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Commons Chamber

Volume 126: debated on Tuesday 26 January 1988

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 26 January 1988

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions


Cruise Missiles


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is his latest estimate of the number of United States nuclear air-launched cruise missiles (a) currently based in Europe and (b) to be based there by 1995.

There are currently no United States air-launched cruise missiles based in Europe, nor, as far as I am aware, are there any plans to base such weapons in Europe in the future.

Was not a clear decision made four years ago at Montebello to increase the number of air-launched cruise missiles in Europe? Is not the decision continuing despite the changed circumstances of the INF agreement? Are not the Government guilty of deceiving the electorate at the last election by not making clear their intention to install 1,300 air-launched cruise missiles in Europe, with some being based at Boscombe Down?

I am sorry to say that the hon. Lady has been grievously misinformed. The Montebello decision took place years before the INF agreement, which we welcome and very much hope will be ratified shortly. Therefore, it had no relevance to that agreement. It related to updating and modernising the existing nuclear weapons. The INF treaty, to which we fully subscribe, abolishes a whole range of nuclear weapons, and it will be scrupulously adhered to by this country.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the important point to make about this is the success of the INF negotiations, leading to a reduction in these weapons in Europe? Is not this success due to NATO's dual-track policy, which is supported by the Government, and about which the Opposition have been in a total muddle?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. I remind the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo), as has my hon. Friend, that if the dual-track decision had not been the policy of this Government there would have been no INF treaty and no reduction of nuclear weapons of this sort, for which the Opposition would have been responsible.

Has not a Dutch Minister told the Dutch Parliament that the Montebello requirement

"applies in principle in all countries which have particular weapon systems"?
Britain had cruise, and therefore Montebello applies to cruise. The Secretary of State and the Government knew that there was going to be a big increase in air-launched cruise missiles, but they pushed ahead and deceived the electorate at the last election, despite the INF agreement.

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. The INF treaty deals with land-based cruise missiles, and we warmly support that. It is our achievement to have got it, not that of the Opposition. We are proud of having achieved it.

The modernisation of the other ranges of nuclear weapons that we have must take place from time to time, and will continue in the future until such time as there is another treaty reducing still more weapons. Our aim is to achieve that.

As I was at Montebello when we took the decision, I can say that everything that my right hon. Friend has said today is wholly correct. It was a determination to modernise our weapons systems while significantly reducing the number of individual weapons systems. Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is fundamental to the concept of nuclear deterrence that we modernise our capabilities?

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend and welcome his comments in the light of his having been present at the Montebello decision. He is perfectly right to say that the one thing that is of absolutely no use to anyone is a whole lot of weapons that are out of date. We shall not allow that to happen.

Do not air-launched cruise missiles need aircraft to launch them? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, whatever was decided at Montebello, all Britain's Tornado aircraft and all American F1–11 aircraft stationed in Britain will be included in the conventional arms reductions talks that will start in a few months' time?

The precise details of what will and will not he included in those talks is still to be established. The right hon. Member knows that no decision has been taken for the adoption of air-launched cruise missiles. Our existing Tornado aircraft, with their free-fall bombs, will continue in being in the meantime.

Petty Officer John Black


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the latest position regarding the inquiry into the unlawful killing in Spain over Christmas 1983 of Petty Officer John Black, Royal Navy; and if he will make a statement.

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

I am still awaiting receipt of the report from the Metropolitan police on the outcome of their investigations.

Is my hon. Friend aware that it is now nearly three years since a British inquest jury said that Petty Officer Black was unlawfully killed? Nobody has ever been charged with any offence. Will he please assure the grieving parents that everything possible is being done by his Department to get this dark affair sorted out as quickly as possible?

I give my hon. Friend that assurance. I am sure he will agree that the Ministry of Defence has been helpful to the Metropolitan police in the progress of their investigations, and the outcome of those investigations is expected shortly. I assure my hon. Friend that when a copy of the report is received by the Ministry I shall brief him on its contents.

Challenger Tanks


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on progress in ordering Challenger tanks.

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

The order for the 5th Challenger regiment will be completed shortly. Current orders will also provide Challenger tanks for the 6th and 7th Challenger regiments. Further possible tank requirements are under review.

Will the Minister confirm that the Army has expressed a preference for the Challenger tank? If so, when will the Ministry give the go-ahead for that order? If such a go-ahead is given, will the Ministry of Defence give a commitment that the work will be carried out by Vickers in Leeds?

As I have just said, we are currently considering the need for further orders. We have under review a variety of options as to which tank would be a suitable replacement and when further tank orders should be placed.

I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise the importance of this programme to the city of Nottingham, because Royal Ordnance plc has a major unit in my constituency employing 1,100 people. That factory is in an area that still, sadly, has a high level of unemployment. Will he bear that in mind when considering procurement plans now and in the future?

I assure my hon. Friend that we shall certainly bear in mind the matter that he has raised.

As studies have shown that we can stop many more tanks for our bucks with helicopters than we can with tanks, is it not time that my hon. Friend discovered for himself a new Liddell Hart, so that somebody can do for the antediluvian and outdated tank what he did for the horse?

My hon. Friend will recall that last July I answered a question from him on this subject. I confirm that our latest examination of the issue shows that a variety of anti-armour weapon systems are cost effective.

Northern Region (Departmental Jobs)


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what proportion of his Department's jobs are currently located in the northern region.

As at 1 October 1987, 2·2 per cent. of the Department's civilian employees were located in the northern region.

Did my hon. Friend see a recent episode of "Yes, Prime Minister" which emphasised the over-concentration of defence jobs in the south and the west, together with the advantages of moving such jobs to areas of high unemployment in the north and the east? What progress is being made on this issue; and is Hacker triumphing over Sir Humphrey?

I did not see that particular episode, but perhaps I shall have the opportunity to do so on repeat. We are conscious of the point that my hon. Friend has made. It is perhaps worth noting that about 10 per cent. of recruits to the armed forces are drawn from the northern region.

Will the Minister tell us how many of the jobs now located in the northern region were previously located in London?

I cannot give an exact answer, but the proportion of jobs in the northern region has not changed significantly for some time.

Given that rather appalling answer by my hon. Friend, does he accept that a radical Government, such as we have at the moment, should consider what their predecessors did when they moved the Royal Military Academy from High Wycombe to Aldershot? Perhaps we should consider relocating that academy in the north of England, thus stimulating that part of the country.

My hon. Friend makes a radical suggestion. He also draws attention to the fact that the location of many of the Department's civilian employees is determined by the location of the major defence establishments, many of which have been in their present locations since the last century.

Raf Air/Sea Rescue Service


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement concerning the future of the RAF air/sea rescue service.

As I told the House on 28 October last year, my Department has been studying proposals from Bristow Helicopters Ltd., under which the military search and rescue service in the United Kingdom would be put out to civilian contract. We have also been reviewing the deployment of Royal Navy and Royal Air Force helicopters, to ensure that we are deploying these assets as efficiently as possible and providing satisfactory levels of search and rescue coverage around our coastline —[Interruption.]

These are very detailed and complex studies and I am not yet able to tell the House the outcome. I hope to be able to do so shortly.

Is the Minister aware of the widespread opposition that there would be around the coast of this country if this stupid proposal to privatise air and sea rescue services were more widely known? An injured climber or seafarer in distress knows that an RAF pilot will continue to search until he is found and will not have one eye on the fuel gauge to count the cost. Ought not the issue of saving lives to be excluded from consideration of whether there is a profit in it for the potential private concern, such as Bristow?

The proposal was put to us by Bristow; it was not sought by the Ministry of Defence. We have an obligation to the taxpayer to examine the proposal seriously. As the hon. Gentleman will know, Bristow runs two search and rescue facilities in the north of Scotland, and they operate safely, effectively and efficiently.

While rejecting completely the tone and attitude taken by the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist), may I nevertheless express my scepticism about any privatisation of the air and sea rescue service for the south-west? In my constituency we have RNAS Culdrose, the biggest helicopter base in western Europe. It seems nonsense to privatise the service in that area while that facility remains there.

Perhaps I could remind my hon. Friend that while military search and rescue helicopters are primarily to serve military need, they also provide about 90 per cent. of the call-outs for civilian rescue. However, my responsibility, and that of my right hon. Friend and other Ministers, is to ensure first and foremost that our military assets are deployed correctly, and we shall judge Bristow's proposal against that background.

Is it not clear that taxpayers are not arguing for any change? This is merely an ideological aberration on the part of the Conservative Front Bench. Is it not time that the Government put the interests of the mass of the people before the profits of a few who are their friends?

No, this is not an ideological aberration on the Front Bench. We are carrying out our duty to the House and to taxpayers in examining an unsolicited proposal from Bristow Helicopters in order to establish whether civilian and military search and rescue can be conducted more cheaply.

We are well aware of the great value of the military search and rescue helicopters in terms of training, and of the excellent service that they perform indirectly for the civilian community. We shall not lose sight of those valuable contributions.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the grave concern in Pembrokeshire that RAF Brawdy may lose its search and rescue detachment, which would leave a large part of the coast denuded of instant cover? Will he also bear in mind that any private operator might be subjected to strike action, which service discipline, of course, precludes?

My hon. Friend's last point is certainly right— that is a risk with any private contractor—but as I said last October in the defence debate, besides the Bristow proposal, we are also studying the redeployment of our military search and rescue facilities to ensure that we have the best possible cover around our coastline. I can assure my hon. Friend that any changes in our military deployment — if, indeed, they take place — will ensure that the interests of his constituents, like those of all other hon. Members, will be properly looked after.

Does the Minister accept that cost and competence cannot be the only factors to be taken into account when arriving at a decision? Is it not a fact that air-sea rescue is a military service, that it has a war role, that it is important in service training, and that rescuing civilians is simply a bonus that the services provide for the taxpayer? Does he further accept that if the Government decide to privatise air-sea rescue they will be sacrificing the long-term interests of the services for short-term expediency?

I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman has said. The military search and rescue service provided around this country, in conjunction with Bristow in two places in the north of Scotland, is a partnership between the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Transport. In any changes we make, whether in the contractorisation route or the deployment route, we shall work closely with the Department of Transport.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the excellent search and rescue service provided by Royal Air Force helicopters to civilians represents excellent and important training for the services? Will he also confirm that he will not accept any unnecessary duplication that may arise if we were to go ahead with a scheme for privatisation while it is still incumbent on the RAF to maintain a capability of its own?

I agree with my hon. Friend. At base, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force helicopters, in the search and rescue capacity, have to provide a military service. The training that the pilots and aircrew receive was valuable in the Falklands conflict.

Nuclear Convoys


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether he has any plans to review the present safety precautions taken by the armed forces in connection with the transportation of military nuclear convoys; and if he will make a statement.

Safety arrangements associated with the movement of nuclear weapons are kept under constant review.

Is the Minister aware that that assurance carries little weight in the county of Leicestershire after a convoy carrying nuclear weapons passed through the centre of Leicester in the rush hour, after the serious accident at Salisbury, and after the Government's refusal even to give an assurance to the county council that chief fire officers will be informed when such convoys are coming? Surely it cannot conceivably be a breach of security to assure the House that, when a convoy carrying nuclear weapons or nuclear waste is to pass through towns, the local chief constables and chief fire officers will be informed on all occasions.

I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman has communicated with my Department over a number of years on this subject and, therefore, he will not be surprised at the answer that I give him. Guidance is issued to some chief constables and fire officers on the basis of the need to know. However, I should like to emphasise to the hon. and learned Gentleman that we are following the practice of all previous Governments in not commenting on the details of individual transport movements. We have an exceptional safety record. No accident resulting in the release of radioactivity from nuclear weapons has taken place during all the time that they have been deployed in this country.

Does my hon. Friend agree that at no time during the accident at West Dean in my constituency was there a threat to the public when a transporter slipped off the road in icy conditions? Does he also agree that the exhaustive and detailed correspondence that we have had on behalf of the district and county councils and the fire and health authorities has been extremely helpful? Does he further agree that the passage of the Military Defence Police Act 1987 has sorted out a great deal of doubt that surrounded the question of who was responsible for what in those circumstances?

I am glad to have my hon. Friend's contribution, which sets the whole question in context. Although I am not prepared to discuss the contents of the cargo in a particular accident, I can say that there was never any hazard to the public from the accident to which my hon. Friend referred.

Low-Flying Aircraft


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent representations he has received concerning low flying over Wales.

Between 1 December 1987 and 18 January 1988 the Ministry of Defence received 37 inquiries or complaints from Wales about low-flying military aircraft.

Does the Minister accept that low-flying training in Wales gives rise to the greatest number of complaints that land on my desk or are telephoned into my office from people not only in the constituency but outside it? Will he undertake a review of low-flying training throughout Britain? It is now 10 years since the last review took place.

No, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman such an undertaking, and I would quarrel with the assumption behind his question. The issue may preoccupy him, and perhaps some of his constituents, but that is not borne out by the majority of hon. Members.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is important that our services maintain their capability and capcity to fly at low levels? Their expertise in this sphere has stood our country well in many regards, including the Falklands campaign, when they proved to be expert at this sort of manoeuvre?

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend. The low-flying regulations permit aircraft to fly down to 250 ft at up to 450 knots. Most of that flying is done during the daytime. During wartime—I am sure that the House will want to pay tribute to wartime pilots—pilots had to fly very much faster, at perhaps 50 ft, and at night.

What representations has the Minister received about low-flying aircraft at night over Wales? Recently, one flew over Brecon at 9 pm and woke most of the population under the age of five years, causing great disturbance.

Unfortunately, in wartime our pilots would have to fly at night. Most low flying ends at 11 pm; only 5 per cent. of low flying takes place after sunset. I regret the disturbance that was caused to the children of the hon. Gentleman's constituents, but I can assure him that it was necessary.

Is my hon. Friend aware that most people in Wales are reassured to see RAF markings on planes as they fly over so low, but will he ensure that instructions are given to pilots not to use prominent buildings, such as district general hospitals, as landmarks on which to draw beam?

I can assure my hon. Friend that hospitals and all residential locations are not used as targets. That may appear to be the case, but all the targets that pilots use for low-level missions are non-residential.

Army Ammunition Accidents


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the current level of Army ammunition accidents.

According to Army records, the number of accidents in 1987 involving Army ammunition was 260. Those resulted in 112 injuries and six deaths; four civilians were injured and there were no civilian deaths. The accident rate in 1987 was not significantly different from that of the past 10 years.

I hope that the Minister is sufficiently concerned by those figures, and by recent Army reports showing an increase in the number of accidents caused by lack of supervision and a general increase in the number of accidents among soldiers, to do something about it. Will he tell the House what steps he is prepared to take to ensure that training in the handling of ammunition and supervision of that handling is of the highest possible quality? What steps will he take to ensure that the appropriate authorities — district councils, community councils and environmental groups — are properly and fully consulted before Army exercises in order to minimise the risk of such exercises to the civilian population?

The risk to civilians, as I hope I have shown, in 1987 and for the past 10 years was minimal. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the matter, and I share his concern. Some 98 per cent. of ammunition accidents are caused by errors in drill by soldiers; only 2 per cent. are attributable to faulty ammunition. Although the statistics show that there has been no great change over the past 10 to 15 years, I can assure him that the Army and the Ministry of Defence take all possible steps to reduce these figures, which, I agree, are too high.

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating British Rail on conducting a thorough inquiry into the recent incident involving a munitions train at Stoke Gifford in my constituency, which concluded that the standards of handling of munitions in transit to avoid accidents involving civilians were of the highest and should remain so?

I agree with my hon. Friend. We have always enjoyed close co-operation with British Rail. New regulations are to be introduced shortly, covering not rail but road transport, and I hope that that will improve our accident record still further.

Defence Programmes (Employment Implications)


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he makes of the employment implications in the defence industries when considering reductions in defence expenditure programmes.

Defence expenditure this year is over 20 per cent. higher in real terms than in 1978–79. In formulating our expenditure plans within the available resources we consider the employment implications for industry. But our main criteria are the military requirement and the need to obtain the best value for money.

Is the Minister aware that the United Kingdom brokers, Scrimgeour Vickers, forecast that 100,000 jobs would be lost in conventional defence expenditure over the next three years? Has the reality of that been borne out by the expenditure White Paper published last week?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that on 27 October last year he put his signature to an amendment proposing a non-aligned foreign and defence policy for this country and a massive reallocation of resources from weapons. I am glad to know that he is now concerned with the employment implications of our defence procurement programmes.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is the height of hypocrisy for Opposition Members to call for less and less expenditure on defence unless and until it affects a job in their constituency?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. It is worth remembering that both defence and procurement expenditure are substantially higher than they would have been had we continued at the rate that we inherited from the last Labour Government.

Regardless of whether we support defence spending on a particular range of weapons, it is the Minister's responsibility to tell us what effect he thinks the cuts in defence expenditure will have on jobs. The House has a right to know.

The hon. Gentleman is looking at nonexistent cuts. As I said, defence and procurement expenditure is substantially higher than the level that we inherited and is continuing at a more or less stable level.

Is my hon. Friend aware that one of the most depressing jobs of the Public Accounts Committee is to see the tremendous waste of money that there has been on procurement programmes? That money could have been spent properly, on decent weapons systems. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that the Department is putting its full weight behind Mr. Levene to get this matter sorted out?

I agree that there have been mistakes in the past. I am happy to assure my hon. Friend that we are determined to secure the best possible value for money in our procurement expenditure.

Will the Minister tell us the position on staff shortages, which appear to be due to the funding difficulties referred to in today's edition of The Independent. Are they the reason for the delay in the production of nuclear warheads for the Trident programme? Will we have to borrow the warheads from the United States, or are we to have an independent deterrent?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the headline to that article bore about as much relation to its content as its content bore to reality. I am happy to assure him that Aldermaston is nearly up to full establishment and that there are no problems due to funding difficulties.

Nuclear Tests (Radiation Victims)


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to receive the report of the National Radiological Protection Board on nuclear test veterans; when he will respond; and if he will make a statement.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer given in the House on Monday 18 January. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that on 28 January 1988 the NRPB intends to publish the final report into the mortality and cancer incidence in United Kingdom participants in the United Kingdom atmospheric nuclear weapon tests and experimental programmes.

In the light of the recently released Cabinet papers, does the Minister accept that it is now clear that in 1950s British service men were exposed to the effects of nuclear tests and that undoubtedly some have suffered and are suffering? Is not the introduction of a proper system of compensation long overdue so that the families and the service men can be properly compensated for the damage to their health?

As I said, the report is to be published on 28 January. It would be wrong to anticipate its contents.

Will the Minister address his mind to the question of the papers and reports in the Public Record Office that may have been suppressed, as the report on the Windscale fire in 1957 was suppressed, which prevented people who had claims for possible death or injury following 1957 having access to the relevant information? Will the Minister give an undertaking that all the reports made available to successive Governments since the original tests were conducted will be published so that people may study those reports as well as those of the National Radiological Protection Board?

I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman awaits the publication of the report and then studies it before trying to anticipate its contents.

Does the Minister agree that the protection board's report is about statistics, not people, and that the board has never examined one person who was at the tests? Will the Ministry of Defence now sit down with the representatives of those people, who were not properly protected, to try to work out some decent compensation for them, because that is the British Government's moral responsibility?

We shall all be in a much better position to judge the situation when we have had an opportunity to read what is a full and exhaustive report, involving a study of the records of over 22,000 service men who took part in the tests.

Chemical Weapons


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions he has had with the United States Government concerning chemical weapons.

I have regular discussions with my colleagues in the United States Government on a wide range of security and defence issues.

Given that the Secretary of State knows that the multiple launch rocket system can carry a different variety of warheads and that November's International Defence Review reported that chemical warheads are now being developed, will he assure the House that there are no plans to develop chemical warheads for the MLRS, and can we be sure that we can rely on that, given that in relation to Motebello, which was discussed earlier, answers were one thing one year but something very different a little later?

It would be for the United States to answer that question as it is the only country in the West making chemical weapons. As far as stationing is concerned, the United States has made it perfectly clear that it does not have any plans to station any chemical weapons in Europe, short of a war situation.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the case of chemical weapons is a classic example of what happens when countries unilaterally disarm? Will he join me in congratulating the work force of the Chemical Defence Establishment, Porton Down, whose defensive work is one reason why we have such a strong lead in chemical disarmament talks?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. The work that is done at Porton Down is entirely directed to assessing the protection of our own forces, who face, in this case, a threat to which they have no direct answer. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who asked me the original question and who, I think, is a supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, might like to note that although we have not had any chemical weapons since the 1950s, there is no sign whatever that the Soviet Union has made any gesture to reduce its production.

The Secretary of State is aware that the United States still has a large stock of chemical weapons in the Federal Republic. Does the British Army have any access to that stock, or is the stock solely and exclusively for the use of the United States Army?

Yes, those stocks are entirely the property and for the use by the United States forces. I understand that they intend to phase them out, as they are becoming aged, and to replace them with the new binary weapons, which NATO decided to ask the United States to produce.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Soviet Union has an estimated 14 factories producing such weapons, and that the Americans are planning just one?

Yes, my hon. Friend is quite correct. It is sad that the Soviet Union does not yet appear to have been clear-cut in its admission about its stocks of chemical weapons. However, it is interesting to note that, on the information that we have, it probably has about 300,000 tons of chemical weapons awaiting use. As I have said, we have not had any such weapons since the 1950s. It is about time that the Soviet Union followed our lead.

Low-Flying Aircraft


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received concerning the low-flying of aircraft over the site of the National Eisteddfod of Wales in Ponthmeidog in August 1987; and if he will make a statement.

One complaint has been received concerning low-flying military aircraft over the site of the National Eisteddfod of Wales in Porthmadog in August 1987. This is currently under investigation.

Is the Minister aware of the dismay that will be felt in Wales at the reply that he gave to my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas), in response to question 7, and at the contempt that he showed for feelings in Wales when he gave no apology for the effect of low-flying aircraft on the community? Is he further aware that, despite repeated requests to the Royal Air Force to avoid low-flying aircraft over this site, there were specific flights which appeared to be buzzing the field and disrupting competition there? Is it not high time that the RAF showed greater sensitivity about such activity and towards the needs of the local communities?

As I have said, one incident is under investigation and, if it turns out that there was a violation of the avoidance area, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman to express apologies and say what action has been taken. In reply to an earlier question, I said quite correctly that the hon. Gentleman and his colleague, the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas), belong to a party which is opposed to low-flying aircraft anywhere in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Walker. I remind the hon. Member that the question is about Wales, not Scotland.

Does my hon. Friend agree that all investigations carried out by the RAF into allegations of unauthorised low flying are very thorough and very full? Does he further agree that low flying, particularly contour low flying and low-level navigation, is an essential part of our deterrence capability, just as search and rescue pilots must be of a standard to enhance our deterrence capability?

I can confirm that all complaints are properly investigated and those of a serious nature are investigated by the Royal Air Force police. I write to hon. Members who draw complaints to my attention when those investigations are completed.

European Fighter Aircraft


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he has any plans to reduce the Royal Air Force current requirement for the European fighter aircraft.

As I told the hon. Member on 8 December 1987, it is too early in the project to forecast with certainty the eventual size of the United Kingdom purchase of European fighter aircraft. The work-sharing agreement is, however, based on the declared requirement for 250 aircraft.

The Minister will accept that his failure to commit the Government to 260 fighters, which the RAF says it requires, has serious employment consequences for those who will participate in the programme. When will he be able to guarantee that he intends to protect those 260 orders within the present defence review?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it would be neither normal nor sensible to place a firm order until after the project definition stage has been completed and there is a design of an aircraft to order and also, by that time, a reasonably firm estimate of the cost.

Will my hon. Friend, in any negotiations, guard contractually against a situation where one of the other parties places a larger initial order than he intends to take delivery of, so that he gets a larger percentage of the work? This is grossly unfair to the other parties to the agreement.

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I can assure him that the work-share agreement for the production phase will be based on the declared orders at that time and not on the declared orders at the project definition stage.

Will the Minister ensure that, in the final requirements laid down for this aircraft, the radar installed will be European, and preferably British?

We must await the outcome of the present competitive tendering exercise, but the United Kingdom is strongly represented in both the bidding consortia for the aircraft's radar.

Nuclear Weapons


To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's latest plans to modernise their nuclear weaponry.

We are proceeding on schedule with the modernisation of Britain's strategic nuclear deterrent through Trident. In addition, some technical studies are taking place with a view to identifying a possible successor to the United Kingdom's current sub-strategic weapon, the free-fall bomb; however, no decisions on a replacement for this have yet been taken.

Is it true that in the next few years NATO is to introduce thousands of much more powerful nuclear weapons? I ask that question since the Government, and the Prime Minister in particular, do not seem to show the same enthusiasm for the INF treaty as the United States and the other countries in Europe. After Montebello, are more powerful weapons coming in?

The hon. Gentleman has asked me a question, and I must, in the kindest possible way, say quite simply that he is wrong. Not only has Britain shown a strong enthusiasm for the reduction of nuclear weapons, but we are the first Government in Britain to have supported a move, which has been successful, to remove a whole range of nuclear weapons and to reduce the total number available to East and West. I should have thought that that was a great success.

Prime Minister



This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with the President of Egypt. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today.

Will the Prime Minister find a few minutes today to consider whether anything of any value is left of the Anglo-Irish Agreement? Will she now concede that it has failed in its primary objective of reducing violence in Northern Ireland, not only as illustrated in the statistics of the past two years, but in the statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland last week that the people of Northern Ireland should prepare for another terrorist onslaught, and, more immediately, by the death of another civilian and another policeman in Northern Ireland yesterday? If relationships between the right hon. Lady's Government and the Government of the Republic have failed to improve, to the extent that they could have prevented the outbursts from the Dublin Government over the past 24 hours in relation to the statement made to the House yesterday, what has the agreement to commend itself, except that it continues to alienate large sections of the community in Northern Ireland?

It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to hear that I disagree with him. The Anglo-Irish Agreement has led to greatly increased co-operation on security, which is to the advantage of the people in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland. With regard to the statement that was made yesterday, I have nothing to add to what my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General said.

Following her remarks on "Panorama" last night, will my right hon. Friend consider the future of the National Health Service management board? Does she think that it adequately reflects the commercial and managerial disciplines of the private sector, and is she satisfied that, since it is responsible for perhaps the largest service organisation in western Europe, it has the powers that any normal board of directors should have over such a massive organisation?

As my hon. Friend is aware, the management board has on it people who are well accustomed to managing private sector organisations. We are now gathering together the requisite information, which shows that different authorities make very different use of the money at their disposal. Now that we have that information, the management board may be able to take more effective action on it. I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the excellent management of resources throughout the service.

Will the Prime Minister respond to last Friday's letter from Mr. Trevor Clay of the Royal College of Nursing and other leaders of nursing and midwives trade unions by agreeing to meet those people urgently?

Mr. Clay wrote to me and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, and my right hon. Friend will be meeting them very shortly. [HON. MEMBERS: "You."] I am delighted that people always want to see me. I am absolutely delighted. Yet if ever I say that I shall do something I am accused of dictatorship and all sorts of things. We have rather a lot of most excellent Ministers on the Government Front Bench, and it is right that the Secretary of State in charge should see these people first, and that is what will happen.

Does the right hon. Lady not realise that those people want to see her because she is the architect of the crisis of underfunding? Why will she not see them? Why does she treat the nurses with such contempt" Does she not realise that those nurses are motivated entirely by concern for the National Health Service and the patients in their care? Who can believe that her so-called review of the National Health Service can have any integrity, when she slams the door in the face of people best placed to know the problems of health care and of funding because they have to deal with those problems every day of their working lives?

It was this Government who, because the Royal College of Nursing had never gone on strike, and does not, set up a review body, whose recommendations have so far been honoured. It is this Government who have seen to it that nurses have had increases in pay over and above inflation–30 per cent. in real terms. It is this Government who have reduced the standard working week of nurses from 40 to 371/2 hours. It was the last Labour Government who cut the pay of nurses.

If the Prime Minister has such faith in her figures, why does she not have the nurses into No. 10 Downing street and offer that recitation to them face to face? Why does she not do that and see what response she gets? Perhaps she knows what response she will get and that is why she is frightened to meet them.

Which of the figures is the right hon. Gentleman challenging? He seems to be indicating that he is challenging none of them. Or is he saying that he does not believe any figures given by the Government? If so, why does he ask any questions?

Is my right hon. Friend aware we on the Government Benches welcome her comments last night and the record of her Government? Is she also aware, given the impossibility of a National Health Service meeting immediately every demand that is made upon it, that in addition to looking at further ways of funding it, some of us would also wish us to be looking at medical priorities within the National Health Service?

Doctors, of course, make decisions on medical priorities almost every day. I think that it is for them to establish priorities. I doubt very much that we could do it—not between patients. But I know that a number of doctors have made comments recently, which have been very carefully noted, which indicate that they are thinking about this matter themselves.

In view of what the right hon. Lady said on television last night, that the review of the National Health Service should be expedited very quickly, will she suggest to health authorities considering hospital closures that they should suspend such closures until the review has been completed?

Not in any way, because, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, sometimes the building of a big new facility which brings new possibilities of medical treatment to a whole region may also depend on the closure of some local hospitals. To stop the one will also stop the other and could result in less medical treatment than the present system provides.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 January.

My right hon. Friend must be well aware that the statement she made last night about instituting her fundamental review of the National Health Service will be widely welcomed, since there is widespread public concern about the operation of the service. Does she join me in condemning those who callously exploit individual suffering, often misrepresenting the facts, for crude political purposes?

Yes, Sir. I have had occasion at Question Time before to correct the alleged facts of a particular case. Last week at Question Time another case was brought up, of someone who, it was said, had been moved 2 miles in a furniture van which was dirty and smelly. I made inquiries of the regional health authority, which has indicated that the patients, two patients who could not be moved by ambulance because they had to be moved on beds, were in fact moved in a van. They were kept warm with thermal blankets, they were moved skilfully and the van was clean. They were accompanied by ambulance men and nurses on a short journey, and their condition on arrival was as good as it had been when they left the first hospital. The medical staff and the consultant orthopaedic surgeon were happy with all the arrangements. The regional health authority chairman said:

"ambulance men and nurses have expressed their concern at the distorted reporting of the transfer by the news media, particularly as they would never associate themselves professionally with any action which compromised the wellbeing of patients."


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 January.

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

When will the Prime Minister realise that reading out cold-blooded statistics at the Dispatch Box —[Interruption.] — despite all the noise that hon. Members behind her make, will not solve the problems of the National Health Service? Only more money will solve those problems. Would it not be a good beginning to give deserving nurses the 20 per cent. increase which they have asked for? [Interruption.] I hope hon. Members will let me say what I want to say. Is the right hon. Lady not ashamed that she can say, "I want to go into hospital on the day I want, to the doctor I want, and when I want," when she is stopping thousands of people doing just that? Babies are dying while she is doing that.

First, next year there will be more money, £1,100 million more, which will be paid by the taxpayer. Secondly, 3,000 babies survive every year who would not have survived as far back as 1978–79. Thirdly, it sounds as if the hon. Gentleman wants a voucher scheme. Fourthly, in Sheffield health authority area inpatient cases are up by 13·5 per cent. since 1982—the last reorganisation—and day cases are up by 4,000. The Northern general hospital had a £9·5 million development opened in the summer of 1986, and there is a £8 million development opening this year. At the children's hopital there is a £8 million development opening in 1989. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is pleased with the advances under this Government.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 January.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that British Aerospace and the people of Welwyn and Hatfield should be congratulated on designing, producing and selling 109 146 Jetliners and 684 British Aerospace executive jets? Does she also agree that this mirrors the success of privatisation?

My hon. Friend sets out the most excellent record of a successful company, which is selling aircraft in the highly competitive North American market, and getting increased performance and increased profits. I understand that it also exports to about 40 countries. I join him in congratulating the company on its excellent record. It is a tribute to privatisation.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 January.

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

I have given the Prime Minister prior notice of my supplementary in the hope of getting a considered response. Is the Prime Minister aware that the world population of black rhinos has gone down from 65,000 in 1970 to under 4,000 now and continues to decline? The reason, as she knows, is poaching. One of the most important world markets for black rhino horn products is Hong Kong. Will the Prime Minister tell us what Her Majesty's Government are doing to clamp down on the internal and external trade of black rhino horn products in Hong Kong?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice. I know that he and many hon. Members are interested in conserving the rhino. The hon. Gentleman has asked the Foreign and Commonwealth Office a number of questions and I have taken steps to find out the precise position with regard to Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Government have banned the import of rhino products, including rhino horn, since 1979 and a total ban on the export of all rhino products, including horn, has been in force since 1 April 1986. A total ban on the sale of rhino products within Hong Kong will take effect from July this year.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 January.

In the course of her busy day, will my right hon. Friend take time to note the achievement of the London borough of Harrow, which for the third year running has the best 0-level results in the country? That is partly due to many years of parent power, as envisaged under the Education Reform Bill, being practised in Harrow. Will she consider an invitation from the London borough of Harrow to see that success at first hand?

I gladly join my hon. Friend in congratulating Harrow on its excellent results. May I point out to him that Barnet comes pretty close—in particular Barnet girls are very good indeed. I hope that the opportunities provided under the new Education Reform Bill to give parents a wider say will extend the excellent results of which my hon. Friend speaks.

Parliamentary Standards

3.31 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance on a matter relating to the reputation of the House. Yesterday, on BBC Radio 4 news, at 1 o'clock, an hon. Member stated that he had provoked his naming and expulsion from the House so that he would be invited to appear on the Terry Wogan show and state his views on the Westland affair to an audience of 6 million people.

Order. What goes on outside the House is, thank goodness, nothing to do with me.

National Health Service

3.32 pm

On a point of order Mr. Speaker. Last week, in the House, a Labour Member made an allegation about treatment under the National Health Service. This afternoon, the Prime Minister clearly made the point that that allegation had been repudiated by workers in the National Health Service.

Order. This is a continuation of Prime Minister's questions. Perhaps on another occasion the hon. Gentleman will be lucky and be able to put his own question.

Regional Health Authorities (Abolition)

3.33 pm

I beg to move

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to abolish regional health authorities.
In seeking leave to introduce the Bill, may I first welcome the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on "Panorama" last night. I am sure that they will bring great relief to the general public, because if the Government are as successful in reviewing the National Health Service as they have been in revising the education system and the economy, there is great hope for the Health Service in the next few years. I thank my right hon. Friend for her remarks.

I propose a modest measure for directing money in the Health Service away from administration and into patient care. I therefore seek leave to introduce a Bill to abolish the regional health authorities. My reasons for doing that are based, first, on the ground of cost. The money would be better spent on patients. Secondly, the functions of the regional health authorities are superfluous, as they could be carried out by district health authorities, by a central board of management, or by central Government. Thirdly, their structure is wrong, as too many disparate interests are grouped together, competing for scarce resources. Fourthly, there is too little accountability.

Theoretically, the regional health authorities are accountable to the Secretary of State, but their powers and budgets are devolved, and very often we hear it said that something must be a purely regional decision. Unlike the Secretary of State, regional health authorities do not have to answer to the public through the ballot box every five years for what they are doing. Furthermore, many of those who sit on regional health authorities have to pass judgment on local situations prevailing in areas with which they are not familiar and which they do not know, whereas district health authorities deal wholly and all the time with what is going on in their own patch, with which they are very familiar.

In 1986, across the country, regional health authorities cost £109 million on administration alone. That figure was given by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Health in answer to a parliamentary question from my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). That was £109 million on top of the £317 million that we spend every year on administration costs per district. That represents thousands of nurses' salaries. That represents an opportunity lost for thousands of operations. The Government have always stated, and have more than proved, that they believe that money must be spent at the sharp end of our public services, so that money should be taken from that wholly superfluous tier of administration and put in at the sharp end.

The Bill would allow district authorities to control consultants' contracts. At the moment, the regions issue contracts to consultants and the financial liability for them is passed on to the districts. I know of no commercial analogy which allows one department to issue contracts and another to accept the financial liability.

The Bill would devolve the control of property and land to the districts. At the moment there are considerable numbers of surplus properties and pieces of land throughout the country. There is very little incentive for districts to put their backs into selling that property, because too often the proceeds go back to the regions because they are over certain limits. The districts could develop those properties and that land, or sell them to raise income to help patients, which is what the service should be about. I strongly believe, therefore, that they should have the control, which would mean that they would also have the incentive to make the best use of such assets.

The territorial overview of facilities that would have to be provided, not in every district, but simply between three or four districts, could, I believe, easily be carried out centrally by a fairly minimal and not particularly costly expansion of the existing regional liaison structure within the Department.

There is already provision for the central purchasing of supplies. I believe that this should continue, but that the districts should take over the control of distribution.

It has often been said that 219 districts is a rather large number for any Government Department to deal with, and I have some sympathy with that view. Nevertheless, the Department of the Environment has to deal with several hundred district councils, and the Department of Education and Science is contemplating dealing with a large number of individual schools, which will draw their grants centrally. I therefore think that this requirement could be accommodated by a slight expansion of the regional liaison department.

I do not regard this proposal as any sort of alternative to any other major reorganisation that may be proposed for our health services, nor that on its own it will solve the problems of the National Health Service, but I do believe that at the moment we are spending money that could be better spent, and this would, administratively speaking, be a fairly easy and straightforward way of getting the money for patient care, to pay nurses and to pay for operations.

3.39 pm

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

The hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) described this as "a modest measure to drive money away from administration and toward patient care." The abolition of the regional health authority structure in the Health Service would mean an enormous upheaval in the organisation of that service. When the hon. Member says that the cost is £109 million for administration, she is, quite frankly, naive if she believes that if her Bill were to be passed the Government would take that £109 million and put it into patient care or use it to increase the wages of those working in the Health Service. As with all the other changes that have taken place in the past eight or nine years, from redundancies in British Steel, to the abolition of the county council structure, the money saved would go back to the Treasury and end up as tax cuts for the top 5 per cent. of the population.

I should like to ask the hon. Member for Maidstone, not today, but at a later stage, to say whether she has approached her colleagues in government to seek ministerial backing for this measure. It seems to me, from a pamphlet from the Adam Smith Institute this month, that once again the Right wing, inside and outside the Tory party, is pushing towards more privatisation in the Health Service. The pamphlet from the Adam Smith Institute said:
"if the Regional Health Authorities arc to be retained at all, which is a matter of debate, they could exist as branch offices of a quasi-independent national board. Alternatively, their staffing levels could be reduced and their operations could be made more flexible by the greater use of contracting rather than in-house expertise."
A fortnight ago the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) started to wave the privatisation flag for the Post Office, and today the flag is being waved by the hon. Member for Maidstone in respect of the Health Service.

As to regional health authorities being "superfluous", there is a clear need for strategic planning, for example, of the siting of regional facilities, whether it be for children's heart operations or for renal dialysis centres. One of the original aims of the regional health authorities when they were established in 1974 was to link each of the 14 authorities with a university medical school and a teaching hospital, primarily to improve the distribution of medical manpower and reduce inequalities between the regions. In the past decade rising unemployment and growing, poverty have militated against any serious work in that direction. In fact, Tory Government decisions, ranging from inadequate nutritional standards in schools, all the way through to mass unemployment, simply mean that more people fall sick. The solution is not one of administration, but is one of finance. That is the core of my opposition to the Bill.

On page 2 of its annual report for 1986–87 on the Health Service in England, the Department of Health and Social Security makes it clear how the regional health authorities fit into the centralised structure of health care. They are part of a centralised, unelected, unaccountable structure in which control is exercised downwards from the Secretary of State through the regional health authorities to the districts themselves. The chairmen and members of the regional health authorities are appointed by the Secretary of State. The regional health authorities then dictate the membership of the district health authorities and, in particular places such as the west midlands, the north-west, Merseyside and the hon. Member for Maidstone's own area of south-east Thames, trade union nominees have been weeded out, and vetoed by regional health authorities for having the temerity to stand against cuts in the Health Service.

In my own region, the west midlands, there were three candidates last year — George Evans for Wolverhampton, Marilyn York for Bromsgrove and Redditch and Raghib Ahsan, who was already a member of the West Birmingham health authority. Two of those three were the only woman and the only ethnic minority candidate proposed for the district health authorities. They were vetoed by the regional health authority as part of the process of weeding out opposition on those bodies. Although Marilyn York gained a position in another health authority, George Evans and Raghib Ahsan were vetoed, as was John Dempsey, a National Union of Public Employees full-time official who was nominated for a regional health authority seat.

I can think of legions of examples which, with the under-funding of the Health Service and draconian methods of management, locally and regionally, have no doubt fuelled the anger of health workers in recent years. No doubt many health workers would have some initial sympathy with the move to abolish regional health authorities. A better response, however, would be to campaign for the democratisation of an expanded Health Service, which should include the present peripheral, privately owned institutions, all the way from abortion clinics to the drug companies themselves. The majority of district and regional health authorities ought to be elected and accountable, with, in turn, a majority of their seats reserved for health workers and other trade unionists. Local authorities should have direct representation so as to represent the interests of the population at large. At some stage of his or her adult life everyone is a consumer of the National Health Service, barring of course the Tory Cabinet.

Clearly, the Government would want some representation to secure a reasonable, even distribution, based on specific regional problems. There should be direct representation from the districts to the regional health authorities. In other words, control and management should extend from the bottom up, with the full involvement of ordinary working people, and not Tory placemen. These proposals are outlined in a private Member's Bill, which I support, which has been brought in by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon). I refer in particular to clause 6 of the National Health Service (Improved Provision of Services) Bill.

There can hardly be any family left untouched by the crisis in the National Health Service, which the Prime Minister again refused to admit today. During the past three months I have brought examples before the House from Coventry ranging from delayed heart operations for babies to the proposed closure of one of the city hospitals specialising in geriatric care and, in some cases, to undignified reductions such as the complete curtailment of supplies of incontinence pads. I told the House of a constituent who, before Christmas, was drying out on a radiator used incontinence pads for her elderly mother because of district health authority cuts. The root cause of that is not administration, but the financial cuts imposed by the Government.

Of the 21 OECD countries, the United Kingdom is 17th on the list — only Spain, Portugal, Greece and New Zealand spend less on health. One of the consequences of that is that for the first time since 1970 the number of deaths of infants between the ages of 28 days and 12 months is rising in England and Wales. The huge problems faced daily by patients, families and Health Service workers are light years away from the Secretary of State for Social Services, who goes into a private hospital at £1,000 a week when he gets ill, and from the Prime Minister, who, in her three periods of illness during her term of office, has used private care on each occasion.

In the past eight years under-funding has totalled £1·5 billion, as estimated by the Select Committee on Social Services. The Government will claim that they spend more money — we heard that again today during Question Time. However, taking into account inflation, the extra cost of drugs and equipment, which the Government estimate to be rising faster than inflation, the Government's estimates of the rising population of the elderly, and the increased sickness, which is due to their policies, it is clear that their 2 per cent. real growth targets are not being met.

In the west midlands, James Ackers, the regional health authority chairman, said that the authority is underfunded by £40 million this year on pay awards alone. The £6–7 million that the authority received before Christmas is pathetically inadequate.

The deep and widespread opposition to the Government's cavalier attitude to the Health Service, ranging from the 40,000—signature petition in Coventry against the closure of Whitley hospital, to the half-day strike in the city last November, to the increasingly spontaneous decisions of health workers to step up their action in defence of the Health Service and their own working conditions and wages, was perhaps best evidenced last night in the constituency of the former Secretary of State for Social Services—Sutton Coldfield —when the workers at Goodhope hospital voted that, if the closure proposals for the accident and emergency services at that hospital are not withdrawn, they will occupy and work in the hospital, with the backing of the area consultant, to take out of the hands of this Government the decision whether or not health facilities should be given to working people in our areas.

The responsibility for co-ordinating this action and supporting it around the country now lies, in my view, with the Trades Union Congress, which should bring together the regional action of workers into a one-day national strike against the Government to warn them that it is our Health Service, not theirs. The Bill should be rejected.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 ( Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):—

The House divided: Ayes 88, Noes 91.

Division No. 153]

[3.48 pm


Aitken, JonathanHunter, Andrew
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Irvine, Michael
Ashby, DavidIrving, Charles
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)Janman, Timothy
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyJones, Robert B (Herts W)
Beggs, RoyJopling, Rt Hon Michael
Bevan, David GilroyKellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Boswell, TimKennedy, Charles
Bowis, JohnKilfedder, James
Brazier, JulianKirkwood, Archy
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Lawrence, Ivan
Butler, ChrisLloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Carrington, MatthewMcCrindle, Robert
Cartwright, JohnMcNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Mans, Keith
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Marlow, Tony
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Davis, David (Boothferry)Moss, Malcolm
Day, StephenNeale, Gerrard
Dover, DenPage, Richard
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Fearn, RonaldRedwood, John
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Rost, Peter
Fookes, Miss JanetRowe, Andrew
Forth, EricShaw, David (Dover)
French, DouglasShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb)
Gill, ChristopherShephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Glyn, Dr AlanSteel, Rt Hon David
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesStern, Michael
Gow, IanSummerson, Hugo
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Thorne, Neil
Harris, DavidThornton, Malcolm
Haselhurst, AlanTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Hayes, JerryTredinnick, David
Heddle, JohnVaughan, Sir Gerard
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Holt, RichardWalker, Bill (T'side North)
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)Warren, Kenneth
Howells, GeraintWatts, John
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)Wells, Bowen

Widdecombe, Miss AnnTellers for the Ayes:
Wiggin, JerryMr. Nicholas Bennett and
Mr. Simon Burns.


Abbott, Ms DianeKirkhope, Timothy
Anderson, DonaldLamond, James
Ashley, Rt Hon JackLeadbitter, Ted
Ashton, JoeLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Loyden, Eddie
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)McAllion, John
Barron, KevinMcAvoy, Tom
Benn, Rt Hon TonyMcCartney, Ian
Boateng, PaulMcKay, Allen (Penistone)
Boyes, RolandMadden, Max
Buchan, NormanMahon, Mrs Alice
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Maxton, John
Campbell-Savours, D. N.Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Carttiss, MichaelMeacher, Michael
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Meale, Alan
Clay, BobMichie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Clelland, DavidMoonie, Dr Lewis
Corbett, RobinMullin, Chris
Corbyn, JeremyNellist, Dave
Crowther, StanO'Neill, Martin
Cryer, BobPatchett, Terry
Dalyell, TarnPike, Peter
Darling, AlastairPrimarolo, Ms Dawn
Doran, FrankRadice, Giles
Evans, John (St Helens N)Richardson, Ms Jo
Faulds, AndrewRobertson, George
Favell, TonyRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)Sedgemore, Brian
Fisher, MarkSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Flannery, MartinShore, Rt Hon Peter
Flynn, PaulShort, Clare
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelSkinner, Dennis
Fyfe, Mrs MariaSoley, Clive
Garrett, John (Norwich South)Spearing, Nigel
George, BruceSteinberg, Gerald
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)Strang, Gavin
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Haynes, FrankThomas, Dafydd Elis
Heffer, Eric S.Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Hinchliffe, DavidWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Home Robertson, JohnWilson, Brian
Hood, JamesWinnick, David
Hoyle, DougWorthington, Anthony
Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Tellers for the Noes:
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)Mr. Harry Cohen and
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)Mr. Pat Wall.
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald

Question accordingly negatived.

Royal Prerogative

3.59 pm

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise with you a major constitutional question arising from the gross abuse of the royal prerogative by Ministers in the following respects. It is now clear that, by royal prerogative, members of the security services are allowed to break the law. It is also clear that Ministers will exempt people who so do on the grounds of the national security, again using the royal prerogative. It is also clear that Ministers will go to the courts and claim national security and will win judgments, such as that given by the Master of the Rolls, on the groundss of royal prerogative.

In this House, questions on security are refused by the Table on the grounds of national security under the royal prerogative. If hon. Members raise this matter in the House it will be sub judice under the royal prerogative, and if hon. Members draw conclusions from it and use words that are plain in the English dictionary to describe it, they are suspended for using unparliamentary language.

I make my point briefly at your request, Mr. Speaker, but I genuinely believe that the abuse of the royal prerogative by this Government has negated the rights, and responsibilities of the House of Commons, which we elected you to defend. I do not ask you to respond today, but I ask you to consider carefully the points that I have made, which are all founded in established fact and records, and to consider how best the House can defend itself against a major evasion of the Government's manifest constitutional responsibility to the Parliament elected by the people of this country.

Order. Before we go any further, may I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I shall carefully consider what he said, but I should like to have more details about what he has in mind.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I provide the detailed and precise points that we would like you to consider? Sir John Donaldson, the Master of the Rolls, said that law-breaking by the Security Service, MI5, was in the public interest—

Order. That matter is sub judice and we cannot discuss it on the Floor of the House.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You asked for more information—

Order. I did not call the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). Mr. Campbell-Savours.

Further to that point of order Mr. Speaker. Perhaps I can help you. You may have noticed that over the past seven days I have tabled innumerable questions on the royal prerogative and its use. If you study the answers that have been given, you will notice that there is ambiguity in the replies. I know that you will say, legitimately, that answers from Ministers are not a matter for the Chair. However, I put it to you that this is not a minor question. The answers are significant, in the way that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has suggested, because they have a constitutional importance. There are people throughout the world who are observing those replies because they have implications not only for our Parliament but for other Parliaments throughout the Commonwealth. May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider those answers and make the necessary representations to Ministers?

Order. I should have no time to do anything else if I studied all the written answers. I have no intention of doing that. If all the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have raised these matters would kindly put their points in writing, I shall, of course, gladly consider the matter.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is the right of Parliament to ask Ministers about any form of public activity. That is one of the jobs of Parliament. If that was not one of the roles that we play, Parliament would be very much eroded and undermined. I am asking you to rule on a matter of great public importance—our right to question the activities of the security and intelligence services when we believe that there may be serious allegations of law-breaking.

As I understand the law — I am sure that you will correct me if I am wrong, Mr. Speaker — all public servants have a duty and responsibility to uphold the law. Parliament has not given any public servant the right to break the law. I am referring, not simply to the exchanges that we had yesterday, but to wider issues. If there is a genuine feeling in Government circles that the security and intelligence services are in a position to break the law, and that the law that we are all supposed to uphold does not apply to the security and intelligence services, are we, as Members of Parliament, not able to ask Ministers about that? That would mean that the security and intelligence services would be acting illegally and were not being prosecuted for such activities, and we, as well as the press, would be gagged, because we would have no way of questioning Ministers. It is an important issue.

Order. I sense that this is a continuation of what went on yesterday. [Interruption.] Order. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) addressed his point of order to me.

There is every reason why the Government should be questioned on security matters, as they were yesterday. I cannot rule on a general proposition, but I say yet again that if right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will specify their points in writing, I will look into them.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), referred to one of my hon. Friends as Hitler. I imagine that that is most unparliamentary—

Order. The best thing that we can do is get on with the debate on the Army.

Order. Does the hon. Gentleman wish to take up the time of his colleagues who want to speak in the debate? If he does, I shall have to bear that in mind.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to raise with you the question of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, for which you have a special responsibility. The CPA is made up of representatives of all the Parliaments throughout the Commonwealth. I put it to you that there are interests in Parliaments throughout the Commonwealth that mirror the interests that are raised in this Parliament. The issue of the royal prerogative will be debated in other Parliaments.

Order. I have already said that if the hon. Gentleman will specify his point, I will consider it.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There has been a plethora of allegations, particularly in recent months, about the activities of the security services against past Labour Governments. I know that this is not original, but it is appropriate to this series of points of order. According to the rules of the House, it seems that if something happened in the past, in the 1970s, it is history; if it is happening at the moment, it is sub judice; and if it will happen in the future it is hypothetical. I have been elected, not just once, but several times, by 50,000 people in Coventry, South-East to come here and scrutinise the activities of Ministers. How can I do that with those constrictions on my activities?

The hon. Gentleman is bound by the Standing Orders and rules of the House on these matters. There are plenty of opportunities to raise these matters.

I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.

I cannot answer the right hon. Gentleman's questions, because I do not know what he is talking about.

To save you having to read a lot of documents Mr. Speaker, may I put the point to you simply? If the House and you, Mr. Speaker, accept that anything that the Government define, including theft and murder, as covered by national security cannot be debated, the House and you personally are reduced to impotent witnesses of actions by an unaccountable Government. You do not have to read the papers or any documents or written answers to appreciate the vitality and importance of the point that is being made.

Order. I realise the importance of the matter, and I am the first to protect the right of Back Benchers to ask questions, provided that they are within our regulations. I shall continue so to do.

The Army

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Ryder.]

4.9 pm

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

Just over 175 years ago, the Duke of Wellington said:

"The country must have a large and efficient army, one capable of meeting the enemy abroad, or they must expect to meet him at home."
After successive years of growth in the defence budget, and in the capabilities of the Army, the British soldier is better equipped, better trained and more highly professional than he has ever been. I am confident that the Iron Duke would immediately recognise the same great fighting spirit that is to be found in the British Army today as it was in his time.

The development of the Army must be considered against the wider background of East-West relations. The intermediate nuclear forces treaty, which was signed by the United States and the USSR last December, is a milestone, especially because of the precedent that it so clearly establishes for asymmetrical reductions and intrusive verification regimes which will he of central importance as we move forward to discuss conventional and chemical arms control — both sectors in which the Soviets have clear advantages.

The Alliance strategy of extended nuclear deterrence and flexible response remains unchanged. All the necessary ingredients of flexible response — strong conventional forces, theatre and intermediate nuclear forces, and strategic nuclear forces — remain in place and, as before, the potential aggressor faces a range of possible NATO reactions to aggression which he cannot calculate with precision in advance, and which face him with unacceptable risk.

It is right that, with the treaty signed, closer attention is focusing on the conventional disparities. We must recall that the central security problem for western Europe has been, and remains, the massive military power of the Soviet Union in central Europe—especially its capability to mount an invasion of western Europe at short notice.

The Warsaw pact continues to modernise its conventional and nuclear forces facing us in cental Europe. By any standards, its superiority is substantial —twice as many soldiers as NATO, more than twice as many main battle tanks, three times the artillery, twice as many tactical fixed-wing aircraft and several thousand assault and ground attack helicopters.

Nor is it simply a case, as some have claimed, of Warsaw pact quantity opposing NATO quality. In recent years, the Warsaw pact has made very extensive improvements to its conventional forces, concentrating in particular on enhancing the firepower and mobility of its offensive systems, such as tanks and artillery. For example, improved tanks are now appearing in the group of Soviet forces in Germany fitted with explosive reactive armour, which pose a significant extra threat, as the armour is more difficult to penetrate. The T64B and T80 are equipped with a 125 mm smooth-bore gun, which is capable of firing anti-tank guided missiles as well as conventional rounds.

More effective helicopters are also appearing, with two new attack helicopters about to enter service. The number of heavier calibre artillery pieces based in eastern Europe is roughly double what it was in 1981. The 152 mm howitzer not only uses a more effective conventional round, but is capable of firing nuclear rounds.

At the same time, the Soviets' concerted development of the infrastructure of command, control and communications will enhance the flexibility and quicken the reaction time of the Warsaw pact forces, increasing their capability to make rapid and deep offensive thrusts. Its possession of a wide spectrum of chemical weapons remains a most significant threat. It is unmatched on our part, thus giving its forces a considerable potential advantage in the light of our inability to respond in kind to a chemical attack.

Those factors, together with the potential aggressor's ability to select the time and place of attack to achieve an overwhelming local superiority, presents a formidable challenge to NATO forces committed not to be the first to use force. The British Army of the Rhine makes a major contribution to NATO's response to that challenge.

The centrepiece of the Army's contribution to NATO and the forward defence of the United Kingdom is its role in the central region within the Northern Army Group known as NORTHAG. BAOR consists of 1st British Corps and supporting elements to provide the necessary logistic support. The BAOR peacetime strength is 55.000, and that will be increased to 56,000 by the end of the decade. BAOR is the most tangible evidence of the Government's continued commitment to the forward defence of Europe. Three armoured divisions, containing seven armoured brigades, an airmobile brigade and substantial numbers of supporting corps troops, ate in place in peacetime.

On mobilisation, the numbers in BAOR would he increased to more than 150,000 by the movement, from the United Kingdom to the Federal Republic, of 2nd Infantry Division, containing one regular infantry brigade and two territorial infantry brigades, and other units.

The NORTHAG area covers northern Germany, roughly from the Ruhr to the coast. Within that area 1st British Corps is responsible for a 60-km wide sector of the front. The Commander-in-Chief BAOR also carried the NATO appointment of Commander NORTHAG.

Since the adoption of the strategy of forward defence and flexible response by NATO in 1967, NORTHAG has planned to fight its defensive battle as far to the east as possible. But continuing improvements in Soviet firepower and developments in its military doctrine have led to its placing great emphasis on the concentration of forces to achieve surprise and local superiority.

With regard to BAOR, has the Minister seen the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General which was issued by the National Audit Office a week or two ago? Does he accept that there is room for economies in BAOR, as is suggested in the report? Will he say whether he thinks that that is the case?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it is normal to wait until the Public Accounts Committee has considered the report arid responded in the normal way through a Treasury minute. We should not anticipate what the PAC has to say on that subject.

The hon. Gentleman is asking me to anticipate the PAC's report. As he is a member of the PAC, that is a rather surprising request.

I am not asking the hon. Gentleman to anticipate a report of the PAC; I am asking him to respond to a report that has been produced by the National Audit Office, which makes a number of statements. I am asking for his comments.

The National Audit Office's report will be considered by the PAC, which presumably will then give its views. When it has done so, as is the convention, the Government will respond.

A new concept for the defence of the NORTHAG area has therefore been devised to respond to the new developments in Soviet firepower and changes in its military doctrine.

The essence of the new concept is to place greater emphasis on the selection and defence of the most vital areas, the employment of reserve formations, tactical flexibility and mobility and close co-operation with allied air forces. Limited penetration into NATO territory would be accepted to expose the flanks of the enemy to a variety of counter-moves using reserve formations. That does not imply any abandonment of the principle of forward defence, which remains a fundamental tenet of NATO strategy. Nor does it imply a willingness to abandon West German territory to an invader. But it recognises that force improvements to the various national corps, including 1st British Corps, will permit the adoption of a more mobile tactical concept within the overall strategy of flexible response and forward defence.

The new concept places increased emphasis on the need for strong armoured reserves. In order to strengthen 1st British Corps reserve, 6 Brigade, which at present has two non-mechanised infantry battalions only, will be converted to an armoured brigade, starting in April this year.

Over the past four years, 6 Brigade has been carrying out an extensive trial as an airmobile formation. Such a formation provides a highly mobile force strong in infantry anti-armour weapons, which can be moved by RAF support helicopters at short notice to respond to an enemy penetration. It can delay such a penetration until the main armoured reserve can be brought to bear. The trial has fully validated this concept and has shown the potential for further development of airmobile operations. It has therefore been decided to transfer this important role to 24 Infantry Brigade, which is based at Catterick and is part of 2 Infantry Division.

Unlike 6 Brigade, 24 Brigade will be specifically organised and equipped for its new primary role. It will incorporate an Army Air Corps regiment equipped with Lynx helicopters in the utility role and fitted with TOW missiles in the anti-tank role. The brigade depends for its effectiveness on RAF support squadrons. RAF Puma and Chinook will provide the support helicopter lift until the 1990s, when EH101 enters service and becomes the brigade's prime mover. Six Brigade, working with helicopter squadrons from RAF Germany, has already demonstrated the outstanding operational results that can be produced by close inter-service co-operation. The developmeent of an airmobile force for use in the central region of Europe from the present early stages on into the next century presents a challenging and exciting new role for the Army.

I must also mention two exercises that took place in BAOR. Exercise Keystone provided an opportunity for the United Kingdom-based 2 Infantry Division to practise its operational role in BAOR in conjunction with elements of 1st British Corps and troops from Belgium and the Federal Republic of Germany. Some 19,000 men travelled to BAOR for this exercise, of whom some 12,500 were members of the Territorial Army. The exercise demonstrated not only their commitment and enthusiasm but also their professionalism and expertise, which enables them to fulfil a front-line role alongside regular soldiers

Some 7,000 British troops were among the 78,000 troops who took part in Exercise Certain Strike, in which 3rd US Corps practised its deployment from the United States to continental Europe, as would happen in war.

The exercise demonstrated the ability and determination of the United States to reinforce Europe in war, and the extensive allied co-operation at many different levels of command. The exercise was under the command of General Sir Martin Farndale; and this was the first time that such an exercise had been run by a non-American. It proved to be an outstanding success from every point of view and in particular it fully validated the NORTHAG concept to which I have already referred.

Exercises also provide an invaluable opportunity to test the reliability of our equipment. I am glad to say that recently the Army has received a large amount of new equipment. Over the first eight years of this Government the Army programme has been expanded by more than £4 billion in real terms at 1987–88 prices. That excludes expenditure directly attributable to the Falklands conflict. The greatly enhanced strength and capability of our forces, especially the front-line units, are the results of the massive investment.

Of course, that does not mean that we will not face difficult choices in the future. It will always be necessary to establish relative priorities in our forward plans, as part of our normal planning process. The improvements that have already been made to our forces, however, are evidence that we are getting the decisions right. Whereas BAOR had eight armoured regiments in 1980, by the end of the decade there will be 12.

There will be a third air defence regiment, equipped with the new high velocity Starstreak missile. Six Brigade, following its successful trial in the airmobile role, will from 1988 be re-equipped with Challenger and Warrior and return to its former mechanised status and 52 Field Squadron Royal Engineers will be moved in 1989 from the United Kingdom to RAF Bruggen in Germany. It will be our first in-theatre airfield damage repair squadron and its presence will considerably improve the operational availability of our aircraft by ensuring that the runways and other facilities on which they depend are kept open during hostilities.

The bulk of the increase in resources, however, has gone on new equipment. I should therefore like to say a bit more about what that money has bought and is buying for us — not simply with a recitation of new items of equipment coming into service, but by setting the items in their operational context and against the background of our continuing aim of achieving greater value for money in procurement.

Taking armoured vehicles first, deliveries for the fifth Challenger regiment will shortly be completed. Tanks for the sixth Challenger regiment are on their way and those for the seventh have been ordered. A replacement for the remaining Chieftain tanks is now under active consideration. Ten battalions-worth of Saxon armoured personnel carriers and 13 Warrior infantry combat vehicles have been ordered. Most of the Saxon battalions are already in service and we expect nearly three Warrior battalions to come into service this year. With its Chobham armour, Challenger is among the best protected main battle tanks in the world and we are engaged in a major programme to improve its main armament and fire control systems to preserve and enhance its capability to engage and destroy enemy armoured vehicles.

I am happy to say that the infantry have not been neglected. With the introduction of Warrior, not only do we have a vehicle that is the result of a highly successful competitive procurement; we provide our infantry with greater protection, greater mobility and, with the Rarden 30 mm cannon, greater firepower. The introduction of this very capable vehicle will enable our infantry battalions to work more closely and effectively with our armoured regiments. The infantryman's indivdual weaponry has also been improved. The introduction of the SA80 rifle has given him a weapon which is lighter and more accurate than the SLR, and which uses the standard NATO calibre of ammunition.

I have just had a meeting with my local regiment, the Queen's Regiment, which is on its way to Ulster. The men were re-equipped with the rifle just six weeks ago. They were telling me that, so successful is the new weapon, on the ranges their proportion of marksman and, indeed, ordinary passes has been transformed.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks, which confirm what I was about to say. The new weapon is popular with the soldier and impressive improvements in marksmanship have been achieved where the rifle has been used in place of its predecessor. Whereas an average of 8 per cent. of recruits would reach army marksmen standard using the SLR, the figure for the SA80 is 50 per cent.

In addition, this year will see the introduction into service of the LAW80 anti-tank weapon. This man-portable one-shot launcher will enable a single soldier to destroy the most advanced Soviet armed vehicles.

On air defence, I have already spoken of the new Starstreak missile. It is a highly capable weapon which will provide effective point defence of key units and installations against a wide range of air threats. A number of our existing Rapier area air defence missile systems are being updated to improve their night and poor weather capability, and our planned introduction of Rapier 2000, with its eight-rail launcher and improved ECCM, will represent a quantum jump increase in this capability area. We also plan to introduce the air defence alerting device which, by giving early warning of an air threat, will enable our missile crews to get into action much more quickly.

The creation of three multiple-launch rocket system regiments will vastly increase the firepower of our artillery and will enable our forces to engage targets and interdict movement behind the enemy's forward battle area with heavy firepower.

However, before the Army can fight its enemy, it must find him, and on the modern battlefield it is not enough to wait for him to appear in one's sights. We have therefore ordered a new medium range surveillance and target acquisition radar to replace the old ZB298 battlefield radar, and the Phoenix remotely piloted air vehicle for surveillance and target acquisition is due to be introduced in the next few years. Both these systems, incidentally, were procured after successful competitions had been held.

In the mobile battle, the importance of command and control functions will be heightened by the speed and fluidity of operations. The Army's major investment in command, control and communications in past years has been designed to meet this requirement. It has given it, for example, Ptarmigan, a mobile secure trunk communications system which proved its worth in the recent major reinforcement exercise, Certain Strike, when its ability to handle a vast quantity of messages reliably and rapidly, and so enable commanders to respond quickly and surely to events as they develop, clearly demonstrated why that and other systems like it are known as force multipliers.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Will he explain to the House whether Ptarmigan is compatible with other systems used by our NATO allies, or do we have a series of systems which are not compatible arid which, at present, do not dovetail together but simply work as separate entities?

The intention is certainly to have as much inter-communication ability as can be contrived within our own forces—the next one I am coming to is the Wavell system — as well as between forces. Incidentally, it is interesting that during exercise Certain Strike the performance of Ptarmigan was particularly praised by the Americans, who saw it in use for the first time then. Ptarmigan has cost us about £1·25 billion. Similarly, our air defences will be considerably enhanced by the introduction of ADCIS, another command system designed to enable fire units to engage enemy aircraft more effectively.

Alone, the main items of equipment that I have highlighted represent an expenditure of well over £6 billion by this Government on equipment for the Army and are themselves only a part of the wider programme of development and purchase that we have undertaken and are continuing.

Will the Minister say a few words on this interesting contract BATES, battlefield artillery target engagement system, or words to that effect? Will he tell us what is happening in terms of the investigation by Ministry of Defence police into Marconi on that contract? Will he give us an assurance that no obstruction will be placed before the MOD police in carrying out those inquiries and that it will be made most clear to the Director of Public Prosecutions, when finally the report on that and other Marconi contracts is placed before him, that the Government expect a prosecution?

The hon. Gentleman is always ingenious in finding moments to raise points which he finds of particular interest. As he knows, we have had exchanges on this issue before. He knows that the MOD police in this inquiry are acting under the direction of the Director of Public Prosecutions, so questions on that matter would be for my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General—[Interruption.] In an inquiry of this nature, the MOD police act under the Director of Public Prosecutions, who is, of course, answerable to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General.

I was talking about the £6 billion expended by this Government on equipment for the Army. That is only part of a wider programme. Examples of other recent orders are thermal imaging sights and new NBC protective equipment. The new generation of military bridging ordered last year is another example of a successful procurement where the application of competition has yielded estimated savings of 26 per cent. of the final cost. We expect to place orders for 16 Lynx light battlefield helicopters in the near future, which will provide additional support for airmobile operations now to be conducted by 24 Brigade.

I do not say that any of that is extraordinary, or that the last year, by itself, stood out in any special sense from those preceding it. Military programmes are planned so that expenditure is spread from one year to the next, each year being in itself only one step in the continuous process of keeping the Army's equipment up to date.

Although much of the equipment that I have mentioned is being deployed with our forces in Germany, a great deal is also going to equip the 60,000 soldiers engaged in the vital task of defending the United Kingdom which, of course, is a vital role. The United Kingdom also provides key ports, airfields and other operational facilities for the assembly, transit and launching of reinforcements to the NATO forces on the continent. We plan to hold later this year a series of military home defence exercises, within the separate Army districts, to test defences against sabotage or attack.

Many of the men committed to home defence are Territorial Army and Home Service Force personnel serving alongside regular reservists and Regular Army personnel. The continuing build-up in the strength and capabilities of our reserve forces demonstrates the importance we attach to home defence. One important initiative last year was the establishment of the National Employer Liaison Committee, to give independent advice to Ministers on measures needed to maintain the support of employers for members of the volunteer reserve forces of all three services.

I am pleased to be able to inform the House of the recent decision by the States of Jersey to provide on Jersey, at local expense, a Territorial Army Royal Engineer field squadron as their contribution to the defence of the British islands. I am particularly glad that this contribution will consist of a formed unit made up of citizens of Jersey. As such it will be a valuable and tangible witness to Jersey's commitment to defence and of its resolve to pay its way. Setting up a unit from scratch can be a lengthy business and there are dangers in seeking to go too fast. However, Ministry of Defence experts will give the advice and assistance required to ensure that an effective field squadron will be established in Jersey as soon as is practicable.

I am sure that the House will wish to join in paying tribute to the men and women who give up their free time to train for the defence of this country. This Government will continue to support all efforts to recruit and sustain the Territorial Army so that it can fulfil its role in the Army's order of battle.

The services' commitment to Northern Ireland continues to be substantial. The Army, including, of course, the Ulster Defence Regiment, together with the Navy and Air Force, carry out a vital role in supporting the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the fight against terrorism. I am sure that the whole House will join in expressing our admiration for the way in which our service men and women perform that difficult task with dedication and bravery in the face of dangerous and trying circumstances. It is a tribute to the professionalism of all involved that they maintain steady progress in bringing terrorists to justice and thwarting terrorist acts of murder and destruction. One measure of that is the fact that in 1987 over 250 weapons were found and nearly 10 tonnes of explosives were found or neutralised — the highest total since 1976.

Sadly, there has been a price to pay for those successes. During 1987, 11 soldiers were killed and 26 wounded in terrorist attacks. Eight of those killed and nine of those wounded were members of the UDR. The fact that all the UDR dead were murdered while off duty speaks volumes for the courage of the men and women who continue to serve even in the face of a relentless threat to their lives both on and off duty. We must not forget that that threat continues even after they leave the regiment. A former member of the UDR was murdered in June—he had left the regiment in April.

Mention must also be made of the bravery of the bomb disposal teams, who were last year called to over 1,300 incidents. The courage and skill of our service personnel serving in Northern Ireland are highlighted by the fact that in 1987 they won 88 awards for gallantry, including two military medals and 76 mentions in dispatches.

The Army has also continued to provide two additional battalions over the past year to enhance the flexibility of the security forces in countering the terrorist threat.

Is it correct that the bomb disposal team has been used on the other side of the border?

I have no knowledge of such an event. If the hon. Gentleman has some suggestion to that effect, perhaps he could let us know the circumstances in which he thinks it occurred.

As I said, the Army has continued to provide two additional battalions over the past year to enhance the flexibility of our forces. The need for those additional battalions, together with the level of service support as a whole, is kept under constant review. There are currently over 10,000 regular and some 6,500 UDR personnel in Northern Ireland, and we retain the capability to reinforce at very short notice should that be required.

Last Thursday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced that he had, with the Chief Constable and the GOC, reviewed the deployment of the security forces in the Province. As a result of this review, a new brigade headquarters will shortly be established, to be concerned with the border areas, leaving the existing two brigades responsible for supporting the RUC in the rest of the Province. As part of the ceaseless quest for new and better ways of tackling violence and banishing the spectre of terrorism from Northern Ireland, I believe that these new arrangements will make a valuable contribution.

Can I ask the Minister about the allegation made by Mr. Frank Turner on "QED' that he supplied army equipment, including berets, to the Royal Ulster Constabulary and that they were delivered to Ulster by van from a site in Kent? Will the Minister explain to what possible use he believes RUC personnel would want to put British Army equipment, other than covert activity?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could let me have more details about this allegation. I am not familiar with the details of the suggestion that there was delivery to Northern Ireland.

Turning now to matters further from home, we maintain a number of garrisons overseas—including, of course, our forces in the Falklands. Britain also provides military training and advice to many countries, particularly in areas of the world where we have traditional ties. The scale of Army military assistance has been growing steadily in recent years and now totals 360 service men on loan service in 23 different countries. In addition, many more service men are used on short-term advisory visits.

The nature and type of military assistance varies widely. Sometimes the personnel are integrated into the armed forces of the country concerned. In Belize, Brunei and Oman, for example, we have made available a number of personnel for operational and command appointments. The trend, however, is towards largely training and advisory roles for our loan service personnel, working in self-contained teams which concentrate on the development of one or more aspects of military organisation or training. These teams may vary considerably in size and in the scope of their activities, from personnel on longterm loan to short-term visits by advisory teams such as the REME team that visited Mauritius and the infantry team that trained members of the Royal Lesotho defence force. During the last year, an Army team has been helping to train the new Gambian army and bring it up to its full establishment.

We have also provided personnel in support of sales of British defence equipment, including those to Saudi Arabia, and a team is now established in Indonesia in support of Rapier sales. It is often necessary to provide this training to back up sales of the United Kingdom's advanced defence technology on which so many jobs in Britain depend.

The Army has again given valuable help to the civil community in 1987.

Are Defence Ministers happy about the efficacy of the end user system? There have been various undertakings to review it, particularly in view of arms finding their way to the markets of Peshawar in Pakistan.

If the hon. Gentleman knows of cases of misuse, perhaps he will let me know about them. However, he will be aware that it has been the practice of successive Governments not to comment on such issues.

In the wake of the storms in October, service men, and the Army in particular, provided over 5,000 man days of aid, and some 700 vehicles were employed in tasks ranging from the clearance of fallen trees from roads, railways and power cables, to the delivery of meals to old-age pensioners, and the provision of generators to hospitals and farms.

Army personnel were also involved with the provision of medical support and general administrative assistance in the aftermath of the tragic sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise at Zeebrugge early last year.

Our explosive ordnance disposal teams continue to clear both munitions left over from the last war and devices planted by terrorists. Of more than 3,000 incidents which were reported, one of the most spectacular was a 1,000 lb world war two bomb discovered near Tower bridge, in Bermondsey, on 29 June, which required nearly two days' work by the Royal Engineers to make it safe. The calm courage of these men deserves our highest praise.

The Royal Engineers were also involved in disaster relief operations in the Cook Islands, Vanuatu and Bermuda. The Queen's Gurkha Engineers assisted the Royal New Zealand Engineers with rehabilitation work in the Cook Islands following cyclone Sally in January. In March, they also produced a team, supplemented by sappers from the United Kingdom, to help in the aftermath of cyclone Uma in Vanuatu. In Hong Kong, the Queen's Gurkha Engineers cleared 1,000 tonnes of mud and boulders in 17 hours after a landslide blocked a road at Kwai Chung in July. A Royal Engineers officer also advised the authorities in Bermuda after hurricane Emily in September.

In conclusion, as I have said, the Army's main role is to form part of the United Kingdom's contribution to NATO, but it may be called on to perform other tasks, for example, the defence of British interests overseas. A soldier may be required to confront terrorists in Northern Ireland, to train to fight in the jungles of Belize or the chillier climate of the south Atlantic, to help restore hurricane damage on a remote Pacific island, or to aid the civil community a t home. The skills required to meet this wide range of demands calls for physical fitness and mental flexibility, and the highest degree of professionalism, training and dedication. The last 12 months have witnessed a fair, but by no means untypical, test of the flexibility of our soldiers in dealing with unexpected challenges, as well as the complete spectrum of operational tasks and training. We can rightly be proud of the Army's achievements.

4.45 pm

The Minister paid tribute to the professionalism of our armed forces, the Territorial Army and the reserve forces and, I am glad to say, especially to the bomb disposal units for their bravery and professionalism. I join him in those tributes. As his speech showed, the British Army still carries out its duties and tasks in many different parts of the globe, from Ireland to Belize and from Berlin to Hong Kong. However, as the hon. Gentleman recognised at the beginning and end of his speech, the British Army is now, in the main, a European army and perhaps more of a European force than either the Royal Air Force or the Royal Navy.

Fifty-five thousand troops live in West Germany with their families and are committed, first of all, to the defence of the Federal Republic as part of NATO. Obviously, many troops based in Britain would rapidly be transported to the central front if war broke out in that part of Europe. The Minister spent some time on this point, and I shall concentrate on the Army's commitment to NATO and consider how that commitment may change as the political realities in Europe change over the next few years.

The Army's duties and tasks in Europe, and the military strategy that governs its operations, are affected by a number of factors. Some of them are wholly within the British Government's control, some of them are partly within the British Government's control and, frankly, some of them are totally outside the British Government's control. As always, the Army is dependent upon the money that the Government provide for it from the budget and, as the House well knows—the Minister mentioned this — is increasingly dependent on the modern equipment that that money can buy.

The Army's strategy is affected, not by the military strategy that the Government might wish to lay down, but by the strategy of NATO. Almost since the inception of NATO that strategy has been substantially fashioned by political and military priorities as seen in the Federal Republic of Germany. The Army's role in future is bound to be affected by the political relationships between the super-powers and by the consequences of any arms reduction agreements, both nuclear and conventional, that may be reached between the super-powers and also between the members of NATO and the members of the Warsaw pact. The Minister mentioned briefly the conventional arms talks.

The Minister did not say very much about money, and one can understand that. Last week's public expenditure White Paper confirmed what we all know. The "Statement on the Defence Estimates" made it clear that expenditure on defence over the past few years has been declining, is now declining and will continue to decline, certainly until 1990. Some have estimated that that reduction comes to about 2·5 per cent. in real terms. That is on the basis of what I would describe as the general rate of inflation, but since the cost of defence equipment, often, although not entirely, because of technological advances and changes, tends to increase faster than the general rate of inflation, the reduction in expenditure must be, and is, greater than 2·5 per cent.

While general defence expenditure is now declining, expenditure on nuclear weapons is apparently increasing rapidly. In 1979–80, expenditure on nuclear weapons to which the Government admit — official expenditure —was about 1·5 per cent. of the defence budget. This year that expenditure is 4·7 per cent. of the defence budget, and it is rising rapidly — an increase of 300 per cent. Of course, that is not all the expenditure on nuclear weapons; it is only the expenditure of money wholly and exclusively on nuclear weapons. As I understand it, there is no apportionment in the official figures of expenditure on nuclear and conventional matters. Therefore, we are seeing a decline in the total defence budget, but a dramatic increase in the money spent by the Government on nuclear weapons, at the expense of our conventional defences.

The Minister is responsible for procurement, and he spent some time dealing with equipment. Over the next few years, as the Government well know, much of the British Army's present equipment will have to be replaced, at a considerable cost. The Minister said a lot about tanks, but not what we wanted to hear. The reality is that 900 old Chieftain tanks will soon have to be replaced with new Challenger tanks. Some people unkindly say that many of the old Chieftain tanks emit so much smoke that they can be seen coming miles away. I do not know about that, but the total cost of the replacement of those 900 old Chieftain tanks at today's prices has been estimated, in the press at least, to be about £700 million. I hope that when the Minister replies he will tell us whether that is a reasonable figure.

I want to press the Government on their intention about replacing the old Chieftain tanks. Are they still thinking about buying new tanks, either from the United States or from the Federal Republic, or are they committed to placing that order with, in effect, the royal ordnance factory in Leeds? If that order is not placed, it will be a devastating blow to our defence industry. It will mean the closure of the old ordnance factory, now under new management, and would have a considerable effect on subcontractors in Britain's defence industry. I hope that when the Minister replies he will tell us a little more about the Government's intentions in relation to tanks.

The Minister mentioned briefly light armoured vehicles. As I understand it, many of those—the Fox and Ferret reconnaissance vehicles, the AFV432 personnel carrier, and some of the older Scorpion tracked vehicles —will have to be replaced. What are the proposals for the replacement of many of those vehicles?

The Minister said nothing about the so-called self-propelled howitzer. The SP70 has already cost the British taxpayer £88 million in an abortive multinational exercise. What will happen now? Will the order be placed with the United States? I believe that Vickers at Barrow and Vickers at Newcastle have put proposals to the Government. What is the Government's intention? Can the Minister at least tell us that the Government intend to buy British and to provide the Royal Artillery with the self-propelled gun that it requires and needs?

On expenditure, I raise again the Schleswig Holstein question. Perhaps I should leave that to my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley South (Mr. Hughes), who knows exactly whether Schleswig Holstein is in Denmark or in Germany, but there is a commitment to the defence of Denmark and Schleswig Holstein, and 16,000 British troops are part of that commitment. Some people —General Sir Frank Kitson is one—believe that in terms of NATO that commitment is more important than even the commitment to Norway. I do not know about that, but it is certainly an important commitment from which the Government have been trying to resile over the past year. They have been trying to move away from it and to cut down on it. I hope that when the Minister replies he will tell us exactly what is happening. Are the Government still negotiating through NATO with the Danish Government on that important NATO commitment?

The kind of equipment that the British Army needs obviously depends to a considerable extent upon NATO's collective strategy, which must be influenced by NATO's perception of the intentions of the Soviet Union—whatis described as the threat — and by the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States.

The Minister touched upon the INF agreement and uttered a few ritualistic sentences at the beginning of his speech about how flexible response was still completely sacrosanct. I wonder why the Minister felt it necessary to make those remarks. Perhaps there is some doubt or concern about it. Frankly, I do not believe that the concept of flexible response and forward defence is realistic any more. I have always believed that it was obsolete, and certainly after the INF treaty it is becoming more exposed and unrealistic. As I have said, it owed as much, if not more, to political factors in West Germany than it often did to sensible military doctrines.

There is nothing very flexible about a strategy which envisages a battlefield nuclear war in central Europe which follows about eight to 10 days of conventional hostilities. It never seemed to me a sensible military strategy, and it certainly was not flexible. After the INF agreement, that strategy is even more unrealistic.

The Prime Minister was right to call a meeting of NATO Heads of Government before President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev meet in Moscow later this year. As I understand it, there will be such a meeting at the beginning of March, and I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that when he replies. The Prime Minister wants a meeting, but she shows no signs—there was nothing in the Minister's speech, but perhaps that is too much to expect—of bringing any new thinking to that meeting. The Government are still completely wedded, as we have heard, to the concept of flexible response, despite the fact that one important element, one important rung on the ladder of flexible response, has been removed by the INF treaty, and despite the fact that there is now deep hostility, on the Right and on the Left, in the Federal Republic of Germany to battlefield nuclear weapons.

That hostility is not merely based on the fact that Germany has to accept nuclear risks. Of course, Germany has to accept nuclear risks, as do other countries in the Alliance. The hostility is based on the fact that the battlefield weapons are located solely in West Germany, on German soil, and there the nuclear war will be fought. Those weapons are the weapons most likely to be used first under the NATO strategy of first use of nuclear weapons, and they have a short range. As Chancellor Kohl's personal adviser, Dr. Werner Ruhe—we have given this quotation before and I do so again—recently said:
"The shorter the range, the deader the German."
Dr. Ruhe could also have said: "The shorter the range, the deader the British and American soldier," because this is not just an issue for the Federal Republic; it is an issue for the 55,000 British troops located and based in Germany. They will be affected by the use of battlefield nuclear weapons, the present range of many of which is such that they would not carry the shells anywhere near the inter-German border if the war were being fought on this side of the border. So it is an issue for us, but there no new thinking is coming from the Government.

New thinking is also required—the Minister touched on this, but no more—because NATO will soon have to enter into a new and different round of negotiations on conventional arms, and, I understand, it still has only a very hazy idea of how it will approach those negotiations.

The Prime Minister must make up her mind. She is obsessed with nuclear weapons; she loves them. She is obsessed with Mr. Gorbachev; she loves him. But he wants to get rid of nuclear weapons by the year 2000. The Prime Minister loves Ronnie, but Ronnie thinks nuclear weapons are immoral. She tried to act as an honest broker between President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev, but neither believes in mutually assured destruction, and neither really believes in the metaphysics of nuclear deterrence. The Prime Minister must get her act together, or Mr. Bernard Ingham must get her act together, because at present the British Government do not know what the approach to these matters should be.

I turn to the negotiations on conventional weapons. Obviously, these negotiations are bound to affect the British Army, the role that it has to play and the weaponry that it will need in the future. The negotiations give the West the opportunity to improve still further the political dialogue between Eastern and Western Europe. They provide us with an opportunity to remove the mutual fear and distrust that have existed between Eastern and Western Europe almost since the end of the second world war. They also give us an opportunity to secure significant reductions in those Warsaw pact weapons which NATO and the NATO Governments have publicly maintained they are concerned about and which have provided—at least in public—the justification for many of NATO's nuclear weapons.

If the Governments of the NATO Alliance still persist—we had an echo of this in the Minister's speech—in exaggerating Warsaw pact superiority in conventional forces, a matter on which the Government have been one of the most cynical and shameless offenders, the Alliance will find itself, if it keeps on trying to believe its own propaganda, in a terrible tangle in the conventional talks. It will fail to secure the reduction in Warsaw pact forces and weapons which it says it desires, and which I hope it really desires, and it will have lost another political initiative in Europe to Mr. Gorbachev. For the reality is that while there is Soviet supriority in some weapons, it has never been as great as Ministers have tried to make us believe.

There is set out in the admirable White Paper on defence—with true Tory logic, covered in blue, which I am glad of—a table giving a comparison of NATO and Warsaw pact forces, a table with which the right hon. Gentleman will be familiar. Is he now disputing that? Is he disputing the fact that the Russians and the other Warsaw pact countries outnumber us in tanks on the central front, with 16,700 as opposed to 7,800 NATO tanks? I do not concede that Ministers exaggerate the disparity. It is set out in the White Paper, and I have never heard it disputed before.

I have a great regard for the hon. and learned Gentleman, but he should not quote the last defence White Paper, because it was really merely an election manifesto for the Conservative party.

I shall deal with the hon. and learned Gentleman's point. There are on both sides of the House hon. Members who are members of the Western European Union. Perhaps I may refer the House to a recent assessment by WEU. These are difficult comparisons and assessments, which depend on geographical territory and so many other things, but I believe that the recent WEU study has come as close to a realistic and sensible comparison as has been attempted so far.

That assessment uses a military comparison in what WEU describes as divisional equivalents, taking account, of course, of the differences in size between the Warsaw pact and NATO divisions. The Warsaw pact has 104 divisional equivalents which are deployed on the central front or which can be readily mobilised, including those in European Russia. NATO has 76 divisional equivalents. That is a Warsaw pact advantage of less than 1·3 to 1—nothing like the 3 to 1 advantage that military men tell us is thought necessary for a successful offensive across the Elbe, across the inter-German border into western Europe.

The report, which is very fair, also emphasises other factors which must be taken into account, factors which the White Paper of course does not emphasise. As the House well knows, the capacity to wage war depends primarily on industrial strength and technological skill. If we take merely the seven WEU countries—the United States is not a member—we see that they have a far greater gross national product than the Soviet Union and the other Warsaw pact countries, and they certainly have greater technological sophistication.

Let us talk about those tanks. The WEU assessment is that the Warsaw pact has a numerical advantage in tanks of 2 to 1. I would accept WEU's analysis before I would take one from the British Government just before an election, when obviously they were trying to heighten fears on defence.

It is no good the Minister saying that the Warsaw pact tanks are a lot better now than they were a few years ago and that they have the marvellous reactive armour. I read about that the other day. I should not like to be in a Russian tank faced not only with Western explosives but surrounded by Soviet explosives as well, because reactive armour is just packages of explosives round the tank, so one gets blown up twice—once by one's own explosives, and once by those of the other side. So let us not hear too many blood-curdling speeches about reactive armour, which was invented by a West German in 1971. He could not sell it to NATO — and quite properly so.

Therefore, let us take the quality of those tanks into account. Forty-one per cent. of the total NATO tank force consists of 1980s models. The Soviet equivalent of the modern American M1 — I hope not the one the Government will buy to replace our existing tanks —makes up only 3 per cent. of the Warsaw pact total. Nearly half the Warsaw pact tank deployment are 1940s models. As the report points out, NATO scraps its own tanks or sells them to third countries. The Warsaw pact, with the long tradition of tank warfare within the Soviet general staff and the love of tanks, keeps its old tanks in service.

When it comes to anti-tank weapons, the report concludes that NATO has considerable superiority and far greater sophistication.

I return to the talks on conventional weapons. Over the past few months there have been a series of statements by Mr. Gorbachev, which have perhaps not always been fully reported in our newspapers, showing quite a shift in previous Soviet attitudes and putting the new talks on conventional arms reductions on quite a different footing from the previous talks, which have dragged on for 14 years without any progress. It is no good the Government thinking that they can postpone all the decisions until the conventional talks are concluded, because the existing talks have been there for 14 years and there is no problem.

These talks will be different. In Prague on 12 March Mr. Gorbachev said, in effect, that he was prepared to accept — although he may not have been conceding—that reductions in conventional arms would have to be made by the side that had the advantage. He indicated his readiness to remove elements of what I would call inequality, for which the jargon word, which we have to use, is asymmetry. He was prepared to accept that if there was asymmetry the side that benefited from it should give up its advantage.

On 18 March, in east Berlin, he said something else. A few years ago, if an Opposition Member had mentioned twice in his speech what the general secretary of the Soviet Communist party had said, there would have been howls of derision from Members on the Government Benches. Now they listen respectfully and intently. What their innermost thoughts are I do not know, but they have to listen, because Mr. Gorbachev is a bosom friend of the Prime Minister and, as she has told us, she trusts him implicitly. So I make no apology for quoting what a close friend of the Prime Minister said.

On 18 March, in east Berlin, Mr. Gorbachev proposed talks on conventional arms reductions from the Atlantic to the Urals. In effect, he accepted the view of many in Europe that stabilisation of the military situation required that the western military regions of the Soviet region be included as well. Of course, that also has implications for western forces and western materiel located far behind the central front area of the Soviet Union.

On 11 June the Warsaw pact, in a communiqué, stated that the military doctrines of both sides should be based on defensive principles. Again, no doubt that would bring howls of laughter from many military audiences. Perhaps I should quote what Mr. Gorbachev said on 19 December in a conversation with Franz Josef Strauss. He is reported as saying:
"On the whole, it is necessary not simply to agree on eliminating imbalance, but to reduce step by step the military potential down to the level required only for defence and insufficient for waging offensive action."
Hon. Members may not believe that that statement was significant. It is perhaps easy to dismiss it, but, as our Defence Ministers know very well, bearing in mind what Soviet military leaders have written over the years about strategy, especially in Red Army publications, and bearing in mind, too, the views of all generals everywhere throughout the ages about strategy, that was a remarkable statement. I hope that NATO leaders will realise that they are embarking on something different. The conventional arms reduction talks will not be easy if NATO fails to react constructively and imaginatively.

How much scope there will be for balanced reductions of forces on both sides I do not know. It is difficult to say. It will depend on the negotiations. Someone suggested a trade-off of tanks for fighter bombers. I do not know about that. Others, such as Senator Sam Nunn, talk about withdrawing troops behind each side of the inter-German border. I do not know. I concede that in the end the Soviet Union may have to accept some asymmetrical reductions in certain weaponry, such as tanks and artillery.

In his reply to the debate, can the Minister tell us whether the artillery operated by the British Army in Germany, which can fire conventional and nuclear shells, will be included in the conventional arms reduction talks? At Question Time today I asked the Secretary of State whether British Tornado aircraft carried nuclear bombs, conventional bombs, French air-launch cruise missiles or American air-launch cruise missiles, and whether those aircraft, or fighter bombers—however they are described—would be included in the talks. We received a very hazy answer. Perhaps we can leave that question for another debate, but let us have an answer to the question about artillery. Are all the artillery pieces, whether they fire nuclear or conventional shells, to be included in the talks? I do not see how they can be excluded, but let us have it confirmed by the Minister, because no doubt the Ministry of Defence has been involved in drawing up the complicated negotiating brief for the talks within NATO.

To secure asymmetrical reductions in Soviet forces, there are a number of proposals that NATO could and should put forward. Mr. Gorbachev cannot carry his general staff with him in getting rid of two thirds of his tanks without a quid pro quo from NATO. First, I believe that NATO should be ready, within the context of an agreement, and not outside it, to drop the whole idea of follow-on forces attack and to reject firmly the nonsense of Air/Land Battle and Air/Land Battle 2,000. Secondly, NATO, and in particular the British Government, should agree to hold simultaneous, multilateral talks on the mutual reduction and elimination of battlefield nuclear weapons.

There is no logic in the Government's position. We have been told time and time again that these weapons are needed to destroy concentrations of Soviet armour. Why not talk about them at the same time as the negotiations aimed at reducing those concentrations of Soviet armour?

The Prime Minister had better think about that. The political repercussions in Germany will be considerable if the Prime Minister and the other NATO Heads of Government are seen to be opposed to talks about their removal. The one thing that unites Franz Josef Strauss and Herr Honecker is the belief that these weapons should be removed by mutual negotiation. It is no good Western commentators and politicians making speeches accusing Mr. Gorbachev of trying to drive a wedge between the Federal Republic and its NATO allies, and then giving him such a splendid tool with which to do so.

NATO should be prepared to renounce its policy of first use of nuclear weapons. Again, as it has been explained to us, that policy was meant to compensate for the imbalance that was perceived in conventional weaponry. As I have tried to argue, it has become increasingly unrealistic, even more after the INF agreement. An agreement to reduce conventional weapons asymmetrically makes first use unnecessary. Therefore, why not offer no first use to secure better Soviet reductions in conventional forces?

The British Army will always do its duty proficiently and professionally. The Government have a corresponding duty to provide it with the wherewithal to do so, but they also have a duty to fashion their strategy in such a way that the British Army is not put in a position where it can be annihilated on the battlefield.

5.19 pm

I hope that the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) will forgive me if I do not follow his many trains of thought. I shall not deal with broad strategic issues, which seem to me to be more relevant to a debate on the White Paper than to a specific debate on the Army. This debate is in response to an assurance given when the Ministry of Defence was reorganised so that there were no longer Ministers for individual services. I was doubtful about the reorganisation, but we were given the assurance that there would be debates on the individual services so that we could focus on the affairs of each of the armed forces in turn.

Although many of the points made by the right hon. Member for Llanelli apply to a strategic debate rather than to a debate on the role of the Army, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with some of those points when he winds up.

This is the first time that I have heard doubts about the figures set out in the White Paper as to comparative forces and the balance between NATO and the Warsaw pact countries. I have not previously heard doubt cast on the tables dealing with the balance of forces, set out on page 62, annex A of the White Paper. A gloss can be put on them, suggesting that the quality of our tanks is superior, but I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with that serious allegation that the figures are wrong, because the figures are important, and I have not previously heard them disputed. The Warsaw pact countries have, on the western front, no fewer than 16,700 battle tanks, whereas NATO has 7,800. Opposition Members are putting in doubt significant figures, and I shall be obliged if my hon. Friend will deal with that issue.

One advantage of a single-service debate is that we are able to home in on each of the armed forces in turn. I am proud to represent a constituency that has a substantial Army presence. The main barracks are distributed between my constituency and that of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Wakeham), who is, I know, equally proud to represent a constituency with military connections. We both take considerable interest in what happens in Colchester in regard to units that are based there permanently and visiting "resident" battalions.

No one who has had the opportunity of meeting our young soldiers at first hand could deny their enormous quality. All hon. Members will agree that our soldiers are extremely fine young men and dedicated professionals. It is up to us to ensure that they are given proper equipment. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to dispose in due course of the points raised by the right hon. Member for Llanelli.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I have been able to observe at first hand the military units in our constituencies. As a former Minister for the Royal Navy, and chairman of my party's parliamentary defence committee, with the co-operation of the Ministry of Defence, I have been given the opportunity to visit our armed forces in many theatres, and I value those opportunities.

Undoubtedly, the most difficult task of our armed forces is the sustained burden that they bear in Northern Ireland. All our armed services bear a burden there, but the Army, the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Ulster Constabulary bear the main burdens. I do not believe that any armed forces but ours could have sustained, with such self-discipline and with such propriety, those enormous burdens for such a prolonged time. From time to time a young soldier may overstep the mark, but that is hardly surprising when one considers what they have to put up with in Northern Ireland.

I have been in an armoured personnel carrier and have been driven along the Falls road, being stoned all the way. I have seen something of the burdens that our armed forces have to sustain. When hon. Members debate the armed forces, we should always pay proper tribute to the burden sustained by our armed forces in Northern Ireland. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House would endorse that.

We admire the professionalism of our armed forces in their role in Northern Ireland and in BAOR. I look forward to my hon. Friend dealing with the question of equipment there. Such superb young men as our armed forces deserve the best equipment. I hope that the Front Bench will give us an assurance about that.

I have had the opportunity to see our armed forces in many parts of the world, through the co-operation of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench. I have visited them several times in Northern Ireland and I have also been to Belize. That was an interesting venture. I saw our armed forces in operation in a place that the soldiers described in very unparliamentary terms. The climate there is not idyllic, but it was a fascinating visit. The presence there of our Harriers is significant. Our battalions there have the opportunity for valuable training in jungle conditions, and they undertake it with great professionalism.

I hope that my hon. Friend will deal with the issue of recruitment into the Army and tell us about current trends. I should like to know how many applications are being received for premature voluntary release and whether there is an outflow. When our Government first came to power, there was a massive outflow from what could be called the middle management of the armed forces. Sergeants, colour sergeants, lieutenants and captains were getting out of the forces—perhaps, as a former Navy Minister, I can use the expression—at a rate of knots. The first thing that the Government did was increase pay in the armed forces, and that helped to stop the rot. I should like to know the current situation for recruitment into the Army and applications for premature release from the armed forces.

I share my hon. and learned Friend's concern about the way in which the forces were paid under the previous Administration. It is a great feather in the cap of the Government that we have honoured all the Armed Forces Pay Review Body awards. I hope that we will continue to do so. Does my hon. and learned Friend share my concern that during the past three years there has not been full funding from the Treasury for the pay awards? Indeed, there has been a cumulative deficit of 11 per cent. Does he agree that it is time that the Treasury took that on board? If the forces are properly paid, that will be at the expense of the defence equipment budget.

I have considerable sympathy with what my hon. Friend has said. No doubt my hon. Friend the Minister will wish to deal with that point. The Government are entitled to considerable credit for dealing with armed forces pay immediately on coming into office. They did not even wait for the Queen's Speech. I remember raising the matter with the Prime Minister. I said that I hoped that in the Queen's Speech the question of armed forces pay would be dealt with. She said that it would not, and I looked cross, whereupon she said, "We are not waiting for the Queen's Speech; we are announcing it tomorrow." So it was done at once, and that was quite right. But now things have dropped back in the way that my hon. Friend has just indicated, and I have no doubt that in winding up the Minister will wish to deal with the matter.

In conclusion, I reiterate that I enjoy having an Army constituency to represent. I reiterate that we in the House are, and have cause to be, enormously proud of the sheer professionalism of our a