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Mr. Sainsbury : Since 1979, the Ministry of Defence has ordered seven regiments of Challenger 1 main battle tanks ; 13 battalions of Warrior ; 10 battalions of Saxon and a range of other type of armoured artillery, air defence and support vehicles.
Further details of these and other orders are contained in table 5 and paragraphs 327 and 328 of the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1989".
Mr. Mitchell : Does not the excellent record that my hon. Friend has just outlined demonstrate both the quantity and the quality of the equipment with which we provide the armoured corps within the Army? Does it not also underline the strength and commitment of the Government to the deterrent effect of our conventional forces?
Mr. Haynes : Not many moments ago a Minister agreed at the Dispatch Box with the use of Ministry of Defence police to support the civil police with problems. Bearing in mind the Secretary of State's majority at the last election, would he press the button to use the vehicles mentioned in the question against British people if he thought that was necessary?
Mr. Sainsbury : I must confess that I am not readily able to determine my ministerial responsibility for my right hon. Friend's majority, but I shall do all I can to increase it next time. The Ministry of Defence police, whose operational tasks are under the control of their chief constable, would come to the aid of a Home Office force only at the request of its chief constable.
Mr. Conway : Does my hon. Friend agree that as 50 per cent. of 1BR corps is supplied by the Territorial Army there is a strong case for ensuring that the Territorial Army battalions designated to NATO have armoured personnel carriers at their disposal? Will he acknowledge that as these vehicles are manufactured so ably in Shropshire--and the engines even more so in Shrewsbury--I have no great personal interest to declare?
Column 716provide a great deal more protection than the vehicles that they replace. As he also knows, the battalions of Saxon are largely going to equip units that did not have armoured protection before, so, again, we are considerably increasing our capability.
Mr. Younger : At the nuclear planning group meeting on 19 and 20 April, Ministers reaffirmed their determination to ensure that NATO has effective and up-to-date nuclear forces across the full spectrum of ranges, and expressed their continued support for national efforts to meet modernisation requirements stemming from Montebello. Ministers also noted SACEUR's conclusions about the link between modernisation and stockpile reductions and about the contribution to deterrence of new longer-range, ground-launched and air-delivered weapons. A copy of the communique issued at the end of the meeting, and agreed by all Ministers, has been placed in the Library of the House.
Mr. Wray : Is it not a fact that a question mark hangs over the decision taken by the nuclear planning group? Is it not also a fact that the Prime Minister, by delaying the modernisation of short-range missiles, is reluctant to accept that decision? Does the right hon. Gentleman's statement mean that there is to be an increase in the number of FE111s and FE15s?
Mr. Younger : The hon. Gentleman is misinformed about the outcome of the meeting. The outcome, with the unanimous agreement of every nation present, was to reaffirm the nuclear defensive strategy of NATO, to reaffirm the need to keep weapons up to date and to reaffirm the unanimous view of all that a third zero would not be in the interests of the west. It cannot be said too often that we have had secure peace and freedom from war for so many years because of the existence of nuclear deterrence, which we would abandon at our peril.
Sir Anthony Grant : What does my right hon. Friend think would have been the reaction of his colleagues at that NATO meeting had he told them that it was the policy of Her Majesty's Government not to use the nuclear deterrent, even if necessary?
Mr. Younger : I am afraid that if I had made such a statement, nobody present from any Administration of any party would have agreed with me. Britain would have been in a minority of one, and I hope never to see Britain in a minority of one at NATO.
Mr. Sean Hughes : Will the right hon. Gentleman now answer the question that I put to him on 7 March, which the Minister of State also refused to answer on 11 April and about which I wrote to the Department a month ago and to which I have not received a reply? Do the Government take seriously the threat of a tactical nuclear attack on NATO's fixed assets in West Germany?
Mr. Younger : I am not sure what lies behind the question-- [Hon. Members :-- "Answer."] The Government certainly do take seriously the large superiority in weapons lined up against us in western Europe--weapons of all
Column 717kinds ; nuclear, conventional and chemical-- and it is to make all those unusable that the policy of nuclear deterrence has worked so effectively for so long.
Mr. Marlow : How would my right hon. Friend set about planning into such a meeting a nuclear deterrent which he had committed himself not to use? Would it not be something of a white elephant? Or, to put it another way, would it not be like hiring an expensive guard dog which had lost its bark, which he was having put down and which he intended to stuff?
Mr. Younger : I had discussions with Dr. Scholz on matters of mutual interest at the Western European Union and the nuclear planning group meetings last month. I have not yet had an opportunity to meet Dr. Stoltenberg who replaced Dr. Scholz as Federal Minister of Defence on 21 April.
Mr. Hughes : Will the Secretary of State try to realise that Germans will be killed in their thousands if weapons at present based on their soil are ever used, so that when they take part in East-West relations they welcome the opportunity to negotiate with the Soviet Union cuts in conventional and short-term nuclear forces to achieve levels below present NATO levels?
Mr. Younger : I well understand the sensitivities of people living in Germany to such matters, but it is a sad fact of geography that if any war were to break out it would be the British, Americans and Germans in the central front area who would be in danger. Nuclear deterrence exists to prevent war. It has been successful and only an irresponsible Government would abandon it.
Mrs. Clwyd : The Secretary of State has persistently reminded the Opposition this afternoon that they should live in the real world. Is not the real world the fact that the West Germans are responding to public opinion in West Germany which is opposed to the modernisation of nuclear weapons? Is it not a fact that 71 per cent. of people in Britain are also opposed to the modernisation of nuclear weapons, and 61 per cent. of those are Tory voters? Why do not this
internationally isolated Government live in the real world and follow what real people are feeling in the real world?
Mr. Younger : I had hoped that I would be able to welcome the hon. Lady to the real world, but unfortunately I cannot, because the views that she has expressed are out of step with every Government of NATO, without exception, including the German Government.
The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher) : This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. I was also present at Victoria station to mark the arrival of President Babangida. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I shall attend a state banquet in honour of President Babangida.
Mr. Lewis : Will the right hon. Lady consider establishing a statutory committee to oversee the standards of premium telephone services in recognition of the fact that the voluntary committee, set up and funded by British Telecom, has fallen into disrepute?
The Prime Minister : No, Mr. Speaker. I do not believe that the voluntary committee has fallen into disrepute. The Director General of Telecommunications, who has invited comments by the end of April on the proposed code of practice and amendments to the licences, is going precisely the right way.
Sir Peter Blaker : Will my right hon. Friend consider making available the health inspectors from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to examine a product which is to be put on the market this afternoon--a gigantic nuclear fudge?
Mr. Kinnock : How could the Secretary of State for Health say last Saturday that the Health Service is at the limit of its capacity to absorb money when the health authorities report today that hospitals are underfunded by £490 million this year?
The Prime Minister : If the right hon. Gentleman or anyone else suggests that hospitals are underfunded at their present rate, they must have been in dire circumstances when they had only one third of that amount from Labour.
Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister simply tell us whom she thinks is telling the truth? Is it the Secretary of State, who says that the Health Service cannot take any more money because it cannot absorb it, or the health authorities, who say that the hospitals are £490 million short? May we have a straight answer to a straight question?
The Prime Minister : I will give the right hon. Gentleman a straight answer. Under him, the health authorities had only one third of what they are getting now, and that is what he cannot take. They are now getting three times as much as they had under Labour and they are doing far better than ever.
Mr. Brandon-Bravo : Has my right hon. Friend seen, or will she see, a splendid half-hour programme, independently produced for the BBC last week, called "Thatcher's Children"? Apart from the fact that it was made almost entirely in my constituency of Nottingham, South, which
Column 719is part of what she has rightly called the queen of the midlands, does she agree that the young people interviewed showed enterprise and willingness to meet an enterprise culture, which bodes well for the future? Does she also agree that it is quite wrong to equate enterprise with greed and selfishness?
The Prime Minister : The number of young people who are becoming self-employed, starting up their own businesses an taking advantage of all the opportunities is extremely encouraging. They are not only responsible for their own future but are looking after jobs for others and should be encouraged in every way.
Ms. Walley : Will the Prime Minister confirm that at the seminar at Downing Street energy conservation was recommended by the scientists as being the single thing which could deal with the problems relating to the greenhouse effect? Therefore, will she instruct her Minister of State, Department of Energy, on attending the European meeting on energy conservation this Thursday, to block the advice of civil servants which will effectively prevent a Community action programme for electricity conservation being adopted in this country--a programme already agreed by all other European countries?
The Prime Minister : There was not one particular proposal put forward at the seminar, as I think I explained in answer to a question last time I replied from this Box. One of the proposals was for more nuclear energy, because it does not put up carbon dioxide, and one of the most damaging elements in the greenhouse effect is the burning of fossil fuels. Another was that every effort should be made to retain tropical rain forests and to include that effort in one's overseas aid programme. The third thing was energy efficiency, and we pointed out that this country is using less energy now, at a far higher rate of production than we had in 1973. I hope that the hon. Lady will have read the speech made yesterday by our ambassador in New York asking for a kind of umbrella convention on greenhouse effect gases of the same kind as we have on ozone layer gases.
The Prime Minister : We could do not do that unless the British Nationality Act 1981 were revised and that would have to go through the House. There are many different opinions about the practical effect with regard to the granting of such passports, but it is not possible under the present law.
Column 720Government are spending six times as much on publicity and propaganda as any previous Government? Is it not perfectly clear that anything that is so expensive to sell must be a pretty shabby product?
The Prime Minister : If the hon. Member takes that view he must be pretty ashamed of some of the poll tax documents put out by his local authority. In regard to Government policy, the Government have a clear duty to ensure that everyone knows what his or her main rights and duties are. We are reaching 21 million households at a cost of under £1 million, which is very good value for money. Very soon, on 22 May, most councils will start registering people for the community charge and it is vital, therefore, that people have accurate information for the registration process.--[ Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] If Opposition Members are saying "Hear, hear", they must agree that that accurate information should go to every household.
Mr. Ward : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fines imposed by courts for river and harbour pollution are ridiculously low? Will she encourage the Magistrates Association to remind its members that they should use the full penalties available to them to discourage that form of environmental pollution?
The Prime Minister : I greatly sympathise with my hon. Friend's remarks. The average fine imposed by magistrates courts in 1987 was £450, compared with the maximum penalty available of a £2,000 fine and up to three months' imprisonment. That issue has been drawn to the attention of the Magistrates Association several times, most recently by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and we all hope for a positive response.
Mr. Ashdown rose-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Butterfill : Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most essential attributes of a political leader is the courage to stand fast to his or her convictions, even when that may temporarily be electorally unpopular? Does she further agree that any political leader prepared to compromise their most cherished political principles for
Column 721the sake of short-term electoral popularity is unfit to lead their party and even more unfit to be Prime Minister of this country?
Mr. Ashley : The Prime Minister is known to have a very high regard for our ex-service men, so how does she account for her Government's absolutely disgraceful conduct towards British nuclear test veterans compared with that of the United States Government, who grant compensation for 13 forms of cancer as compared with compensation for only two forms of cancer recognised by Britain? The Americans do not demand absolute proof, but the Ministry of Defence is bitterly fighting our ex-service men every inch of the way through the courts and is refusing to pay them compensation. That is a disgraceful state of affairs under a Government whose Prime Minister professes to love and admire our ex-service men.
The Prime Minister : As the right hon. Gentleman knows, cases were carefully looked at by a special inquiry of medical people, who did not find cause and effect. I say to the right hon. Gentleman with the greatest of respect that the cause and effect that he says has been proved has not been proved, and therefore compensation is not appropriate.
Mr. Favell : Has my right hon. Friend had time today to consider what would be the effects on the environment if nuclear power were to be phased out over the next 10 years, as the Labour party proposes?
The Prime Minister : Yes. I think that that would be very damaging. As my hon. Friend is aware, during that time a number of Magnox nuclear power stations will need replacing. We hope that, subject to planning permission, there will be four new nuclear power stations by the end of this century, replacing the coal-fired or oil-fired power stations that would otherwise be needed, and which would
Column 722add grievously to the greenhouse effect-- which is something that the Leader of the Opposition does not want to happen.
Q8. Mr. O'Brien To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 9 May.
Mr. O'Brien : Is the Prime Minister aware of the report in the Yorkshire Post today in which the CBI and the Association of British Chambers of Commerce criticised the Government for high interest rates, which have had a significant effect on small industries and businesses? When will the Prime Minister do something to lift the strain from small business people and people paying high mortgage rates? When will she take action to reduce interest rates?
The Prime Minister : We do not like to keep interest rates high any longer than we have to. [ Hon. Members-- : "We?"] My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not like to keep interest rates higher than need be, but the most damaging thing would be for inflation to go up to the kind of heights it reached under Labour. That is why interest rates must remain high for the time being.
Mr. Brazier : Will my right hon. Friend agree that the privatisation of British Telecom has resulted in much shorter waiting lists for telephones, lower charges for calls and a much wider ownership of telephones among pensioners because of the reduction in standing charges? Will she not further agree that for any political party to talk about renationalisation is thoroughly irresponsible?
The Prime Minister : Yes, the privatisation of British Telecom has, indeed, led to a better service, a substantially increased number of telephones among pensioners and a very considerable reduction of the waiting lists. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is thoroughly arrogant of politicians with little experience of industry to say that they can run industry better than it can run itself.
The following Member took and subscribed the Oath :
John William Patrick Smith Esq., for Vale of Glamorgan.
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