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Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington) : I would like to join those who have thanked the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy for their sterling work in the past year. Hearing the list of exercises, visits and events taken by or forced upon the Navy I am struck by the breadth of activity that Britain expects of its senior service. This was made apparent to me in my recent visit to the Falkland Islands, where, in the vastness of the oceans under British naval protection and the inhospitability of the land, the naval forces there continue to work with determination and great humanity, never forgetting the complexities of the political, economic and social factors that have given rise to the need for a military presence.
May I also add my tribute to those of the Ministers and of my hon. Friends on the return of the Armilla patrol after the brilliant work that was done in the Gulf.
I am, however, struck by the audacity of the Minister in applauding the achievement of the Navy in the past year while apparently failing to understand or even recognise the depth of despair in some sections of our naval forces, which is evident in articles about the problems of naval procurement, of shortages, morale and manpower and the increasing cost of Trident and its impact, notably in the squeeze on resources, on the remainder of the service. To this end, I would like to make a few comments about naval arms control.
In the past year we have seen that reducing the offensive elements on either side is a confidence-building measure. This has been recognised in conventional stability talks in Vienna. It was also recognised in the Stockholm agreement of 1986. Why should the same principle not apply to naval forces? In the past year the Soviet Union has made the running in naval arms control, one of the most neglected issues on the agenda of the super-powers. There are only five multilateral agreements dealing with maritime issues and they concern mainly nuclear not naval weaponry or strategies.
For our purposes today let us remind ourselves of the unilateral initiatives for naval arms control proposed by the Soviet Union. President Gorbachev has proposed anti-submarine weapons-free zones, notably one in the Barents sea, anti-submarine warfare-free zones and an SSBN sanctuary policy. He also supports a ban on sea-launched cruise missiles and has repeatedly stated that the Soviet Union will not enter a START agreement without some type of limit on long-range land attack SLCMs. The United States has, however, refused to
Column 240include these in the START talks. The United States has about 4,000 of them, and they allow the United States to negotiate through strength, as well as giving it the enormous military advantage of spreading its military strike capability from 13 aircraft carriers to 190 ships and submarines.
Rear Admiral Studemann of United States Naval Intelligence also notes that the Soviet Union is paying increased attention to international proposals for naval arms control and constraints on naval operations. Since 1986 Mr. Gorbachev has proposed mutual withdrawals of United States and Soviet naval forces from the Indian ocean and from the Mediterranean ; limitations on naval activity in the Pacific, possible Soviet withdrawal from the naval base in Cam Ranh bay in return for United States withdrawal from the Subic bay complex in the Philippines ; the creation of a nuclear weapons-free zone in Northern Europe ; restricting naval activity in the Baltic, north Norwegian and Greenland seas, including special limitations on anti- submarine warfare weapons ; prior notification of naval exercises in the presence of observers of such exercises ; and the complete prohibition of naval activity in areas such as international straits and major shipping routes.
These proposals would, if implemented, undoubtedly result in a reduction of NATO's maritime superiority, which is based on bottling the Soviet navy in the Kola peninsula. This has been seen by many as an offensive maritime strategy.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) rose --
All we can say about maritime strategy is that it is based on the view that there will be a Warsaw pact attack on Europe and that Western Europe needs to meet that attack with reinforcements. These will have to be escorted across the Atlantic. The Soviet fleet will be prowling around and must be restrained. The scale of these reinforcements is phenomenal and farcical. It is phenominal because in the first 30 days it is anticipated that 300,000 men and 100 air squadrons would cross the Atlantic. After 180 days 1.5 million men, 8.5 million tonnes of freight and 3 billion gallons of fuel would have come across in a total of over 3,000 ship sailings and 28,000 transatlantic flights.
It is farcical because United States-led NATO offensive forward maritime strategy is likely to result in swift retaliatory responses from the Soviet Union's SSBNs. Experts differ, but a war in Europe may not last long enough for there to be reinforcement from across the Atlantic. Time, tide and war wait for no one. However, these are only proposals, open to negotiation. As unilateral initiatives, they show the importance of not relying only on multilateral negotiations and moves. In a global climate in which economic forces are pushing for political initiatives and the authority and stability of the current Soviet leadership may well be at stake, it is important to comprehend the nature of Western responses. The response of the United States and NATO to these recent Soviet overtures has been positive in respect of the negotiation of confidence-building measures and overwhelmingly negative towards proposals such as SSBN sanctuaries, nuclear -free weapon zones in the south Pacific and Nordic regions, and US sea- launched cruise missiles.
Column 241Does the Minister recognise that if Britain does not hunt submarines, that will give the USSR more confidence with its SSBNs in the Barents sea? In return, the USSR must agree not to hunt United States or British submarines off the United Kingdom or United States coasts. Does he agree that the British Government could take a fundamental and important confidence-building step if they so wished? This confidence- building measure hands a big verification problem to the Soviets. It is much easier for the West to use its highly sophisticated tracking technology to close in on the Soviets than for them to do the same to us.
As the House will know, naval confidence-building measures include information exchanges between super-powers, observation/inspection agreements and operational constraints. The Atlantic Assembly report notes that confidence-building measures generally reduce the risks of confrontation by demonstrating the peaceful and defensive intent of naval operations. As such, they would enhance stability and decrease super-power tensions.
Given these benefits, will the Minister reaffirm the Government's commitment to confidence-building measures? The incidents at sea agreement, which is praiseworthy, already exists, but we need to go further. Will the Minister reassure us that when he next speaks to his United States counterpart he will note the House's anxiety that the United States navy appears to reject confidence-building measures? While we may understand that such measures may be seen by the United States navy as infringing United States naval operations, we urge the Minister to ask the United States Defence Secretary to locate naval policy more in the promising framework of current international security, and less in the old days of crisis management.
The United States and NATO have been stonewalling on discussions affecting maritime strategies. That manifests itself in the same way as other defence -related double-talk : we are told that it is necessary to have more efficient, lethal and sophisticated weapons, and then we can have less.
How dare we call this rational? It is nothing of the sort. It is the game played by politicians, military personnel, industrialists, bureaucrats and even, at times, diplomats. Do exercises in arms control control weapons procurement? Arms control talks may be a super way of meeting one's opposite number, but do they achieve anything else?
The Labour party likes to call a spade a spade, and digging, digging. We apply the same rules to political language. After all, the offensive role of the United States navy, which may enable it to have political kudos and higher resource allocation in the United States, should be of minor concern to us as an independent country. As an independent country--with, as the Government so frequently boast, its own nuclear deterrent--and as a member of NATO, we must take note of factors affecting global security. Since last year, there has been a sea change in international relations. In the light of this different economic and political atmosphere, will the Minister accept the view that Trident must be included in stage two of the strategic arms reduction talks?
I note that the defence estimates state that, if United States and Soviet strategic arsenals were substantially reduced,
"we would want to consider how we could best contribute to arms control in light of the reduced threat. But the US and
Column 242Soviet reductions would have to go much further than 50 before we could consider including the British deterrent in arms control negotiations".
How much further do super-power reductions have to go before Trident can be included in START? The defence estimates note that, even with a 50 per cent. reduction in strategic arms, greater stability in Europe will not be achieved without reduction in the Soviets' conventional weapons and a ban on chemical weapons. In the light of this statement in the defence estimates, will the Minister consider the following? In the past months, the Soviet Union has reduced its forces in Europe by 500,000 troops, 10,000 tanks, 8, 500 artillery pieces and 800 combat aircraft.
Before becoming President, Mr. Bush twice used his tie-breaking vote in the Senate to support the modernisation of the United States chemical weapon programme. At the Paris conference on chemical weapons in January, the Soviet Foreign Minister announced that the Soviet Union would begin to destroy chemical weapons. Meanwhile, the final budget of the Reagan Administration increased spending on binary weapons production from $9.7 million in 1988 to $60.7 million in 1991. Does the huge economic, political and military cost of continuing the Trident ultimately depend on international affairs or on an image that the Government like to create? Is the Government's policy--
Mr. Boyes : Is the Government's policy to include Trident in reduction talks if the super-power talks result in strategic reductions of more than 50 per cent.? There is a ban on chemical weapons, and the Soviets are reducing their conventional forces. To answer the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) : I gave up time to allow two Conservative Members to speak, one of whom spoke for longer than I shall have done by the time I sit down. I should like to say a few words about procurement. Sometimes the latest weapons technology in the most sophisticated, efficient, accurate and expensive hardware just does not work. The necessity to develop new weapon systems, if only to compete in international markets, accounts for about half the military budget. NATO's 16 nations spend $400 billion a year on their weapons and armed forces--half the world's total of such spending. The British defence budget for 1988-89 amounted to £19.2 billion, with 95 per cent. going to Britain's NATO commitments. Of total expenditure, £2.8 billion is allocated for the development and production of sea equipment. To put this in perspective, since 1979 Government spending on defence has risen in real terms by 17 per cent., while education has achieved an increase of only 10 per cent. Spending on housing, transport and overseas aid has declined in real terms. Yet this military budget is said to be too small. The loudest protests to that effect come from some Conservative Members, some military personnel and people working in the industrial complexes that continue to lean on military contracts.
Column 243What happens to this huge military budget? The "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1988" notes :
"We have adopted a more commercial attitude, exploiting the best practices to obtain long-term value for money
Our fundamental aim remains unchanged : to buy for the armed forces the equipment they need to the required quality, at the right time and at the keenest price
Whenever possible, we express a requirement in terms of specified criteria, such as performance and reliability, and leave it to the contractor to decide how to meet them."
How does that proclaimed procurement policy square with this year's quota of Government-inspired fiascos?
The Minister mentioned the ongoing contract with Ferranti to develop the computer-assisted automated command systems for frigates. We must remember that the first contract, with impossible-to-reach specifications, has been scrapped at a cost of £17 million. This is an incredible and unpardonable waste of taxpayers' money. Even though the statement on defence estimates notes :
"we place responsibility and risk with the contractor, providing him with the incentive to deliver equipment at the agreed time and at the agreed price",
we know that Ferranti's first contract was written off. Why is it that, having made changes in procurement practices, this Government--always boasting of efficiency--still preside over messes? In a world in which the major powers are attempting to reach some sort of global security which does not totally rely on the might of the military, it ill behoves the United Kingdom Government to order weapons systems and then keep changing the specifications and mismanage the ordering. Will the Minister give an accurate figure to the House of how much taxpayers' money has been written off by original over-specified orders?
The Trident D5 is another example of a complex weapons system searching for a justification. We are told of the costs of Trident being reduced : is that really true? The "World in Action" team last week uncovered overcharging--or gold-plating--on Trident contracts. As the Trident procurement management is meant to be the tightest of any procurement project, why are people like Sir Ronald Mason, former chief scientific adviser to the MOD, saying the management has to change? Perhaps that explains why design work on a new class of hunter-killer submarine is under way.
The remaining three Trafalgar class hunter-killer submarines are being completed at Barrow. Another order for the generation of SSNs is likely to be placed in the near future. Are these hunter-killer submarines to be used as protection for Polaris or Trident in future? Can the Minister enlighten the House? Does this mean that RAF Nimrods and hunter-killer submarines and anti-submarine frigates are being deployed to protect Polaris? If so, is that not yet another unallocated and unspecified cost of the Trident programme, and of maintaining strategic nuclear weapons? The House should be told the real cost of Britain's nuclear deterrent. What are the opportunity costs of the forces patrolling with and protecting Trident? On the subject of miscalculations, I draw the attention of the House to the fiasco of the torpedoes. As we all know, due to procurement problems with modern torpedoes, the Belgrano was sunk with 1940s technology. Modern technology was not reliable enough for the job.
Column 244Do we take this as a lesson and continue to use tried and tested technology? Why should we spend money at all if we need a lot of 1940s torpedoes?
With this in mind, because of dissatisfaction with Marconi torpedoes, is it not true that Sir Peter Levene has been examining the possibility of acquiring torpedoes from other producers, including producers abroad? Is it not true that torpedo testing has shown success rates as low as only 16 per cent. from some models? Also, Sir Peter Stanford, the former Commander-in- Chief, Naval Home Command wrote an article in the United States Naval Institute's journal in January 1989, in which he drew out the main issues. He noted how important is the service fleet, especially in the Atlantic in supporting, even the 600-ship United States navy. He wrote : "it takes no great depth of perception to expose the gap between the Thatcher Government's rhetoric and the reality of their naval policies."
He added :
"the Government's claim to maintain a fleet of about 50 destroyers and frigates is becoming a standing joke. In the eight years after the British Government's target for surface combatants became about 50 destroyers and frigates, the orders actually placed with ship builders to sustain the rolling programme amounted to no more than seven. Four other orders were made to replace battle losses in the Falklands and these are of no account in this calculation." It is clear that the Government's procurement policy has cost the taxpayer millions of pounds, yet our services have not had the equipment that they deserve with which to carry out the tasks that we ask them to do on our behalf. We expect the Navy to ensure the security of the United Kingdom. For it to do this we need to ensure that our military forces have the quantity and quality of equipment to undertake such a task. The Royal Navy must also play a part internationally, but this must be for security rather than to be provacative. The Government are not giving the Navy the necessary tools so that it can carry out the task that we require of it. 9.37 pm
The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Archie Hamilton) : This has been an excellent debate. I must admit at the outset that I had an almost surreal feeling when listening to the Opposition. One had to ask what had happened to the Labour manifestos of 1983 and 1987. One had to ask whether the unilateralist dog had ceased to bark. But of course, it did not take long before the House was reminded by the hon. Members for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) and for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) that unilateralism is still alive and well in the Labour party today. The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) has a difficult task ahead of him in reconciling the differing views of Labour Members. I doubt whether he will get unanimity on almost any defence policy that he manages to dream up. I am not certain that there is even a vague consensus.
Of course, it is not just the Labour party that is working on defence policy. We must ask how the SLD is doing. It has shaken off the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), whose views on defence have always been robust. I think I heard the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) say that cancellation would be neither financially nor militarily prudent ; when asked whether he would maintain Trident, he answered unequivocally yes.
Column 245Like my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) , I must ask what has happened to all the Liberals who are members of CND and so on. Are they suddenly going quiet, and will they not have any stake in the future policy of the SLD? It strikes me that many arguments have yet to come and that it will be good spectator sport, at any rate for Conservative Members.
A number of issues have been raised during the debate and I shall try to cover them. Concern was expressed, understandably, by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin) about the future of the fleet maintenance and repair organisation. As a result of the decision to seek competitive tenders for the combined repair and refit of HMS Southampton, we are examining what work can sensibly be rescheduled or reallocated to make the most cost effective use of the resources of the FMRO during the original planned period of the Southampton refit.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) spoke of the future of merchant shipping. The decline in the British registered merchant fleet has continued over the last year, but our national defence requirements can still be met and there are welcome signs that we may now be entering a period of relative stability. The industry has returned to profitability, orders for new ships have risen sharply and cargo rates are also rising.
The House will recall that we introduced a number of measures last year to help the industry. The Merchant Shipping Act enabled us to provide financial assistance for the training and travel costs of British merchant seamen and to set up a merchant navy reserve. The Finance Act changed the foreign earnings deduction rules to enable more seamen to benefit. Business expansion scheme arrangements for shipowners have been expanded to encourage investment. The full effect of these measures has yet to be seen.
On the NATO front, the continuing shortage of vessels for transatlantic reinforcement remains a matter of concern, but nations are working together to increase the availability of vessels for this and other purposes. The study on the supply and demand for merchant shipping by NATO in crisis and war is well under way.
The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol. East (Mr. Sayeed) spoke of concern about CACS 4 and the successor system to it. I remind hon. Members of what the Under-Secretary said on this matter earlier this year :
"The lack of a command system will restrict the co-ordination of the weapons and sensors although each weapon and sensor will be capable of independent action. Without the full integration of the weapons and sensors the overall effectiveness of the ship will be reduced, particularly in a demanding multiple threat situation. Despite this, however, the type-23 will provide a very much more effective contribution to our maritime forces than the Leander class frigates that it will replace"--[ Official Report, 10 January 1989 ; vol. 144, c. 60 .]
My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth and a number of other hon. Members spoke about our amphibious capability. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) was worried that tenders would not be invited for the aviation support ship until July. In fact, tenders have already been invited and responses from industry are due in July.
As for the capability of the assault ships Fearless and Intrepid, the feasibility studies into a replacement which were under way at the time of the last debate on the Royal
Column 246Navy, last March, have now been completed. Their results, as well as the possibility of extending the lives of these ships, are now being evaluated. In the meantime, Fearless is currently undergoing a major refit.
No Navy debate would be the same without the great discussions that we always have about whether the surface fleet numbers about 50. I should have thought that to have 49 ships--destroyers and frigates--was quite good when we have talked about 50, and I make no apology for 49.
It is important to put the debate in context. We are in danger of giving the impression that the Navy is composed of only about 50 ships. That is not so. The Royal Navy deploys some 200 vessels of all classes. The figure of about 50 destroyers and frigates reflects the Government's judgment of what is the right contribution for us to make, taking into account the contribution also made by other surface ships, submarines and aircraft and the forces of our NATO allies. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East spoke about the aging fleet, but that is quite a wrong impression to give. The average age of our escort fleet is about 12 years and compares favourably with equivalent fleet ages of our major allies and the Warsaw pact. Moreover, we expect the average age to fall as newer and more capable ships enter the fleet. Many older vessels were originally expected to have a long life and are, in fact, highly capable ships ; it is perfectly sensible to run them on. The Armilla patrol has been carried out by, among others, type 42 destroyers and the less modern Leander class frigates. They have been capable of meeting the singular requirements of the patrol at least as effectively as more elaborately equipped vessels deployed by some other Western navies. We must also bear in mind the fact that it is reckoned that a United States navy cruiser costs around $1 billion, and our Royal Navy crews reckon they do the job just as well, if not better.
The hon. Member for Walsall, South asked about the cracks in type 42s. A study in 1988 showed that four batch 3 type 42 destroyers could experience problems if operated in exceptionally severe sea conditions. Preventive measures, consisting of external strengthening, are being undertaken ; they have been completed on HMS Gloucester, are in hand on HMS Manchester, and are scheduled for next year for the other two ships involved. I will write to the hon. Gentleman about the cost of those modifications.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East will not be surprised that I will not give him a precise undertaking on orders for type 23s. I will say, however, that our plans provide for sufficient orders of type 23 frigates to meet our target of about 50 ships. The orders placed last July for three type 23s underline this commitment, and we expect to hold a competition for a further batch later this year.
My Department holds regular meetings with shipbuilders to ensure that, within well-established guidelines, the industry is well informed on the Department's policy towards the size and shape of the fleet and the likely pattern of future requirements. The aim is to assist shipbuilders to judge their future work load and prospects in a competitive market.
Mr. Boyes : I have been given to understand that the Government have placed a limit of £105 million on the tender for a new helicopter carrier. A few minutes ago the Minister was talking about HMS Fearless ; could he put a price on the work that was done?
Mr. Hamilton : I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a price for that, but the £105 million is a guide price for the aviation support ship, and, of course, we have given industry a number of options on what to come up with for that, including converting an existing merchant hull, which may be an answer to the problem.
Mr. Galloway : I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I asked him five questions and he has not answered any of them, though he has answered plenty of other people's questions. Can he answer one point for me on the tendering for the type 23s? Will he give a guarantee that the decision about where those orders will be placed will be made on the basis of competitive tendering and that the yard that makes the best offer in terms of economy, quality and price will get the job?
I must respond to the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East about the attitude of Ministry officials, who cannot defend themselves, to the Defence Committee. I assure my hon. Friend that each and every response to the Committee was made on behalf of Ministers and approved by Ministers, so if he has any complaints I hope that he will address them to me, because I am paid to respond to them. I hope that he will also accept, on reflection, that the Ministry's response to the Defence Committee has been very helpful. We are providing classified raw data about fleet activity regularly. We made no difficulty about that, but we needed to be clear precisely what the Committee required ; that was not clear at the outset. Perhaps my hon. Friend will agree it is sometimes necessary to clarify requests for information rather than setting in hand unproductive work for no purpose. I do not call that an exercise in semantics.
Mr. George : I have been a member of the Select Committee on Defence for 10 years, during which time relations between the Committee and the MOD have generally been good, but in the past six months they have dropped to a level the like of which I have never known. It is one thing to criticise the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed), but his views are shared by every member of the Committee and I hope that the Minister will do more to develop relations with the Committee so that we may do our job just as the Government do theirs. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I do not make that point maliciously, but simply because relations have deteriorated to an all-time low.
Mr. Hamilton : That is clearly not the unanimous view of Committee members. I simply say that if my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East has any complaints I should like him to address them to me, and not criticise officials who are only acting on instructions from Ministers.
Several hon. Members have asked about the NATO frigate NFR90. The United Kingdom remains committed to that important NATO collaborative project which could eventually meet the Royal Navy's requirement for an anti-air warfare escort coming into service at the end of the century to replace the type 42 destroyers. The contract for the project definition study was signed in January this year and work has begun. It is expected that that will take about two years to complete. The next milestone will occur
Column 248later this year when all eight member nations will review progress and consider the alignment between the programmes for the ship and its major weapons systems.
My hon. Friends the Member for Portsmouth, South and for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) asked about making greater use of the WRNS, and they were right to do so. [Interruption.] There is almost no phrase that one can use in referring to the WRNS that cannot be misinterpreted by the dirty-minded. I fully acknowledge that they make first-class recruits. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone expressed reservations about having them in a combat role. We have to bear in mind that these days 70 per cent. of the Royal Navy goes to sea. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce) said that if we were not careful we would end up with fewer shore billets.
At the moment we use the WRNS as weapons analysts and helicopter ground crews and they go to sea in that capacity. However, difficulties arise if they are at sea for too long. One of the difficulties is the effect that that has on the wives and girl friends of sailors who may be suspicious about what they might be up to. However, the position is being reviewed by the Navy and we expect it to come up with some recommendations.
The hon. Members for Clackmannan, for Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) and for Walsall, South suggested that the western Alliance was being left behind by President Gorbachev's arms control initiative. It was suggested that the time was right for NATO to take an initiative in maritime arms control. The Government's view is that, following the successful negotiation of the INF treaty, the priorities in arms control should be to pursue agreements on strategic arms control, the elimination of chemical weapons and reductions in conventional forces in Europe. Those reflect our concerns in particular with the Warsaw pact's capability for surprise attack and large-scale offensive action on land.
It is necessary for the maritime balance to be seen in the light of NATO's dependence on long sea lines of communication, whereas the Warsaw pact is structured for offensive action with short internal lines of communication. Therefore, maritime forces around the world must be viewed in a global context--a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks). It is self-evident that it would be difficult to consider them within regional arms control agreements. However, naval forces are not excluded from talks on confidence and security-building measures. The United Kingdom will be participating fully in these talks to identify measures that will help to reduce misunderstandings. I would, however, remind the House that in doing so, we shall ensure that such measures will not give away the freedom of action at sea which may be crucial to our ability to maintain our security.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce) mentioned the armed forces parliamentary scheme. The scheme is designed to enable a small number of hon. Members each year to learn about the role, make-up and activities of the armed forces in some depth. For the pilot scheme my hon. Friend was attached to the Royal Navy, in particular to the flag officer, sea training, at Portland. Using this attachment as a base, he was shown a wide range of Royal Navy activities, giving over 30 days, spread throughout the year, to the scheme. I am very grateful for
Column 249his help in the pilot. The scheme has now become a permanent feature of the MOD's relationship with the House.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement referred to the role of the Royal Navy. I should like to focus on the reasons why we must continue to maintain and improve our naval capacities.
The Soviet Union still maintains a massive naval force which in a conflict could seriously threaten NATO's vital supply and reinforcement routes across the Atlantic.
Mr. Hamilton : Yes, I have deliberately dodged the question of command and control of Trident. In repeated answers to the hon. Gentleman I have told him that this is classified information. We do not intend to reveal to him how we communicate with our submarines or how we intend to do so in future. That information would be of enormous use to the Soviet Union. Obviously, it would very much like to know how we are able to control Trident in the future. That is not information which we could ever allow into the public domain. We have not done so in the past and we will not do so in the future. The hon. Member for Clackmannan referred to the problem of the Soviet fleet being iced up on the Kola peninsula. I have checked up, and I do not think that the Soviet fleet has ever been iced up in any circumstances.
There have been reports that since 1985 the Soviet Union has been restricting its global naval activities and speculation that that shows a reduction in the threat. This, too, was raised by the hon. Member for Clackmannan. I remind the House that throughout the 1980s the Soviet navy has continued to expand--it has undergone an "enormous expansion", in the words of the hon. Member for Attercliffe. It has a submarine force of some 350 vessels worldwide--the largest in the world.
The proportion of nuclear-powered submarines in the Soviet fleet is increasing, and recent designs emphasise improved quietening, speed and weapons versatility. The new Akula class of nuclear-powered attack submarine, for example, is assessed to be the most capable attack submarine yet developed for the Soviet navy. Conversions of the older Yankee class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines continue, some probably related to the
Column 250long-range sea-launched cruise missiles programmes--the SSN21--which we believe is now operational, and the SSNX24, under development. That is coupled with a trend in Soviet major warship construction towards larger units with increased firepower and more sophisticated sensors. A number of my hon. Friends referred to that fact. Production of the Kirov nuclear-powered and Slava class of guided missile cruisers continues, as does production of the Sovremennyy and Udaloy classes of guided missile destroyers. Only recently the third unit of the Kirov class, Kalinin, deployed to the Soviet northern fleet, together with the fourth unit of the Kiev class of VTOL aircraft carrier, Baku, with its improved sensor and weapon fit. The Soviet naval aviation order of battle has increased by over 20 per cent. in the 1980s. Numerous qualitative improvements have also been made, including the introduction of the Bear F Mod 4 ASW aircraft, two new naval combat helicopters and the Fencer E reconnaissance aircraft. Backfire medium-range bombers have now joined naval aviation forces in the Kola. A new 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier is due to begin sea trials later this year. That ship will improve Soviet tactical aviation capabilities significantly beyond the range of land-based air defences. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) said that their activity may be down, but their quality is up, and that is absolutely right. We believe that the Soviet navy will continue to allocate many of its forces to its priority missions of SSBN protection and defending the Soviet homeland. It seems unlikely that it will be affected by the new defensive doctrine to the same extent as other services of the Soviet armed forces. The Soviet navy is placing increasing emphasis on qualitative as opposed to quantitative factors, which may enhance its overall capability--certainly to pursue its priority missions. Therefore, it is imperative that even in the current improving East-West relations, we should not allow our guard to drop.
The Soviet Union has drawn attention to the fact that NATO's principal naval forces normally located or based in the north Atlantic outnumber those available to the Warsaw pact. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood said, we must not confuse the intentions of the Soviet Union with its capabilities, because intentions can change. Nobody knows what will happen in the Soviet Union in years to come--
It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Maclean.]
Mr. Martyn Jones (Clywd, South West) : No doubt the Minister is aware of my early-day motion 143. That briefly puts the case and, with supporting amendments, now has the signatures of more than 117 right hon. and hon. Members. The toxicity of lindane and of pentachlorophenol is well known and well documented in this country and abroad. I quote from information supplied by the Royal Society of Chemistry on lindane alone :
"Lindane--or to give it its proper name : the gamma isomer of hexachlorocyclohexane sometimes called benzene
hexachloride--produces signs of poisonings that resemble those produced by DDT, ie tremors, ataxia, convulsions and prostration, with stimulated respiration. Violent tonic and clonic convulsions occur in severe cases of acute poisoning. Fatty changes in the liver and kidney tubule degeneration have been noted in fatal cases." As to lindane's carcinogenic, teratogenic and mutagenic properties, the society comments :
"Epidemiologic studies have not demonstrated associations between DDT exposure and cancer in humans. There was a review in 1976 of the program on the evaluation of the carcinogenic risk of chemicals to humans of the International Agency for Research on Cancer Ten of the ninety-four chemicals, which the agency had determined to be carcinogenic on experimental animals only, were pesticides. These included Lindane."
As to systemic toxicology,
"In animal tests, Lindane causes convulsions. In a study in 1976 this effect was produced by a single topical application of 1 per cent. Lindane on weaning rabbits. Since topical Lindane is used in treatment of scabies, the production of convulsions by this route of application is of significance. Lindane has also been reported to have an effect on host defence mechanisms."
On toxic responses of the immune system, the Royal Society of Chemistry comments :
"Insecticides examined for immunotoxicity in rodents can be grouped into three general classes. Lindane belongs in the general class of the organochlorine insecticides."
There is also some evidence that lindane affects female reproductivity.
For those reasons, many countries have restricted lindane, and the United States of America has banned its use in the home. In 1976, it cancelled permits for products containing lindane in vapourisers for indoor usage, such as smoke fumigation devices. America also cancelled registrations and denied applications for registrations of lindane-containing products for all uses unless labels giving statements for each application are used. In addition, at least 16 countries restrict lindane's use. They include Argentina, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, West Germany, Finland, Hungary, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore and Yugoslavia. France has also almost banned PCP.
The connection between aplastic anaemia and lindane is perhaps circumstantial, but it was mooted as long ago as 1965 in an American study entitled, "Aplastic Anaemia Following Exposure to Benzine Hexachloride (Lindane)". In cases involving an eight-year-old girl and a 52-year-man, a connection was established between the use of lindane in smoke pellets, which is a use within the home, and a high concentration risk. I believe that that certainly had a bearing on its prohibition in America.
Aplastic anaemia is a rare disease, but all the textbooks relate its occurrence to exposure to radiation and one
Column 252exotic chemical or another, and at least one authority quotes lindane as possibly such a chemical. I have had letters from many people throughout the country who suspect they have suffered from the effects of these chemicals--anecdotal evidence, but taken together, constituting weighty circumstantial evidence.
I submit that, as many countries have already banned or severely restricted the use, of lindane, it is anomalous for us to continue to permit its use. It is not that there are no alternatives. Several large timber treatment firms have already responded to public and medical concern by abandoning pentachlorophenol lindane and another suspect chemical--TB 10--in spray treatments. They use permethrin or cidomethrin, a pyrethrin-based compound, which is currently considered the least suspect chemical. I say "least suspect" because all these treatments are, after all, designed to be harmful to some form of life. This one is perhaps not so long lasting, and, at present, building societies insist on 30-year guarantees. I am sure that the industry would prefer not to have to offer such a lengthy guarantee, because it forces them to use chemicals that remain in the environment too long.
One way of putting the matter right might be for the building societies to be discouraged from making such environmentally damaging demands. I submit that it would be more sensible to have a 10-year guarantee and relative safety. I at least believe that people are more important than the protection of investments.
It was the very insistence of building societies that drew the problem to my attention in the first instance. In my constituency a young boy was subjected to this chemical after his parents' house, which was bought with a mortgage, was sprayed by a firm that used lindane and PCP. The boy was affected after three or four weeks, and it was only later that his parents realised that his condition had been caused by this chemical. Fortunately he survived the experience, although he is still ill. His is not the only case that I know of. The only reason he is not in worse health--and I hope that it will continue to improve--is that he was moved out of the house. Of course, that caused problems for his parents. They now have to live apart, which imposes a financial burden on them.
The Under-Secretary of State for Employment will be replying on behalf of the Government, although I suspect that his Department is not necessarily entirely responsible for this matter. That is another facet of the problem, for, while the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 covers workers in this and other situations in which these chemicals are used, it specifies that people working with them should have respirators and gloves.
It specifies also that when wood treated with the chemicals is used for fabrication, the chemicals should be allowed to evaporate in the open air for a number of weeks. If these rules are properly enforced, the people who work in the industry are probably at little risk, but that does not help the poor residents of houses that have had remedial woodworm treatment. They have no protection and are exposed to very high levels 24 hours a day. Indeed, the Building Research Establishment has discovered that maximum levels are reached after four weeks. It is fair to assume from that that the high levels are maintained for a matter of months, and it is certainly not safe for people to enter after two days, as woodworm treatment packages recommend at present. I am sure that the Minister has