuclear deployment? Will that fear be more or less likely to be fulfilled if NATO goes about making compensatory adjustments and arrangements?

Of course, there is concern in some quarters as to whether both sides will keep the agreement. I can only tell the hon. Gentleman that NATO—and I believe the Soviet Union, too—is determined to keep to the spirit and the letter of the agreement. NATO has no intention to substitute for the weapons that have been removed.

I am sure that all will agree that today's agreement is historic in every way, but can my right hon. Friend yet tell us the implications of the agreement for the deployment of cruise missiles in Britain?

Yes, Sir. The agreement about to be signed in Washington is fully supported by the British Government and it has been warmly endorsed by all the United States' allies. Once the INF treaty has been ratified and comes into force, missile withdrawals will start and will be phased over a three-year period. Meanwhile, the normal training pattern will continue. During that time, six operational flights of ground-launched cruise missiles will be withdrawn from RAF Greenham Common and one operational flight from RAF Molesworth. I expect that the Molesworth missiles will be among the first weapons on the NATO side to be withdrawn.

Will the Secretary of State now confirm that, as stated in The Daily Telegraph editorial today, there is no formal agreement between the United Kingdom and the United States on the supply of Trident missiles? If a future American President, as part of STAR talks, were not to supply those missiles, the British Government would have no redress.

I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman at all. We have had the clearest possible assurances from the United States Administration that they regard themselves as committed to provide what they have undertaken to provide for our Trident programme. That is the end of the matter.

World Peace Council

7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he has received representations about the implications for his policy on arms control of the policies propounded by the World Peace Council, a copy of which has been forwarded to him.

The so-called World Peace Council opposes the concept of the nuclear deterrent, which is an essential foundation of our defence policy. Opposition Members and their supporters lose no opportunity of supporting its approach.

Will my hon. Friend take a shovelful of Siberian salt to the examination of the so-called Auckland declaration, issued by the World Peace Council, which is, of course, Soviet-backed, although four Opposition Members are members of the British arm? Is it any surprise to my hon. Friend that the declaration does not contain any condemnation of the occupation of Afghanistan? Does my hon. Friend agree that if we had followed the policy of not deploying cruise and Pershing missiles into Europe in the first place we should not be having today's INF agreement?

My hon. Friend does well to remind the House of the sorts of policies that are espoused by the World Peace Council. It is not surprising that it has not condemned the occupation of Afghanistan, because it supported the suppression of the Hungarians, the installation of missiles in Cuba and the invasion of Hungary.

It is clear that there would not be an INF agreement today if the policy of one-sided disarmament, espoused by the Labour party, had been followed, because there would not have been anything about which to have an agreement.

I have never at any time supported the World Peace Council. Nevertheless, is it not clear that the objectives of such a body are in line with the thinking of all sane people in the world—the removal of nuclear weapons from every country? Is it not clear that the people of this country, and, indeed, the world, see the INF agreement as only a first step? Is it not also clear that all of us must continue to work hard to get rid of nuclear weapons, beginning with this country, in line with Labour party policy?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his non-membership of the World Peace Council. The council's policy of objecting to the nuclear deterrent goes against the interests of this country and of NATO, and should be rejected firmly by all hon. Members.

Does my hon. Friend accept that nuclear force reductions leave us increasingly vulnerable to imbalances in biological, chemical and conventional forces, especially when the Soviet Union is moving from labour-intensive to capital-intensive forces? Does he also accept that reductions must be achieved on an integrated basis and that, unless we achieve that in our agreements, we should be prepared to pay more for our defence?

My hon. Friend draws attention to an important factor. Although, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said, the INF agreement may be only the first step, it is essential that before long we should tackle the major issue of the imbalance in conventional forces and the threat of chemical warfare, which is so strong from the other side.

When the Minister sneers at those who do not believe in and want to get rid of the nuclear deterrent, is he sneering at the 121 nations that have signed the United Nations nuclear non-proliferation treaty? If any of the 121 nations that have renounced nuclear weapons, decide to obtain them because they believe that the Government are right and they want such weapons what will he say to them?

Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I do not sneer at anybody. I am merely pointing out that the nuclear deterrent is an essential part of our defence and that of our allies in NATO, and I suspect that it will long remain so.

Falkland Islands (Telephone Calls)

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the cost of telephone calls to and from service personnel in the Falkland Islands and Ascension Island.

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

The cost of telephone calls from the United Kingdom for a British Telecom call is £2·30 per minute to the Falkland Islands for an operator-connected call, and £1·42 per minute to Ascension Island for a direct dialled call. The cost of calls back to the United Kingdom from both places is £1·50 per minute for a Cable and Wireless Plc direct dialled call.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, although our forces on the Falkland Islands and on Ascension Island are well-led, well-paid and all the other good things, communications are bad? One may telephone the United States for 81p a minute and Australia for £1·02 a minute, but our forces have to pay £1·50 a minute during the day, night, weekends and so on. Will he seek some form of concession so that our various forces at least pay a reasonable charge for communicating with their families?

My hon. Friend will appreciate that the rate is commercial and obviously has to be fixed by the company. I am glad to tell my hon. Friend that over Christmas and the new year there will be a discount of one third on calls back to the United Kingdom. I shall be glad to draw my hon. Friend's comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Defence of the Falklands is clearly reliant on royal fleet auxiliaries. Is it the Government's intention to procure AOR2 before Christmas?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to comment on that matter.

Inf Agreement

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what enhancement measures Her Majesty's Government are considering in the wake of the intermediate nuclear forces agreement.

The composition and balance of NATO's nuclear forces is being updated continuously. We have to ensure that their credibility and effectiveness are maintained in the light of changing circumstances. As part of that process NATO is currently considering what adjustments, if any, might be required to its remaining forces following the elimination of ground-launched cruise missiles and Pershing missiles. There are a number of possible options, but no decisions have yet been taken.

Will the Minister supply a full list of the new measures by which he plans to increase the number of nuclear weapons? Will he also give an opportunity for the House to debate such matters, instead of carrying on such things in secret?

No proposals have yet been placed before NATO allies. Obviously, we shall have to discuss such proposals with our allies when they are put up. I have given the general background against which we shall consider them. I should have thought that the hon. Lady might have found a little time in her supplementary question today of all days to congratulate the Government on the success of their policy for reducing nuclear weapons, as the treaty will be sealed today.

Will my right hon. Friend also take into account the Soviet Union's intentions to modernise its nuclear forces and, at some suitable time, publish a list of such projects?

My hon. Friend is perfectly correct. The Soviet Union, as long as it thinks it must have such weapons, wisely keeps them updated all the time. We carefully watch what it is doing. Some useful publications have been produced. I understand that the American Administration will soon produce another publication.

I warmly welcome the development of the INF agreement. Will the Secretary of State advise whether he is looking at the option of replacing land-launched missiles with sea-launched cruise missiles, which will probably be based on the Clyde? Does he accept that, given the history of Polaris and Poseidon and the advent of Trident, that would be an unacceptable burden for the people of Scotland?

I do not agree with any of the points that the hon. Lady has raised. It is no part of my intention to substitute the missiles that we hope will be removed as a result of the deal. At all times we shall have to look at the armoury of weapons that are available to us for our defence and make sure that they make sense, one with the other, and enable us to keep up a credible, flexible deterrent force. We shall have to look at that matter once the deal is concluded.

The figures that have been issued by the International Institute for Strategic Studies—I use the figures precisely because in the past they have been quoted approvingly by the Labour party—show an imbalance in favour of the Soviet Union of 2:1 in tanks and tactical aircraft and 3:1 in artillery. Will my right hon. Friend give a commitment on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that we shall not entertain any reduction in battlefield nuclear weapons unless there is real and verifiable progress on the part of the Soviet Union towards a balance of conventional arms in the north European plain?

My hon. Friend is quite correct, and I can give him that assurance. It has been made clear by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my other colleagues on many occasions that before we would be prepared to go further into the reduction of battlefield nuclear weapons we would have to be convinced that there had been major changes in the conventional imbalance and, one hopes, that a worldwide ban on chemical and biological weapons had been concluded. We have none of such weapons, but the Soviet Union insists on keeping a large and increasing arsenal of them.

Does the Secretary of State agree that there is great scope for the German suggestion from Chancellor Kohl that there should be simultaneous talks about the reduction of battlefield nuclear weapons and conventional weapons? That is the way in which we should go forward after the INF treaty, which we all welcome, is signed this afternoon.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for welcoming the INF treaty. I hope that he will reflect on the reason why it has been possible to conclude it.

The hon. Gentleman has said from a sedentary position that it had nothing to do with us. I presume that he is referring to the Labour party, because it certainly had nothing to do with it.

As regards the hon. Gentleman's question, I can confirm that the British Government's position has been made clear. We could not contemplate further discussions about battlefield nuclear weapons until we were satisfied that the conventional and chemical imbalance had been dealt with.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is odd to hear Opposition Members talking about the enhancement of weapons systems when, before the INF agreement that we are discussing today, they consistently advocated the unilateral weakening of our defences? Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we had followed their advice, and that of their friends, CND, we would not have made these major steps forward?

My hon. Friend is perfectly correct. If we had followed the advice of the Labour party we would not have had a deal today, and we would have had a whole range of nuclear weapons facing us to which we would have had no answer and which we would have had no prospect of negotiating away.

Exercise Purple Warrior

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what was the cost of Exercise Purple Warrior.

The estimated costs of Exercise Purple Warrior, additional to those which would have been incurred had the exercise not been taking place, are £7·5 million.

Leaving aside the dubious nature of an exercise that had nothing to do with defence and everything to do with plans for an invasion, presumably of a Third world country, and the fact that the Government had to hire merchant shipping vessels from Denmark and West Germany because of a savage reduction in the British merchant fleet, did the Minister consult his colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Security to discover whether that £7·5 million, properly spent on London and midlands hospitals, such as the Birmingham Children's hospital, might have resulted in fewer deaths in recent weeks because of the non-cancellation of heart operations?

By prudent financial management the Government have been able to increase public expenditure on both the Health Service and defence.

As for the hon. Gentleman's point that bore some relation to the original question—about the vessels hired for the exercise—I am glad in one way that British operators and their vessels were so busy that they had things to do other than take part in the exercise. As far as vessels being hired for the exercise are concerned, we pursue our policy of obtaining them on the best terms of availability, suitability and cost, and if British vessels were competitive, we should be glad to have them.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that most of us take the view that the exercise represented money well spent? It was particularly good to have observers from behind the Iron Curtain there who could observe how effective our ability to respond to a potential attack would be, and could therefore subscribe to our deterrent posture.

My hon. and learned Friend is right. The exercise was extremely successful in the rehearsal of amphibious landings and evacuation for an out-of-area operation, and in co-operation between the three services, which all took part. The arrangements for Warsaw pact observers were successfully and competently handled, and the inspection and observation of exercises of that sort play an important part in increasing confidence and reducing tension.

Inf Agreement

12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence to what arms control and disarmament negotiations he expects directly to contribute following the intermediate nuclear forces agreement.

INF negotiations have been conducted between the Soviet Union and the United States in close consultation with the NATO Alliance. The United Kingdom participates directly in a number of arms control fora, including the work of the conference on disarmament, which includes negotiation of a global ban on chemical weapons; the first committee of the United Nations General Assembly; mutual and balanced force reductions negotiations between NATO and the Warsaw pact in Vienna; and the conference on security and confidence-building in Europe, under which discussions are continuing on a mandate for negotiations on confidence and security-building measures and conventional stability.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Since the Prime Minister spent yesterday trying to cash in on the success of the INF talks—[Interruption.]

Thank you Mr. Speaker. As I was saying, since the Prime Minister spent most of yesterday trying to cash in on the success of the INF talks, will the Secretary of State for Defence now tell us that the Government are prepared to negotiate the removal of all nuclear weapons and that they are prepared to play a positive role in the disarmament negotiations rather than spend all their time and energy attacking the CND, which has done more to bring about the INF treaty—[Interruption.]

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As I was concluding, will the Secretary of State also spend less time on anti-Soviet rhetoric and instead come to a serious discussion about the need to eliminate all nuclear weapons?

The object of all arms control reduction talks is to eliminate war and to bring peace by every means possible. The Government can now show remarkable progress towards those things. The hon. Gentleman is remarkably courageous in suggesting that the CND has any credit at all in this matter. If its advice had been followed we would have had no agreement and a much more threatening situation to face in future. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has every reason to be proud of the part that she has played in bringing about the reduction in nuclear weapons, which is greater than any previous reduction achieved under any Administration.

Is it not clear that the successful policy followed by Her Majesty's Government in conjunction with our NATO allies and pursued on the basis of the twin-track decision since 1979 has brought the desired results? Is it not also clear that the Government will have a valuable role to play in future in negotiating a verifiable, workable agreement to reduce the threat of chemical weapons?

My hon. Friend is correct. It is the twin-track decision that has brought about the agreement which we hope will be signed today in Washington. It is worth reminding ourselves that the Opposition opposed that decision root and branch and voted against it in the House.

Contract Costs

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what proportion of contracts are awarded on a cost-plus basis.

In 1986–87 about 6 per cent. by value of contracts were placed on the basis of cost-plus percentage fee for profit. The proportion has declined from 22 per cent. in 1980–81 and reflects the aim of introducing cost incentives into defence non-competitive contracts.

What proportion of Marconi's cost-plus contracts are the subject of the fraud inquiries by the MOD police? May I have an assurance that MOD police will not be restrained in any way or restricted in carrying out those inquiries? I can tell the Minister that I am handing the documents about fraud at Marconi that the MOD police also have in their possession to Sir Gordon Downey, the Comptroller and Auditor General, so that the Public Accounts Committee, too, can examine every area that the Ministry of Defence police are examining.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware from earlier replies on this subject that in this matter the Ministry of Defence police are under the direction of the Director of Public Prosecutions. I am glad to hear that if the hon. Gentleman has any documents that he thinks are relevant to these sensitive matters he will pass them not only to the Public Accounts Committee but to the investigating authorities.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Ministry of Defence policy of changing from cost-plus contracts to tendering has not only saved the Minister of Defence a great deal of money, but that that money has been used to buy other much needed conventional weapons?

I am glad to be able to confirm what my hon. Friend has said. The introduction of a greater degree of competition into Ministry of Defence contracts is not only saving the taxpayer money, but is giving the services more equipment for the same amount of money.

Nato (Ministerial Meeting)

14.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about his last meeting with NATO Defence Ministers.

I met my NATO colleagues collectively at the regular meetings of the Eurogroup and defence planning committee last week. Copies of the communiques issued after the meetings have been placed in the Library of the House.

Will the Secretary of State tell us what plans he and NATO are putting forward to increase the pace of arms reduction and to get new arms agreements with the Soviet Union, or has he been spending most of his time, on behalf of the Prime Minister, trying to get more nuclear weapons into this country?

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. We have given, and are giving, the fullest support to our allies the United States in further negotiations, which we hope will take place speedily, for up to a 50 per cent. reduction in strategic missile systems. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman might he prepared to support that.