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Mr. Smith : When the Secretary of State meets General Scowcroft will one of the issues discussed be the seriousness of the West German Government's decision to postpone any decision on the modernisation of Lance until after their general election in two years' time? In such discussions, will the Secretary of State be taking the view of the Americans, who are forcing the pace on this issue, or that of the West Germans, on whose heads those missiles would fall if they ever had the misfortune to be fired?
Mr. Younger : I do not think that the West German Government have taken any such decision. There is, indeed, full agreement within the coalition of the West German Government that there should be no third zero, that there will need to be modernisation some time and that Lance will be out of date by about 1995. It is up to each Government to decide how they will react to the proposals which will eventually come before NATO. I cannot, of course, answer in advance for what the view of the West German Government may be.
Mr. Younger : Of course, it is an essential part of NATO's success that the United States and, indeed, Canada are fully integrated as part of the Western Alliance. That is an important part of the security which we all enjoy.
Mr. Sean Hughes : If General Scowcroft asks whether this Government take seriously the threat of a Warsaw pact short-range missile attack on NATO fixed assets in Germany, will the Secretary of State answer yes or no?
Column 748on the strategy of that Alliance. There is no difference between us. That is the answer to all the questions that hon. Gentlemen have asked.
11. Mr. David Shaw : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what estimate he has made of the accuracy of Mr. Gorbachev's statement that the Soviet chemical weapons stockpile is no more than 50,000 tonnes.
Mr. Archie Hamilton : The Soviet claim that its stockpile of chemical warfare agents is no larger than 50,000 tonnes has not been backed up by any supporting data. We assess that total Soviet chemical warfare stocks are several times higher.
Mr. Shaw : Does my hon. Friend agree that there was an unfortunate failure in glasnost when a British team visited Shikhany recently? Does he agree that in those circumstances we have to be extremely wary as to whether the Soviet Union is serious in its arms control negotiations?
Mr. Hamilton : That is absolutely right. We have every reason to believe that the facilities at Shikhany have the capability of manufacturing serious quantities of chemical weapons. When our people asked to see the manufacturing facilities they were told that these were commercial, that they would have no interest in looking round them, and they were prevented from doing so. So this certainly was not an example of glasnost.
Mr. Corbyn : In calling for the dismantling of Soviet stocks of chemical weapons, what action will the Minister take towards countries such as Iraq which have used chemical weapons in the recent past? Will he ensure that the maximum possible sanctions are taken against them to show our abhorrence of all chemical weapons wherever they are and by whomsoever they are used?
Mr. Hamilton : We are, of course, looking for a global ban on chemical weapons and verification will be a critical element of this. This must include all countries that are signatories to that global ban. So the whole business of verification is something on which we will concentrate, not only with regard to the Soviet Union.
Sir Geoffrey Johnson-Smith : Will my hon. Friend confirm that the NATO and independent assessment of the chemical weapons stockpile of the Soviet Union is not 50,000 tonnes but 300,000 tonnes? Will he also confirm that it is NATO's objective to have a verifiable assessment of chemical stockpiles both in our country and elsewhere?
Mr. Hamilton : That is absolutely right. Our estimates of Soviet stocks are very much higher than 50,000 tonnes ; 50,000 tonnes is the biggest quantity of chemical weapons held by any country in the world anyway, and our estimates are considerably larger than that. Certainly, we shall need to have a much greater exchange of information, visits and so forth, to be in a clearer position to know how much is held by each side.
Mr. Boyes : Including the Soviet Union and the United States of America there are about 20 countries with a chemical weapon capability and the world would undoubtedly be a safer place if there were no chemical weapons at all. Will the Minister assure the House that to
Column 749help to achieve this he will do all that he can to encourage the early completion of the treaty on chemical weapons at Geneva, agree to tough verification procedures carried out by the United Nations and encourage stringent economic and trade sanctions against any country that uses chemical weapons? The mass of the people of the United Kingdom want an end to these obscene weapons, and that means more and resolute action by the Government.
Mr. Hamilton : As my right hon. Friend has already said, it is one of our priorities that a global ban treaty should be achieved as quickly as possible. Certainly, everything will be done to get the global ban agreed and the verification for which the hon. Gentleman has asked.
Mr. Patrick Thompson : Bearing in mind the very large stockpiles of chemical weapons held by the Soviet Union and the fact that the United Kingdom unilaterally gave up its chemical warfare capability back in the 1950s, does this not make nonsense of the policies advocated by the CND and others on any kind of unilateralism? Do we not want to go for worldwide disarmament of chemical weapons?
12. Mr. Skinner : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received on Her Majesty's Government policy on the circumstances in which United Kingdom nuclear weapons may be used against (1) a non-nuclear state and (2) another nuclear nation.
Mr. Skinner : Is not the reason why the Minister is unable to, or will not, answer that question that the Americans will not let him? Is not the truth of the matter that the fingers of George Bush and Daniel Quayle are nearer to Britain's nuclear button than those of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence will ever be?
Mr. Hamilton : The question asked was what representations we had received. My answer was that I was not aware of any such representations. The hon. Gentleman knows very well that we have an independent nuclear deterrent and that we have our own control over it.
Mr. Neubert : The length of time elapsing between charges being made and verdicts being delivered varies from case to case. Records are not maintained in a form that would permit accurate calculation of the average time without incurring disproportionate cost.
Column 750Newbery's cancellation of release and the time he was charged? He was subsequently acquitted but his life was in ruins.
Mr. Neubert : Warrant Officer Newbery was charged not with the theft of £700 but on ten counts of false accounting relating to a period between December 1984 and March 1986. The investigation that preceded the charges being brought required the services of a specialist accountant--a trained royal military police officer. There are few such people and their time is much in demand.
The investigation ultimately resulted in a report of nearly 100 pages, and I am satisfied that there was no undue delay. Once the charges were brought the court martial was set for six or seven weeks later. It was delayed for a further few weeks solely at the request of the defence. Throughout that time, Warrant Officer Newbery remained on full pay, except for one month when he took unpaid leave to attend to his business interests.
Mr. Sainsbury : We attach very considerable importance to reliability of equipment, which is a key feature of our procurement policy. A broad brush estimate of the cost of appropriate elements of scheduled and unscheduled maintenance for the RAF, and for similar work for the Navy and Army, was given as more than £1 billion in a recent Comptroller and Auditor General's report. As the report recognised, that figure does not indicate the amount that could be saved by better reliability, nor does it take account of the extremely rigorous maintenance policy that we operate in order to maintain the highest standards of safety. However, we believe that the costs of unreliability can be reduced. A number of measures have already been taken to bring about improvements in reliability, and more are in hand.
Mr. Powell : I thank the Minister for that lengthy reply. Is it not true that £1 billion of taxpayers' money a year is wasted? Is it not also true that the fast jets of the RAF are grounded for 50 per cent. of the time, which is a total waste of taxpayers' money? Is it not about time that the Government did something about that?
Mr. Sainsbury : I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman thinks that I gave a negative reply and I hope that, on reflection, he will realise that it was positive. I should point out that on a broad assessment of the value of the aircraft that the RAF flies, unscheduled maintenance comes to only 2 per cent. of that cost--the equivalent to spending £120 a year on the maintenance of a Metro.
Column 751layer conference. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.
Mr. Battle : Does the Prime Minister think that the EC was right to refuse to allow her Secretary of State exemption from the legal requirement to provide pure water? Is not the real protector of the environment in Britain proving to be the EC, not the rhetoric of her Government?
The Prime Minister : We are wholly committed to achieving compliance with the EC drinking water directive as soon as is practicable. Obviously, a great deal of capital investment--which Labour cut and we have increased- -is involved. For the purpose of accuracy, may I say that we know of no change with the EC from that previously reported? Matters are still under consideration.
Mrs. Roe : Will my right hon. Friend find time today during her busy schedule, to consider the press publicity surrounding the libel court case brought by two of my constituents--Mrs. Warby and Mrs. Chastell--against Tesco in relation to an alleged shoplifting offence in 1984, of which they were acquitted in 1985? Will my right hon. Friend urge the Lord Chancellor to respond swiftly to my letter to him asking him to investigate the case and the associated legislation? There is no doubt that there is grave concern amongst the general public that the people who sought to clear their names are suddenly finding themselves liable to pay substantial sums in costs to the unsuccessful party.
The Prime Minister : I understand my hon. Friend's concern about this case. However, as she knows, we are totally unable to interfere with a judicial decision. As she will be aware, the costs are at the discretion of the courts. The Lord Chancellor will consider the issues raised by this case. My hon. Friend will know that some of the proposals which he put forward in the Green Paper might be of assistance in such a case.
Mr. Kinnock : May I congratulate the Prime Minister on speaking for the whole country on Saturday morning, when she attacked her Secretary of State for the Environment?-- [Interruption.] When is the Prime Minister going to sack him?
The Prime Minister : May I advise the right hon. Gentleman to listen to an interview that I gave to Channel 4, in which I pointed out that our Secretary of State for the Environment-- [Hon. Members :-- "Our?"] My right hon. Friend, ours on this side-- [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister : I pointed out that he is one of the people most fitted for the job--whether it be in architecture, art or in the fact that he is a civil engineer, and therefore knows a good deal more about the subject than the Leader of the Opposition. My right hon. Friend has a superb record. I am so grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the chance to point out that my right hon. Friend is absolutely first class in every way.
Mr. Kinnock : Obviously, we are not amused. If the right hon. Gentleman is one of the best Secretaries of State for the Environment that we have ever had, why does the Prime Minister feel it necessary to take charge herself?
The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman is not expected to be amused ; he is expected to recognise outstanding talent when he sees it. For his information, I have not taken charge of water privatisation. It is we who have put forward money-- [Hon. Members :-- "We?"] Yes, we on this side of the House. This Government have poured money into investment in water. It was the Labour party that cut it.
Mr. Gwilym Jones : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the NATO proposals for reductions in conventional forces in Europe which were tabled yesterday by our right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary? Will she wish the Vienna negotiations every success?
The Prime Minister : Yes, I welcome the proposals that were tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend yesterday. They would set equal ceilings for NATO and the Warsaw pact on tanks, artillery and armoured troop carriers. They would require the Warsaw pact to make greater reductions than NATO, because the pact has far higher numbers of these weapons. Even after the unilateral reductions announced by Mr. Gorbachev at the United Nations, the Warsaw pact's superiority will still be of the order of two to one. We shall need to continue to keep weapons-- conventional and nuclear--up to date to ensure effective deterrence.
Mr. Callaghan : Is the Prime Minister aware that if basic old-age pensions had been uprated in line with earnings since 1979, a single person's pension would now be £48.80 instead of the present £41.15, and a married couple's pension would be £78.15, instead of the present £65.90? Will she therefore instruct the Chancellor, when he produces his Budget speech, to uprate pensions instead of giving away millions of pounds to rich people in tax handouts?
The Prime Minister : In the last uprating that the Labour Government did before 1979, they did not uprate pensions in line with earnings. It was left to us to do that. Although that Government put the discretion to do so into their legislation, they introduced a national incomes policy which cut earnings and even cut the real wages of many people in the public services. We have done much better, by keeping pensions uprated in line with the retail prices index.
The Prime Minister I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Nelson : Following my right hon. Friend's speech to the closing session of the conference on protecting the ozone layer, would it not be an appropriate time for me to add--and I believe that I share this view with other Conservative Members--my congratulations to my right hon. Friend and the Government on taking the initiative in calling and organising the conference? I hope that my hon. Friend recognises that it has attracted a considerably larger commitment of nations to the Montreal protocol
Column 753and has also drawn acceptance that there is a shared environmental responsibility among all nations, not just some.
The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The conference was extremely successful and surpassed all expectations. It was stimulating and was enjoyed by everyone present. When we began, 33 nations had signed the Montreal protocol. In the course of the conference, 20 other nations agreed to sign it and 14 more, including China, are considering that seriously. Altogether, it was a very successful operation which made it clear that the co-operation and action of all nations and all peoples is required.
The Prime Minister I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Evennett : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Opposition's attempts to make political capital out of the recent rail tragedies are deplorable and will be deplored by the vast majority of people? Does she agree that people should wait for the report of the independent inquiry before making comments on those tragedies?
The Prime Minister : All three recent accidents caused great personal tragedies and great concern to everyone, especially those who work for British Rail. As for trying to find the causes of the accidents, we must await the official inquiries and not attempt, in any way, to postulate the causes. As my hon. Friend knows, I have visited the hospitals in both Clapham and Purley and I very much regret that I shall be unable--[ Hon. Members :-- "Why not?"]--under present plans to visit the third one.
Mr. Ashdown : Does the Prime Minister agree that if we are to build on the welcome success of the ozone layer conference, worldwide action is needed and that that will require an understanding of the special problems of developing countries in ending the use of CFCs? Will the Prime Minister commit her Government to being equally active in putting together the co- operation of the industrial nations to provide the resources necessary for the Third world countries, especially India and China, so that they can sign the Montreal protocol as soon as possible?
The Prime Minister : I indicated that China is thinking of signing the Montreal protocol. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, at present our own industries are finding more ozone-friendly chemicals. They are either ozone-friendly and less damaging than the present CFCs or ozone-benign and eliminate that particular problem altogether. There are few chemical concerns that sell them, so they will have the main sales. There are some factories in other countries that have started on that production, but I see no reason why the substitute chemicals should cost very much more than the present ones. With regard to our multilateral aid programmes through the World Bank and through Europe, we shall have regard to environmental considerations in deciding our priorities. The same will be true of our bilateral aid programme.
Mr. Patnick : Will my right hon. Friend welcome the announcement by Guy's hospital that it is considering applying for self-governing status? Will she confirm that self-governing hospitals will remain an integral part of our Health Service?
The Prime Minister : I confirm that self-governing hospitals will remain part of the National Health Service. They are not opting out ; they are self-governing within the National Health Service, financed by the taxpayer according to the services that they perform. I believe that under that different system of administration doctors and nurses will have more freedom to harness their skills and dedication and to improve services to patients.
Mr. Michael J. Martin : Is the Prime Minister aware that the Glasgow train accident took place in my constituency? I find it rather sickening that she is not prepared to visit the Glasgow royal infirmary, where the victims of the crash now are, although she has visited other hospitals with the cameras rolling. Surely she should stop ambulance-chasing and get on with doing something for public safety.
The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. I have gone to the scene of every accident when it has been possible for me to do so. I was able to go to Piper Alpha, and twice to Lockerbie. I must, however, have regard to my other engagements. I very much regret that on this occasion I have no plans at present to go to Glasgow, but I fully understand the tragedies that have been brought about. As the hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is on hand to visit patients.
Mr. Riddick : Does my right hon. Friend agree that membership of a trade union should be on a purely voluntary basis? If so, does she think that it is about time that we did away with the iniquitous closed shop?
Column 755that adequate resources are available to the North Wales and other police forces, so that those responsible for these dastardly crimes are apprehended before anyone is killed?
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