|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Dobson : I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when we will get the long-promised debate on the report of the Fennell inquiry into the fire at King's Cross which was published as long ago as November? Along with other hon. Members, certainly Opposition Members, I have been receiving representations from the relatives of people killed in the fire asking when we will get round to a debate, and I hope that we shall be given some commitment soon.
Next week will see the first anniversary of the publication of the Griffiths report on care in the community. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether the Government will manage to make a statement on it before that anniversary arrives on Thursday?
Will he also tell us when we are likely to get the promised debates on student loans and on the Government's review of the National Health Service?
Finally, will he tell us when the Government will present a Bill to outlaw the buying and selling of human organs? It is almost four years since Health Ministers promised me that they were considering such legislation.
Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman asked me five questions about next week's business. First he asked me about the Fennell report. I am sorry that the arrangements that we originally made for a debate did not prove
Column 1045acceptable to the Opposition. There has, however, been discussion through the usual channels with a view to identifying a suitable date for a debate.
As I told the House last week, active consideration is being given to the Griffiths report, and we hope to be in a position to announce our proposals in the near future. We have no plans to publish proposals next week, however, nor can I speculate on a date at this stage.
The White Paper asked for responses on a number of points relating to top- up loans for students. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is considering them. Meanwhile he is preparing for implementation of the Government's plans in the autumn of 1990, and to that end is holding discussions with a variety of financial institutions and other potential agents about the administration of top-up loans. I do not feel that this is the right time to have a debate on the subject.
Reaction to the White Paper "Working for Patients" has been positive. The Government have published a series of working papers outlining some of the key proposals in more detail, and we shall be discussing their implementation with interested parties in the coming weeks. I cannot agree to find time for a debate in the immediate future, but the Opposition may care to consider using one of their days for the purpose.
The Government have given their view on the legislation on the selling of kidneys, and are at present considering the contents of an appropriate Bill.
Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud) : Will my right hon. Friend find time at an early date for a debate on food and hygiene? Hon. Members on both sides of the House feel that higher standards are desirable, although that does not seem to have percolated through to Opposition Members who signed early- day motion 540, entitled "Directives on Veterinary Checks in Community Meat Trade", which states that there is no need for
"additional veterinary involvement in trade either for the domestic or export market"
"local authorities to employ veterinary surgeons".
Could we have an early debate to enable us to appreciate the finer points of those arguments?
Mr. Wakeham : We have had several debates that have touched, at least in part, on some of those subjects. I think that we have had three in recent weeks. I cannot promise my hon. Friend another debate in the near future, but the Government are determined that measures necessary to achieve the single market should, as far as possible, accommodate the arrangements that have served us so well for many years. The Government are pressing for recognition of the professionalism of environmental health officers, and are seeking to secure a continuing role for them in the supervision of meat production for the domestic market.
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) : Will the Leader of the House give us an assurance that, when the Government's proposals in response to the Griffiths report are produced, a statement will be made in the House of Commons rather than outwith its precincts? Does the right hon. Gentleman not consider it slightly disgraceful that never--at least in my experience--have we had a debate on the National Health Service in
Column 1046Government time? Debates on that important subject have always been arranged on Supply or Opposition days. The "Working for Patients" proposals raise more questions than they answer : there is considerable uncertainty, particularly in general practice. Is it not time that we answered some of the questions to which GPs want answers?
Mr. Wakeham : I am not sure whether that is strictly correct, but there have certainly been a number of debates on the Health Service, and I do not think that I can add anything to my reply to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson).
I cannot anticipate whether there will be an oral statement on the Griffiths report until I have spoken to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security, but I recognise the strength of the hon. Gentleman's feelings.
Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes (Wimbledon) : My right hon. Friend may be aware of the major disruption of postal services in the south-west London area over the Christmas period following unofficial action by the Union of Communication Workers, which caused immense anger and frustration among my constituents. Does he agree that the time has come to examine the Post Office's general record of management and its privileges, with particular reference to the sealing of post boxes on a questionable legal basis? In view of yesterday's report by the Post Office Users National Council, will he consider giving time for us to debate the subject?
Mr. Wakeham : I cannot promise my hon. Friend time for a debate, but it has been reported in today's press that after a general ballot members of the Post Office unions have accepted their unions' recommendation that they accept the improved local incentives for better postal services. My hon. Friend is quite right, however : the Post Office's letter monopoly is a privilege, not a right.
Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West) : Can we please have an early debate on the quality of the water in rivers in the midlands, which has deteriorated for four successive years? Last year there were 209 complaints about sewage, compared with only about 70 the year before. Should we not take into account the secret plans revealed by the Leicester Mercury to relax quality controls on sewage discharged into Leicestershire's rivers by the Severn-Trent rivers and regulations division, at the same time as it is planning to spend millions of pounds on a glossy advertising campaign to prepare for privatisation? This scandal ought to be revealed on the Floor of the House.
Mr. Wakeham : I do not know whether it is because he spends a lot of time reading the Leicester Mercury , but the hon. and learned Gentleman seems sometimes to bring to the House rather a one-sided and biased view. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has just said how much the quality of water in a number of our rivers has improved over the years and how much better they are than many rivers on the continent. The hon. and learned Gentleman, who I know likes to be fair, should take that into consideration. He has made his point, however, and I will refer it to my right hon. Friend.
Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury) : If we are to have an organ transplant Bill, should it not be rather more
Column 1047comprehensive than a Bill relating simply to the sale of organs? Could it not include such matters as amending the donor card, and the procedure known as required request?
Mr. Wakeham : I know that those are important issues, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will recognise that at this stage in the parliamentary Session to bring in an additional Bill would require us to restrict somewhat the number of subjects that it could cover.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement to the House tomorrow on the accidents on the M6 in which four people were killed this morning and up to 10 injured, some critically? Will he ask his right hon. Friend to instigate an urgent investigation into the use of the motorways by heavy goods vehicles to carry dangerous substances, which is an increasing problem and danger to every motorist?
Mr. Wakeham : I am sure that the whole House would want me to express sympathy and understanding to those who were bereaved or injured in that road accident. It is a serious matter. I extend also our thanks to the emergency services, who rose to the occasion, as on so many previous occasions. We are grateful to them. I shall refer my hon. Friend's point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : Will my right hon. Friend find time in the near future for a debate about the activities of an organisation known as the London Food Commission, which has played a prominent role in recent scares concerning infection and additives, such as those concerning salmonella and listeria? The organisation sounds eminently respectable but it was recently described in the BBC programme "Farming Today" as being something of a confidence trick. Apparently, its pedigree goes back only five years, when it was established by the notorious GLC. It was funded by a £1 million grant and subsequently launched several campaigns against the food industry and the Government. Its activities are described in its own remit as being designed--
Mr. Speaker : Order. This is not an Adjournment debate. Will the hon. Lady ask her question?
Mrs. Gorman : --to further the interests of trade unions in the food industry. It is causing a great deal of despondency and worry among the British public.
Mr. Wakeham : My hon. Friend is right to raise questions about that organisation and to suggest a debate. In the past, I have had occasion to make one or two comments about it at this Dispatch Box. Next Monday, there will be two occasions when my hon. Friend may be provided with an opportunity to make the points she seeks to make more widely known.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : Will the right hon. Gentleman have a chance this week or in the coming week to discuss with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and with the shadow Cabinet spokesman for Northern Ireland the apparent confusion about the British-Irish parliamentary tier that was obvious in exchanges in the House today? Also, in the interests of future good long-term relationships between the United Kingdom and
Column 1048Iran, will the Leader of the House use the good offices of the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) to establish a British-Iranian parliamentary tier?
Mr. Wakeham : I indicated that discussions are in progress to set up a British-Irish parliamentary tier to increase understanding between Westminster and Dublin, which is something that right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House would want to support. In the course of those discussions I have spoken to the Leader of the Opposition and to other party leaders. I shall continue doing so until such time as we are able to make an announcement.
Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham) : My right hon. Friend will recall that there have been statements this week on two tragic rail accidents that killed a total of seven people. As 14 people are killed on our roads on an average day, may we have a proper debate soon on the North report on road traffic law? Also, can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that there will be a major road traffic Bill in the next Session?
Mr. Wakeham : My hon. Friend's second question tempts me, but it is not a matter on which it would be appropriate for me to speculate. I acknowledge that both road traffic law and the North report are important, and I wish that I could find an early date for a debate on them. I shall certainly bear my hon. Friend's suggestion well in mind.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : The Leader of the House will recognise the concern shown by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House during Prime Minister's Question Time arising from the Select Committee report on toxic waste that was published yesterday. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the House is given the earliest possible opportunity to discuss that matter, so that the Secretary of State for the Environment may be saved from the fate that he might otherwise suffer under the Prime Minister, who is rapidly changing ever more green? Perhaps I may make a helpful suggestion. Would it not be wise to drop the privatisation aspects of the Water Bill and use the opportunity provided by its Report stage to make the National Rivers Authority an environmental protection agency? That would receive the overwhelming support of the public, who are opposed to water privatisation.
Mr. Wakeham : I do not want to disappoint anyone who wants to be helpful, but I believe that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister finds the advice of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment more helpful than the hon. Gentleman's suggestions. The Government will respond to the Select Committee's report in the usual way--
Mr. Dobson : Yes--they will ignore it.
Mr. Wakeham : Many of the report's recommendations for improved control are in line with the Government's comprehensive review of waste legislation, which is now nearing the end of public consultation. Legislation to implement the new policies is being prepared and will be introduced at the earliest possible opportunity during the course of this Parliament.
Sir John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge) : Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the important
Column 1049subject of immigration, which has not been debated for a long time? That would enable many right hon. and hon. Members to discuss the Salman Rushdie affair and the difficulties that are caused by newcomers to this country, who perhaps do not fully understand our ways- -giving rise to difficult questions concerning free speech and suitable behaviour.
Mr. Wakeham : My hon. Friend raises an important point. I should like to meet his request by arranging a debate, but with the legislation going through as it is, it will be difficult to find a day.
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : Can there be an early debate on the plotting by Bradford's Conservative council to transform Bradford into a compassion-free zone? Is the Leader of the House aware that that council's latest act of civic vandalism is that of cutting funding to voluntary organisations that help pensioners, children and the disabled? Will the right hon. Gentleman have urgent discussions with the Conservative Chief Whip with a view to persuading Conservative right hon. and hon. Members not to visit Bradford to support the activities of the Monday Club, which is trying to incite racial tension in the city? Will he also urge the chairman of the Conservative party to agree to a request that I made to him yesterday that the party conducts an urgent inquiry into the infiltration of Right-wing organisations, including the Monday Club, into Bradford Conservative association and the influence they exert on the Conservative council group?
Mr. Wakeham : I have no idea what that matter has to do with next week's business. However, I detect in the hon. Gentleman and in his hon. Friends the Members for Bradford a streak of disagreement and unhappiness at being the losers in Bradford. They had better get used to that, because they will be losers for a very long time.
Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton) : In order to save public money in Budget week and to improve the environmental record, which we all want to do, may we start with ourselves and with the Order Paper? Eight pages of today's Order Paper contain a virtually identical question. Is that not a complete waste of public money? Would it not be better to do without printed questions and to have a Prime Minister's Question Time when Mr. Speaker could simply call speakers from among those right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who try to catch his eye?
Mr. Wakeham : I am always tempted by my hon. Friend's suggestions for saving public money. However, if I agree to change the Order Paper simply at his suggestion, we would get into trouble. Changes to the Order Paper must be the subject of discussions and consultations through the Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee. The best plan is for my hon. Friend to write to that Committee in the first instance.
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : When will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an opportunity to have a real go at the Executive on the question of air pollution? I have just about had a bellyful of the Prime Minister's starry front about pollution, of her claims about what she is and is not doing about it, and all the flipping rest of it. Is the Leader of the House aware that there has been serious
Column 1050interference with the manpower structure of air pollution inspectors? If we are going to get, as suggested, a serious reduction, how can they carry out their job properly in the interests of the people in the community? Let us have a debate so that I can have a go at her.
Mr. Wakeham : I thought that the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question was an attack on free speech itself, but in the end I understood what he wanted. I wish I could meet his requests because I always like to do so, but I cannot offer a debate next week.
Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford) : May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 500?
[That this House joins with all other parliaments throughout the Commonwealth in the observance of Commonwealth Day on Monday 13th March ; and recognises the importance of the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which brings together parliamentarians throughout the Commonwealth who share a community of interests, respect for the rule of law and a commitment to promote the positive ideals of parliamentary democracy.]
Will my right hon. Friend express on behalf of the whole House our continued support for the ideals of the Commonwealth? Does he agree that it is a potent force for freedom, peace, understanding and friendship in the world? Does he agree that the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, by strengthening parliamentary democracy in the Commonwealth, plays a vital role in upholding those ideals?
Mr. Wakeham : The Government wholeheartedly support the statements expressed in the early-day motion. I hope to have a drink with a number of members of the Commonwealth this evening.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on how the EC allocates its aid through the structural fund? Is he aware that it was disclosed yesterday that Halifax has, yet again, been left out from receiving any aid in spite of the fact that 95 per cent. of those on our borders gain from this aid? That leads to serious dislocation of industry. Is he further aware that since we submitted our application under objective two, Halifax and Calder Valley have lost almost 1,500 jobs? Can we have an urgent debate on the subject because it is leading to great hardship and is destabilising the local economy?
Mr. Wakeham : I would like to be able to organise the debate, which would give the hon. Lady the chance to explain why her Labour council put up rates last night by 15 per cent.--
Mrs. Mahon : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is no Labour council in Halifax or Calder Valley. There is no overall control.
Mr. Speaker : Order. Whether or not there is a Labour council there is not a matter for me.
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are many Conservative Members who would welcome yet another debate on transport so that they could express the repugnance of their fair -minded constituents at the behaviour of Opposition spokesmen, who have sought to gain political capital out of the deaths of innocent people in recent rail
Column 1051accidents and who have wrongly demanded the resignation of our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport for accidents that have been no fault of his?
Mr. Wakeham : I have many responsibilities, but I certainly do not have responsibility for Opposition spokesmen's conduct and words. However, I do not believe that any fair-minded person would accept the proposition that my right hon. Friend does anything other than conduct himself with the highest possible standards in public life.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : Can we have a debate next week on a specific area of procedure--that is, privilege? Does the Leader of the House care to express a view about whether he believes that a person who feels aggrieved as a result of an abuse of parliamentary privilege should have a right of reply? Does he think that that right of reply should be printed in the Official Report ? Can I ask him to reflect at the Dispatch Box on those matters about which he has, historically, shown great concern?
Mr. Wakeham : I shall reflect on that, of course, but the methods of dealing with privilege in the House are laid down by Standing Orders and the rules of the House and I have no plans to change them.
Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West) : May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the importance of early-day motion 521 which is on university examinations and was signed by 50 of our hon. Friends? [That this House welcomes the recommendation of the Executive of the Association of University Teachers to call off the action on university examinations by seeking arbitration ; supports the case for increased funding for universities to enable them to pay an adequate increase in salaries for 1989-90 ; and believes that university lecturers should receive similar treatment as those covered by the recent Pay Review Bodies reports.]
If the boycott of the examination system by lecturers continues for another two or three weeks, it will jeopardise final examinations. My right hon. Friend knows that I have an interest in these matters. However, over all the years that I have been involved with universities, I have seldom found such strength of feeling on such a matter, if only because there is no understanding why the pay offer has been about 3 per cent., when we are offering school teachers an increase of 6 per cent.
Mr. Wakeham : It is for the university authorities to negotiate the pay of their staff. They have made representations to the Government for extra funds and those are being considered urgently. Representatives met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science on 8 March to explain their case and my right hon. Friend is meeting them again soon. Meanwhile, university academic staff, as responsible professionals, should surely work normally, as that is in the essential interests of their students.
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : Is the Leader of the House aware that today a number of hon. Members representing inner-city seats received a letter from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster announcing the closure of a number of task forces? The Leader of the House will recall that the establishment of a task force in Leicester was a plank of the Government's inner-city
Column 1052policy and that I and other hon. Members pointed out to Ministers that task forces would not be successful unless they had the co-operation of local authorities. I find it difficult to accept that hon. Members should be informed on such a major policy issue by letter rather than by a statement or debate. Will the right hon. Gentleman speak to his right hon. Friend to ensure that we have a statement on this important aspect of policy and a debate about why the task force in Leicester has failed?
Mr. Wakeham : I do not think that that would be the right way to proceed. The report published today is a progress report announcing developments in existing policies and future priorities. It is not a new policy statement ; it is available in the Vote Office and it has been made available generally. I understand that it has also been sent to hon. Members with constituency interests, and that is the right way to proceed.
Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) : Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), will the Leader of the House persuade the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement on the three accidents this morning on the M6 in which four people died? He will be aware that today's accidents mean that there have been seven accidents in the past five years on that stretch of motorway in which 58 people have died and that all those accidents have involved heavy goods vehicles. Hon. Members need an opportunity to ask the Secretary of State for Transport to reconsider his policy of deterring freight on the railways so that it goes on the roads. The danger of the weight of traffic on our roads is now becoming acute. More accidents such as these will happen unless the Government offer positive incentives by subsidising freight on the railways to take it off our roads, as all other European countries do.
Mr. Wakeham : I recognise the importance of that and I expressed to the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend my concern about those accidents. I have said that I shall speak to my right hon. Friend, but perhaps some of the important points he made, which may be controversial, are not matters that are easily dealt with in a statement with questions and answers and are more wide-ranging policy questions. I wish that there was time for a debate on all these issues, but I cannot find time in the immediate future.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Will the Leader of the House find time to debate the prayer tabled by the three hon. Members from Bradford constituencies against the devolving of powers from the residuary authority to Bradford local authority? We feel strongly that because Bradford is in the hands of the "Conservative and City Mayor party", it is no longer fit and able to carry out such duties, having sacked a number of people in administrative positions as well as attacking community facilities for those most in need in the city, sacking dinner ladies and carrying out the other outrageous actions of the Right-wing clique on Bradford council. It would be handy if we were able to debate the prayer so that we could argue whether the city council is capable of carrying out the duties that the Government seem prepared to devolve on it.
Mr. Wakeham : When I talked about bad losers I knew that the hon. Gentleman would not be long in getting in on
Column 1053the act. The arrangements that we have for discussions through the usual channels represent the best way of deciding how to deal with Opposition prayers.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Does the Leader of the House recall that a few weeks ago I referred to the need for a statement from the Government about miners who have been subjected to the restart scheme, even though they have been made redundant under the mineworkers scheme? Is the Leader of the House aware that, although many weeks have elapsed since the Secretary of State for Energy and the Secretary of State for Employment began to discuss the matter, they have still not reached any conclusion? Will he try to impress upon his right hon. Friends the urgent need to resolve this matter next week, if possible, with a statement? If he cannot do this, will he knock their heads together?
Mr. Wakeham : I have nothing to say to the hon. Gentleman today, but I recognise his concern about the matter and I shall certainly refer his question to my right hon. Friends.
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford) : Is the Leader of the House aware that it is three and a half years since the disaster at Manchester airport, and that the report of the inquiry into that disaster will be published on Monday? Will he tell the House whether the Secretary of State for Transport, who has rightly come before the House--I say this with no disrespect to the right hon. Gentleman--when other disasters have happened, will make a full statement on the findings of that inquiry? It is considered that those findings are likely to be controversial, so it is important that the House should be given an opportunity to discuss them.
Mr. Wakeham : I am not in a position to answer that question. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport thinks it appropriate to make a statement, he will do so, although I do not think that that will necessarily prove to be the right course. I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend.
That the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill [Lords] be referred to a Second Reading Committee.-- [Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Michael Neubert) : I am pleased to have this opportunity to opethe first RAF debate since my appointment as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces. In my relatively brief time of acquaintance with the RAF, I have attempted to see as much of the service as possible and to talk to senior colleagues at the Ministry of Defence about the aims and aspirations of the services. During the past three months, I have visited Headquarters RAF Strike Command at High Wycombe and the RAF bases at Coningsby and Leeming. I have found that the service is in good heart and have been enormously impressed by the professionalism of the men and women serving in it. I believe that the RAF is confident--as it should be-- that the Government will continue to accord it the priority that it requires. Since 1979 we have allocated very consierable extra resources to the RAF, amounting to some £9.2 billion, over and above inflation and this demonstrates the Government's commitment to the service.
I intend this afternoon--as is normal on these occasions-- to give an account of the role, work and activities of the Royal Air Force, and I will, in addition, address three matters which I know are of special concern to the House--flight safety, low-flying training and manning in the service. I do not propose, however, to attempt to catalogue all the major improvements that have been made in equipment. The details will be set out in the annual statement on the defence estimates to be published in a couple of months' time, and if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement succeeds in catching your eye later this evening, Mr. Speaker, he will be able to deal with any point of interest that may have arisen concerning equipment.
The House is well aware of the vital contribution that the RAF continues to make to our main defence roles in NATO. The RAF contributes to all four roles--nuclear forces, defence of the United Kingdom, forward defence of the European mainland, and maritime forces. I shall not rehearse the details of those roles now as they do not change fundamentally from year to year, but in the past 13 months the outline of the RAF of the future has become clearer. What is certain is that, even with the welcome improvements in East-West relations, it is essential that we maintain a policy of deterrence, which includes the maintenance of a strong Royal Air Force. The role that most people associate with the RAF is, I imagine, the air defence of the United Kingdom. To this, the RAF contributes interceptor aircraft, of which I will say more in a moment, Bloodhound and Rapier missiles and Skyguard radar-controlled guns. In the past year the second and third squadrons of the Tornado air defence variant have been declared operational, and a fourth squadron has been formed and will become operational later this year. To sustain the ADV force into the future, we have ordered an additional 15 aircraft for delivery in the early 1990s. As new aircraft
Column 1055enter the stage, so old ones exit and since our last debate the Lightning has been finally withdrawn after nearly 30 years' service.
For the longer term, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence announced last April that the Government had decided to proceed with the full development of the European fighter aircraft in collaboration with the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy and Spain. EFA will be a major project, costing the United Kingdom about £7 billion, and will provide the RAF with an agile, high performance air defence aircraft. It will replace the Phantom and, using its secondary ground attack role, the Jaguar at the end of their service lives, and will complement the Tornado ADV. As my right hon. Friend said, the specification for EFA has been rigorously and realistically examined in comparison with a number of alternatives. Moreover, its development will benefit from the exacting procurement disciplines which have been introduced over the past few years, and of which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement may speak further, later this evening.
Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East) : I thank my hon. Friend for his obvious interest in the Royal Air Force and for the work that he has been doing. On the subject of EFA, I guess that we are now beginning to approach the crucial decision about the radar sensor system. Can my hon. Friend tell us what progress has been made in that regard? My hon. Friend will forgive me for saying that it appears that MSD 2000 radar sensor system has a slight edge in terms of its putative attributes. Will he tell us the latest state of play and assure us that the crucial choice between the two systems on offer will be made as soon as possible?
Mr. Neubert : My hon. Friend will understand if, at this early stage in my late-flowering career, I do not immediately answer him, but direct him instead to the answer given on Tuesday by my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary of State for Defence Procurement, who may be able to answer him in more detail later.
We are confident that EFA will benefit from those exacting procurement disciplines, and that EFA will prove the best and most cost-effective option to meet this essential military role. Behind the scenes, work is progressing well on the seven Boeing E3 airborne early-warning aircraft which the Government have ordered to replace the redoubtable Shackleton from the early 1990s. We should salute the Shackleton on the 40th anniversary of its inaugural flight.
Let us consider the other roles of the RAF. The service contributes strike- attack and offensive support and air transport forces to the defence of the European mainland. The mainstay of our strike-attack forces is the Tornado GR1. Those aircraft would carry out long-range interdiction against enemy airfields and lines of communication to prevent them from applying their full weight to our forces in the central region. To do that, the Tornado would have to penetrate increasingly comprehensive and sophisticated air defences, and it is that requirement which gives rise to the need for low- flying training of which I shall say more later.
I am pleased to tell the House that, subject to the satisfactory resolution of contractual and other issues, we intend to proceed with a mid-life improvement for the Tornado GR1 strike-attack aircraft. The programme will
Column 1056contain a package of measures to provide the Tornado with an improved night and all-weather capability and so maintain the effectiveness of this highly successful aircraft as we move into the next century. Much of the work done under the programme will be placed in the United Kingdom and so should help sustain procurement opportunities in the United Kingdom aerospace industries.
Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden) : On the question of the usefulness of the Tornado, my hon. Friend will be aware of its value in respect of its strike capability and in terms of arms control talks on how far we should reduce our strength in the central region, but can he add anything to the statements that have already been issued about the future of the stand-off missiles that may be equipped in the future for use by the Tornado aircraft?
Mr. Neubert : No, I cannot do so, but perhaps my hon. Friend will turn to that point when he replies to the debate.
To sustain the Tornado GR1 force in the future, we have ordered an additional 26 aircraft for delivery from the early 1990s. After the inevitable delay caused by the unfortunate accident in October 1987, the first squadron of Harrier GR5 offensive support aircraft is now forming and will be declared operational later this year. My hon. Friend the Under- Secretary of State for Defence Procurement announced last May that we intended to order a further 34 GR5s to sustain the force in the future.
This is a debate about the RAF rather than air systems, but it would be appropriate to record here a further significant milestone in the modernisation of our armed forces, namely the successful launch of the Skynet 4B satellite on 11 December 1988 by an Ariane 4 rocket from Kouron in French Guiana. The satellite is now on station. The first super high frequency channel became operational on 1 February 1989, and we expect the whole satellite to be operational by the end of this month.
Turning to the question of exercises and deployments, I am pleased to tell the House that the RAF consistently earns high marks during the regular exercises held under the direction of the NATO commanders to test the operational readiness and proficiency of our defences. Indeed, the ratings scored by the RAF during those exercises--the so-called "tacevals"--are second to none throughout the Alliance. Outside the NATO area, I have been impressed to learn about the recent deployment by the RAF in Exercise Golden Eagle, designed to demonstrate the capability of the Royal Air Force to operate worldwide when appropriate. The exercise was mounted by four Tornado F3s--our latest air defence aircraft--with other supporting aircraft including TriStars, a VC10 tanker and a Hercules, with their equipment and personnel. The exercise was designed to enable the Tornados to take part in the five-power defence arrangements--FPDA--air defence exercise under a long-standing agreement with the Government of Malaysia, codenamed Lima Bersatu 88.
I should like to apologise at this point for all the code names, initials and acronyms. I seem to have exchanged the anonymity of the Government Whips Office for the acronymity of the Ministry of Defence.
The exercise provides opportunities for the aircraft to carry out some joint training with other nations in that area.