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Commons Chamber

Volume 201: debated on Tuesday 14 January 1992

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 14 January 1992

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Contingencies Fund 1990–91


That there be laid before the House accounts of the Contingencies Fund, 1990–91, showing:
  • (1) The Receipts and Payments in connection with the Fund in the year ended the 31st day of March 1991.
  • (2) The Distribution of the Capital of the Fund at the commencement and close of the year; with the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General thereon.—[Mr. Neil Hamilton.]
  • Oral Answers To Questions


    Textile Industry


    To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will take steps to assist job creation in the textile industry in rural areas; and if he will make a statement.

    The Department of Employment delivers a wide range of training, enterprise and employment measures through the Employment Service, training and enterprise councils in England and Wales and local enterprise companies in Scotland.

    Other agencies, including the Rural Development Commission, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, play an important role in encouraging and stimulating enterprise in many sectors, including textiles, in rural areas.

    Is the Minister aware that countries such as Spain are considered suitable cases for special EC support because 18 per cent. of their work force are directly involved in textiles? Is the Minister aware that districts in the United Kingdom such as my own. south-east Scotland, have similar percentages of people employed in textiles but do not qualify for either national or European support? Will he assure us that he will talk with his ministerial colleagues to ensure that the resources available to local enterprise companies and training and enterprise councils are sufficient to enable them to support the existing textile industry and promote diversification?

    I very much appreciate the importance of the knitwear and textile industry in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. Although the unemployment rate in his constituency is well below the Scottish, and indeed the British, average, the textile industry in his district is going through bad times. The Government are helping to diversify: Scottish Borders LEC is purchasing Jedburgh information centre to help promote tourism, and the food processing and fish farming industries are developing and being supported in the district. Scottish Enterprise and Lothian and Edinburgh LEC are taking important steps to develop designer knitwear initiatives within the textile industry. I shall refer the hon. Gentleman's comments to my colleague the Secretary of State for Scotland, as it falls to him to deal with the hon. Gentleman's point about the designation of the district for European Community purposes.

    Will my hon. Friend look into the possibility of starting a form of the small engineering and firms investment scheme for small textile and knitwear firms in rural districts to encourage them to modernise and to re-equip their companies with up-to-date machines?

    My hon. Friend's question is one for my colleague the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. One problem with my hon. Friend's suggestion is that there are European Community rules on the subsidies given to the textile and other industries. However, I shall refer his point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

    How can we believe that the Minister is serious about creating jobs in the textile industry when he will not even protect the ones that already exist? Is he aware that when the Conservative party came to power in 1979 many thousands of people were employed in the thread industry in Paisley and now only one mill remains, which employs 340 people and is threatened with closure this year? Is he going to stand by complacently while more and more people join the dole queues, or will he take action to save the jobs in the textile industry in Paisley?

    We all know that the textile industry is an important industry which currently employs 400,000 people—48,500 of whom are employed in Scotland. During the past 10 years, the industry has been protected by the multi-fibre arrangement. The success of companies in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, my constituency and elsewhere in the country depends on their efforts, and the Government can do only a limited amount. The textile industry is still successful and employs many people, but its success depends on its own efforts.

    Job Training, Chelmsford


    To ask the Secretary of State for Employment when he next plans to meet the chairman of the Essex TEC to discuss job training in Chelmsford.

    My right hon. and learned Friend last met the chairman of Essex training and enterprise council on 28 November. He is aware of the excellent contribution that Essex TEC is making to the training and enterprise needs of the area, but he has no plans to visit it in the immediate future.

    When my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State next meets the chairman of Essex TEC in Chelmsford, will he congratulate him on the splendid work that that TEC is doing in encouraging job creation, which in the past six months has led to 315 new small businesses starting in that area? Does my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary agree that that belies the guffaws and complaints of the moaning Minnies on the Opposition Benches, who constantly do down the excellent training that is available throughout Essex and the rest of the country?

    I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks, which were heard also by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, and I will convey them to Essex TEC, which is doing an excellent job. Its current budget is £28·75 million, which is a substantial sum from the taxpayer. It has 4,400 young people in youth training places and 1,300 people in employment training places. I am glad that my hon. Friend appreciates the good job that that TEC is doing.

    Is not it a fact that all those training places were not needed in Chelmsford in 1979 because the young people there had jobs then, under a Labour Government? Is not unemployment the reason for the massive increase in the number of training places?

    The whole House will be rather amused by the hon. Gentleman's interpretation. We all remember the serious problem of increasing youth unemployment in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Our training programmes—which are operating on a scale two and a half times larger in real terms than those of the last Labour Government—arose as a response to that problem, which existed when Labour was in office but about which that Government did nothing.

    Overseas Visitors


    To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is his estimate of the volume and value of overseas visitors for 1992; and if he will make a statement.

    The British Tourist Authority's latest forecasts are that there will be 18·3 million overseas visits to the United Kingdom in 1992, resulting in expenditure of around £8 billion—8 per cent. higher than the estimated expenditure for 1991.

    I congratulate my hon. Friend on those excellent estimates. Does he agree that it is about time that Labour acknowledged the importance of tourism, rather than keep referring to jobs in a Mickey Mouse and candy floss industry? Will my hon. Friend consider instituting a national tourism week, such as that organised in the United States, to draw attention to the importance of tourism and to its employment factor? Furthermore, will my—

    A national tourism week would draw attention to the growing importance of tourism in the United Kingdom.

    I share my hon. Friend's frustration at the way in which the Opposition persistently regard jobs in tourism without any seriousness, given the major contribution that tourism consistently makes to the economy of my hon. Friend's constituency and to the whole country. My hon. Friend works very hard with local tourist bodies to promote York as a tourist centre, and very successfully too. I will certainly bring my hon. Friend's imaginative suggestion of a national tourism week to the attention of the tourist authorities to see whether they can take it up positively.

    Does the Minister acknowledge that we on these Benches recognise the importance of the tourist industry to Wales? However, whereas the Scottish tourist board is entitled to market Scotland overseas, the position in Wales is not the same. What is the Government's attitude to the Tourism (Overseas Promotion) (Wales) Bill, promoted by the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan), to give Wales equality of treatment in that regard?

    My hon. Friend's Bill has received close scrutiny and attention by the Government, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that the outocme of those deliberations will be known to the House shortly.

    Does my hon. Friend agree that one reason why we are so successful in attracting visitors from overseas is the strength of the United Kingdom market? Will he congratulate the English tourist board on its initiatives in promoting domestic tourism, and consider what more can be done to highlight its profile—just to perk up the aspidistras in guest houses and hotels throughout the south of England and elsewhere?

    Yes. I am happy to pay tribute to the excellent efforts made by all tourist boards and authorities throughout the United Kingdom which in their different ways do a splendid job of promoting this country's tourist potential. Some 17 million or 18 million people from abroad choose to visit this country each year. That alone is a testament to the excellent work that is done. A large number of those visitors end up on the Isle of Wight. I am surprised that, on this rare occasion, my hon. Friend did not mention the Isle of Wight, so I am delighted to do so—and to pay tribute to the work that he consistently does on behalf of his constituents.

    Industrial Relations


    To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will meet the Confederation of British Industry to discuss the long-term improvement of industrial relations.

    I have regular discussions with representatives of the CBI on a wide range of issues, including the long-term improvement of industrial relations. I have at present no plans for a meeting on the particular subject mentioned by my hon. Friend.

    Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that although the law can help to improve industrial relations, it is not enough in itself? When he next meets representatives of the CBI, will he impress on them the importance of greater employee participation as a means of improving industrial relations in the long term?

    I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, it was for that reason that, together with the CBI, I launched an initiative to increase employee participation in industry. I also launched a similar initiative in the European Social Affairs Council.

    It is of the utmost importance that we encourage employee participation to take place on a voluntary basis, in the way that best reflects the circumstances of each firm and industry, and not as a result of some statutory straitjacket imposed by Brussels.

    I accept that employee participation should be tailor-made for each industry. Does the Secretary of State accept, however, that, if industries are not willing to act accordingly, a backstop must be provided to prevent some employees from being deprived of their rights of participation?

    No employees are deprived of their rights of participation. When it comes to consultation and employee involvement, however, it is very much better for such processes to take place on a voluntary basis. I believe that the best practices of British industry are second to none in the world; our task must be to encourage others to follow the lead that has been set by the best in industry. That was the purpose of the campaign that I launched with the CBI.

    Will my right hon. and learned Friend remind the Opposition that the introduction of a minimum wage would harm industrial relations, rather than enhancing them? The sense of self-worth and the demonstration by employers of the value that they place on employees are best created by the existence of true differentials.

    My hon. Friend is absoutely right. Not only would a national statutory minimum wage destroy countless jobs; one of the greatest problems that it would cause would be the maintaining of such differentials. Strife would inevitably arise as better-paid workers sought to maintain them. My hon. Friend has identified one of the most damaging consequences of the measures proposed by Labour.

    Should not all anti-trade union laws be scrapped if workers are to have a real right to defend themselves—or does that not matter nowadays?

    It is interesting to hear the lion. Gentleman explain the reality behind the small print of Labour's proposals in such graphic terms.

    When my right hon. and learned Friend discusses industrial relations with the CBI, will he compare the position in the United Kingdom with that in France? France has recently experienced strikes in the rubbish collection industry, the ports, air traffic control and the railway industry—and they have taken place under a socialist Government. Does not that compare dramatically with the present position in this country?

    My hon. Friend correctly identified the position in France—a position with which this country would be faced if Labour were ever returned to office. More strikes took place in the last year of Labour Government than have taken place in the past six years put together.

    Employment Opportunities, Tameside


    To ask the Secretary of State Employment what action he intends to take to increase employment opportunities in Tameside.

    The Employment Service and Manchester training and enterprise council deliver a wide range of employment, enterprise and training programmes to help unemployed people in the creation of employment opportunities in Tameside, as elsewhere.

    In the 12 months to December 1991, Employment Service jobcentres in Tameside placed 7,119 people in jobs, and in Manchester placed 48,904 people in jobs.

    Is the Minister aware that, in Tameside, unemployment has risen by a staggering 63 per cent. in the past 18 months? Although unemployment is high in other Greater Manchester boroughs, because of the benefit obtained from urban programme status, it is rising less fast in those boroughs. Will the Minister join me in urging the Secretary of State for the Environment to give Tameside similar status, so that it can offset the terrible waste of talent in the borough?

    I shall certainly draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment the hon. Gentleman's point about Tameside. To set unemployment in context, of course it has risen in Tameside, as elsewhere. It is striking, however, that Britain has a higher proportion of its population of working age in work than any other country in Europe, apart from Denmark. We should set that fact in the context of any rise in unemployment.

    Is my hon. Friend aware that development corporations in Tameside, which adjoin my constituency, have greatly benefited jobs in the area? Did not a Labour Government want to abolish them?

    My hon. Friend is well-informed about his area. It is important to note that jobs continue to be created. A total of 25 per cent. of those who sign on as unemployed find jobs within one month, 50 per cent. find jobs within three months and two thirds find jobs within six months. There is a continuing flow through the register and there are job opportunities for people who will take them.

    Skill Training


    To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what plans he has to encourage the development of community-based skill-training schemes.

    The Government have given training and enterprise councils the responsibility and resources to plan and deliver training which is most appropriate to meet local needs.

    What the Secretary of State said will be news to Hexagon Community Ltd. in East Lancashire road in Liverpool, which has found that the TEC in our area has abolished allowances for protective clothing and in many other spheres, as well as cutting the unit cost paid per person so that the entire staff has taken a pay reduction in the past few months. Is not it about time that the Government showed that they have a real commitment to training by encouraging self-help enterprises such as that in my constituency? Is not it appalling that those people, who give so much of their time, should be facing restrictions while the Secretary of State hides behind the skirt of TECs which have been created as shock absorbers for this dreadful Government?

    The hon. Gentleman must make up his mind whether he supports his party's policy on the training and enterprise councils. We are assured constantly by Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen that the Opposition support TECs, are enthusiastic about the idea and wish them to continue. Training and enterprise councils are responsible for dealing with matters in their area.

    The hon. Gentleman talks about resources. We are spending two and a half times as much in real terms as the Labour party spent when it was responsible for these matters. The hon. Gentleman must know that this is not one of the two immediate spending priorities to which the shadow Chief Secretary has signed up. He should face up to reality—drop the pledge or own up to the tax.

    Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Government have spent more on training than Labour did when it was in power, even taking account of inflation? Does he agree that we need no lectures on training from Opposition Front Benchers, because they have objected to employment training, the youth training scheme and every other training proposal that we have made?

    My hon. Friend is right. Before they start trying to lecture us on training, the Opposition—particularly the shadow spokesman on employment—would be well-advised to persuade the Transport and General Workers Union to drop its boycott of youth training, employment training and the training and enterprise councils.

    Are not training programmes such as youth training and employment training predicated on employer participation but, because of the recession, the employers have contracted out, causing a crisis? We therefore need community programmes, such as that mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), which are more expensive. Will the Secretary of State undertake to give extra resources to those programmes so that the ET and YT guarantees can be implemented? They are not being implemented now.

    I do not accept either of the assumptions on which the hon. Gentleman's question is predicated. It is incorrect to say that employers have contracted out. Every recent survey has shown that many more employers are maintaining or increasing their training than are reducing it. Over 90 per cent. of employers who responded to a recent survey said that they were providing as much, or more, off-the-job training as they were a year ago. So, the hon. Gentleman is being far too pessimistic about the employers' commitment to training.

    Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, despite the Opposition's opposition to every scheme that the Government have introduced in the past 12 years, there has been a sevenfold increase in the number of people entering training schemes?

    My hon. Friend draws attention to the substantial increase in the number of people now taking advantage of Government-sponsored training opportunities, but, of course, there has also been a tremendous increase in the training provided to people in work—an 85 per cent. increase between 1984 and 1990. We are making great strides in the provision of training—employer-financed training and Government-financed training—and it is about time that the Opposition recognised that progress instead of constantly carping and criticising.

    As the recession is now much deeper and more pervasive than Ministers are prepared to admit and as we have the fastest rising unemployment in Europe, how can the Secretary of State justify cutting 110,000 places for training young people and the unemployed at the very time when the recession is hitting hardest?

    It is absolutely no use the hon. Gentleman banging on about resources, given that he has failed to persuade the shadow Chief Secretary that that should be one of the Opposition's two immediate spending priorities. Drop the pledge or own up to the tax.

    Catalytic Converters


    To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is his estimate of the numbers currently employed in the manufacture of catalytic converters for the automobile and transport industry.

    There are no separate estimates available for the manufacture of catalytic converters.

    The Minister will be aware that British firms such as Johnson Matthey are at the leading edge of this technology. Is he also aware that in scientific and engineering circles there is much concern that the Government's indolence and reticence in supporting long-term investment in research and development in the leading technology will result in our suffering badly in comparison with our major competitors?

    That matter is not strictly for me, but is one for my colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry. However, the hon. Gentleman will find that this country's record in research and development—in the private and, indeed, in the public sector—will bear scrutiny and comparison with that of most, if not all, others. The very fact that we have in this country possibly the leading manufacturer of such a high technology product which is so essential to environmental and pollution control in the future surely bears testimony to that and sits ill with the fact that the hon. Gentleman has sought to raise the subject of our lack of technology and R and D while in the same breath mentioning a world-leading company.

    If we can get more cars sold on the domestic market, we can get more catalytic converters made. Will my hon. Friend join me in urging my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to abolish the 10 per cent. car tax in the Budget?

    I admire my hon. Friend's ingenuity in using this question to raise what is undoubtedly an important matter. I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Treasury are very much aware of my hon. Friend's point. I take this opportunity to remind them of it and I am sure that they will take it fully into account in their pre-Budget deliberations.

    Unemployment, West Cumbria


    To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what proposals he has for the reduction of unemployment in west Cumbria.

    The Employment Service and Cumbria training and enterprise council deliver a wide range of employment, enterprise and training programmes to help employment prospects for unemployed people living in west Cumbria as elsewhere. A package of measures to help the area, announced by the Government in June 1991, includes the establishment of an action team to support local initiatives and a £15 million English Estates programme to provide new sites, factories and work space in Copeland and Furness.

    May I have an answer in a word of one syllable? Is the Minister satisfied that the resources in terms of the manpower and finance available to Cumbria TEC are sufficient to deal with the thousands of redundancies that are to be made at the thermal oxide reprocessing plant at Sellafield and also to deal with those now being announced by a number of companies in west Cumbria?

    I should like to oblige the hon. Gentleman with a short answer, but it is difficult to encapsulate these things. I was pleased to have the opportunity to discuss those matters with him in my office and I understand the seriousness of unemployment in his constituency. We keep the question of resources for the training and enterprise councils under review. Government support for employment creation in the hon. Gentleman's area does not come only through the TECs. A number of initiatives are coming forward, such as regional development assistance and the special measures which have been announced. All of them are important and I will continue to keep in touch with the hon. Gentleman about them.



    To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many jobcentres there are.

    At the end of November, the Employment Service had a total of 954 local offices offering full jobcentre services.

    I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on the great improvement in the services, management and organisation of jobcentres. Is he aware that it is a great advantage to have the unemployment benefit office and the jobcentre under the same roof, as we have in Gloucester, and will he ensure that more offices are organised in that way?

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is our intention to spread across the country the advantages of integrated jobcentres. Through the Employment Service, we are this year helping some 840,000 people with places on our programmes. We expect the number to approach 1 million next year.

    Is the Secretary of State aware that our jobcentres now face an increasing demand for their services? Is that any wonder when from the second quarter of 1990 to the second quarter of 1991 employment has grown by 300,000 in Italy, 200,000 in France, and 637,000 in Germany, while in the United Kingdom it has fallen by 706,000? Will the Secretary of State now own up to this unique recession which is causing so much damage and overworking so many of our jobcentres?

    I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was listening to the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), a few moments ago when he pointed out that we have a greater proportion of people in work than any European country except Denmark and more women at work than any other EC member state. There are some 2·5 million more jobs in this country than there were in 1983 and we have an unprecedented record of job creation. As we emerge from recession as a result of the Government's policies, we shall be in a position to create jobs again in the 1990s on the scale achieved in the 1980s.

    Youth Training


    To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what plans he has to initiate an immediate programme of youth training in Crewe and Nantwich.

    The hon. Lady calls for the Government to "initiate" an "immediate programme" of YT in Crewe and Nantwich. She will be interested to learn that in the past year the proportion of 16-year-olds in Crewe participating in full-time education and training has risen from 71 to 80 per cent. That seems pretty "immediate" to me.

    Moreover, the South and East Cheshire training and enterprise council is currently spending £5·5 million on youth training—a sum infinitely larger than that spent in the area by the previous Labour Government, of which the hon. Lady was such a notable adornment.

    In reply to a written question, the Minister told me yesterday that 55 per cent. of school leavers in the South and East Cheshire training and enterprise council area are going straight into youth training. He will also know that we have had a 47 per cent. rise in unemployment in my constituency in one year. Would he like to try to justify that to the young people who have no jobs and no hope of any being created under the present Government?

    Unemployment is a fact and we deplore it. The hon. Lady's question, however, concerns youth training and implies that no youth training is available in her constituency. Her reference to my earlier answer shows that there is extensive provision of youth training in her constituency, on a far larger scale than ever before, and that people in her constituency are taking advantage of it.

    Was it not a Front-Bench spokesman of the party of which the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) is a member who promised the 1990 Labour party conference that Labour would abolish youth training altogether?

    The Labour party's record on youth training—and, indeed, on the whole range of training initiatives which have have come from the Government in the past decade—is deplorable. Opposition Members, especially those associated with trade unions which have been boycotting our training efforts, would do well to recognise that.

    Is it not clear from the figures for Crewe, and from the naional figures which show that nearly 100,000 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds are still looking for training places, that the Government are failing our school leavers? What sort of future are the Government building for a generation of school leavers who will go from school to the dole queue?

    I do not accept the picture that the hon. Gentleman paints. Hundreds of thousands of young people are on YT, and doing increasingly well on YT in terms of qualifications and of jobs on emerging from it. We are monitoring the position on the YT guarantee, to which we are firmly committed, and we are making additional resources available as and where necesary. We have not had a request for additional resources for YT in South and East Cheshire; there does not seem to be pressure in that area. We are sticking by the YT guarantee—an important guarantee which never existed in the days of the Labour Government.

    Part-Time Work


    To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will state the number and percentage of the United Kingdom work force currently in part-time work.

    In June 1991, the latest date for which information is available, part-time employment in Great Britain was 6,491,000, or 25 per cent. of the work force in employment. Figures for part-time working in Northern Ireland are not available.

    I am slightly surprised by the Minister's answer, because, as recently as 16 December, he said in a parliamentary answer that new earnings survey coverage of part-time workers was not comprehensive and, more importantly, that many part-time workers earnings below the income tax threshold were not covered. In view of the Government's admission that they do not know the facts about part-time work, why have they set their face against protection and safeguards for part-time workers? Or are the Government saying that, under economic policy, part-time women workers are expendable?

    I have given the hon. Gentleman the figures which exist. He must recognise that no one will thank him for his vendetta against part-time work. Only 6 per cent. of those who engage in part-time work do so because they cannot get full-time jobs. We are interested in promoting part-time work and increasing the number of part-time jobs available, not diminishing it by imposing on such jobs the kind of restrictions that the Labour party is keen to see in place.

    Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many women in Britain welcome part-time work because it fits in with caring for children and the family generally? We need no lessons from the Opposition who make rude comments about part-time jobs, saying that they are not real jobs. Many women think that they are real jobs and want more of them to be available.

    My hon. Friend is entirely right. She understands the needs of her constituents. The Labour party would subject part-time workers to national insurance contributions and would burden employers to the extent that they could not afford to employ part-time workers in the way that they now do, which would dry up the supply of part-time work, to no one's advantage.

    Cannot the Minister see that there is no reason in logic, probably no reason in law, and certainly no reason in common sense, why part-timers should not have the same protections as full-time workers? Bearing in mind the fact that the vast majority of part-timers in the United Kingdom are women, does not the lack of protection represent obvious indirect discrimination against women workers?

    There is absolutely no question of discrimination.As a result of the Government's policies, there has been an unprecedented increase in part-time work, to the great advantage of those who benefit from it. The Labour party's policies would destroy those jobs.

    What would be the effect on the number of part-time jobs of introducing a national minimum wage?

    As every independent survey has confirmed, there is no doubt that a national statutory minimum wage would destroy countless jobs. A large number of part-time jobs would doubtless be among those which would simply disappear if that disastrous policy were pursued.



    To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will issue guidelines on the handling of asbestos in factories and other places of work.

    The Government have already published a comprehensive range of guidance on the handling of asbestos in factories and other places of work, in support of the legislation that we have introduced to reduce the risks from exposure to asbestos in the workplace. This guidance includes two approved codes of practice, nine Health and Safety Executive guidance notes on specific workplace-related matters and a number of free leaflets and priced booklets.

    Do Ministers share the concern of Bill Spiers and his colleagues in the Scottish Trades Union Congress about a matter that I have brought to the attention of the Department—that some insurance companies delay the finalising of asbestosis cases until the victims have died? If so, will the Government act on Lord Davidson's report in the event that it suggests a change in the law?

    My colleagues in the Scottish Office are well aware of the criticisms of the present law. Indeed, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, they referred the issue to the Scottish Law Commission in September 1989. The commission is expected to report soon and I am assured that its recommendations will be considered urgently by my colleagues in the Scottish Office. However, I will bring the hon. Gentleman's concern to Scottish Office Ministers so that the matter may be given maximum attention and due regard may be paid to the point that the hon. Gentleman has made.

    Can my hon. Friend confirm that the Health and Safety Executive has received all the resources for which it has asked in recent years to enable it to carry out its various functions?

    I am delighted to be able to assure my hon. Friend that the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive, which each year make an estimate of the resources required to enable them to fulfil their statutory obligations, have received in full the amounts requested in recent years. Thus, they have been enabled to do a consistently excellent job in guaranteeing health and safety standards in the workplace. The standards in the United Kingdom are as good as those in many countries, and better than those in most.

    Bearing in mind the fact that highly paid lawyers can secure massive libel settlements for their clients, can the Minister seriously justify the paltry payments which result from civil claims for compensation for negligence? In response to my hon. Friend's question, could he not simply have said that the Government accept that the disparity between English law and Scottish law is not tenable and that they will remedy it?

    I think that I have given that assurance in so far as it is possible to do so at this stage. We have to bear it in mind that the Law Commission has not yet reported. If we are to take seriously the work done by a body such as the Law Commission, we must await the results of its deliberations and then act as quickly as possible. The hon. Gentleman will have to be patient. Perhaps he will have a word with his hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), whose expertise in this matter is, I suspect, second to none. The hon. Member for Linlithgow will probably be able to provide the assurance that the hon. Gentleman seeks.

    Training And Enterprise Councils


    To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the progress achieved by TECs in meeting their objectives.

    Training and enterprise councils have made excellent progress. All 82 are now operational and they are developing a wide range of innovative approaches to meeting the objectives that I have agreed with them.

    I am grateful for my right hon. and learned Friend's reply. He will be aware of the progress being made by the training and enterprise council in Somerset and, in particular, the important role that it is playing in helping to set up an effective chamber of commerce and industry to represent and assist business in the county. Will my right hon. and learned Friend give me a pledge that he will do all that he can to help the Somerset TEC to maintain the quality of its youth training?

    I am happy to give my hon. Friend that pledge. The Somerset training and enterprise council is making excellent progress in improving the training being provided in the county and tailoring it to suit local circumstances. What is being achieved is what we expect to see when training is placed in the hands of local employer-led bodies, which are in the best possible position to ensure that the training is relevant to local circumstances.

    Job Losses, Northumberland


    To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what evidence he has of recent job losses in east and north-cast Northumberland.

    In the three months to June 1991, the civilian work force in employment in the Northern region fell by 15,000. I am afraid that my Department does not have up-to-date figures for smaller areas within those standard regions.

    Surely the Minister is aware of the 300 jobs that were lost at the Alcan aluminium smelter and the 200 jobs which have gone from Ellington colliery. In those circumstances, does he recognise how vital it is to get European funds, genuinely additional to money being spent over here, so as to bring additional opportunities to areas that have been so hard hit? Will the Minister and his colleagues join in the fighting which seems to be going on in the Government and get the matter sorted out so that European funds can go to those areas?

    I had a very useful and interesting meeting with the hon. Gentleman and some of his constituents to talk about unemployment in his constituency, so I know of it at first hand from him. I certainly take note of what the hon. Gentleman has had to say. He understands the problems of additionality. His remarks have certainly been heard and I will draw my colleagues' attention to them.

    Ec Social Policy


    To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what discussions he has had with his EC counterparts on the implementation of the social action programme; and if he will make a statement.

    I have frequent discussions, both at Councils of Ministers and individually with my EC counterparts, about measures brought forward under the Commission's social action programme. In those discussions, I emphasise that the United Kingdom expects to be able to support a majority of proposals under the action programme, while we shall continue to resist those which would damage jobs and competitiveness in this country.

    In talks with European colleagues, will the Secretary of State ensure that workers in this country are not left behind in terms of employment protection and rights? European competitors can afford to give greater rights and protection to women, the low-paid and part-time workers, so why should workers in this country be offered anything less?

    Workers in this country will benefit from the greater flexibility with which British firms will be able to respond to the challenges that they will face in the 1990s, and we shall see more job opportunities created in this country as a result of the greater flexibility that will be available to us.

    Prime Minister



    To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 January.

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

    Will the Prime Minister take some time today to examine his pledge not to turn his back on Lanarkshire? Will he give a clear indication of the earnestness of that pledge by agreeing to meet the shop stewards of Dalzell plant, who have indicated that they have a plan guaranteeing the effectiveness of their own plant, together with continued steel production in Scotland? Does he accept that he has an obligation to honour that pledge by examining every possible avenue to maintain steel production in Scotland, and in particular not to turn his back on a plan which has shown great effectiveness?

    I made my position clear in Scotland some time ago. We certainly would not abandon the people of north Lanarkshire. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we shall be seeking agreement from the European Community to establish an enterprise zone such as those which, in other parts, have been very successful. He will also know that in the past year we have provided about £120 million extra assistance for north Lanarkshire through the Scottish Enterprise fund, East Kilbride development corporation, the iron and steel employees readaption benefit scheme, the Scottish Development Agency and much else. I am sure that either my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment or my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be happy to meet the shop stewards in Dalzell.

    Does my right hon. Friend accept that, at a time of great international instability, the whole country welcomes his decision as chairman of the United Nations Security Council to call a meeting of that council later this month? Does not the acceptance of his invitation by President Bush, President Yeltsin, President Mitterrand and other world leaders prove the importance of that meeting? Is it not an insult to world leaders that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) should describe that as grubbing around for a photo opportunity?

    We have had a very favourable response from Heads of Government, all of whom share our view that the meeting offers a unique opportunity to reinforce the role of the United Nations as a peacemaker and peacekeeper, to look at the role that they can play in both disarmament and non-proliferation, and to reinforce the role that they can play in terms of improving good government and human rights records in a large number of countries. There has been unanimous acceptance by Heads of State and Government among Security Council members to attend. I hope and believe that it will be a useful and worthwhile occasion.


    To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 January.

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

    Is the Prime Minister aware that conflicting views about the future of the railways are coming from No. 10 Downing street and from the Secretary of State for Transport? It is said that the Prime Minister has a view. May the House hear it today? There is an old saying, "This is no way to run a railway"—I suggest that this is no way to run a Government either.

    On a non-controversial note, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his 75th birthday today.

    We are discussing within government the right way to take forward the privatisation of British Railways. Our aim is to ensure that passengers get a better deal as a result. We believe that the way to do that is to expose the railways to private sector disciplines. That is what we are discussing. In due course, when we have discussed the detail of how that will be brought about, we shall make a public statement.

    Since raising the quality of life of the British people is one of the main aims of my right hon. Friend's Government, can we count on his support for my National Lottery Bill?

    An important debate on my hon. and learned Friend's Bill is scheduled for this Friday. The Under Secretary of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd), will make the Government's position clear in that debate.

    Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to confirm that it is still his view that, as he put it in his own words just a few weeks ago,

    "tax cuts in the … Budget"
    would be "unwise", would "recreate…problems" and would be "fools' gold"?

    The right hon. Gentleman has been misled. What I said in the interview in Harari, from which he has quoted, was that a reduction in interest rates just to stimulate the economy would he fools' gold—as it would be. However, to help the right hon. Gentleman, I went on to add that if there was a prospect of tax reductions, we would take it and give people the opportunity to spend their money in their own interests.

    Everyone will have the opportunity to check the words used in that interview and everyone will have the opportunity to ask why, if those words are so wrong, they have not been corrected before now. Does not the Prime Minister recall saying in precise terms that tax cuts in the Budget before the election—as he is precisely quoted as saying—would be "unwise", would "recreate … problems", would be "unfair", would "hurt" people and would be "economic tricks"—[Interruption.] Is it not clear—[Interruption.]

    As the hopes of Conservative Members fade, so their voices grow louder.

    Is it not clear that what was fools' gold in October is fools' gold in January and would be fools' gold in March?

    As I said to the right hon. Gentleman a moment ago—clearly, he was not listening —the quotation that he used refers to a reduction in interest rates, not to a reduction in taxation. The right hon. Gentleman can check the quote—perhaps he should have done so before using it inaccurately. When it is prudent to make tax reductions, we shall make them, because we believe that people are better able to look after their own interests with their own money than any Government, however benevolent, would be. It is the right hon. Gentleman's policy to increase taxation. He proposes the sharpest increases in taxes that we have had in peacetime since the war. That is expressly not the policy of this Government.

    The right hon. Gentleman heads the Government who have imposed the highest tax burden in history on British families. He is the head of the party of high taxation. Why has he not the courage to stand by the words that he gave to his interviewer just a few months ago?

    The right hon. Gentleman should not repeat what he has twice been told is incorrect. If he is concerned about the level of taxation, he might perhaps explain to the country why he proposes to increase the rate of taxation if given the chance. He might also explain why his hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) has suggested a luxury rate of value added tax, after all that the shadow Chancellor, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), has said in recent weeks.

    Does my right hon. Friend recall those heady days in the early 1980s when, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), we changed industrial relations law? That has led to fewer days lost due to industrial action in Britain than in many of our competitor countries in Europe and abroad. Has my right hon. Friend read the recent report? Has he any comments? Will he continue to change industrial relations legislation to take further the Conservative progress which has helped democracy within trade unions and reduced the number of days lost to strikes?

    There is no doubt that, as a result of the trade union reforms in the last decade, we have a far better record of industrial relations than our competitors elsewhere or than previously in Britain. When and where appropriate, we shall continue to make further improvements.


    To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 January.

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

    Has the Prime Minister noted the remarks of the Minister for Public Transport about one class of service for business men and another, cheap and cheerful class of service, for typists? Despite the Minister's apology, does not that statement, accurately sum up the Government's policy on public services such as housing, education and health? The cheap and cheerful version of the service is hardly ever likely to be used by Cabinet Ministers or their families.

    That is uncharacteristic, and I would not have expressed myself as my hon. Friend did. My hon. Friend has subsequently made it clear that he regrets expressing his views in that way. If every politician in government or opposition were forced to apologise for injudicious remarks, few of us would be doing anything else.


    To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 January.

    Will my right hon. Friend confirm that as a result of discussions between the American company Kimberley Clarke and the Department of Trade and Industry, it is likely that a factory employing 800 people is to be built in my constituency? Can my right hon. Friend give some indication of the DTI investment and the number of jobs to be created? Will he confirm that that is Conservative industrial policy working to the benefit of my constituency in particular and the country in general?

    I am delighted to hear of the proposed investment and job creation in my hon. Friend's constituency. The amount of grant offered is, of course, a confidential matter between the Department and the company. On the other specific questions that my hon. Friend asks, I will make inquiries and write to him. He is entirely right that inward investment is created by the right policies of deregulation and low taxation. The enormous amount of inward investment that we have seen in recent years would be lost if those policies were reversed.

    Further to the Prime Minister's previous answer, does he not realise that, while he and his Chancellor argue about the Budget, and while his Cabinet is split on the matter, there is widespread public support for the view that at this time investment in the nation's future should come before cuts in the basic rates of tax? Is the Prime Minister saying that he disagrees with that view?

    I agree entirely with the importance of investment. Where I might disagree with the right hon. Gentleman is that I do not believe that investment is increased by increasing taxes.


    To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 January.

    Does my right hon. Friend agree that the prospect of a dictator or an irresponsible third-world country acquiring any of the 27,000 nuclear weapons previously controlled by the Soviet Union is literally a terrifying thought? Against that background, does he further agree that to maintain Britain's nuclear deterrent is as important and essential today as it ever has been?

    I do agree with my hon. Friend on that point. The end of the Soviet empire creates a large number of opportunities, but also some dangers. We have to be prepared for both. The diminished threat to NATO gives us the opportunity to make prudent reductions in defence, but they must be prudent and it would at this stage be imprudent to lift our nuclear shield in any way.

    Why did the Prime Minister not have the courtesy to respond to a pre-Christmas appeal by Church leaders that he should make a statement—[interruption.]

    Order. The hon. Gentleman has as much right to express his view as any other Member of the House.

    Hon. Members seem embarrassed by good works. Why did the Prime Minister not have the courtesy to respond to a pre-Christmas appeal by Church leaders for him to make a statement urging stores not to break the Sunday trading laws? Did he simply lack the moral courage?

    I have indicated the Government's position on Sunday trading laws in the House on a number of occasions. I am interested to note the hon. Gentleman's concern on behalf of the Churches. The Archbishop of Canterbury did not mention it to me on new year's day when we had lunch together.

    Statutory Instruments, &C

    With the leave of the House, I will put together the three motions relating to statutory instruments.

    Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(3) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).


    Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning

    That the Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) (Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning) (No. 13) Order 1991 (S.I. 1991, No. 2901) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

    That the Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) (Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning) (No. 14) Order 1991 (S.I. 1991, No. 2902) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

    Rate Support Grant (Scotland)

    That the Rate Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1991 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.— [Mr. Neil Hamilton.]

    Question agreed to.

    Point Of Order

    3.33 pm

    On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—[Interruption.]—if hon. Gentlemen will allow me to speak. Can I draw your attention to a matter of confusion on Thursday, 21 November? I was shown in Hansard as voting, in the debate on the European Community, against a labour amendment in Division 14. That was correct. I was not shown as voting for the Government motion in Division 15. Subsequently, before I raised this matter with the Clerks, this was corrected. I am now shown correctly in Hansard as having voted for the Government in Division 15.

    This is most important, as I believe that the Government were completely right. I can only suspect that the speed of my progress through the Division Lobby, as I was the second Member out that night, may have caused confusion. That was due to my enthusiasm for the excellent achievements of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at Maastricht. I could not move fast enough to support him. I congratulate the Clerks on having corrected this before I raised the matter.

    Health Benefits

    3.34 pm

    I beg to move,

    That leave be given to bring in a Bill to extend exemption from prescription charges to, and to make further provision for, persons in receipt of certain categories of benefit; to exempt from prescription charges the chronically ill and those over 60; and to exempt those over 60 from certain dental and optical charges.
    If passed by the House, the Bill will reform fairly and effectively the forgotten area of the health benefits system. The present system is unwieldy, unnecessarily complex, inconsistent and over-bureaucratic. [Interruption.]

    Order. Will hon. Members please leave the Chamber quietly if they are not remaining for this ten-minute motion?

    At present, health benefits are available to people who are eligible because they are exempt or who must claim on low-income grounds. The benefits are free prescriptions, optical and dental charges and help with fares to hospitals.

    In its report "Health Warning", the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux highlighted deficiencies in the scheme in four respects. The first concerned simplicity. The rules are inconsistent because, for example, pensioners are automatically exempt from prescription charges but will qualify for help with other charges only if they have low incomes. Other people on incomes marginally above income support levels may get some help towards dental and optical charges but no help towards prescription charges.

    The second deficiency concerned adequacy. The scheme aims to cover the cost of health charges so that the poorer sections of the community are not prevented from receiving health care by the cost. In practice, however, the scheme does not meet its objectives. Many thousands are deterred from claiming because of the complexity of the scheme, so many people go without vital treatment. There is also considerable evidence that even people entitled to, for instance, free glasses, must still contribute significant amounts to the cost, because the value of the benefit has not kept up with the cost of glasses.

    The system has also failed on grounds of accessibility. NACAB's evidence shows that the scheme is about as accessible as Fort Knox. The relevant form is 20 pages long and contains more than 50 questions, and the 1 million people a year who labour to fill it in often fail to do so or are helped by relatives and friends; 100,000 go to the citizens advice bureaux for help. Even so, about 35 per cent. of those people—361,000—have their forms returned to them because they filled them in incorrectly. When I challenged the Secretary of State for Health to fill in the form, he not surprisingly refused. There is no comparison between this form and the one on which people claim for mortgage interest relief.

    NACAB's fourth point is that the present scheme is deficient on grounds of equity. Anomalies cause confusion and anger among claimants. Often people entitled to free dental treatment find that they must contribute towards the cost of glasses, and the scheme cries out for reform. My Bill will effect just that. At a stroke, the need for 300 staff in the health benefit unit could end and they could be redeployed to improve other parts of the service.

    This Bill proposes that health benefits be available free to all receiving means-tested benefits—for instance, the disabled working allowance benefit, due to begin in April 1992, could lead to claimants who take it up moving from income support to that benefit and thus losing the right to free prescriptions. That would cause considerable hardship.

    My Bill proposes that people in receipt of this benefit and in receipt of poll tax benefit, invaliditity benefit, long-term sickness benefit, the severe disablement allowance, and mobility and attendance allowances should be exempt from prescription charges. Moreover, anyone categorised by his GP as chronically sick should be covered, as the list of prescribed illnesses is outdated.

    People requiring regular medication would also be exempt from prescription charges. That would cover people with cystic fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, multiple sclerosis, cancer and a host of other long-term illnesses.

    My Bill also seeks to right the serious and indefensible wrong brought about by the abolition of free eye and dental tests; and free prescriptions would be available to all over the age of 60. The Minister for Health sought to defend the indefensible when she wrote in a recent letter to The Guardian about the abolition of the tests. Her letter brought forth a torrent of rebukes from people far more expert than she—and far more caring.

    Mr. Ian Hunter, Secretary General of the Association of Optometrists, wrote in reply to the Minister's letter:
    "To restart national health service eye examinations for the over 60s would now cost about £25 million but the cost for not doing so will be two or three times as much because eye disease will remain undetected until treatment is less effective and more expensive. The real social costs of blindness for some have also regrettably to be added."
    I can only add that the abolition of free eye tests is the worst false economy imaginable, and could only be contemplated by such a short-sighted Government.

    The present scheme's inadequacies are best highlighted by a constituent, Mr. Russell, who wrote to me on the advice of his local DSS office, which also thinks that the system is unfair. Mr. Russell lost out when he received a 6p rise which put him above the income support level. He lost entitlement to free prescriptions; he also had to pay £24 for dental treatment, and he can no longer claim his hospital fares unless they cost more than £8·50. He concluded his letter:
    "The 6p rise I received means I am approximately £2·50 a week worse off. Surely this can't be right."
    I agree with Mr. Russell.

    Patients with mental illness are particularly vulnerable. My Bill would exempt many of them from prescription charges.

    Charges have gone up 17 times under the Government. There has been a 600 per cent. increase, from 20p to £3·40, since 1979. They have created an intolerable burden on people on low incomes. Many people now go without the necessary treatment because they cannot afford prescriptions.

    Even the Government have recognised the need for reform, although the review which they commissioned in 1990, which has yet to report, appears to have been an excuse for inaction. When it reports, it will address only the administration of the scheme and not the real solution, which would be to scrap the low income scheme and replace it with one based on exemptions.

    The present scheme is bureaucratic, inconsistent and complex. We need in its place a scheme which is simple, fair and effective, one which people can understand and which delivers help for those who need it most. The scheme must be based on exemptions. My Bill would provide for that.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mr. John Battle, Ms. Dawn Primarolo, Mr. David Hinchliffe, Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, Mr. Eddie Loyden, Mr. Bob Cryer, Mr. Max Madden, Mr. Harry Barnes, Mrs. Audrey Wise, Mr. David Winnick and Mr. Dennis Skinner.

    Health Benefits

    Mrs. Alice Mahon accordingly presented a Bill to extend exemption from prescription charges, and to make further provision for, persons in receipt of certain categories of benefit; to exempt from prescription charges the chronically ill and those over 60; and to exempt those over 60 from certain dental and optical charges: And the same was read the First time: and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 6 March and to be printed. [Bill 50.]

    Nuclear Defence

    We now come to the debate upon nuclear defence. I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, and that in view of the number of right hon. and hon. Members who wish to participate, I propose to put a limit of 10 minutes on speeches between 7 o'clock and 9 o'clock. If those who are fortunate enough to be called before make brief speeches, it may be possible to relax the limit.

    On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance. You will no doubt be aware of the amendment tabled in the name of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and others calling for the scrapping of Trident and the decommissioning of Polaris. May I draw to your attention the fact that 130 members of the parliamentary Labour party, if not more, are also members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and therefore that that amendment represents the majority view within the Labour party?

    In those circumstances, Sir, would it not be more appropriate if you called the amendment tabled in the name of the hon. Member for Islington, North rather than that in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, who apparently represents a minority view in his own party?

    The hon. Gentleman knows that the selection of amendments is a matter for the Chair, and that I never give reasons for my decisions on such matters.

    No doubt it will be possible to make these telling points in the debate.

    On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is a relevant point. As you have announced, this is a debate on nuclear arms and this country's defence policy. I am surprised that rumours are circulating that the Opposition spokesman who is to reply to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is the shadow Foreign Secretary. Are we not entitled to a reply from a leading Opposition defence spokesman if this is to be a fair and proper debate? Could this position have arisen because the Opposition defence spokesman is not a member of the Shadow Cabinet and the issue of defence is so unimportant in the eyes of the Opposition that they have had to press-gang somebody else as a front man?

    It is no rumour—the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) will open from the Front Bench—but the Opposition spokesman on defence will wind up.

    3.45 pm

    I beg to move,

    That this House supports unequivocally the concept of nuclear deterrence and the retention of a credible United Kingdom nuclear deterrent, while other countries have, or seek to acquire, nuclear weapons; notes the great dangers apparent in the increase in the number of countries gaining, or seeking to gain, access to nuclear weapons; understands that the country's nuclear deterrent remains essential for the defence of the United Kingdom and NATO; recognises the vital contribution to world peace which the United Kingdom's nuclear forces have made, and will continue to make, through deterrence; and supports NATO's policy of also maintaining an up-to-date, sub-strategic nuclear capability based in Europe.
    I notice that the words "nuclear defence" are absent from the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock).

    I welcome the opportunity to debate in the House today the crucial issue of defence, particularly nuclear defence. it gives me an opportunity to report to the House on what, since we last met, have been the developments in the territory which represents the largest nuclear arsenal in the world and in which an extremely disturbing and alarming sequence of events is currently taking place, of which the House should take note.

    When we debated related issues in November, the Soviet Union existed—now it does not. There was then a central control over the nuclear arsenal and assurances by President Gorbachev, Foreign Minister Shevardnadze, who had returned to government, and Marshal Shaposhnikov. We were also given what I suppose must be the shortest lived assurance of all time by General Lobov when he visited this country. When asked who was in charge of nuclear weapons, he said that he was, and two days later he was sacked. All those personalities and figures have gone.

    I am sure that Opposition Members can occasionally show a sense of humour on the subject—I reflected how they must have felt as we watched the amazing pictures of the flag being lowered over the Kremlin. All those who had sung for so many years, "We'll keep the red flag flying here," could no longer stomach it being flown over the Kremlin.

    Since then, in place of the USSR and President Gorbachev, there is the fragile creature of the Commonwealth of Independent States. While I am sure that all hon. Members wish it well and hope that it will be possible for a new relationship to develop, we must recognise that, as I speak to the House, there are continuing disputes between the republics over both nuclear weapons and their custody, and the conventional forces.

    The House may know that one of the recent developments identified are changes in the communication patterns—the fact that some communications have been cut between existing headquarters and units whose allegiances have moved between central control and the republics. There have also been disputes about the strategic nature of the air force. We hope that the disputes over the Black sea fleet can be satisfactorily resolved.

    I do not know how many hon. Members know that there was a public meeting in the Crimea attended by a substantial number of members of the Soviet fleet at one of the most acute moments of that dispute, at which a motion was overwhelmingly passed that the commanding admiral should be decleared president of an independent Crimea. We can see some of the tensions that affect the situation and the way in which they relate to military forces. Wholesale changes are occurring in the former Soviet Union's defence policy. We believe that, for the first time since records were kept in 1960, there is not a single combatant Soviet warship in either the Mediterranean or the Indian ocean. That is a measure of the withdrawal that is under way.

    Although it is difficult to obtain accurate information about the Soviet Union's industrial situation and defence industries, we believe also that four out of five tank factories have been closed, and that Russia is proposing to halt all production of tanks, armoured personnel carriers, small arms, and aircraft.

    Would it not have been more appropriate if today's debate had been initiated by the Foreign Secretary, and had dealt with what steps could be taken—particularly by the west—to help the former Soviet Union to avoid anarchy and a return to dictatorship? Today's debate—as every right hon. and hon. Member and all the media know—is held because the Government are on the skids, terrified of holding a general election, and trying to deflect public attention from domestic issues.

    That intervention did not do the hon. Gentleman justice, and he will excuse me if I do not deign to reply to it.

    Is it not a fact that—contrary to the view of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick)—with the majority of Members of Parliament in the Ukraine determined to go their own way, the House should address this issue, which is of crucial national importance?

    I agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) accepts that I am trying to set out as fairly as I can, on the basis of the best intelligence available to me, the current situation in the former Soviet Union. We make no apology for debating defence, but every time we do so, someone on the Opposition Benches says, "Talk about something else." We happen to believe that defence is of critical importance to our country.

    At a time when the largest nuclear power that the world has seen is in the process of potential disintegration, we believe that we have a duty to tell the country where we stand. We as a Government do not shirk that responsibility, and any party with aspirations to government should not do so either.

    Perhaps the most worrying feature is not the withdrawal from operational activity of the Soviet fleet, which might have been caused by fuel shortages or uncertainties about control at home, but that which we indentify as happening within the armed forces. [Interruption.] That situation may be a laughing matter to some, but its seriousness is of gravity to others.

    There now appears to be virtually a total collapse in conscription. One might expect the strength of the Soviet conscript army to number between 650,000 and 750,000. The latest figures that I have make us doubt whether more than 20 per cent. of that figure have come forward this year. There is arguably a shortfall of half a million conscripts entering what were the Soviet armed forces.

    In a sense, that is hardly surprising. There are uncertainties as to whether those personnel will get paid and fed, and whether there will be any housing for them.

    The right hon. Gentleman approaches the subject with his usual lack of seriousness, and looks for any opportunity to make a snide remark, in the way that he did in respect of the meeting between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Yeltsin and President Bush. The right hon. Gentleman described that critically important meeting between world leaders as a glorified photo opportunity, which shows that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) fails to rise to such occasions with the seriousness that is needed.

    Many of us had suspicions about the awfulness of the Soviet conscript system, and as discipline now breaks down and further information becomes available, the appalling problems that were already evident of trying to control a conscript system that attempted to meld as many as 30 different nationalities in one uniform armed force are becoming very clear.

    We know of the contempt of the officer groups for their conscripts, and the arrogant, arbitrary and bureaucratic way in which they were treated. We know of the lack of control that that treatment reflected, which led, in turn, to the death of a number of officers. Hon. Members may know of the army's appalling record in that regard, and of the attacks that were made. We also know that there is no regular non-commissioned officer corps in the Soviet army system, and we are aware of the ill-discipline and criminality that have developed. Marshal Yazov, when he was Minister of Defence, estimated that up to 30 per cent. of conscripts entering the army either had criminal records or were known to the police for various reasons.

    We know of the existence of gangs—of ethnic groups, for instance—and of the bullying and torture that have taken place. Some 4,000 conscripts die every year, of whom more than 1,000 may be suicides. A serious breakdown in discipline and morale has now been aggravated. The latest figures that I have received suggest that some 400,000 people are homeless, living either in tents or in the corners of barrack rooms. That problem is likely to worsen. The supply of food has broken down in some instances, and units are having to barter fuel supplies for food.

    Because of the effects of inflation on the armed forces, a regimental commander may now earn half as much as a city bus driver. A sense of defeat and despair is affecting the forces. In recent years, they have been expelled from Afghanistan and East Germany; now, they face virtual expulsion from what they had thought was their country, in the shape of the Baltic states. The sense of alienation and desperation that exists not only in the officer corps, but throughout the armed forces, represents a very serious development. Although the current changes present no external threat at present, they pose a major threat within what was the Soviet Union, along with the risk that that represents.

    The Secretary of State's description of a breakdown in social organisation must move some of us to wonder about its effect on morale within the unified structure of the armed services, especially that of the strategic containment forces, which are trying to exercise some control over nuclear weapons.

    Can the right hon. Gentleman offer any assessment of the effectiveness of the command and control of those containment forces, given his conversation with General Lobov and the successor whom we know to have been appointed, and his meetings with Marshal Shaposhnikov? How effective is that crucial central command of nuclear weapons?

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for correctly identifying the reasons why I thought it important to set some of the background for the House. We are talking about the condition of the armed forces. As the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, different elements exist within those forces: that applies particularly to the elite forces, which have the particular responsibility of guarding nuclear weapons. While we may seek assurances, at the highest level, of the determination to ensure the most careful security in regard to such weapons, that security will ultimately be only as good as the commitment, morale and dependability of the people concerned.

    That is the seriousness of the present position. I am talking about the morale not of some small, insignificant, backward country, but of a country that, through its obsession with armaments and defence expenditure, has made itself a major military super-power—a super-power that is now fast disintegrating, along with control. In such circumstances, a breakdown in morale is very serious.

    I have not given the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Sir P. Duffy) a clear answer, for the simple reason that I have been given assurances—I have mentioned the assurance that I received from General Lobov—which have been good for about 24 hours. That underlines the difficulty we face.

    Is it not clear from what the Secretary of State has been saying that the Soviet Union's possession of nuclear weapons was no guarantee of its security? That security has now broken down.

    Is it not also clear that the army that has followed that disintegration is in no position to threaten this country, and, moreover, that the British Government and other western Governments for a long time did all they could to bring about the present situation? Part of western strategy was the encouragement of nationalism, and even of Islam—as was high defence expenditure in the Soviet Union.

    Will the Secretary of State look again at Churchill's memorandum to the Cabinet, issued in 1918? Churchill warned the Cabinet then that the division of the Ukraine from Russia would pose a very serious danger. That memorandum is included in "The World Crisis: The Aftermath", and the right hon. Gentleman would do well to study it before he addresses us on the basis of his present approach.

    I should take up too much of the House's time if I answered all those points.

    I want to talk about the grave situation that we face and what we, together with NATO, our allies and the west, can best do to help meet it.

    I have given way many times. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will hope to catch Mr. Speaker's eye and have an opportunity to make his speech.

    Currently, there is a dangerously explosive mix of catastrophically low morale and a feeling of alienation.

    Right hon. and hon. Members have said that we must welcome the changes in the sense of the end of the cold war and, we hope, the end of confrontation and the opportunities that will arise. However, because of the risks that remain, I wish to put soberly to the House the reasons for our belief in the continuing importance of nuclear defence.

    We estimate that there are about 27,000 nuclear warheads within the Soviet Union and, of those, there are some 13,000 strategic nuclear weapons in the four republics—Russia, the Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Byelorussia. If they stayed as they were, it is significant that each of the republics would have more strategic nuclear weapons than China, and three, excluding Byelorussia, would have more than the United Kingdom.

    The republics assure us that they will proceed with and honour the strategic arms reduction talks. If they continue with that and with the further reductions proposed by Mr. Gorbachev, they would halve their nuclear arsenal over the next 10 years. We estimate that 10 years is the minimum time that it would take to remove that number of nuclear weapons in a stable society with a well-organised system. At the end of that time—there are many qualifications to what I have said—the republics would still have 20 times more warheads than we have now. Within the territory which was the Soviet Union and which, if the plans go ahead, may be contained within what is now Russia, there will, for at least the next 20 years, be a substantial nuclear arsenal of strategic weapons. We must address that.

    In addition to the strategic weapons, there is also the risk of tactical nuclear weapons, whether they be torpedoes, air-launched missiles or nuclear artillery shells. My best estimate shows that they are located on 100 sites in 13 different republics. Considerable effort has been made to withdraw them to within Russia. That is the objective, and it is hoped that it will be achieved by the middle of July. Some of those weapons are under the control of some of the elements to which I referred earlier, whose morale, must, at the very least, be described as extremely dubious.

    We are concerned not just about the vast nuclear arsenal but, as I said in an earlier debate in the House, the technology and nuclear scientists. It has been suggested that there are some 3,000 nuclear scientists who could make a significant contribution in other countries that may be seeking to develop their weapons. My information is that at least one group of those nuclear scientists was not paid in December and that control of and responsibility for them appears to have broken down. We also have evidence that some countries are undoubtedly actively trying to enlist the services of some of those people, so the risk of proliferation has never been greater.

    As some hon. Members may know, my colleague—or my friend—the United States Defence Secretary said yesterday that the United States estimates that nine third-world countries are likely to have nuclear weapons in 10 years. The news this morning of further developments in Iraq and the further evidence of the steps that some people have taken to pursue a covert programme is warning enough that some countries—some of them rich—are able to develop a substantial industrial programme.

    No, I am conscious of the time.

    I deal now with what I believe our response should be. I welcome the new contacts that are developing, and I also welcome—as does the whole House—the meeting of what is called the North Atlantic Co-operation Council, at which, before Christmas, the Foreign Ministers of the former Warsaw pact countries met those from NATO countries. I very much welcome the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in inviting President Yeltsin, who, as the House will know, will be coming to London at the end of the month on his way to New York, where the leaders of the permanent members of the Security Council will meet.

    We also welcome the fact that the START negotiations and agreements have been confirmed. We welcome the proposal to consolidate the tactical weapons in the 13 republics in Russia and the agreement that that should be achieved in July this year. We have made clear our willingness to help in the handling of nuclear weapons and to give any assistance we can, perhaps by providing extra facilities for their dismantling and disarming in Russia. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will visit Kazakhstan on Sunday, from where he will go to Kiev and to Moscow. His visit to Kazakhstan is especially important, because that republic has expressed a different view about what it will do about nuclear weapons.

    Such developments are important, but beyond them it is clear that the lessons that we must have learned from Iraq are the difficulties experienced by the International Atomic Energy Agency and those experienced in the enforcement and observation of the non-proliferation treaty. We and our allies in the agency are giving high priority to the work of strengthening the safeguards. With our European Community partners and other like-minded states, we have made and will make specific proposals.

    An especially important matter is that of special inspections. Particular importance is to be placed on them, and I am sure that the House will accept that their importance is clear from what happened in Iraq. Anyone who has been watching developments in Iraq will know of the problem of undeclared sites, and will know how few of the sites on which we have found material for weapons of mass destruction were originally declared. The problem of undeclared sites is fundamental, and limits the effectiveness of the present safeguard system.

    We believe in the strictest supplier controls, and we are keen to promote them. We welcome the reactivation in 1991 of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the supportive work to draw up a regime to control nuclear dual use items. Of course, the skill in exploiting what were dual use items has been a key in the Iraqi programme. We also intend to introduce the full-scope safeguards for nuclear supply. The lessons of Iraq bring home clearly that area of work, and we will pursue it actively——

    as we shall also pursue discussions in the United Nations. I referred to the meeting that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has called during our presidency of the Security Council to give the opportunity to start to discuss the ways in which the United Nations can be more active in that area.

    The House will know of the welcome early visit to this country yesterday by the new Secretary-General of the United Nations and of his meetings with the Prime Minister, with the Leader of the Opposition and with the Foreign Secretary.

    We face uncertainty and great danger at present. We need to take every step possible to try to ensure that, both in the security of the weapons that are in the Soviet Union and in the risks of proliferation, we act as effectively as possible and as closely together as possible with our allies and with all those who share our concerns.

    I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way.

    There can be no guarantee that we shall succeed. I have set out for the House the time frame we face, and I have explained why we believe that, as we face a period of real danger and uncertainty in the nuclear area, we must ensure that our own nuclear defences are sound.

    I will set out clearly where we stand. We face the risk of a major strategic arsenal, and we cannot be sure under whose control that arsenal may fall. I have talked about the prospects for the next 10 years and about the number of weapons that would still be left—perhaps for 20 years. To be blunt, we do not have a single idea about who may be in control in 10 years' time. We do not even have a good idea or any confidence about who may be in control 10 weeks from now.

    Against that background, it is important for the House to restate its commitment to the need for a strategic deterrent. If we have a strategic deterrent, it must be credible. That means that it must at all times be available and at all times able to preserve its effectiveness. The House knows—there is no point in arguing—that we need four Trident submarines. There is no point in saying that we shall have half a deterrent or three quarters of a deterrent, or that we may say a bit of money if we do not have the last quarter. The professional advice to me, which I accept and which has been accepted by successive Governments, is for our deterrent to be credible and effective. The minimum need is for four Trident submarines.

    As has been recognised in the NATO strategic concept and by all our NATO allies, we also need to have a sub-strategic capability to ensure the flexibility of our nuclear response and to ensure its credibility. That is the NATO policy, which has been endorsed only recently—the new policy in the new situation—and that is the policy by which we stand.

    In dealing with the existing time scales—the years for which we have to provide—we cannot turn our deterrent on and off like a tap. One either believes in, supports, maintains, equips and trains to ensure the operation of our sub-strategic deterrent for year after year, or one does not invest in it at all. That is our policy.

    As the right hon. Gentleman has spoken about the importance of the availability and credibility of the nuclear deterrent, will he tell the House in what circumstances the Government would use nuclear weapons?

    I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising that point. We reserve the option of nuclear use if circumstances are sufficiently dire to warrant it. We will not give the precise details of those circumstances.

    I will not give way.

    What one does not do is stand up and say:
    "There are no circumstances in which I would order or permit the firing of a nuclear weapon".
    The House knows that I am quoting the words of the Leader of the Opposition of 1983. In May 1989, the right hon. Gentleman tried to crawl back from those words and correct himself, but the damage had been done. Lest any hon. Member does not believe that the damage was done, I remind the House that 50 Labour Members did: they signed a letter that appeared in The Guardian dated 5 May 1989. A number of them are sitting on the Back Benches now; I recognise their faces.

    The letter said:
    "We believe it is impossible for any Labour Prime Minister to convince the British public there are any circumstances in which a Labour Prime Minister would press the nuclear button."
    They were right. The credibility of the Leader of the Opposition has gone. He said that there were no circumstances in which he would take such action, and both the people and his own party believed him.

    In response to my earlier question, the Secretary of State said that it would be wrong for him to state the circumstances in which the Government might use nuclear weapons. He therefore concurs with the previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), who said:

    "It would undermine our strategy of deterrence to spell out in advance the precise way in which nuclear weapons would or might be used in any given circumstances."—[Official Report 7 June 1989; Vol. 154, c. 160.]
    Those are extremely sensible words, which the present Prime Minister would do well to learn, given that he asked the Opposition in what circumstances we would use nuclear weapons.

    The right hon. Gentleman and I will return to the problems of credibility faced by the Leader of the Opposition on nuclear defence.

    We have made our position on nuclear defence absolutely clear. We believe that we need a four-boat Trident fleet, and that our nuclear deterrent should continue in operation. We believe in the need for a sub-strategic capability and have determined to support Nato in its policy on sub-strategic nuclear weapons. Our position is absolutely clear. Only to those unwilling to listen is it not clear.

    We think that we have a duty to tell the country what our position is now that the situation has changed—at the end of the cold war and at a time when there is no longer a Soviet Union, but when a huge nuclear arsenal is lying there and could fall into the wrong hands. Is it so outrageous—so embarrassing—to ask the Opposition to tell us, just for a moment, what their policy is?

    In their amendment, the Liberal Democrats support the Government's policy on the Trident submarine. They are not so good when it comes to supporting NATO policy on the sub-strategic deterrent, but then they have the rather engaging additional policy of cutting defence expenditure by 50 per cent. over the next 10 years, which means that they could not afford it anyway, so we can see where they stand on that.

    Why will the Labour party simply not answer the question? Why does Labour publish policy papers on every subject under the sun but nothing on nuclear deterrence? I wrote to the Leader of the Opposition asking, "How can we avoid the coming election being about personalities and not policies, when you have no policies?" It is significant that I received no reply. I do not often resort to quoting Mr. Martin Jacques, the former editor of Marxism Today, but he made an interesting comment with which I think many would agree:
    "The Labour Party has virtually abstained from the post cold war debate on defence. Paralysed by the memory of the 1983 and 1987 elections, its only concern is to reassure. Labour"—
    listen to this—
    "does not want a defence debat: the very mention of defence sends it running for cover."
    Nothing that I have seen today contradicts that.

    Why is the Labour party paralysed? It is paralysed because it is split from top to bottom. Let us look at today's Order Paper. Nowhere does the official Opposition's amendment make any reference to nuclear defence. But what about the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn)? Obviously he is quite confident, because he knows where the bulk of Opposition Members stand—behind him.

    Only two years ago, 50 members of the Labour party—among them the hon. Member for Islington, North, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for Newham North-West (Mr. Banks)—wrote to the Guardian as follows:
    "We, members of the Parliamentary Labour Party, reaffirm our support for Labour Party defence policy as set out in composite 56, carried at last year's Annual Conference of the Labour party, namely 'to unconditionally remove all nuclear weapons and nuclear bases from British soil and waters in the first Parliament of the next Labour Government.'"
    That is where Opposition Members stand.

    What about the Leader of the Opposition? Only three years ago, he wrote to Sanity, the magazine of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, to congratulate the organisation on 30 years of effort to secure a nuclear-free Europe. He stressed the need to make and win the argument for non-nuclear defence.

    But the Leader of the Opposition is not the only Labour Member who adopts that position. I need only draw attention to several Front-Bench Members—the hon. Members for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), for Livingston (Mr. Cook), for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) and for Barking (Ms. Richardson). It has been estimated that 16 of the 22 members of the present shadow Cabinet have an anti-nuclear background.

    I have some sympathy for the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), who has to take a lot of flak. It is disgraceful that defence is not represented in the Labour shadow Cabinet. People may have different political views, but it is scandalous that defence is not represented. For the hon. Member for Clackmannan, it must be really galling that the person who beat him for the last place in the shadow Cabinet is the hon. Member for Barking, who, I understand, has shadow Cabinet responsibility for women. It is interesting that the hon. Lady is also a vice-president of CND.

    When we raise the question of the CND background of Labour Members, we are told that it is a McCarthyite thing to do. Why should it be regarded as McCarthyite? The hon. Member for Islington, North does not think that it is McCarthyite; he is proud of it. He does not think that membership of CND is a matter for shame. He is proud to say what he believes, and we respect him for standing up for his beliefs.

    I cannot give way to the right hon. Gentleman, but I must say that he too stands up for his opinions.

    I apologise for being unable to give way to the right hon. Gentleman. I have done so once already.

    The shameful thing is not that there are Opposition Members who are in CND and are prepared to stand up for what they believe in, but that there are people who pretend that they are no longer members or who have let their membership lapse. They are the people we despise. Anyone who wants to know what the parliamentary Labour party thinks about nuclear defence should note the identity of those who are officers of the newly elected Back-Bench committee. How many people know who is the chairman of the Labour parliamentary defence committee?

    On cue, the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) identifies himself.

    Who are the hon. Gentleman's noble colleagues as vice-chairmen? They are two well-known multilateralists—the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer). If ever one could hear the voice of the Labour party, and if one wanted to know what Labour Back-Bench Members think, they have spelt it out very clearly indeed.

    I am grateful that, at last, the Secretary of State has given way. It is all very interesting stuff that he is giving. Will he explain to the people of this country why it is necessary to spend £23 billion on purchasing a Trident submarine system that has a fire power equal to 3,800 Hiroshima bombs, when there is no discernible enemy whatsoever, yet the world is split apart by poverty in the south and militarism in the north? Will the right hon. Gentleman address the real needs of the people of this country and the rest of the world, and instead opt for nuclear disarmament and arms conversion rather than the madness of the militarism that he is talking about?

    I am grateful to the hon. Member, because he might not have caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, and then we would have been denied the real voice of the Labour party. I wonder how to respond to the hon. Gentleman. I understand his sincerity. I happen to believe that, while a massive number of nuclear weapons could be targeted on this country, it would be madness to deny ourselves a minimum nuclear deterrent. However, I suppose that what really must get to the hon Gentleman is that people who he thought supported his point of view but who have now deserted him would actually claim to support my position. I do not believe that they do so, but that is the pretence that they are carrying out at this moment.

    If my hon. Friend will excuse me, I shall not, as I am conscious of the time that we have taken.

    As with nuclear, so with conventional. Three successive Labour party conferences have voted for overwhelming reductions in defence expenditure. Whether it is £6 billion a year, other hon. Members who supposedly support our defence expenditure claim that it is much more. At successive conferences, the Leader of the Opposition and his right hon. Friends have been conclusively and substantially beaten by a coalition led by Mr. Bruce Kent and the right hon. Member for Chesterfield. They have tried to repudiate that. They have tried to say, "No, that won't happen. We don't have to pay attention to these conference resolutions." Unfortunately, they forgot that repudiation and that resolution when they printed "Looking to the Future".

    Last year, we looked forward to huge negotiated cuts in conventional armaments. The effective collapse of the Warsaw pact and such international agreements can make possible reductions in United Kingdom defence spending far beyond anything envisaged at last year's Labour party conference. The hon. Member for Clackmannan went further and said:
    "The scope for defence cuts will likely be that much greater."
    Of course, the secret came out in that leaked memorandum from the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), in which he said:
    "Defence cuts could arguably be the North sea oil of the 1990s."
    We got the message. As the House may know, North sea oil has been worth £100 billion. Over the next 10 years, defence expenditure might be £240 billion. We see the hidden agenda. Indeed there are plans, not just on the Labour Back Benches and not just in the reaches of a Labour party conference, but on the Opposition Front Bench and in the inner workings of any ambitions of a future Labour Government for a massive reduction.

    I doubt whether we shall get any straight answers. The right hon. Member for Gorton will try to insult and smear any comments that we make. No doubt he will tell us that Labour's policy is already clearly spelt out in "Meet the Challenge, Make the Change". It has been reaffirmed in "Looking to the Future", and it has been reaffirmed in "Opportunity Britain". That is the inspired policy that called for the simultaneous dissolution of NATO and the Warsaw pact, and they really subscribe to that. We have made it quite clear that, when we tackle the very real challenges of the Soviet Union, we shall do what needs to be done.

    If one challenges the Labour party on defence expenditure, its members say, "We shall do what needs to be done when we get into office." Their slogan is, "Trust us," but to do so would be to give a blank cheque to all those who have been wrong on every count in the past two elections and who would have destroyed our defences. They expect the British people to buy unseen a defence policy of which they know nothing. This is the end of the road for consumers—[Interruption.]

    The purpose of today's debate is to ask two direct and straight questions of the right hon. Member for Gorton. As we sit here, we have a nuclear deterrent which is maintained by our service men. What we and the country need to know from the Opposition is whether they now believe in the importance of keeping a strategic nuclear deterrent while other countries have nuclear weapons targeted on us. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the fourth Trident boat is built to guarantee the effective operation of that strategic deterrent? In addition, and separately, do the Opposition support NATO's policy of sub-strategic nuclear weapons based in Europe and kept up to date?

    The time for fudging and evasion is over. The time for telling the country where the Opposition stand on nuclear defence is here. The country is entitled to straight answers to those questions. We shall listen with interest to see whether we shall now get them at last.

    4.31 pm

    I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

    "calls on Her Majesty's Government, taking into account the perils, problems and uncertainties of the world situation following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and while providing an effective defence for the United Kingdom based on the necessary level of forces provided with the appropriate equipment and weaponry, to formulate a policy based on arms control and reduction negotiations involving the eight nuclear powers, a strengthened and extended nuclear non-proliferation treaty backed by sanctions, a comprehensive test-ban treaty, and a new round of conventional forces negotiations involving the participation of the post-Soviet republics to promote an internationally structured aid programme for the post-Communist countries of central and eastern Europe under the auspices of the G7 countries and to implement a diversification programme within the United Kingdom to assist the defence industries to maintain employment and continue their contribution to the national economy."
    Since the House adjourned for the Christmas recess, unprecedented events have taken place in the world. The Soviet Union has been dissolved. Mikhail Gorbachev has resigned as Soviet president. The Commonwealth of Independent States has been born. Three additional nuclear powers have arisen, two of which have larger arsenals than the United Kingdom. A permanent member of the United Nations Security Council has disappeared, with a completely new sovereign state seeking to take its place. A world power balance which lasted for 46 years has ended. A super-power has vanished. Alarming uncertainties have arisen. The danger of nuclear proliferation through the seepage of weapons and of scientists is immensely disturbing.

    In those extraordinary circumstances, the Labour party took the view that a narrow debate on nuclear defence did not meet the scale of the problems and perils facing the international community, especially since the House debated nuclear defence only six weeks ago, when the Secretary of State made largely the same speech, with the same poor cracks and the same old quotations that he has given us today.

    The Labour party therefore proposed to the Government that the scope of the debate should be widened and that the Foreign Secretary should participate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has appropriately proposed. But the Government refused that proposal because they are wedded to staging a stunt debate to serve their petty party agenda and to distract attention from the "John Major economic slump—made in Downing street" that is driving the Tory party to electoral defeat. The Tory party believed that the Foreign Secretary's obligations to Parliament could be fulfilled by a shoddy little interview in the Sunday Express——

    I shall give way in a little while, but I should like to proceed for a moment. The hon. Gentleman generally seeks to intervene in my speeches and I give way to him from time to time.

    The Labour party has therefore tabled an amendment to the Government's motion so as to give the House the opportunity for a sensible and serious debate on the international situation. How wise we were has been proved by the trivial and inadequate speech that we have just heard from the Secretary of State for Defence, a speech which sank under its own lack of weight.

    A year ago, the world was dominated by two nuclear super-powers which, after more than 40 years of confrontation, had learnt to work together and had brought a new stability to our planet. Now there is one nuclear super-power, which paradoxically has to cope with profound world instability. The end of the cold war celebrated in Paris in November 1990 brought peace but uncertainty. The end of the USSR has opened a Pandora's box. The conflict in Georgia could be just a foretaste of what might follow.

    The west bears its own heavy responsibility for what has taken place. At the G7 summit six months ago, Mikhail Gorbachev was treated like a mendicant. Seeking aid for his country, he was sent home empty-handed and humiliated. The Tory Government in Britain could have altered the balance of three to four in the G7 and could have helped to provide meaningful aid for Gorbachev. In their narrow view of world affairs, they chose not to do so. The August coup followed, and the regime of Mikhail Gorbachev was in ruins. Mikhail Gorbachev was the greatest peacetime leader in international affairs this century. The Prime Minister paid a mawkish tribute to him when he resigned last month but did not lift a finger to help him when he might have been saved.

    The question now for the international community is not what can be done to restore the old stability—that is not possible—but how to create a new and lasting stability. With the United States still dominant, but economically weak and ready to accept others sharing its hegemony, there is an unprecedented opportunity for the United Kingdom to give a lead not as a super-power but as a catalyst. Britain can count in the world. There is an agenda waiting to be implemented and Britain can help to formulate that agenda.

    It would be unwise to try to rewrite history so quickly. The reality of the G7 meeting was that President Gorbachev could not satisfy the leaders that he could use the aid properly and that it would go to the right quarters. Those assurances were sought but not given, and the lack of those assurances was well understood by Yeltsin and other people in the Soviet Union at that time. The failure of President Gorbachev to apply his reforms ultimately led to the crisis.

    That failure was not recognised in the way that the hon. Gentleman implies by Chancellor Kohl or President Mitterand who, with the Italian Government, wished to provide substantial aid for the Soviet Union at the G7 summit. If the United Kingdom had been with Germany, Italy and France, there would have been a majority at the G7 summit for structured aid to the Soviet Union. That is the scale of the Prime Minister's shortcomings at the G7 summit.

    Britain can count in the world. First, we must try to contain the nuclear instability that has arisen and prevent it from leading to a nuclear free-for-all. The START negotiating process between Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev, which was continued by President Bush, resulted in the agreement to reduce American and Soviet strategic nuclear weapons by a third. It is essential that the successor republics to the Soviet Union fulfil that agreement. But there will be no further START process involving the two super-powers. That process is over because there are no longer two super-powers.

    All the eight nuclear powers should now become involved in the next phase of the START process. That means negotiations involving the United States, the four former Soviet nuclear powers, France, China and the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom should take the lead in urging the convening of such talks, aimed at reducing the stockpiles of all the eight and with the hope of reducing them to low and unthreatening levels. Elimination of all eight stockpiles is the obvious and sensible goal, although when that will be possible it is far too soon to say.

    No, I will not give way. I want to proceed a little. When I have dealt with this passage, I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

    Beside that sensible and reasonable objective, this Tory Government look particularly puny and petty as they brandish their nuclear weapons like some macho symbol. They are the Government who have stood in the way of all progress on nuclear disarmament by negotiation the Government who insisted that the Lance missile system should be modernised even when its owner, the United States, accepted that Lance modernisation made no sense. They are the Government who alone opposed negotiations on short-range nuclear weapons when the rest of NATO saw that such negotiations were necessary.

    Two years ago, the Secretary of State for Defence sat on the Government Front Bench nodding like an obedient poodle when his Prime Minister said this:
    "Removal of the imbalance in conventional forces would not obviate the continuing need for short-range missiles. Short-range nuclear weapons must be available to commanders in the field at all stages."
    That is what the Prime Minister said; that is what the Secretary of State for Defence expounded. Yet exactly three months ago, the Secretary of State told the House:
    "we will entirely give up the short-range nuclear capability of the Lance system …the 50th Missile Regiment Royal Artillery will disband. Similarly, we shall give up our nuclear artillery capability." [Official Report, 14 October 1991; Vol. 196, c. 58.]

    Of course things have changed. That is the point. The whole point of defence policy is that the Government stick there in the mud not acknowledging that the world situation has changed.

    No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman—not in any circumstances.

    The Secretary of State for Defence likes to accuse the Opposition of advocating unilateral nuclear disarmament. Yet six weeks ago the Secretary of State for Defence announced to the House unilateral British measures to divest this country of nuclear capability, and boasted of it as an achievement.

    As far as I can gather, Mr. Deputy Speaker, every one of the hon. Gentlemen who seek to intervene on me will not be a Member of the House within six months.

    The right hon. Gentleman knows as little about my constituency as he does about defence policy.

    The hon. Gentleman may not know much about his constituency either. However, since I believe that there is no place like home, I will give way to the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill).

    Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that this country would not have a nuclear deterrent today had a Labour Government been elected in either 1983 or 1987?

    According to the Government's own calculations, we do not have a nuclear deterrent. The Government say that the minimum necessary deterrent for this country is four Tridents, and the number of Polaris warheads is far fewer than four Trident warheads, so I am not too sure of the status of the deterrent at the moment.

    After first of all advocating Lance missiles and opposing the negotiations on short-range nuclear weapons, the Secretary of State for Defence, after two years, has boasted of getting rid of the Lance missile and of unilaterally getting rid of short-range nuclear weapons. This is the right hon. Gentleman who had the nerve to say in the debate on 22 November:

    "It is also important that it should be understood that this country adopts a consistent and relevant approach to nuclear matters.—[Official Report, 22 November 1991; Vol. 199, c. 544.]
    The right hon. Gentleman said that in the House six months ago. He has stood on his head in nuclear matters, turned a public somersault, yet he has the nerve to give the Opposition lectures on consistency.

    The Government not only change their mind on what they regard as basic nuclear defence issues—they do not even understand what to do with the nuclear weapons that they possess or seek to retain. They are led by a Prime Minister so completely illiterate on defence matters that on 11 July last year he challenged the Labour party to state in what circumstances it would use nuclear weapons, when the Secretary of State for Defence today rightly refused to do so and when his Prime Minister also refused to do so on the basis that it would undermine the strategy of deterrence.

    The Government cannot be relied upon to take the lead in international nuclear arms control discussions, but the Labour Government soon to be elected will certainly take that lead.

    A great danger arises from the multiplication of ownership of both strategic and short-range nuclear weapons: the danger of proliferation. There is a real peril that weapons will find their way from former Soviet republics to less responsible and more reckless ownership. There is a danger that nuclear scientists, ill paid and uncertain about their future, might be bought up by other countries, taking with them perhaps materials and certainly their know-how. Dick Cheney, United States Defense Secretary, yesterday gave a sombre warning about that possibility.

    That is a prospect never before experienced or expected, and we must do all that we can to prevent it from happening. That is why the nuclear non-proliferation treaty must be extended. All the successor Soviet republics, especially those already in possession of nuclear weapons, must be persuaded to sign the non-proliferation treaty. The treaty must be strengthened, with more intrusive inspection. Any country refusing to sign it must not be permitted to buy any nuclear materials even for professedly peaceful purposes.

    I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. The whole process should be backed up by sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. It is highly encouraging that China has decided to adhere to the non-proliferation treaty. That gives all five permanent members of the Security Council a common interest in ensuring that the non-proliferation treaty really works.