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House of Commons

Tuesday 7 March 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

1. Mr. Boswell : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent representations he has received on defence policy from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament ; and if he will make a statement.

15. Mr. Hunter : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent representations he has received on defence policy from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament ; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Younger) : Since last year's summer recess, I have received three letters, four petitions and one questionnaire from representatives of CND regarding aspects of defence policy.

The low level of correspondence from CND reflects, no doubt, the decline in support for that organisation. It is clear that the Government's, and NATO's, policy of defence and detente is the only sure way of achieving peace, and that unilateral disarmament gestures would undermine efforts towards multilateral disarmament.

Mr. Boswell : I am sure that my right hon. Friend will pay CND the courtesies appropriate to its declining membership. Will he ensure that he does not listen too hard to its views, any more than he did on cruise missiles? As a result of his resistance to CND, we now have a multilateral intermediate nuclear forces agreement and we hope to achieve similar mutually beneficial agreements on other weapon systems.

Mr. Younger : I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. Although my disposition is normally to listen to everyone on all subjects, I am very glad that we did not listen to CND because if we had done so we should not have the current arms reductions.

Mr. Hunter : As the debate on CND is one that my right hon. Friend clearly wins, will he undertake to challenge robustly CND's opposition to the modernisation of short-range nuclear weapons because such modernisation may well be necessary to maintain deterrence and to negotiate from a position of strength?

Mr. Younger : Yes. My hon. Friend makes a valid point. As I have said, there may be arguments for having no

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weapons at all, although I do not accept them, but in my view there are no arguments for having weapons that are ineffective and out of date.

Ms. Ruddock : Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that he has received from CND a briefing on the competitive strategies doctrine? [Interruption.] Yes, a briefing--and I am sure that the Secretary of State has read it. Did the Americans consult him about that doctrine and what are its likely effects on NATO strategy in relation to conventional arms talks?

Mr. Younger : I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I did, indeed, receive a piece of paper stating that it was a briefing on that matter and I found it interesting, as I always do. I do not think that the doctrine has any effect on the conventional arms talks which are a very specific set of talks with very specific objectives. Our objective is to achieve equal ceilings of conventional weapons at much lower levels than they are now. A very good start was made at the Vienna talks yesterday.

Mr. Ian Taylor : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the British Government's success in pursuing a multilateral policy flies in the face of everything that CND has proposed? Does he share my concern that the SLD party--the old Liberals--seems to be riddled with CND members, including the current general secretary of CND, who is on the committee considering defence?

Mr. Younger : My hon. Friend has raised a very interesting point. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) made some excellent remarks in the Navy debate last week. The only trouble was that they seemed to conflict diametrically with the views of the leader of his party who recently made it clear that he was against all nuclear weapons.

Mr. James Lamond : Does the Secretary of State recall that when he last answered questions in the House he was asked whether he was prepared to match the initiative of President Gorbachev in reducing nuclear weapons, and boasted that he had left President Gorbachev far behind as he had reduced the number of nuclear weapons in Britain by 30 per cent. Why was he pretending to be a unilateralist then but now he is a multilateralist?

Mr. Younger : I am not sure that I come into either of those categories. The point that I made then is equally valid today--that NATO has reduced its nuclear warheads by about 2,400 since 1979 and, as I understand it, Mr. Gorbachev recently announced that the number of Russia's systems has been reduced by about 24, so it seems to me that he has an awful long way to go.

Military Depots (Security)

2. Mr. Grocott : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether he has made any assessment of the effect of contractorisation on the security of military depots.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Archie Hamilton) : Security is one of a number of factors taken into account in the assessment of proposals to contractorise activities at defence establishments. The subsequent effect of such measures on the security of those establishments is assessed by the commanding officer or head of establishment as part of their constant review of their security arrangements.

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Mr. Grocott : Is it not a matter of simple common sense that if long-serving, loyal civil servants in the Ministry of Defence are replaced by short-term contractors, that must involve increased security risks? In view of recent events, does not the Minister owe it to military establishments--I mention in particular COD Donnington in my own constituency--to listen to the overwhelming views of the work force, both civilian and military, and at the very least to put a freeze on existing contractorisation proposals and undertake a thorough, long-standing review before presenting any further plans?

Mr. Hamilton : No, we continue with contractorisation to give us value for money on the defence budget. There is no evidence that contractorisation increases security risks.

Mr. David Nicholson : Is my hon. Friend aware that at this time of IRA threats we shall be grateful for any assurances that he can give about the safety of our military camps? Will he assure the leader of the Liberal party, through his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), that Norton Manor Royal Marine camp in my constituency is safe and does not require the attentions of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown)?

Mr. Hamilton : We keep the security systems on all our camps constantly under review. I am convinced that the Royal Marines are as capable as anyone of defending their camps.

Procurement Expenditure

3. Mr. Galbraith : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the relative priority, in terms of procurement expenditure, his Department gives to (a) the British Army of the Rhine and (b) warships for the Royal Navy.

10. Mr. Nigel Griffiths : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the relative priority, in terms of procurement expenditure, his Department gives to (a) the British Army of the Rhine and (b) warships for the Royal Navy.

Mr. Archie Hamilton : The balance of expenditure within the defence programme reflects the Government's defence policy as set out in successive statements on the Defence Estimates.

Mr. Galbraith : Does the Minister agree with Lord Carver that Britain should concentrate its commitment on British armed forces on the continent at the expense of the Navy, or does he agree with Sir Peter Stanford that the Navy has already shown its worth and should be given priority? Does the Minister agree that that unholy dispute within the military is the result of concentrating too many of our resources on nuclear weapons at the expense of conventional weapons? Is it not also due to the fact that the Government have neglected to undertake a proper defence review?

Mr. Hamilton : There is no need for a defence review. I agree with Lord Carver who, at the end of his recent lecture, said : "It will not be, as it has never been, a choice for us between a maritime or a continental strategy, but a delicate judgment of how to apportion scarce resources between the two."

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Mr. Nigel Griffiths : When Admiral Stanford asks where are the construction orders, how does the Secretary of State answer?

Mr. Hamilton : Construction orders will obviously follow. When it comes to ordering ships, we have not been backward in coming forward, and we have ordered a very large number.

Mr. Bill Walker : Does my hon. Friend agree that when allocating resources, whether for the British Army of the Rhine or for the purchase of ships for the Navy, control of the skies must also be considered? Neither Army nor Navy operations can be much good unless we also control the skies. Is it not time that we advised the West German Government that, in controlling the skies, it is essential that our aircraft are permitted to operate at the same altitudes at which they will be required to operate during operational periods--particularly during a war?

Mr. Hamilton : I agree with my hon. Friend. It is sad that the Opposition's question makes mention only of the British Army of the Rhine and of the Royal Navy and does not include the demands of the Royal Air Force, which we take into great consideration when deciding our priorities.

Mr. Brazier : Does my hon. Friend agree that the question is a particularly silly one? There is no more certain way of decoupling Germany from the alliance than to run down our presence on the continent. Equally, there is no easier way of convincing the Americans that we are not fully supporting them than to reduce our forces in the eastern Atlantic. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) pointed out, it is impossible to reduce the capabilities of the British Army, Royal Navy or Royal Air Force without causing political damage, irrespective of any military damage.

Mr. Hamilton : That is absolutely right. If the suggestion behind the original question is that we should run down the Royal Navy to support the Rhine Army one must bear in mind the critical role played by the Royal Navy in guaranteeing our reinforcement in wartime and in its anti-submarine warfare capability.

Mr. Menzies Campbell : Does the Minister understand that the answers that he has given today, the answers that his officials gave to the Select Committee on Defence and, indeed, his answers to the House during the debate on the Royal Navy last week, have done nothing to allay the fear of many hon. Members that the surface fleet's frigates and destroyers are too few to enable the Royal Navy to fulfil its wartime or peacetime responsibilities and functions?

Mr. Hamilton : I think that the problem is that the Opposition refuse to believe that we are maintaining our commitment to about 50 ships. I must repeat what I said in the Navy debate--that I call 49 surface ships "about 50".

Mr. Rogers : Are not the fears expressed by two very senior officers merely a symptom of the fears felt throughout the armed services that insufficient emphasis is placed on our conventional weapons? Will the Minister undertake a defence review so that the fears of those officers can be allayed?

Mr. Hamilton : The only justification for a defence review is when we do not have the resources to meet our

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commitments. An extra £20 billion has been spent in real terms since 1979, and there is no shortage of resources to meet our existing commitments.

Territorial Army

4. Mr. Thurnham : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent representations he has received about the role of the Territorial Army ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Michael Neubert) : The Ministry of Defence receives a great manrepresentations about the Territorial Army, including its role, from a wide variety of sources. Careful note is taken of all those views. Where appropriate, they are fed into the continuing process of evaluation of the effectiveness of the TA, and the vital part that it plays in the defence of the nation.

Mr. Thurnham : When my hon. Friend is next in the north-west I hope that he will be able to visit the Bolton artillery unit, which has a long association with the town dating back to 1860. He would then appreciate the urgent need for new, larger premises. Will my hon. Friend press the Territorial Army premises unit to find larger premises and to respond more quickly to commercial opportunities as I understand that the unit has £2 million available to spend?

Mr. Neubert : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his invitation to his constituency. He can be assured that North-West TAVR, which is responsible for TA accommodation in the area, is maintaining close contact with the local authority and estate agents in the Bolton district. I am aware of the long association of the Royal Artillery with Bolton. I confirm that we intend to find a site and that funds will be available to construct a suitable permanent centre for 216 air defence battery.

Mr. Duffy : Why did Territorial Army manpower fall off so sharply in 1988?

Mr. Neubert : It is true that we have suffered a small setback in our aim to reach an increased target, but our present level is none the less very much higher than it was when we came into power in 1979, increasing from 60,000 to 73,000. We have plans to attract more recruits and to retain more people in the Territorial Army. We have simplified administration and increased the tax-free bounties, and we have improved training. We have a major advertising campaign under way, which has already enhanced public awareness of the importance of the Territorial Army.

Mr. Conway : As the Territorial Army supplies 50 per cent. of the manpower but takes up less than 4 per cent. of the Army budget, does my hon. Friend agree that it represents extraordinarily good value for the taxpayer? As the birth rate is expected to decline towards the end of the decade, does my hon. Friend agree that the efforts of the employers' support groups in encouraging recruitment among young people will become more and more vital and deserve the

congratulations of the House?

Mr. Neubert : Yes, and I readily pay tribute to Tommy Macpherson and the national employment liaison committee and to the efforts that they are making to foster greater awareness among employers and to make more

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facilities available for people to serve in the Territorial Army which, as my hon. Friend says, has a vital part to play in peace and in war.

Nuclear Weapons

5. Dr. Moonie : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he last met the Defence Minister of Denmark to discuss modernisation of short- range nuclear weapons.

Mr. George Younger : I last met the Danish Defence Minister when he came to London, at my invitation, on 6 February. We discussed a range of issues of mutual interest, including SNF.

Dr. Moonie : The Minister must be aware that the Danes share the disquiet of the West German Government about our modernisation plans. Will their views be taken fully into account, or will it again be a case of Granny knows best for Europe?

Mr. Younger : It will be for the Danish Government to decide their attitude when NATO comes to discuss the modernisation of the SNF. I spoke to the Danish Minister and it is worth recording that Denmark fully subscribes to NATO's strategy and nuclear deterrence, which is more than I can say for Her Majesty's Opposition.

Sir John Stokes : Is my right hon. Friend aware that I recently had the opportunity to visit Denmark, Norway and Iceland to see NATO defences in that area? Is he further aware that while Denmark is a non-nuclear power it is a loyal member of the Alliance and its small forces would give a good account of themselves in the event of war?

Mr. Younger : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. Recently, at the last nuclear planning group meeting, Denmark fully subscribed to the principles contained in the communique , which made it clear that it was in full support of NATO strategy.

Mr. Cohen : The Secretary of State says that Denmark fully subscribes to NATO strategy, but does it fully subscribe to the Prime Minister's plans for short-range modernisation in central Europe, as the Germans do not and most of Europe does not?

Mr. Younger : None of those countries has yet been called on to make a decision on the matter. They will all have to decide in due course what their views are, but there is a wide measure of agreement on a number of important principles. They are, first, that if we are to have weapons we must keep them up to date ; secondly, that the Lance system will be obsolete by 1995 ; and, thirdly, that none of us wishes to see a third zero in nuclear weapons in Europe.

Mr. David Martin : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the western nations, including Denmark, would be wise, when listening to what Russia says, to see what that country actually does before abandoning any plans that we may have to modernise short-range nuclear weapons, bearing in mind that Russia has a long way to go not just to abolish chemical weapons but even greatly to reduce its conventional weapons?

Mr. Younger : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. While we warmly welcome the change of climate in the Soviet Union and the willingness to discuss matters that it refused

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to discuss for many years, we must wait to see results from the suggestions that the Russians make. As I made clear earlier, from the point of view of reducing weapons, NATO has a much better record than the Soviet Union in having done so already.

Mr. O'Neill : The Secretary of State spoke of Montebello and of how important it was in relation to the reduction of weapons, but there were two elements in Montebello, one being the replacement of weapons. When the right hon. Gentleman speaks to his colleagues in western Europe, will he appreciate that there is no great enthusiasm for the early replacement of many of the systems which it was envisaged in 1983 would have to be replaced because the circumstances in Europe in particular and the world in general have changed considerably since then? Does he further agree that the Prime Minister's hectoring approach to the NATO allies is regarded as offensive and irrelevant in relation to the modernisation of those weapons?

Mr. Younger : The hon. Gentleman is right to remind all concerned that the Montebello decision was not just a decision to reduce nuclear weapons but to replace those that were aging or out of date. The only criterion as to whether weapons should be replaced is whether the existing ones are out of date and no longer usable. That is the position that we must face in relation to those systems which will become out of date soon.

Nuclear Weapons

6. Mr. Hayes : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what nuclear weapons the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has scrapped over the past 10 years.

Mr. Younger : Since 1979 some 2,400 nuclear warheads--or some 35 per cent. of the land-based stockpile--have been unilaterally withdrawn from NATO Europe. In addition, under the INF treaty, some 400 deployed land- based nuclear missiles, together with their warheads, will be withdrawn from Europe by the Alliance by June 1991.

Mr. Hayes : Does my right hon. Friend agree that during the last 10 years NATO, rather than the Warsaw pact, has taken nearly all the arms control initiatives? Will he warn some of his wobbly colleagues in the Alliance that when the Soviet Union finally lifts the seventh veil of its arms control striptease something rather nasty may be revealed?

Mr. Younger : I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said. I agree entirely that, in performance, there is simply no contest between NATO, which has managed to reduce its weapons systems while maintaining its security, and the Soviet Union, which until recently has done absolutely nothing in that regard. As to the future, we should be very wise to continue our successful policy of maintaining strong defences and forcing the Soviet Union to the negotiating table. After all, that policy is working.

Mr. Douglas : Will the Secretary of State, instead of looking back over the past 10 years--though it is natural that he should do so--try to look to the next five to 10 years and give us some insight into his views on the START negotiations? At this juncture the Soviet Union and the United States have both made gestures towards

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building down to 50 per cent. What meaningful contribution are the Government making to that process by proceeding to develop four Trident boats, all armed with D5s?

Mr. Younger : The START negotiations, on the whole, have been fairly encouraging, and we are fairly confident that, before very long, there will be agreement on a 50 per cent. reduction in the super-powers' strategic systems. That is very remarkable progress. So far as the British deterrent is concerned, everyone involved in negotiations--not least Mr. Gorbachev himself--has made it clear that it is not expected that the British deterrent or, for that matter, the French deterrent, will be included at the current stage. We have always made it clear that if, in the future, there is a major change in the line-up of the super-powers, if there is a 50 per cent. START reduction, if the conventional imbalances can be substantially reduced, and if there is a world ban on chemical weapons, we shall be prepared to see whether we can make a further contribution in respect of our deterrent.

Mr. Barry Field : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the promotion of Lt. General Gromov to his new key position means that, for the first time, NATO troops will face battle-hardened Soviet troops? Does not this make it even more important that NATO should keep its nuclear deterrent-- particularly its short-range weapons--intact and modernised?

Mr. Younger : I have no doubt that those factors should all be taken into account. Undoubtedly, the ability of NATO to defend itself is a key factor in persuading all concerned to negotiate a reduction in weapons.

European Fighter Aircraft

7. Mr. Vaz : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent decisions he has made in respect of procurement of a radar system for the European fighter aircraft.

16. Mr. Ron Davies : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent decisions he has made in respect of procurement of a radar system for the European fighter aircraft.

Mr. Tim Sainsbury (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement) : No decisions have been taken recently on the radar for EFA.

Mr. Vaz : Will the Minister ensure that any decision that is made on new radar systems for European fighter aircraft will benefit Britain's electronic and radar industry? Does he not agree that the real choice is between a British system and a ravamped version of the old Hughes system? If the latter is chosen, will not that perhaps be the death knell for Britain's radar research base? Will the Minister therefore ensure that a British system is adopted?

Mr. Sainsbury : I suspect that my hon. Friend recognises that it would be wrong for me to prejudge a decision of those who have the job of considering the present competitive bids. Of course, both bidders include British companies.

Mr. Ron Davies : Does the Minister agree that he is under increasing pressure from both German and American interests to accept one of the off- the-shelf

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systems that are in use? If that is so, will it not be a severe body blow to the British electronics and radar industry, particularly the radar research base? If the Minister accepts that, exactly what does he intend to do to safeguard this vital British national interest?

Mr. Sainsbury : I do not think that I recognise the competing bids in the description that the hon. Gentleman has given of an off-the-shelf developed system. He will be aware that we are awaiting a recommendation to the NATO European Fighter Management Agency, the international management agency, from Euro-Fighter. It would be wrong for me to anticipate that recommendation. We must wait to hear what it has to say about its assessment of the competing bids.

Mr. Stern : Does my hon. Friend agree, in order to safeguard the EFA project, that the most essential elements of any radar system are that it should work to specification and be available on time? Will those be the primary considerations which will be taken into account in deciding competing bids?

Mr. Sainsbury : As my hon. Friend will be aware, a wide range of issues and aspects of the radar system have to be taken into account in assessing its ability to meet the requirement and its competitiveness. I am sure that all the issues will be properly taken into account. Clearly those that he mentioned are among the primary considerations.

Mr. Mans : When the decision is taken, will my hon. Friend take into account the export potential of EFA and any restrictions that may be imposed upon it by a particular choice?

Mr. Sainsbury : I assure my hon. Friend that export potential is one of the issues which will be taken into account before a decision is made.

Mr. O'Neill : Is the Minister aware that the problems being created over the choice of radar are likely to endanger the whole project? Can he be more fulsome in indicating the true significance of that? While previously we were talking in terms of GEC-Marconi against Ferranti, the danger may now be that a German-backed GEC system, if not chosen, may be the rock on which the whole project founders. Will he confirm that the Government back EFA and will continue to support the British-led technology which lies at the heart of the radar system which many on this side of the House are prepared to support?

Mr. Sainsbury : I think that the hon. Gentleman is well aware that all four collaborating nations entirely support the project. I can also confirm that they all share the stated aim, which is to achieve maximum commonality across the whole programme, including the radar system. That remains the objective. I do not think that I can add anything more about the radar while we are awaiting the recommendation from Euro Fighter to NEFMA. It is frustrating for the House that we have not had the recommendation. I cannot say more. We must be patient until we get the recommendation.

Reciprocal Unilateralism

8. Mr. Anthony Coombs : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent representations he has received advocating a defence policy of reciprocal unilaterism.

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Mr. Archie Hamilton : The Ministry of Defence has received no letters on the subject of reciprocal unilaterialism since last year's summer recess. The Government share with our allies a security policy based on strength in defence and readiness for dialogue.

Mr. Coombs : Will my hon. Friend confirm that reciprocal unilateralism is really a transparent sleight of hand by certain Opposition Members to defend the indefensible? Does he also agree that it is an attempt to conceal from the British public Labour party defence policies that are not only profoundly dangerous but that have been regarded as unrealistic by the Soviets themselves, and are proof positive that, far from the Labour party being able to run a defence policy for this country, it could not even run a bath?

Mr. Hamilton : My hon. Friend is right. I can see no difference between reciprocal unilateralism and the policy that the Opposition adopted at the last election which was robustly rejected by the electorate. What we are talking about is the hook on which the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) finds herself--trying to reconcile her former chairmanship of CND with being on the Labour Front Bench at a time when the party is changing its policy.

Ms. Short : Did not the Minister hear the Secretary of State say a few moments ago that NATO had unilaterally got rid of many weapons? The whole world knows that Gorbachev has taken a series of unilateral initiatives. Is it not the case that in so far as we are making progress on disarmament, it has been a process of reciprocal unilateralism?

Mr. Hamilton : I think that the hon. Lady is playing with words. We all know what unilateralism means to the Labour party. Labour supporters would get rid of our independent deterrent without expecting anything in return or, if there was something in return, it would be very minimal. They would leave us with nothing when our enemies would still have considerable nuclear capability.

Mr. Hind : Will my hon. Friend confirm that he is a multilateralist and, unlike 100 opposition Members, he has no plans to join CND? He will, therefore, have no use for a bilateral, unilateral and multilateral nuclear defence policy, whatever that means.

Mr. Hamilton : I certainly confirm that I have no intention of joining CND. It is quite interesting that the whole idea of reciprocal unilateralism was advocated by an American, Mr. Leonard Sullivan. He said, however, that, if the reciprocation did not come through, he believed that nations should go back to rebuilding their nuclear arsenals with up-to-date weapons. I cannot believe that that is what the hon. Lady the Member for Lewisham (Ms. Ruddock) is advocating.

Dr. Thomas : Is the Minister not being completely hypocritical, because the Government have just indicated their endorsement of non- reciprocal unilateral short-range modernisation?

Mr. Hamilton : Hon. Members are continuing to play with words-- [Interruption] We have always thought it necessary to keep our weapons up to date, otherwise there would be no point in having them.

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Mr. Baldry : Does my hon. Friend agree that it is impossible for the Opposition to reconcile reality with the policies of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament? The more the Opposition try to do so by their various policy somersaults, the more they demonstrate that they are completely unfit to govern this country, to keep our defences and to maintain the peace.

Mr. Hamilton : That is right. I do not believe that anyone in the country will be fooled by the Opposition's performance. Although the Opposition are trying to obscure what they are up to, they will end up leaving people bemused and certainly in no way convinced that they have a reputable policy with which to defend this country.

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