House Of Commons
Tuesday 3 March 1992
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Oral Answers To Questions
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what new initiatives he plans to curtail nuclear weapons proliferation.
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on recent progress in multilateral disarmament.
The greatest immediate risk of proliferation stems from the break-up of the Soviet Union. I announced last week assistance to Russia in the safe reduction of its surplus nuclear warheads, and we are considering with other interested countries how best to help Russia use the skills of its scientists for peaceful purposes. We are also considering with partners measures to improve the operation of the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguard regimes. As regards multilateral disarmament, the Government are fully committed to the greatest progress in the whole range of nuclear conventional, chemical and biological arms control negotiations.
Does the right hon. Gentleman remember that five months before the Gulf war, the Government told me that they had full confidence that Saddam Hussein was not developing nuclear weapons? If they are being fooled now by many other countries, is it not right that we must seek a strong, new, international non-proliferation treaty containing vigorous verification provisions backed by United Nations sanctions? Would not the best way to ensure that such a treaty would be accepted worldwide be for us to allow international inspection and verification of the numbers of our warheads?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we are now engaged with the United Nations in the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The world has learnt the lessons from that, of the need for a more effective operation and for more intrusive inspections by the IAEA. I can certainly confirm on behalf of the Government that we shall take any sensible steps that are necessary, consistent with our security, to play our part in that effort.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it was only by a consistent and credible policy of multilateral disarmament that the collapse of communism was eventually assured?
I agree with my hon. Friend that it is vital at this time, when there is the greatest risk of proliferation that the world has ever known and when the world's greatest nuclear power is in a state of disintegration, that we ensure that while we take every positive and constructive step to try to deal with that very grave situation, we recognise the need to maintain our essential safeguard, our own nuclear deterrent.
The Secretary of State referred to help being given to Russian scientists. In precisely what form is that help being given?
The hon. Gentleman will be familiar with the statements made by US Secretary Jim Baker and German Foreign Minister Genscher. We are in close touch with our allies on this matter to see the ways by which assistance can perhaps be given, and contracts can be placed, for valuable work to be done which would occupy such scientists, in addition to the part that they might also play more directly in some of the work involved in the dismantling and disabling programme of that massive nuclear arsenal.
Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what he feels about the accuracy of the continued Russian accounting for nuclear warheads? Has he considered whether the western powers should purchase some of those warheads to prevent them from falling into the hands of non-nuclear powers that have no idea how to maintain or destroy them?
It would be fair to say that our impression so far is that the previous Soviet systems were, in many ways, impressive and that the Soviet Union had good controls over its nuclear weapons. Our concern now is how good those controls remain, given that the situation is moving from union controlf—the Soviet Union—to control by individual republics. Four republics now have strategic nuclear weapons, although tactical nuclear weapons have been withdrawn within Russia. Our worries about the continuing control, however, are real, which is why we are making as positive a contribution as we can to help tackle that problem urgently.
Will the Secretary of State impress on the Prime Minister the need to raise with Mr. Yeltsin the substance of the conversation that my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) and I had last Tuesday with Mr. Bikov of the Russian Academy of Science? Mr. Bikov said that on those secret sites, nuclear weapons were still being built. He said that, despite the fact that representatives of the Russian Parliament did not want them to be built and decisions had been taken for them not to be built, they were still being built because of the nature of the command economy that is being phased out. Was not that an important statement for Mr. Bikov to have made to us? Will the Secretary of State assure us that the matter will be raised with representatives of the Russian Government?
Allegations of many kinds have been made about that matter and certain aspects of the command economy. While stocks in the form of raw materials last —I am not talking about nuclear weapons but general armaments—the production will clearly continue. The successor republics of the Soviet Union regard general armaments such as tanks and artillery as a valuable source of hard currency for their hard-pressed economies. The information that the hon. Gentleman has, has not been confirmed to me, except in certain minor respects, but it is a serious issue with which we continue to deal.
Royal Auxiliary Air Force
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress he is making towards restoring a flying role for squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.
There are no plans to restore a flying role to squadrons of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.
May I point out to my right hon. Friend that the Royal Air Force is the only one of the three western air forces with significant operational experience since world war two—the other two are the Israeli and the United States air forces—not to have combat-ready reserve squadrons? A flying role for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force would be exceedingly cost effective, particularly as air crews are being made redundant under "Options for Change". It is a marked distinction of the sensible policy of the Territorial Army and the Royal Naval Reserve in that matter.
We are considering whether a small number of test air crews from industry in the Royal Air Force Voluntary Reserve should be used as front-line reinforcements for fast jet aircraft. We are talking about costs and, as my hon. Friend will know, the cost of maintaining any aircraft, whether in the Royal Air Force or the reserves, is great, and I do not know how cost effective it would be.
In the early stages of "Options for Change" the Secretary of State said that he would put more resources and emphasis on the development and re-equipping of the reserve forces. How many extra resources have been put into the reserve forces since the beginning of "Options for Change"? Would he agree to support a review of the Reserve Forces Safeguard of Employment Act 1985 so that we shall not have in the future the rash of litigation that has been needed against employers who have declined to accept reservists back since the Gulf war?
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is anticipating what my right hon. Friend will say on the matter. My right hon. Friend will shortly make a statement on the regular-reserve mix.
While declaring an interest and reluctantly accepting what my right hon. Friend says about flying squadrons, may I ask him to confirm that there is a good future for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force in view of its exceptional record and its cost effectiveness as a reserve force?
Yes, indeed. As my hon. Friend will know and as hon. Members will hardly need to be reminded, a large number of roles are currently carried out by the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. Those roles are valuable and we intend to build on them.
"Options For Change"
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a further statement on "Options for Change".
The "Options for Change" exercise was completed in July 1990. Since then, we have been concerned with implementing proposals to create the structure for "Britain's Defence for the '90s". The House is aware of a number of recent announcements, particularly for new equipment, to ensure that our forces, though smaller, will be more flexible, more mobile and better equipped than ever before.
Does the Secretary of State recognise that the Government's inaction on this matter has resulted in "Options for Change" being a shambles? There has been no positive action to give hope to those communities and workers involved with the defence industry. The Government have failed to take the opportunities before them. Will we have to wait for a Labour Government before positive action is taken? [Interruption.]
I apologise, Mr. Speaker, I do not usually have by breath taken away. But for the hon. Member to make such a statement, particularly today when, if I catch your eye, I shall make a statement about equipment procurement for our forces, leaves me breathless. I have made statements from the Dispatch Box announcing new tanks, new helicopters, new frigates, and new packages for the air force, our amphibious forces and our commandos. We have made our policies absolutely clear, not just by asserting that we have it in mind to take action, but by stating what we have planned and by making announcements for new equipment and new forces. I also hope to have something more to say on the reserves, which is an important development. For the hon. Gentleman to have the nerve to ask such a question when he was undoubtedly one of those who voted successively for large cuts in our defence expenditure, is mind-boggling.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that our infantry is second to none in the world. Does he also agree that a large part of the excellence stems from the fact that its members have the right training from day one, when they join the armed forces? Will he make certain that, in no circumstances, will there be an mismatch in terms of that basic training? Will he ensure that any suggestion of parachute recruits going to Lichfield to train with Royal Army Medical Corps recruits of both genders would be ruled out of court immediately?
My hon. Friend is ever vigilant of the interests of the parachute regiment. I do not think that anybody seriously believes that we can get much legislation passed in the House without his close observance and approval of it. We are looking at the training arrangements and are anxious to ensure that our future forces receive the best and most relevant forms of training in the most efficient and cost-effective way. There may be further announcements shortly.
While welcoming the briefing that is continually taking place, may I press the Secretary of State to bear in mind that the reserve forces are always an important aspect of our national forces? In an earlier reply he suggested that in Northern Ireland, those who wanted to volunteer for the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve could volunteer for some other service. Does he accept that some people prefer to prepare for international emergencies and not necessarily be involved in the local scene? Will he bear that in mind as he considers further recruitment for the TAVR in Northern Ireland?
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. He will recall that when I made the announcement about the TA I made the point that even with the proposed changes the people of Northern Ireland will enjoy some of the best opportunities in the United Kingdom to take part in TA service. There are changes—the numbers were exceptionally high, as the hon. Gentleman graphically indicated just now—but still no one could claim that Northern Ireland was badly placed in respect of our proposals.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the anxiety that still persists in Staffordshire about the fate of the Staffordshire regiment is not mere local and parochial concern but is based on a wider concern for the strength of the infantry? Can he say anything this afternoon that will enable me to reassure my very worried constituents?
I entirely sympathise with the feelings described by my hon. Friend. I was met by a very respectful group of Gordon Highlanders when I visted Aberdeen recently, when I said that I would have been on the line as well had I been in their position.We have made our plans; they involve change; they involve striking a balance. The Army has reached its decisions. My hon. Friend is concerned about what the strength of the infantry will be in three years' time. We are steadily working towards the plans that we set out. which we believe are right. Were the world to change significantly, we would of course have to look at them again. I do not want to be misunderstood. We have no plans to change: we believe that these proposals are right. We believe in smaller but better, which means a choice between the numbers of people and the quality of the equipment that they can enjoy. My hon. Friend will concede that we have more than lived up to our promise that our Army of the future, as the Select Committee report said, will be outstandingly well equipped. We intend that to apply to the Navy and to the Air Force as well.
The Secretary of State pointed out in his last answer that on 21 February he expressed sympathy with some of the supporters of the regiments, and he said that he would have been standing outside under the same banners. He did not mention, however, that his answer on the same occasion made it absolutely clear that the proposed regimental cuts would proceed irrespective of the findings of the Defence Select Committee report. How could the Secretary of State dismiss so lightly and in advance a report which had not even been written at that date? Is not that a discourtesy to the Select Committee, which is made up mainly of Conservative Back Benchers? Will it not be regarded by them and by the regiments as an admission that he is unable to justify on security grounds the cuts that he has made?
Is the hon. Gentleman quoting a newspaper report on this matter? If that is the report to which he is referring, when asked how I would react to a Select Committee report I said that it would depend on what it said. It is not mandatory on any Government or Minister automatically to accept every Select Committee report. We will respond constructively; if we believe that the report's criticisms are right and constructive, we will take them into account. If we disagree with them, we will say so in the most courteous and, I hope, respectful way we can.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the high degree of dependence of the Plymouth travel-to-work area on defence-related activity? Does he agree that it is therefore essential that the area be involved meaningfully in future in our nuclear submarine programme and in the Devonport-based surface ships?
Not only am I aware of that dependence; I am aware of the debt that we owe the area and of the real contribution made by the people of Plymouth to the Royal Navy and the Royal Marine Commandos, among other units involved. They would be the first to show their appreciation.We have made it absolutely clear that we are determined that Plymouth should have a good future. I do not want to go into detail now, but that is certain. How good that future is will depend in part on the performance of the dockyard, which is competing right now. I hope that the dockyard will be in a position to make a significant contribution to the work in future—our budget provides for that. Indeed, we are the only party to have made the financial provision to ensure that that happens.
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many young people under the age of 18 years are currently serving in the armed forces.
As at 1 January 1992, the latest date for which we have information, there were 7,647 personnel under 18 years of age serving in the armed forces.
In view of the growing international concern about the use of children and young people in various conflicts, especially in third-world countries, how on earth can the Minister possibly justify a situation in this country whereby a young lad can join the Army at the age of 16, or in some cases at the age of 15, but if he changes his mind and wants to leave after serving more than six months he cannot do so and is forced to continue in the armed services until the age of 21? Is not it about time that the Government stopped this practice of recruiting and exploiting young people who are deemed not old enough to cast a vote but in some cases are being forced to continue in the Army and can be put into armed combat, as they were during the Gulf war?
The issue of people not being able to leave the forces until they are 21 was raised by the Select Committee that examined the Armed Forces Bill, now the Armed Forces Act 1991. We are looking at the matter and it is currently being considered by the Department. The hon. Gentleman asked about young people joining the armed forces. I do not know who the hon. Gentleman thinks he is speaking for, but I remind him that these people are volunteers and join with the approval of their parents. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that a person under the age of 18 should not have joined his unit in the Gulf? I do not think that that would have been the attitude of the young men who were very keen to fight for their country and to serve with their compatriots.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that his earlier answer emphasised once again how essential and right it was for the Government to stand up against allowing homosexuality in the armed forces? Many parents of potential boy soldiers, sailors and airmen would have been very reluctant to allow their sons to join the armed forces if homosexuality had been allowed among those who were to train them.
My hon. Friend is right. We carefully considered that issue, and I agree that many parents would have been reluctant to allow their children to serve with the armed forces at such a young age if homosexuality had been allowed.
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the current position with regard to the Trident nuclear defence programme.
The Trident programme remains on time and within budget. The first submarine, Vanguard, is set to roll out of the Devonshire dock hall in Barrow tomorrow and, following a series of sea trials, will enter service with the Royal Navy in the mid-1990s.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government have had a consistent and unwavering policy on nuclear deterrence through the strength and use of Trident? Will he also confirm that the Government will place the order for the fourth Trident submarine as soon as possible?
The answer to the second part of my hon. Friend's question is yes. It is our duty to protect our nation against the risk of nuclear attack and nuclear threat. That cannot be done on an on-off basis. We must provide the means, the equipment and the training, and that must be maintained year after year. We cannot take risks. My great concern about the totally ambivalent position of the Labour party is that it is prepared to take risks by not having enough submarines to provide an effective deterrent. That applies even to the minority in the Labour party who believe in the nuclear deterrent. We have heard the ultimate nonsense from the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), who has said that if a Labour Government order a fourth boat they will not put any warheads on it.
Did the Secretary of State derive some comfort from the authoritative letter in The Times of 18 February from the noble Lord Lewin underlining the need for four submarines for the Trident fleet? Did he also note in the same letter the noble lord expressed the view that it may be possible to adapt Tridents to fill a sub-strategic role? In view of that, did not the Secretary of State pause to conclude that whatever NATO may require, there is no requirement for the United Kingdom to have its own tactical air-to-surface missile?
I am grateful for the hon. and learned Gentleman's support in respect of the fourth Trident boat. I give him credit for that, although I cannot give much credit to his policy of favouring a 50 per cent. cut in defence expenditure, which means that there is not the slightest chance of his being able to pay for the extra boat. At least he is father to the wish, even if he cannot guarantee its achievement.As for the hon. and learned Gentleman's other point, I have made the NATO position clear before.
When my right hon. Friend goes to Barrow later in the week, will he congratulate Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd. and its work force there on the excellent job that they have done in constructing the vessels to specification and to schedule?Is not it clear that a party which, a few years ago, was offering to do a deal with the Soviet leadership that would have involved the sacrifice of 100 per cent. of Britain's deterrent in return for only 2 per cent. of the Soviet deterrent cannot be trusted with Britain's defences?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I shall ensure that the message that he has asked me to convey is conveyed tomorrow, when I go to Barrow to mark the roll-out of the first Vanguard submarine. This is a great achievement on the part of all the company's work force, and of not only those who work in Barrow but those employed in the other elements that make up our Trident system. That system will now come into operation, and will be available for the defence of our country for many years.
On Thursday, some of the Secretary of State's officials will give evidence about Trident to the Select Committee on Defence. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that on 6 March 1991, in answer to question 40, Rear Admiral Pirnie said that Britain could maintain a continuous patrol with three Trident submarines, and that with one submarine in refit we could still maintain a continuous patrol with only two submarines? Is that still the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman's advisers?
That is a complete misintepretation of the original evidence, which related to the period immediately prior to Vanguard's first refit. The hon. Gentleman need not think that there is any military support for the idea that in the past the Navy has argued for a three-boat solution, and he will be given a very rough time by the Navy if he makes such a suggestion. As far as I am aware, no senior officer in the Navy considers it possible to maintain the nuclear deterrent without four submarines —and certainly no senior naval officer would support the suggestion of the Labour candidate for Barrow and Furness that the fourth submarine should be turned into a 17,000 tonne sub-sea supply vessel delivering oil instead of missiles.
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the value of current orders placed by his Department with British Aerospace, Royal Ordnance, VSEL, Ferranti and Leyland Daf.
The current value of outstanding contracts placed by the Ministry of Defence with the companies listed is as follows: British Aerospace, £1,625 million; Royal Ordnance, £315 million; VSEL, £1,070 million; Ferranti, £360 million; and Leyland Daf, £105 million.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the lion's share of the contracts that he has just announced has been placed with defence factories in the north-west of England, including Lancashire. Will he confirm that, if he were sufficiently unwise—like the Labour party—to cut a further £6 billion from the defence budget, over and above the "Options for Change" proposals, there would be massive job losses in those factories? Will he also confirm that he does not intend to do that?
My hon. Friend referred to the north-west of England, and I can give him the figure for Lancashire. The current orders outstanding are worth £540 million. As he has asked, I can tell him that, were there to be a cut of £6 billion in the defence budget, the vast majority of those jobs in Lancashire would go and factories would close.
Nevertheless—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If Conservative Members want to play infantile games, I am prepared to stand here.Nevertheless, does the Minister agree that the number of defence jobs in the north-west has gone down from 23,000 in 1985–86 to only 12,000 in 1989–90, a cut of almost 50 per cent. in only four years? That does not take account of the many closures and redundancies announced since the end of 198–0 which have halved again the number of jobs in the north-west. Unless the Government are prepared to provide a forum for funds and expertise to assist the defence industry to diversify into other products, the job losses and the decline in Britain's economic performance will continue—but, then, the Secretary of State does not care.
Not only do I care but the Government are meeting their obligations and providing procurement orders to ensure that our forces have the equipment that they need. The House will have heard the hon. Gentleman in his honest and decent way—the House respects his honesty—accepting with his opening word "nevertheless" that that is the implication of Labour's defence policy. I can tell the hon. Gentleman with the full authority of my office and my responsibility for the programme that if one cuts £6 billion from the defence budget no defence job in the country will be safe.
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the performance of the Islander aircraft in service with the Army Air Corps.
The Islander aircraft fully meet the Army's performance requirements.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Islander aircraft have established a reputation as the Rolls-Royce of the skies, being virtually indestructible and operating in one of the most hostile environments in the world? Is not that a tribute to the Islander designers and the engineers who built them? Will my hon. Friend assure the House that they will remain in service for many years to come, unlike the scenario if the Liberal Democrats were ever to implement their 50 per cent. cut in our defence forces?
Yes. I am glad to pay tribute to the aircraft and to PBN, the company which makes it. I welcome the support that my hon. Friend has always given to that company. We have 10 of those aircraft in service. It is a robust and very useful aircraft which is cheap to run and has great endurance. It is a valuable piece of equipment, and my hon. Friend may like to know that in the next two or three years we shall proceed with some large modifications to it which we estimate will bring about £4 million worth of work to PBN on the Isle of Wight. I agree that if the Liberal Democrats came to power, that work would not proceed.
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a further statement on the ordering of the fourth Trident submarine.
Contract negotiations with Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd. for the fourth Trident submarine are under way. We intend to place the order as soon as those negotiations have been satisfactorily concluded. Meanwhile, construction of steelwork and major engineering items is making good progress under long lead funding arrangements.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. The answer that he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) and the answer that he has just given have comprehensively shot a number of foxes, but one is still up and running. Will he confirm that during its lifetime in service Trident will take about 3 per cent. of the defence budget and that no other known system could be so cost effective but still provide the same degree of security?
I think that the figure is nearer 2·5 per cent., but that is correct. Whatever the Labour party's views in the past, it is incredible that any responsible party could be prepared to take risks with our defence budget and could be prepared to take risks with our nuclear deterrent when the world faces the biggest risk of nuclear proliferation that it has ever faced. Our position is that we shall ensure that we have a nuclear deterrent that is available at all times for the protection of our country.
Will the Secretary of State take a little time to reflect on a previous answer on non-proliferation? How can he, in logic or in practice, sustain a position whereby he is asking the Soviet Union, as was, to dismantle its nuclear deterrents while he is embarking on a system in which each missile provides the equivalent of 80 Hiroshima bombs? The Secretary of State talked about cost. How can he justify a cost per job in the strategic deterrent of £352,000 in a world in which the major powers are building down and renouncing weapons but he is building up?
If the hon. Gentleman seriously does not understand that point, he had better talk to President Yeltsin, who does. President Yeltsin, as he made clear outside No. 10 Downing street, understands that the position of a super-power which has 30,000 nuclear weapons is different from the position of the United Kingdom which will have as an absolute maximum only 128 warheads per submarine. There is no comparison, as President Yeltsin recognises. Indeed, his ambition is to move down now to a minimum deterrent. His idea of a minimum deterrent is to maintain 2,500 warheads.
Will my right hon. Friend once and for all nail the myth of the credible three-boat Trident deterrent? Will he confirm that all the professional advice that he has received from the Royal Navy is that only four boats absolutely guarantees an effective nuclear deterrent for this country?
That is absolutely right. The Opposition do not understand that we have to provide for the full life of the Trident system—for 30 years. Over such a period, as has already been apparent with Polaris, if we had only had three, we should not have been able to maintain that programme. I should have thought that that lesson was clear. The true description of Labour's position on that was given by Mr. Hutton, the Labour candidate for Barrow and Furness. When he heard the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) suggest that Labour could replace a Trident submarine with, for example, a Trafalgar class submarine on the order book, Mr. Hutton described his right hon. Friend as "ignorant and ill informed".
Avionic Repair Department
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what studies have been undertaken with regard to transfer of the avionic repair department from RAF Carlisle to RAF Sealand.
This matter is currently under consideration by the chief executive of the maintenance group defence support agency.
During last Thursday's visit to Carlisle, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) and I were very impressed by the quality of the work, and by the efficiency and dedication of the work force at the station. However, there was grave concern about the future of the avionic department there. It is well known that the appraisal has been carried out and that the information is with the Minister. The 100 employees and their families will be disappointed to hear today that the Government are putting off their decision until after the election. The Minister is hiding behind red tape. If he does not take the decision before the election and if the Conservatives are re-elected, I am afraid that we shall lose another 100 jobs in Carlisle.
As I have said, that is all up to the chief executive. We await any proposals to come from him, and we have had no proposals so far. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are talking about fewer than 100 jobs out of the 1,000 people who are employed at Carlisle.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that any study of avionic repair facilities does not affect the Royal Naval aircraft yard at Fleetlands in my constituency? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he recognises the outstanding work done at Fleetlands?
I would, indeed, pay tribute to the work done at Fleetlands, and there is certainly no question of the avionic repairs at Carlisle having any effect on Fleetlands.
Army Sports Control Board
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when the Army Sports Control Board will next meet to discuss funding.
The board will meet next on 20 August 1992 to discuss the allocation of non-public fund grants to Army sports.
The Minister is well aware that the armed services sports body does not give a single penny to rugby league. Will he please explain why, in the list of sports and games that are supported, we find that there are apparently more people who support and provide funding for model aircraft than support and provide funding for rugby league, and why a sport that is universally recognised as a great sport gets not a single penny from the Army Sports Control Board?
The Army supports the most popular sports. There are a number of sports that are not supported by public funding and they include angling and archery, which are more popular than rugby league. Very few people want to play rugby league. The only time that a rugby league game was started off anywhere was in the Royal Air Force under a corporal at Coningsby who was very keen. He could raise only one team of 13 players, which left him with no reserves and no team against which to play. I am afraid that the evidence at the moment is that the game is not sufficiently supported by members of the armed forces.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 March.
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.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the disposable income of 10 million mortgage payers is affected by two factors—income tax and interest rates? Is he aware that the Labour party will put up both—a double whammy?
My hon. Friend is quite right. We have brought down interest rates and we are determined to keep them low. We believe that the Labour party would do precisely the reverse. An average of 10 independent City forecasts shows that interest rates would rise by 2½ per cent. immediately if there were to be such a disaster as a Labour Government. That is Labour's message to home owners—more taxes and higher interest rates.
Order. Let us have an end to all this shouting.
Has the Prime Minister seen the report from Mr. Graham Jackson, consultant cardiologist at Guy's trust hospital, who says:
seriously ill heart—"You put"—
Does not the Prime Minister agree that such a system, which puts cash before care, betrays the fundamental principle of the national health service?"patients on a list to come in but, by the time their turn comes, the contract has run out and the trust administrator says there are no funds till the next financial year"?
The right hon. Gentleman knows that there is no system that puts cash before care. The right hon. Gentleman also knows that we have provided more additional resources in this Parliament than he was even prepared to promise in his last election manifesto.
But does not Dr. Jackson have a powerful point when he says that the new system—[Interruption] This is a man working in the system. Does not he have a powerful point when he says:
until the new financial year? Will the Prime Minister recognise now that it is tragically wrong for treatment for seriously ill people to be determined by money rather than medical need?"The new system is run by accountants … who don't have to sit across the table from the patient and say cannot treat you'"
The view that the right hon. Gentleman attributes to that surgeon is certainly not shared by, among others, Nye Bevan's nephew. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Government's role in health is twofold: first, to provide the resources and, secondly, to make them work better for patients. The resources are at a record level, as the right hon. Gentleman must concede, and the new system is making sure that the resources work better for patients. There is no other way to improve health care and there is no doubt that the new system, across a range of treatment, is improving health care.
The Prime Minister is going to borrow to fund tax cuts. Does he understand yet that the priority of the British people is to use all available resources for health and other essential services? The Prime Minister wants to bribe, they want to build—why does not he listen to them?
In the light of what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, perhaps he will tell us two things: how much extra would he provide for health, and where does health come in Labour's order of priorities? Labour has a long list of priorities: a £3 billion pledge on pensions —presumably health comes after that; health presumably comes after Labour's billion recovery programme and it presumably comes after Labour's £8 billion housing pledge. What else does it come after? The right hon. Gentleman's priorities do not add up and he knows it. The right hon. Gentleman cannot put a cost on his compassion, for it is bogus.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 March 1992.
Since the Government came to power, my Pendle constituency has gained two new enterprise zones which are bursting at the seams, one new motorway and a brand new community hospital. Currently, 55 per cent. of employment is in manufacturing—the highest level in the country. Modesty prevents my asking my right hon. Friend what message he will send to the electorate of Pendle in the coming election. However, what message will he send to the electorate in the whole of the north-west?
I will certainly reiterate fully the message that I delivered when I visited the north-west a few days ago. The future and prosperity of the north-west are best served by a Government who are determined to keep inflation down, who want to keep taxes down—and will not let interest rates rise as the Opposition would—and who recognise that the level of strikes is at its lowest for more than a century. In the north-west, we will continue to encourage domestic and inward investment and we will not discriminate against it.
Now that we know what it means, will the Prime Minister reflect on the "double whammy" that he received from the other place on the Education (Schools) Bill last night? When will he accept that the best thing to do with that damaging and foolish Bill is to ditch it?
I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman is so opposed to providing more power for parents in relation to schools. I note that it is the Liberal Democrats' policy to take power away from parents and governors and to give it to centralised bureaucrats, and that is precisely like the Labour party policy as in so many things.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 March 1992.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise the dangers inherent in introducing unworkable proposals for devolution for Scotland? Does he accept that if such proposals were implemented, they would lead to a separatist, socialist, nationalist Scotland, enormous loss of jobs and the closure of military bases? The jobs that currently go to the military in the United Kingdom would be lost from factories in Scotland.
I believe that my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the risks of the devolution proposals which have previously been put before people. The Act of Union has served Scotland well and it has served England well. It has provided an essential cement for the whole of the United Kingdom. The devolution proposals that we have seen thus far would damage that union and separately damage Scotland, England and the whole of the United Kingdom. I understand the emotional pull that devolution has for people in Scotland, but I hope that every Scot will examine very carefully what it would mean in practice for Scotland and for the rest of the United Kingdom.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 March.
I refer the hon. Lady to the answer that I gave some moments ago.
Has the Prime Minister seen the report on "World in Action" last night, which showed that one of his Ministers has been involved in smearing a private citizen? Does not this place give the Prime Minister the chance to show whether he is really against the smears that have been organised against the Labour party, or is he getting others to do his dirty work for him? Will he sack the Minister concerned?
If the hon. Lady were sensible, she would look in the backyard of her own party.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 March.
Will my right hon. Friend—[Interruption.]
Order. I ask the House to settle down.
Will my right hon. Friend continue vigorously and robustly to negotiate the British contribution to the European budget and, at the end, submit it at a level which the House of Commons and the country can accept?
Yes, Sir. The Community's budget is already £40 billion a year. The existing own resources ceiling has plenty of room for further expenditure without increased resources being committed. It is the Government's view that the Commission should be thinking of ways of saving taxpayers' money, not justifying fresh reasons for expending it. It cannot justify increased expenditure on the scale that it proposes, and we are not prepared to renegotiate in any way the present rebate to the United Kingdom.
Is the Prime Minister aware that the parents of Carly Reavill and everyone else know that he was misinformed on the circumstances concerning that child's tragic death? Will he accept that there is indeed an acute shortage of intensive care beds for children? Will he tell us precisely what action he intends to take so that never again will desperately sick children be turned away from hospitals which do not have the money to provide emergency treatment?
The hon. Gentleman will know, for he takes a close interest in this matter, that from next year, there is an extra £2·7 billion for the health service in its next budget, in a few day's time—up another 5 per cent., including efficiency gains. That is the most tangible way to demonstrate our concern for the health service and to continue to improve the service available to everyone in this country.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 March.
My right hon. Friend has been successful in building on the work of our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in bringing the constitutional parties together. Will he accept that we are asking the Social Democratic and Labour party and the unionists to work more closely than parties normally do in Great Britain? Will he send a message to the Provisional IRA and the disloyalists that the mindless, aimless use of bullets and bombs will not be as successful as parliamentary debates and normal political election campaigns?
I believe that the whole House will share my hon. Friend's view on the latter matter. I warmly welcome the decision of the Northern Ireland political leaders to start their talks again. It gives a clear and very welcome signal to all the people in Northern Ireland of their determination to find a political solution. That is very much needed. It also gives a very clear signal to the terrorists that the people of Northern Ireland will not be bullied by guns, by bombs or by any other form of intimidation. That goes for everyone on the mainland as well.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 March.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
As the restructuring of the armed services proceeds, the displaced and redundant service men will continue to be treated with the utmost care and sensitivity, as the Prime Minister is well aware. But if that policy is not extended to the displaced workers in the defence industries, does the Prime Minister accept that our high-tech base will be damaged, perhaps irreparably? Certainly, we can ask questions about the future of certain design teams and skilled and professional workers.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we still have substantial orders for defence equipment. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will make a further statement shortly.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 March.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that if he or my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment had a meeting with business leaders to discuss the policy of the minimum wage, they would tell both the House and the country what business leaders had to say about the damaging effect on jobs that such a minimum wage would have? Does my right hon. Friend think that the shadow spokesman on employment should do likewise?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The minimum wage policy has been condemned by everyone from The Guardian to Goldman Sachs. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) is apparently the only person in the country who does not yet believe that the minimum wage would cost a substantial number of jobs if it were implemented. The only debate about the national minimum wage is not whether it would put people out of work but how many hundreds of thousands more people would be unemployed, wholly unnecessarily as a result of partisan dogma on the part of the Labour party.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
I will take points of order after the statement.
The hon. Gentleman, who is an old parliamentary hand, knows that I do not take points of order until after the statement. I will hear him then.
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the procurement of a system to meet the RAF's future requirement for a short-range air-to-air missile. The missile will he fitted to RAF Harriers and to the new European fighter aircraft which we expect to come into service with the RAF at the end of the decade. This important project was originally initiated under an international collaborative arrangement with Germany, Norway and Canada. Following the withdrawal of the other partners in 1989 and 1990, we decided to hold a competition for the RAF' requirement.Both before proceeding with this competition and during the past two years we have reviewed the justification for this requirement against the dramatic changes in the world and our strategy for "Britain's Defence for the 90s" and beyond. In this the air defence of the United Kingdom and the protection of United Kingdom and allied forces wherever they may be deployed remain important priorities. One consequence of the rapid changes in the former Soviet Union is the increasing availability of very capable aircraft and weapons more widely in the world. Therefore, it remains essential to ensure that the RAF has suitable aircraft and weapons with which to face such potential threats. The Gulf war was the clearest reminder of the importance of air superiority in any conflict. I can tell the House that the competition for this important order has been very keen and I am grateful to the three bidders, British Aerospace Defence Ltd., GEC Marconi and Bodenseewerk Geratetechnik, for providing the basis for a real choice. The key factors in making our choice have been the total cost to public funds, technical merit, operational effectiveness, and compliance with our requirement for taut contractual terms. Our overall aim has been to maximise value for money in the proposals, while minimising the future risks of either excess cost or delay. I can now tell the House that subject only to satisfactory agreement on final points of detail, we have selected the British Aerospace proposal for its advanced short-range air-to-air missile—ASRAAM. Our intention now is to place a contract for development and initial production of the missile. The order will be worth about £570 million, which is already provided for in our forward expenditure plans. The decision will bring welcome work, not only to British Aerospace's dynamics division in Stevenage and Lostock, near Bolton, but also to its principal sub-contractors—Hughes at Glenrothes in Scotland, Royal Ordnance at Kidderminster, Thorn EMI at Feltham, and Lucas at Bradford. In addition, other sub-contract work will be placed with up to 70 further companies in the United Kingdom. More than 80 per cent. of the work in total will be carried out in the United Kingdom. The Government believe that this new missile will provide a vital enhancement to our air defence capability in the future and is a further demonstration of our commitment to provide our forces with the modern equipment that they need.
In thanking the Secretary of State for his statement, may I express our appreciation that it was provided before Defence questions? However, we regret the absence from the Government Front Bench of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), who would appear either to have gone AWOL, or to be in jankers for the insubordination that he displayed in the interview in the Sunday Times on Sunday.The statement will come as a relief to the work force of those companies. We shall have to wait until election day to find out whether it will come as a relief to the Conservative candidates in the seats concerned. It is a tribute to the work force, the planners and the engineers that they have been able to crack an extremely difficult technical problem. However, it may not have come soon enough for the 450 people employed by British Aerospace, whose redundancies were announced on 6 February as a result of the delay in the announcement of this project. When does the Secretary of State expect production to start? He has announced his intention to place the contract. When does he expect it to have an impact on employment? How confident is he that there will be an export market for the missile, given the withdrawal of the Norwegians and the Germans from the earlier stages of the programme?
To deal with the first point, I do not know what the workers in British Aerospace and other companies will think of the right hon. Gentleman's rather flippant introduction to an announcement which is of great importance to them. He then went on to express his concern about any workers who might lose their jobs. I should have thought that he would have welcomed this obvious relief.
What about those people who have already lost their jobs?
The hon. Gentleman said that 450 people may have received redundancy notices. He will be aware that the prime contractor of British Aerospace has claimed that the announcement will help to secure the jobs of 7,000 people. I like the right hon. Member personally, but it is hypocrisy for him to stand up—seeking to represent a party which has consistently voted for huge cuts in defence —and have the nerve to criticise the Government, who are not merely claiming and asserting that they will order equipment, but are proving it by our statements.My right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) has been closely involved in the planning of the order and it is a particular disappointment that he is not here. The reason why he is not here is that he is representing the United Kingdom, in support of British industry, at an extremely important air show at my specific request. I am grateful to him for undertaking that. His visit will be appreciated by British industry, even if the hon. Member for Clackmannan makes light of it.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the services will welcome this procurement decision because there is a need for an advanced short-range air-to-air missile. My right hon. Friend said that 7,000 jobs would be safeguarded in British Aerospace. Can he say how many jobs in the downstream suppliers are likely to be safeguarded? Would any of them be safeguarded if a £6 billion reduction in defence spending was brought in by the Labour party?
My hon. Friend makes the point clearly. We have made it clear that there will be some changes in defence and some reductions in defence expenditure. I have set out before the House—the Government cannot be accused of not telling the country—that those changes will involve savings of about 6 per cent. in real terms. Our proposal is for smaller but better forces which are better equipped.My statement is of enormous importance, as it will ensure that our future fighter aircraft have the capacity to defend themselves against the modern equipment that they may face. Soviet equipment, which is now much more widely available on the world market, has a sophistication and a capability which pose a real threat. Were we not to proceed in this way, our pilots could be at a severe disadvantage. Hon. Members know that that is true. My announcement is important to our defence and it is a proper reward to many who work in the industry and for their skills. I mentioned the figure of 7,000 which the prime contractor has estimated will be the number of people involved in one way or another in the contracts. I also referred to the figure of £570 million—the House can draw its own conclusions about that—which will be spent over the next 10 years. The weapon will come into service first in 1998–99. It is a very important project indeed.
I welcome the Secretary of State's statement. I also offer my congratulations to British Aerospace because, as the Secretary of State would acknowledge, it has fought long and hard for the order. Is not the announcement significant because the combination of the European fighter aircraft and the missile will contribute to the air defence of the United Kingdom and, without that marriage, that would be difficult to achieve?
Yes. First, we will install it to all RAF Harriers and then expect it to be installed on to the EFA. Although the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) said that export sales will be difficult if the collaborative partners have fallen out, I think that there will be important export opportunities for this weapon as there is no equivalent weapon available, with the exception of a Russian variety. I have taken steps with the United States and have spoken with Defence Secretary Cheney to ensure that we have the best export opportunities. Although Hughes manufactures in Glenrothes in Scotland, it will be keen to do development work in the United States and, to pursue opportunities that may well exist within the United States, the United States forces and third countries to which the United States exports aircraft.
I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, which underpins the strategy of flexibility outlined in "Options for Change". Can he assure us that Hughes, whose parent company is based in the United States, will not run into problems of technology transfer when seeking to export?
There is an inter-company agreement between Hughes and British Aerospace on that. Hughes has a United States Government export licence for the early stages of the programme and, as I have said, I have been in touch with my friend and colleague in NATO, the United States Secretary of Defence Dick Cheney. I have a satisfactory letter of assurance from him on their best efforts in that respect.
Elections are better than Christmas for some industries. In view of the long delay that there has been in the programme for the replacement of Sidewinder, will the Secretary of State acknowledge that that breached the original memorandum of understanding between the United Kingdom and the United States? That means that we have lost the opportunity to export many of these systems to the United States.
Let us wait and see. The arrangements may have been lost under the old programme—we know that the collaborative arrangement did not work out—but let us wait and see if there is a better alternative. There are those who believe that this will prove an outstandingly effective weapon, and it is fair to say that the Select Committee on Defence supports the programme and sees the merits that could lie in it. I am encouraged by what I see in the technical assessment of it. We have taken the decision to go ahead, so we are under way. Let us see who else is around and whether this weapon will command some quite interesting export opportunities.
Will my right hon. Friend accept the appreciation of Bristol Members and my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Mr. Wood), who is unable to speak this afternoon? We have worked long and hard on the ASRAAM project and we welcome the decision announced this afternoon, which involves literally hundreds of millions of pounds. Will my right hon. Friend press British Aerospace and Hughes to take immediate action in encouraging the United States Government to look seriously at the commitment that the British Government have made, with the prospect of further orders all over the world?
I appreciate my hon. Friend's remarks. While my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage is not able to speak, he is certainly not inarticulate in support of his constituents, as the whole House knows.The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) will understand when I say that I am struck by the contrast. Here we have an opportunity. We are investing in British technology and development—also in a collaborative international project—for a new system which can be of great benefit. We get sniping from Opposition Members about not doing something, and when we do it, we get them carping about some problem, with technicalities or whatever.
Can the Secretary of State give more information about numbers? He gave the raw statistics and referred to 7,000 jobs, and we gather that they will be preserved or created by this order. In the last few weeks, we have had procurement orders worth over £1 billion—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] But all those were announced in connection with the defence White Paper, so the right hon. Gentleman is doing this merely for election purposes. I am not quarrelling with that, because all parties do it. I am seeking further information from the Scottish point of view. The only jobs that we can see being safeguarded as a result of this order relate to Hughes in Glenrothes. Can the right hon. Gentleman give further information about the number of jobs in Scotland which will come directly or indirectly from this order?
I was careful—the hon. Gentleman will recognise this straight away—not myself to attribute claims to the number of jobs involved. It depends on how the companies handle the business and the number of subcontractors they use. The figure of 7,000 to which I referred was used by British Aerospace in the material that the company sent to a number of hon. Members in support of its case, saying that that would be the number of people involved in this country in the programme.I cannot give specific figures for Hughes in Glenrothes —[Interruption.] Is it suggested that there is something wrong with investing in our armed forces? I do not know whether Opposition Members disapprove of the fact that we have been able to come forward with orders for new frigates, for new tanks, for a new helicopter with an anti-submarine capability, the Merlin, for the Royal Navy, with a new package for the Harrier, with an order for ALARM, the air-launched anti-radiation missile, and that we are giving our forces the resources and equipment that they need. Yes, they will be smaller, but they will be better equipped than ever in our history, and surely that is appropriate in an uncertain and unstable world.
Will my right hon. Friend accept the deep thanks of hon. Members who represent north-west constituencies for the order, and in particular the thanks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville) who, because he is in the Whips Office, is unable to express his thanks personally in the House? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the order is in addition—to the £3·5 billion worth of defence orders placed with firms in the north-west about which he spoke some 20 minutes ago?
I certainly confirm that. I referred to £540 million as being the contract in Lancashire for defence contractors. That did not include this announcement, which I was not able to make until 3.30 this afternoon. I can confirm that, as a member of the Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville) cannot speak in support of the measure, but that does not disqualify him from representing his constituents in this matter. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Mr. Wood), he has done that most effectively. Lancashire will benefit significantly from the order.
In the third paragraph of his statement, the Secretary of State referred to
from the Soviet Union being available"the increasing availability of very capable aircraft and weapons"
Factually, is there any evidence to suggest that Russia, the Ukraine, Kazakhstan or any other republic is exporting sophisticated Russian weapons? If so, to whom? To Iraq, Iran, Muslim states, Libya—"more widely in the world."
Order. I am intrigued to know how the hon. Gentleman's question relates to the statement.
I quoted the actual words of the third paragraph of the statement. The rationale of the whole statement is that we must have those orders rather than peaceful developments because Russian arms are being scattered around the world. I was pressing the Secretary of State to tell me what the evidence is for Russian arms being exported and to whom they are being exported. Surely it should be conditional that aid to scientists and to the Soviet Union will not be given if arms are being exported. If the Ministry of Defence is right, the matter is extremely serious. What is the evidence?
The hon. Gentleman is usually better informed on these matters. There is nothing new about it. The Soviet Union has been exporting weapons to a number of those countries for some time. One missile—the Archer missile—represents a serious threat and is probably superior to Sidewinder. That is already in service in the former Soviet Union and with certain export customers—
Which export customers?
It can be fitted on the Fulcrum aircraft and the Mig 29, which are highly sophisticated aircraft. It is already in service—
In Poland, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia. It was used by the East German air force and is believed to be used by Cuba, India, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Syria. I wonder occasionally whether the hon. Gentleman knows what is going on. Perhaps he is so busy interrupting that he does not hear the answer.
I congratulate and thank my right hon. Friend for the order on behalf of my constituents who live around Stevenage. Does he agree that the crucial point about the order is that it will keep the technical teams together and enable us to keep ahead of the competition, not only with the air-to-air missile but with other related technologies that we need to boost our exports militarily and in civil industry?
That is right, and I pay tribute to the proposals that British Aerospace submitted. I said in my statement that the competition had been keenly fought and I pay tribute to GEC Marconi, which also submitted excellent proposals. We are fortunate to have two such excellent defence contractors in this country which can put forward proposals for such a sophisticated and complex project. I am grateful to them both.
Is the Secretary of State aware that, since these pre-election statements have been made in the past fortnight, some £2 billion in public expenditure has been announced up to the end of last week? Why should Ministers believe that a country which has suffered such devastating unemployment and two major recessions will accept as genuine a dying Government giving goodies to certain marginal areas at this time?
I wonder what people working in British Aerospace, Hughes, Lucas Aerospace and Royal Ordnance will think of the hon. Gentleman's intervention, asking why we worry about unemployment. Those people are worried about unemployment. I have been criticised for announcing measures already foreshadowed in the defence White Paper. In this respect, a competition has been held and it was right to give the results of that competition as soon as we could so that people know who the winners are. That is what we have done, and I make no apology for it.
Of course, the equipment is essential and vital for the future defence of the realm and we are proud that missile equipment of that sort is British. But is my right hon. Friend aware that I believe that he has picked the wrong contractor, which will be a bitter blow for GEC Marconi, the headquarters of which is in my constituency? Will he explain the details again to consider the applications and the possibility of an independent investigation? What promise does he hold out to GEC Marconi for further contracts to preserve employment, when jobs are already threatened both at Stanmore and elsewhere? What can he say about the superior technology of the GEC Marconi application, which was a genuinely all-British bid?
I understand my hon. Friend's disappointment. I have just paid tribute to GEC Marconi for the quality of the bid that it tendered. My hon. Friend has made a judgment—he is no doubt well qualified to do so —as to why the Marconi bid ought to have been chosen. It is a matter of huge importance to the Royal Air Force, and one on which the most thorough assessment has to be made. We are talking about an air defence weapon to equip our aircraft and fighter bombers for their fighter defence and self-protection role. The equipment will not come into service until the end of the decade, and it will have to serve and protect our country and pilots for the next 20 to 25 years. It is not a decision to be taken lightly, and it has been a matter of the most thorough assessment to determine which proposal should be chosen.We have made it quite clear to GEC Marconi, as it would wish, that we wish to make a full presentation to it on the circumstances of its bid and the reasons why it was not successful on this occasion. I have a list of orders that have been placed. GEC Marconi is an important defence contractor. There has been an announcement in the past two weeks on air-launched anti-radar missiles, with which GEC Marconi is involved, and other defence contracts. There was an earlier announcement on the frigates for Yarrow, which is part of GEC Marconi, which remains and will continue to be an important defence contractor.
I have a short question requiring a short answer. Does the weapon have the same capability as the original staff requirement SR(A) 1234 called for?
It fully meets that requirement.
Having made representations about the project to my right hon. Friend and the Ministry of Defence 18 months ago, I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's decision, which I believe is the correct one. Does he believe that it will maintain the vanguard position for the United Kingdom in that sphere? Will he be as sensitive in respect of the British Aerospace project which will replace the Hercules as he has been about ASRAAM?
The cuckoo has turned into a parrot.
Certainly not a stool pigeon.If it were Vanguard, it would roll out tomorrow. It is not Vanguard, but an alternative weapon system, which will certainly put us in the lead and give our air force a valuable capability which it might otherwise lack. The appetite of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) in his new-found mode—to put it in defence terms—is insatiable. I cannot comment on the alternatives that he mentioned.
Is not the truth that today's statement is not about defence, but about Tory marginal seats and another example of pork-barrel politics? There have been several references to exports and selling all around the world. We have already heard several times since the Gulf war about selling arms to Iraq and the penalties to be incurred as a result. Does the Secretary of State have a list of prohibited countries to which the weapon will not be sold?
That interesting introduction showed exactly how the hon. Gentleman regards defence. He sees defence as no more than pork-barrel politics. He has no interest in defence, no interest in whether our pilots in the RAF have the equipment that they need to defend our country—
Is there a list?
Of course there is a list of countries to which we do not sell, as every right hon. and hon. Member knows. But there are some countries to which we are prepared to sell weapons—
What about Iran?
Despite the hon. Gentleman's new-found interest in these matters, he may not be aware that we are involved in large-scale arrangements with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to try to support its defence. There are those who believe that, if the Gulf countries' defences had been better equipped and resourced, we might not have had to ask our forces to go to their assistance.We certainly sell to some countries; there are other regimes to which we would certainly not sell or provide our equipment.
Order. I will allow questions to go on —exceptionally—for five more minutes, but there is another statement after this, so I ask for brief questions so that we may have brief answers too.
Will my right hon. Friend accept the warm appreciation of Conservative Members for this order, which fully enables him to live up to his word, given when outlining "Options for Change", that the forces would be smaller but better equipped. There will be many who had doubts at the time when "Options for Change" was announced who will warmly welcome today's statement—as they have welcomed similar statements in recent months.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I know of his interest and the industrial concerns close to his constituency. I have no doubt that some of the subcontractors not mentioned by name today will be involved in this work, too.
A number of my constituents are employed at the Bolton plant, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this excellent news for the north-west of England.Whenever there is bad news for the north-west, Labour Members queue up to condemn the Government. Today, in stark contrast, not one of them has come to the House to thank my right hon. Friend for this excellent news.
I do not always have time to stand back and analyse interesting details like that, but my hon. Friend is right—it is significant that not one Labour Member from the areas concerned has recognised news which will be a considerable relief to a significant number of their constituents.
My right hon. Friend is right not to try to translate this order into exact numbers of jobs, but does he agree that the undoubted effect at British Aerospace in the north-west and at the design section of British Aerospace defence division at Filton in my constituency will be to ensure that a company which has suffered a steady succession of job losses in the past couple of years can look forward to a future in which jobs are secure and, if export orders come in, job numbers will increase?
Yes, that is true. I know of the close interest that my hon. Friend takes in this. As one who worked in Bristol for a long time, I well know the factory to which he refers. It is important for Bristol, and I am glad that this announcement has been possible.
I warmly express my appreciation to my right hon. Friend and remind him that, some 10 years ago, when the task force sailed south, Her Majesty's Government had, as an emergency measure, to buy at very short notice large stocks of AIM9L Sidewinders from the United States because we did not have enough effective short-range air-to-air missiles. As a result of that purchase, we had air superiority and the war was won, but this time the Government are taking the right decisions in advance.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's knowledge of this matter; he puts it in clear perspective. The importance of this announcement to the RAF cannot be overstated.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that, since the collapse of the Soviet empire, the strategic threat to our country is far less certain in origin, and that air power with its flexibility has become even more significant in meeting and delivering strategic force to any area of threat? Does he agree that this weapons system will protect 7,000 jobs in vital high-tech areas, that it is a defensive weapon, and that the fact that it has been accepted by the Royal Air Force, whose standards are respected throughout the world, will greatly enhance its marketability throughout the world?
1 am grateful to my hon. Friend for his last point—that the system may well give us a lead in certain countries. Apart from the former Soviet Union, we are not aware of any country with a weapon that could match our system when it eventually comes into service. Its potential to bring jobs and earnings to our country could be quite significant.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he has been sending out clear messages to the rest of the world? Those messages are that whether it is the purchase for the Army of the Chieftain tank, the fourth Trident submarine for the Royal Navy, or today's announcement about a sophisticated British Aerospace weapon for the Royal Air Force, those are the deterrents that we must have. We are saying, "If you take on the United Kingdom, you do so at your peril."
It seems almost superfluous to add to the excellent and rousing words of my hon. Friend. He is precisely right. Although there are changes in the world and although it is possible to make some reductions, none the less instability and insecurity give rise to great fear among many of our friends and allies in the most unstable parts of the world. Our message of great comfort to them is that we are not retreating into isolation and adopting a little England policy of defending only our own shores but are ensuring that our forces have the requisite capability so that if our allies and friends are threatened we shall be ready and able to play our part in the United Nations, in NATO or in whatever international co-operation or coalition seems appropriate.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Local Government (Wales)
With permission, Mr.Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the future of local government in Wales.When I first met the Welsh local authority associations just over a year ago in January 1991 to discuss my review, they impressed upon me the widespread consensus throughout Wales for the establishment of unitary authorities in the Principality. Last June I published a consultation paper, in which I said that unitary authorities represented the best way forward for local government in Wales to meet the challenges of the future. I called for an extensive and wide-ranging debate. The Welsh local government associations and thousands of members of the public joined that debate, together, of course, with Members from all parts of the House. This has been a productive and an instructive exercise in consultation. I now put before the House the conclusions that I have reached. The local government system which should emerge from this review should permit local people to understand the role of local government, enable them to identify with it, and provide them in a responsive way with high quality services efficiently and economically. I therefore reaffirm that there should be a single tier of unitary authorities throughout Wales, to replace the present two-tier structure. I propose to replace the present eight county councils and 37 district councils with 23 unitary authorities. I am placing in the Library and in the Vote Office copies of a map illustrating these proposals. In preparing this plan, I have observed the district building-block approach set out in my consultation paper, as likely to produce the least possible disruption to Welsh local government, but I am inviting further views on whether that approach should be modified in particular cases. My approach in identifying these 23 authorities has been as follows. First, I want to restore to the largest centres of population—Cardiff, Swansea, Newport and also to Wrexham—full control over their own affairs. Secondly, in the rural areas I want to see local government based on the traditional counties, such as Penbrokeshire, Montgomeryshire, Cardiganshire and Anglesey and, of course, we recognise the position of Meirionnyddshire and Carmarthenshire. I shall consult further on whether to extend that approach to separate authorities for Radnorshire and Brecknock. Thirdly in the south Wales valleys I want as far as possible to take account of the intense local loyalties that are such a feature of the area. Taking account of demographic and other factors, however, I also consider it necessary for some of the present district councils in the valleys to come together to form new unitary authorities. These are detailed proposals, to which the House will wish to give careful consideration. Let me make it clear that, once the new authorities that I have proposed are in place, I will wish the Local Government Boundary Commission to examine their boundaries to ensure that any minor anomalies can be dealt with as quickly as possible. That is a most important part of the process. Let me now turn to the delivery of services under the structure that I have proposed. I have made clear my commitment to increased efficiency and cost-effectiveness and my determination that the real administrative cost of service delivery should not be greater than under the existing structure. My proposals reflect that approach. I repeat that I am looking for the efficient, effective and economical delivery of high-quality services. I do not want a proliferation of joint-board arrangements to deliver the present county services. I should remind the House, however, that the delivery of the law and order and fire services requires special consideration in that respect. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor—in relation to magistrates courts—will be undertaking their own consultations with respect to those services. In general, though, I shall be looking to the new unitary authorities to provide the full range of local government services that are now provided by county and district councils, as I set out in the consultation paper. The rapid development of the enabling role of local government, and voluntary co-operation between authorities—including agency agreements—mean that services can be delivered efficiently and economically, without the need for excessive and centralised bureaucracy in large and remote units of local government. I have already had detailed discussions about that with the local authority associations, and I shall wish to consult further about putting in place appropriate arrangements for individual services. Let me make it absolutely clear that the reorganisation that I propose must not lead to an increase in the cost of local government; that is quite unnecessary. I am satisfied that the structure that I have announced today should cost no more than the present system, and, indeed, should be capable of producing some savings. I shall be looking to ensure that that happens. One matter on which there has been many responses in consultation is the future role of community councils. My consultation paper made clear the importance that I attach to them, especially in their role as the voice of their communities. It has, however, been put to me that the role and place of community councils in Welsh local government is of sufficient importance to merit a separate consultation exercise. I agree, and I intend to publish a further consultation paper on the subject in due course. The House will, of course, wish to know about my plans to implement the proposals. Following the further round of consultation, I intend to publish, later this year, a White Paper setting out my final decisions. I shall then present a Bill as soon as possible. I propose to take powers to establish a residuary body to wind up existing authorities' affairs, and a staff commission to protect the interests of local government staff during the transition. My proposals represent a fundamental change in Welsh local government. I believe that they are bold, challenging and realistic; and they build on a wide consensus in Wales that the time for unitary authorities is now. The local government structure that I have outlined today will, I believe, serve Wales well as we move into the 21st century, and I commend the proposals to the House.
Is not the Secretary of State aware that his consultation process has been completely inadequate and that the imminent general election should not be the reason for this botched statement made on the back of a Tory central office envelope? Are not the Government seeking to divide and rule, seeking to divide the Welsh district councils from the Welsh county councils on the eve of a general election?Does the Secretary of State understand that we also accept that community councils are important units of local government? Have not some of the proposed council boundaries been drawn more with an eye on the electoral process than on best forms of local government? In other words, it smacks of gerrymandering, and the statement is also an attempt to divert the attention of the people of Wales from the worrying state of the economy, the national health service, the education service and homelessness in Wales, as well as from the impact of the poll tax in Wales. The objective behind the timing of the statement is to throw dust into the eyes of the people of Wales to prevent them seeing the real issues at this time. Has not the Labour party set the agenda for unitary authorities in Wales? Is it not the case that our detailed proposals have been on the table for two years? Was not the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor—the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker)—responsible for the previous mistakes in local government reorganisation? Has not the 1973–74 reform cost millions and millions of pounds which have been wasted? It was a ruinously expensive failure by the Conservatives. On the numbers of local authorities to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, does he not recognise that his proposals for 23 unitary authorities will not necessarily create the efficient and effective structures of local government which the people of Wales require? Does the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that we have proposed unitary authorities in the upper twenties and that we shall now scrutinise everything most carefully? We are not convinced that the proposals will necessarily lead to the most efficient and effective delivery of local services. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government have undermined local democracy by taking away powers through the poll tax, and that if that undermining of local government continues, the structure of local government is academic? Would not a fourth Tory term of office—no matter what the structures—mean centralisation, diktat from Whitehall and an end to local democracy? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, if the new authorities are to survive the test of time, they must be linked to the communities that they represent? Artificial and made-up authorities for merely political purposes will not be good enough. I note the link of, for example, Wrexham and Deeside with incredulity. I have previously advised the right hon. Gentleman not to be so silly. Should he not acknowledge that the north is very complicated? Is it not the case that, as a Secretary of State with an English constituency, he frequently misjudges and overlooks the passionate commitment to community in the valleys, in our steel towns and also in the quarry towns in the north? If he ignores local traditions—wherever they may be—he does so at his peril. Why has the right hon. Gentleman ignored the consensus on an assembly for Wales? Why is he dragging his feet? Why has he failed even to refer to his tame nominated economic forum? Is it because, as The Daily Telegraph said last week, the Cabinet has thrown it out on the Prime Minister's instructions? Has not the right hon. Gentleman been made to back-track on even the first hesitant step to decentralisation? Is it not a complete waste of money to reorganise local government and not to plan for an assembly? The statement seeks to divide and rule. It is based on insufficient consultation. It is constructed and timed with the general election in mind. It fails to propose an assembly. There is the whiff of gerrymandering. Above all, it seeks to divert attention from the state of the economy, from unemployment in Wales, from homelessness, from crumbling schools and from the Government's attitude to the national health service. It is a missed opportunity, and at the general election it will be rejected.
There were 10 points there, and the hon. Gentleman helpfully summarised them in his conclusion. The first point was inadequate consultation. I have already made the House aware that I first announced the review to local authority associations in January 1991. I then published a consultation paper in June 1991. So much for the back-of-the-envelope consultations and design. On 24 September, I had a meeting of the Welsh Consultative Council on Local Government, a further meeting on 6 November, a further meeting on 2 December, a further meeting on 16 December and a further meeting on 27 January, with meetings of the structures group, the statistical sub-group and the finance sub-group. Inadequate consultation? There has been extensive consultation.
You ignored it all.
The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) shouts out that I ignored it all. The point is either that there was inadequate consultation or that there was adequate consultation but I did not listen to the hon. Gentleman's points.The second point made by the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) was that the proposals were gerrymandering I have pointed out, and pointed out again to the House today, that I am using the existing building blocks of district councils. I am asking the local government boundary commission to look at boundaries, but I have not sought to change the boundaries. I have built on the existing blocks. The third point was that the proposals were a diversion —an attempt to make people in Wales forget about the economic bad news. I have news for the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside. If he carefully scrutinises the newspapers in Wales, he will see that there is a consensus that Wales is coming out of recession. I quote the headline of one article yesterday: "Wales set to lead UK upturn". The hon. Gentleman is losing so far. The hon. Gentleman then said that Labour's agenda for local government had been in place for two years. I have news for the hon. Gentleman. I have read carefully through Labour's proposals. As I understand it, the first proposal, some two and a half years ago, was that all the country and district councils
There was then some discontent in the Labour party about the proposals. There was then a rethink—not proposals that were two years in place, but a rethink. The latest idea is that there is to be a Welsh assembly, although the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) has thrown further doubt on that—"should be abolished and replaced with a single tier of between 17 and 25 most-purpose local authorities in Wales for all local government functions."
No, he has not.
On the proposals for local authorities, although conference—I quote from the document—agreed in 1989 that
That is hardly an agenda that has been in place for two years. The fifth point is that I am undermining local government. If the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside looks at his proposals, he will see that he proposes a Welsh assembly which would look after, for example, special education, housing, health and community care, and planning and development control. It is also proposed that most-purpose authorities would look after schools, housing, health and community care, and local planning and development control. That is a recipe for utter confusion. I have said that local government responsibilities will continue as before, as outlined in the consultation paper. The hon. Member then said that I had made a mistake in failing to recognise the unitary authority of Alyn and Deeside. The hon. Gentleman wrote to me suggesting that, and I replied that I would find it helpful if I could see how he envisaged the future of Alyn and Deeside as a unitary authority set against all the other unitary authorities in Wales. I invited him to let me have this proposals—on a map—for local authorities in Wales. I have yet to receive a reply. The hon. Gentleman's seventh point was that I ignored local traditions at my peril. In fact, I have sought to recognise and strengthen local communities. The hon. Gentleman's eighth point was that I had ignored the consensus for a Welsh assembly. I do not believe that there is such a consensus. I would merely refer the hon. Gentleman to the referendum, which established by a 4:1 majority that the people of Wales were not in favour of a Welsh assembly. Moreover, that proposal does not sit easily with the hon. Gentleman's notion of local authority control. I believe that his proposals for an assembly would take power and money from local authorities and the communities they serve, and that the system"the number should be between 17 and 25, we have now decided that the view should be changed and that we should have between 25 and 30 most-purpose local authorities."
Those are not my words but the words of the Leader of the Opposition. quoted on 27 February 1979 in the South Wales Argus. The hon. Gentleman's ninth point was that I had dropped the idea of an economic forum. I must tell him that I am still considering a proposal to that effect from the Council of Welsh Districts. Finally, the hon. Gentleman said that I had produced the proposals with the general election in mind. I hope that people in Wales recognise that these are ideas from a Government who intend to remain in office. I do not intend to stand idly by and allow Wales to return to the failed policies that the hon. Gentleman stood for when he was last in office. I want it to move forward with the progressive pragmatic policies of this Government."would be even more centralised than the present system."
Order. I remind the House that it is unusual to have two statements on a day on which the main business is subject to a timetable motion. I will allow questions on the statement to continue until 10 minutes to 5; then we will move on to the ten-minute Bill. We must be on the main business by 5 o'clock. May I ask for brief questions—and also, please, for brief answers?
Does my right hon. Friend understand that his statement will be warmly welcomed throughout Wales and particularly in the capital city of Cardiff, which never really appreciated or understood the two-tier system? Will he undertake to consider seriously the proposal that Cardiff should expand beyond its present boundaries and incorporate the bulk —if not necessarily the whole—of the present county of South Glamorgan? Will he also say something—
Order. Two points are enough for today.
I thank my hon. Friend for welcoming the proposals. I believe that the proposal for a single tier of unitary authorities represents a bold step forward. I welcome and share my hon. Friend's recognition of the importance of Cardiff of the capital city of Wales. Further consultations will be initiated with a view to defining the northern and western boundaries of the new authority.
May I congratulate the Secretary of State? We have waited a long time for these sensible proposals, and the people of mid-Wales in particular are indebted to him for introducing them. We have all been pressing for unitary authorities in Wales for a decade or more. I should like to make one plea to the Secretary of State, however: will he consider once again leaving the people of Radnorshire and Brecknockshire, who are proud of their identities and counties, separate? I hope that he will do just that. Finally, will the Secretary of State reaffirm his intention to consult people on community councils?
Yes. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the welcome that he has given for the proposals. He will know of the part played by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State—for example, in ensuring the restoration of the historic counties of Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire. I am proposing working names, and I very much look forward to representations about what those names should be.With regard to Brecon and Radnor, when the hon. Gentleman scrutinises the map, he will see that I have placed a dotted line between the old counties of Radnor and Brecknock, and I will be consulting further on that. Of course I will consult widely on the community councils. For example, I will be consulting on whether we should maintain the existing law, which requires the abolition of community councils if there is a local vote in favour of that.
The abolition of the artificial tier will be very warmly welcomed in Wales, as that it real devolution, taking decision making to the closest level, especially in my city, where it will mean that Cardiff will again be a real capital of Wales. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that that process will be implemented as speedily as possible and that any review of Cardiff's boundaries will be most minor and rapidly accomplished?
I thank my hon. Friend for his warm welcome for the proposals, and I invite the Labour party to publish its proposals in full. I am told that they have existed for two years and I have shown that I do not think that they have. Will the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside now publish his proposals so that we can scrutinise them? I hope that they will endorse what my hon. Friend has said—that any proposals must recognise the important position of our capital city.
Will the Secretary of State accept that there will be great disappointment in my constituency, as Port Talbot and Neath have a long tradition of serving both their communities well? Are not the proposed authorities too big for some purposes and too small for others? Will there be 23 directors of education in Wales?
Yes. I have already pointed out to the hon. and learned Gentleman in my statement that certain authorities are better off seeing the future ahead in combination. My proposals set out that Neath and Port Talbot should work together as a unitary authority in future. The hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) has said that I should consider the northern boundary of Neath. If there are any detailed representations of that kind as we proceed, I shall be perfectly happy to consider them.With regard to the 23 directors of education, it was clear that the counties wanted eight unitary authorities, and they made a presentation to me detailing that. The districts wanted 27. I believe that my proposals today represent the right way forward.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the 23 unitary authorities that he proposes make an all-Wales co-ordinating authority all the more necessary to discuss and decide upon major strategic planning, infrastructure and transport issues? Will he further agree that the savings that he envisages from a move to unitary authorities would more than cover the cost of running such an all-Wales authority?
I recognise my hon. Friend's strong feelings on that issue. However, I have announced today a very positive step in the direction of returning greater local decision-making to local communities. I would not at the same time want to see any move to snatch back that local decision-making by imposing a bureaucratic assembly running Wales from Cardiff.
I know that we are limited in respect of time, but I am surprised that we are trying to ask the Secretary of State questions about a document which, if he wants consultation, he could have produced earlier so that Opposition Members could have seen the boundaries. The Secretary of State has referred to dotted lines and to a map which I have not seen and which, in all probability, no other Opposition Member has seen.If we are talking about the reorganisation of local government, could some of those boundaries eventually form parliamentary seats in Wales? It is gerrymandering of the Secretary of State in the fag end of the Government t introduce such proposals knowing that, on 16 March, we will perhaps lose you, Mr. Speaker, as the Speaker of this place and that there will be a new Government on 9 April. The proposals will not be accepted by the Labour party, and a Labour Government will undertake further consultations after 9 April. Why waste the time of the House now?
That was not a very helpful contribution. If the hon. Gentleman looks carefully at the consultation paper which I produced, he will see that I have set out very clearly the boundaries of the authorities under a number of solutions. I have come forward to the House with my proposals. They are set out very clearly. I have received strong representations in certain parts of Wales that the existing boundaries between district authorities should be looked at again. I had hoped that it would be warmly welcomed that I was prepared to undertake a furtherr consultation process in those areas where the dotted lines are shown.
Does the Secretary of State accept that the consensus to which he referred was based on there being an all-Wales elected body and that, in bringing forward that model, he has left a strategic vacuum in Wales, with units that may be too small for strategic purposes? Would not the sensible way forward now be for him to set up an all-Wales elected Parliament and give it as its first remit the review of local government in Wales, taking this along with other proposals as a starting point?
I suppose that I could respond to the hon. Gentleman by saying that that is a premise that could be accepted only if it were intended to snatch back from the new unitary authorities some of the existing functions of counties and districts. I have made it absolutely clear that I believe that the way ahead in Wales is to return closer to local communities more power to the people. The ideas that the hon. Gentleman is putting forward would fly in the face of that.
Although I am an English Member—
It is not disgraceful at all. This is the United Kingdom Parliament.
I anticipated that, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend will confirm that I have taken a close interest in this matter from the very beginning, and I would think it unfortunate for the people of Wales if Opposition Members were not prepared to listen to the lessons from elsewhere. Will my right hon. Friend take on board two points from the English experience? First, when he seeks to consult further on his local communities—
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Nothing out of order has occurred.
You have put a time limit—
I have indeed, and the hon. Member is taking time from it.
First, when my right hon. Friend thinks further about local communities, will he give as much weight to the importance of the views of local people as he gives to the views of local councillors and local authority associations? Secondly, when thinking about whether 23 new authorities means 23 of this and that—[Interruption.]
Order. That is a long question from an English Member.
Will he realise that direct delivery is not the only way of achieving good services?
I realise that my hon. Friend holds differing views from my own, and I am rather grateful to the Opposition for seeking to shield me from my hon. Friend's questions. My proposals represent the right way ahead —taking power, authority and decision-making closer to local people. I have very carefully considered—my hon. Friend has made representations to me—setting up a commission in England to determine the number of authorities, but within Wales we have never had a commission, and I believe that the proposal that I have put forward today for 23 unitary authorities represents the right way forward.
I welcome the Secretary of State's recognition of the need to restore unitary status to Swansea and to include the Lliw valley in that authority. Will the right hon. Gentleman address the question that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), because it may also predetermine the shape of the outcome of the parliamentary boundary commission that is due to report in about two years? Would it be the right hon. Gentleman's intention, if re-elected, for that boundary commission to be confined within the district boundaries that he has outlined today, or would it be able to cross those boundaries? It is crucial to know what the decision would be.
Parliamentary boundaries are not an issue that I am addressing. I recognise, as the right hon. Gentleman points out, that there may be consequential changes as a result of the proposals that I am putting forward, but those were not and are not considerations. I greatly welcome his enthusiastic support for the recognition of the city of Swansea's importance within the boundaries that I have proposed.
The Secretary of State said in his statement that he was putting the proposals before the Welsh people for their endorsement. What percentage of the vote at the next election would he consider to be a mandate for his proposals?
The proposals have all-party support, so they are not as divisive as the hon. Gentleman suggests. The proposals have been made by councillors representing all parties. It is shameful that the hon. Gentleman injects party politics into a matter on which there is consensus.
Why has the Secretary of State used the building blocks of the districts which were created in 1974? In the area of Clwyd, they enshrine all the problems that we have had since 1974. A Vale of Clwyd tier of authority will be created. It will have tremendous problems, because it is a disparate area and it will have no resources. As the Secretary of State has not proposed any regional government solutions, how will he possibly deal with all the services which are handled on a wider scale?