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Mr. Duffy : Will the Defence Secretary impress upon Dr. Wo"rner the supreme importance of defence co-operation in these days of escalating defence costs, if the era of structural disarmament is not to be hastened, because the latest thinking of Tom Callahan on his familiar theme is really very alarming? Will he, further, remind Dr. Wo"rner that no member nation has done more than the United Kingdom to promote joint collaboration?
Mr. Younger : I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. The more collaboration there can be between allies, the better. Indeed, if we do not pursue that we shall find it increasingly difficult to afford the systems we need.
Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Soviet forces have a great preponderance of short-range nuclear weapons compared with the NATO Alliance and, furthermore, are continuing to modernise them?
Mr. Younger : My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. The Soviet Union has modernised all its shorter-range systems in the last few years. It is, therefore, a very obvious ploy to try to discourage NATO from doing the same. Decisions will have to come up soon on that and I am quite sure that the balance of advantage is to make sure that NATO still has an adequate range of options for its flexible response strategy.
Mr. Beggs : Does the Secretary of State agree that it is still desirable that the Irish Republic should play a part in NATO? Will he take the opportunity when he meets the secretary-general to discuss that as a real possibility?
Mr. Hill : In the discussions with NATO perhaps my right hon. Friend will remember that the burden sharing throughout Europe could be well represented by the European pillar of NATO, which is, of course, the Western European Union? I feel that groups such as WEU should be involved more than they are at present in such discussions.
Mr. Younger : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and I are joint chairmen of WEU this year, I strongly agree with what he says and I think that the WEU is acting as quite an effective way of expressing the European contribution to our collective defence.
Mr. O'Neill : Given the Secretary of State's enthusiasm for short- range weapons, could he, in his discussions with Manfred Wo"rner, take account of German anxieties about these weapons, because it is over Germany's land area that they would travel? Could he explain to the House his views on a follow-on to Lance, for which very little enthusiasm is being expressed in the Federal Republic? Does he think, therefore, that there will be any decision before December 1990, when the Federal Republic has its Bundestag elections?
Mr. Younger : I feel that I should begin by saying, "Welcome back." I was beginning to fear from the hon. Gentleman's notable silence earlier that he must have visited a Trappist monastery in Russia, with due results.
Of course I agree that shorter-range nuclear weapons are an important subject. Negotiations are still an essential part of our flexible response strategy, and that applies just as much to the defence of Germany as to that of any other part of Europe. We shall have to address the possibility of a follow-on system to Lance, but as no such system has yet been selected, we are not in a position to say whether we shall take part.
Mr. Nelson : In view of the chairmanship of the independent European programme group which my right hon. Friend will be undertaking over the next two years, will he say what discussions he may have with the secretary -general about the importance of transnational co-operation on an industrial base to ensure that we in Europe continue at least to keep a proportion of the equipment with which we supply our own defence needs?
Mr. Younger : Yes, I shall be keeping the secretary-general in close touch with the work of the IEPG during the next two years when we shall be chairing that body. I know that he fully supports what we are trying to do. At present we are trying in particular to create an open market in defence equipment throughout western Europe, which should be greatly to the advantage of collaboration and the procurement of our equipment generally.
Dr. Owen : Would it not be wiser, in view of the divisiveness on modernisation in the Federal Republic of Germany, to concentrate first on a stand-off air-launch missile--on which it is probably possible to reach unanimity in NATO--and essential modernisation for Tornado and F-111 aircraft, and to leave aside the question of Lance for the next couple of years?
Mr. Younger : I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's point. As he knows, we are considering with our allies the best course to follow in replacing our free-fall bombs, and one of the possibilities would be a stand-off air-launch missile. Discussions are continuing. It is worth pointing out that, while there are still divisions among our friends in Germany about the precise course to take, all concerned in the German Government are clearly agreed that they must not do anything that could lead to a third zero, which would be gravely damaging to the policy of flexible response on which we all depend.
Mr. Cryer : Is not that sum staggering when we bear in mind the recent expenditure of £500 million on replacement rocket motors? Will the Minister comment on the Government's morality--a morality which cuts back expenditure on, for example, new school building in my constituency, yet can lavish nearly £1 billion on new motors and annual maintenance?
Will the Minister also comment on the morality of deploying Polaris missiles which, if used, would bring about more exterminations than Pol Pot and Hitler put together? Why does the rest of the world reject that disgusting morality?
Mr. Hamilton : Any defence expenditure must be seen in terms of its deterrent effect, and there is no doubt that our independent nuclear deterrent has proved to be very good value for money. That view was accepted by the last Labour Government, who agreed that the Polaris system should be subject to the Chevaline update and were so ashamed of their decision that they kept it secret. They were worried about the reaction of unilateralists on their own Back Benches such as the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer).
Mr. Leigh : Does my hon. Friend think it likely that the subject of the cost of maintaining the Polaris fleet was raised at the meeting between Labour party leaders and the Soviet leadership in Moscow recently? Could the deafening silence from the Opposition Benches today on that visit be explained by a large dose of pique at being snubbed by a Soviet Government who would much rather deal with a party not imbued with what Brezhnev called "the naivety of unilateralism"?
Mr. Hamilton : One problem we have is that the delegation that has come back from Moscow has been quiet about what was discussed. It would be helpful if the members of that delegation could reveal rather more of their discussion.
Mr. Sainsbury : A report by the prime contractor is currently under consideration by NEFMA, the international management agency for the EFA programme, and by the collaborating nations. I would hope that a decision on the winning consortium could be made early this year.
Mr. Meale : Will the Minister comment on the specification and supply of EFA radar systems--[ Hon. Members :-- "Reading"]. Will he ensure that his decision will not prejudice Britain's electronics and radar industries--[ Hon. Members :-- "Reading"]--research base, and-- [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher) : This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including the Spanish Foreign Minister. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today, including one with the Soviet Deputy Prime Minister. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.
Mr. Porter : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread concern about fraud ; about reports of the siphoning off of EEC funds to the IRA and the Mafia and about often poor policing of basic EEC rules? How does my right hon. Friend intend to protect the interests of the British people in general and the taxpayers in particular?
The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend that the extent of fraud in the use of EC funds revealed by the Court of Auditors is a matter of great concern. Some of the remedies are in national hands, but we believe that the rules applied by the Community must be tightened up and any suspect cases investigated vigorously. The Parliament has also raised this matter with the Commission, and I shall hope to raise it at the next European Council.
The Prime Minister : There are two aspects of the water companies. The water companies as such are the privatised section ; the water authorities are being denationalised. The water companies--as the right hon. Gentleman will see if he looks at the record for the last four years-- have had both lower price increases and have charged for the last four years much lower prices per household than have the water authorities.
Mr. Kinnock : With an answer like that, I wonder why the right hon. Lady's Ministers say that these huge rises are unjustified. Will the Prime Minister confirm that at a meeting at the Department of the Environment on 1 December it was agreed with the private water companies that they should
"raise their tariffs to the maximum permitted"
and that they were further
"strongly advised not to suggest that privatisation as such makes their tariff increases necessary"?
Why that advice and why the deceit?
The Prime Minister : The facts I have given to the right hon. Gentleman-- [Interruption.] --he can get from the tables. They show that the water companies have been charging for the last four years prices below those of the nationalised statutory authorities. Several statutory companies have announced increases in prices. The amount under regulation that they will be able to charge will depend on the cost of the service that they provide and their reasonable profits. Therefore, there is virtually no point in putting up their prices now.
The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman did not listen. I said that the increase in prices--if they are trying to start from a higher base --will have virtually no effect because we are introducing a better-- [Interruption.] He should listen.
The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman clearly does not like the facts. We are introducing a better system of regulation for water companies, under which they will need to satisfy the Director General of Water Services, introduced under the Bill, that the proposed increases are justified. At the moment, their prices are below those of the nationalised authorities.
Mr. Greenway : Has my right hon. Friend seen that shares in the National Freight Corporation were quoted for the first time on the stock exchange yesterday, and that its employees saw the profits from their small shareholdings in that privatised company rise enormously? Is she aware that if the Labour party had had its way, those employees, instead of receiving that profit for their families would now be working for a sterile nationalised industry?
The Prime Minister : Yes. The privatisation of the National Freight Corporation has been very successful, both for consumers and for those who worked extremely hard in the industry to make it successful. Hard work has given them an excellent reward ; they have been able to build up capital, which they would never have been able to do under a Labour Government. We wish them well and thank them for their great endeavours.
Mrs. Mahon : Will the Prime Minister give a guarantee to the House that, under the health review, existing district health authorities will retain their accident and emergency departments? Since this is a life and death issue, will she answer yes or no?
The Prime Minister : The district health authorities and the self- governing hospitals will have to retain their accident and emergency departments because that is a fundamental core service. Either the district health authorities or the self-governing hospitals will have to run effective accident and emergency services.
Column 798visit this country to President George Bush, to ensure that the alliance between Great Britain and America stays as strong as it has always been?
The Prime Minister : President Bush knows that he will be welcome in this country at any time when he is able to come. He might have other matters on his mind at the moment. He will be visiting Europe for the economic summit in July and there is a possibility of a NATO Heads of Government meeting. We need have no fear about the special relationship. It will continue as staunchly in the future as it has in the past.
Mr. Vaz : The Prime Minister has spent the past 10 years lecturing the nation on law and order. Is she aware that in Leicestershire violent crime has risen by 73 per cent. during that period? In his miserable attempt to deal with the problem, the Home Secretary has announced an increase of only an extra 18 police officers, despite the request by the chief constable for an extra 89 officers. When will the Government end their conspiracy with the muggers, rapists and others who survive to destroy society because of this Government?
The Prime Minister : Of course, I reject totally what the hon. Gentleman has said. A Government who have increased the numbers of police enormously, the amount of money enormously, the amount of equipment enormously and the amount of training enormously and have received a great deal of co-operation from the public, a Government who support the prevention of terrorism Act, and a Government who have increased maximum sentences, are a Government who have been fighting crime. We wish that we had the full co-operation of Opposition Members.
Mr. Yeo : Will my right hon. Friend convey to her ministerial team at the Treasury the warm thanks of the charity world following yesterday's announcement that charitable expenditure on new construction work is largely to retain its existing zero rating for VAT purposes?
The Prime Minister : Yes, of course. Yesterday the new VAT regulations following the judgment of the European Court were published. We have taken full advantage of the latitude that is permitted to give a very good deal to charities and also to provide transitional arrangements for others who will be adversely affected. A very good job has been done.
Mr. Simon Hughes : Given that it is Government policy that before a school moves out of local authority control there should be a vote by parents, and before housing moves out of local government control there should be a vote by tenants, why is it not explicit Government policy that before a hospital such as Guy's in my constituency moves out of local authority control-- [Interruption.] --
Column 799local health authority control, there should be a vote by the users of that service, namely the patients in the Lewisham and North Southwark district health authority area? Will the Prime Minister give an undertaking that those people will have a vote, and, if not, why not?
Mr. Hayes : Will my right hon. Friend express her deep concern to the Dutch and Belgian authorities about their failure to prosecute two Irishmen who were found in possession of weapons allegedly used in the murder of two British service men? Does she agree that international terrorism will be beaten only by international co-operation?
The Prime Minister : Yes, I agree wholeheartedly with that proposition, and from most countries we get such co-operation. As my hon. Friend is aware, there are times when we do not succeed in getting people extradited, but for the most part we get increasing co-operation, particularly among the police and the security services, in the fight against terrorism.
Mr. Barnes : Has the Prime Minister seen the league table that was published in Hansard on 11 January showing that the Derbyshire county council, which is Labour-controlled, has the best staff-pupil ratio of any shire county? It is top in special education, top in secondary education, and second, by a hair's breadth, in primary education. Will the right hon. Lady congratulate the Derbyshire county council on this achievement?
The Prime Minister : I understand that it also has very, very high spending. But I am very glad if it has excellent education ; the hon. Member must be very pleased with Conservative education policy.
Mr. Hayward : Will my right hon. Friend consider the monopoly that currently operates with the BBC and ITV in terms of the prior publication of programmes, particularly since we now have Sky TV's competing channels?
The Prime Minister : Yes, but the whole of broadcasting is, in fact, changing because of the speed of new technology and, of course, because of the alternative channels. I think that we shall soon have the debate on the White Paper, when we shall be able to consider these matters and how to deal with them in legislation.
Mr. Buchan : Has the Prime Minister yet had the chance to reconsider her grossly offensive speech in Scotland on Friday? Has no one told her that she united practically the entire Scottish population with her objectionable views? Does she not realise that the stupidity of her declared veto is as dangerous as the stupid separatism of Scottish Nationalists? Are they in consort with each other?
The Prime Minister : If I may say so, in the place where I gave the speech before 675 people, many of them journalists, it was very well received. I pointed out that under a Conservative Government, Scotland is doing better than ever and that Scotland could not possibly have achieved that response to Conservative policies without being in tune with them, even though many people, like the hon. Gentleman, find it difficult to admit it.
Mr. Adley : Now that the Russians are leaving or have left Afghanistan, the Cubans and South Africans have left Namibia, and the Vietnamese are leaving Kampuchea, will my right hon. Friend join me in hoping that ere long the Israelis will leave the occupied west bank and Gaza?
The Prime Minister : The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan is a great tribute to the resistance who never let up in their fight for their country. Also, it is a great tribute to Pakistan which has received so many refugees. We are very pleased that the withdrawal is virtually complete. I join my hon. Friend in hoping that we shall soon see negotiations begin on a settlement to the middle east problem.
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