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Mr. Hamilton : It is extremely important to take the summit as a whole. We are very pleased with the fact that there will be no reductions in SNF forces until after the CFE conventional forces reductions have taken place. Altogether, the summit came out very satisfactorily.
Mr. Archie Hamilton : Reductions in the Warsaw pact's massive concentrations of forces in Europe would be very welcome. However, its current zonal proposals would make it very difficult to sustain NATO's strategy of forward defence. Nevertheless, we are studying them with care.
Mrs. Mahon : I find that a disappointing answer. Is it not time that the Minister took President Gorbachev's offer to thin out front-line defences seriously? [ Hon. Members :-- "Reading."] With safeguards and verification, could it not mean a much lower level of forces all round? Should not NATO be thinking anyway of replacing its forward--[ Hon. Members :-- "Reading."]--defence with one of defensive defence?
Mr. Hamilton : As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained earlier, a forward defence is an essential part of NATO strategy and has been agreed by NATO for some time. It is also a policy of great importance to the Germans.
Column 696to fulfil the commitment to a forward defence policy? [ Hon. Members :-- "Reading."] Could not vast sums of military expenditure be saved without sacrificing security if NATO were to drop what, in reality, is an outdated and offensive posture?
Mr. Hamilton : We are rather moving ahead of the game. It is important that we wait for the outcome of the CFE negotiations that are going on now and have a co-ordinated response to the Soviet proposals, as well as seeing what the Soviet response is to NATO's well-tried proposals, before we start trying to replan our strategy.
Mr. Dunn : Does my hon. Friend agree that we must be careful and cautious in giving any response to any proposal emanating from the Soviet Union, especially as the Soviet Union is likely to be successful in neutralising public opinion in West Germany?
Mr. Hamilton : Yes. One certainly has to acknowledge that the ability of the Soviet Union to mobilise public opinion in the West has been impressive. We must bear in mind that the Soviet Union is going through a period of dramatic change and it does not necessarily follow that that change will always take the same direction. We may see marked reversals as well as changes in the right direction.
Mr. Ian Taylor : Will my hon. Friend put any proposals by the Soviets for marginal reductions in their forces into the context of their budgetary situation, as outlined by their Prime Minister last week, which suggested that they will have considerable difficulty in reducing their defence expenditure to below 15 to 18 per cent. of GDP? Some sources suggest that Soviet expenditure on defence and security could be as high as 25 to 33 per cent. of their total national income.
Mr. Hamilton : I totally accept that my hon. Friend is right. We are grateful for the first, or the second, shot that the Soviet Union has made at assessing its defence expenditure, but we need to see a much greater breakdown of those figures to know exactly what they mean. In the meantime, we must be careful to keep up our own defences until we have seen positive reductions on the Soviet side.
Mr. Younger : For our nuclear deterrent to remain credible it must be kept effective and up-to-date. To this end we are looking at options to replace the free-fall bomb which currently provides this country's independent sub-strategic nuclear capability, and are in the process of modernising the strategic nuclear deterrent through Trident.
Mr. Riddick : Does my right hon. Friend think that the deterrent value of our nuclear weapons would be enhanced or reduced by pledging to scrap one of our Trident missiles, by pledging to reduce the number of warheads and by refusing to voice a clear and coherent policy? Is he aware of any party or of the leader of any party who voices such a ridiculous policy?
Mr. Younger : My hon. Friend is absolutely correct that no deterrent would work unless a potential attacker was convinced that there was a credible weapons system that could be effective in the circumstances of an attack. It is that which makes our deterrent credible and the Labour party is foolish to put itself in the position of having an incredible deterrent that it intends to abandon.
Mr. Madden : Does not the Secretary of State realise that an increasing number of British people recognise that the nuclear weapons here are not British and not independent and that they make Britain a nuclear target? Does he not also recognise that the vast majority of people around the world want to see the abolition of all nuclear weapons so that the people of this globe can live in peace without the threat of nuclear weapons?
Mr. Younger : The hon. Gentleman is wrong on every count. What people all round the world wish to see is the abolition of all war and the abolition of war is achieved by a credible deterrent that nobody would dare to attack.
Mr. Younger : The Trident submarine force will succeed the Polaris force, which was originally to comprise five submarines but a previous Labour Government reduced it to four. If any idea of reducing the four submarines to three in the future would mean that we could not be sure at all times that there was at least one boat on station, and that therefore the deterrent would not be credible, any party advocating that is not fit to hold office.
18. Mr. Loyden : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what further radiation checks have been carried out on Royal Naval sailors and personnel exposed to nuclear weapons and reactors ; and what were the findings.
Mr. Archie Hamilton : Medical records of all naval personnel are analysed annually, and any health trends are identified. There have been no special surveys to determine whether there is any evidence of medical disorders arising from exposure of Royal Navy nuclear submarine personnel to radiation. However, routine medical surveillance is carried out for those Royal Naval personnel designated as radiation workers in accordance with the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1985.
Mr. Loyden : The Minister is ducking the question. Is it not a fact that, having resisted the proper claims for compensation for ex-service men affected by atom bomb tests, the Government are now ducking their responsibilities towards naval ratings serving in nuclear vessels?
Mr. Hamilton : It is very important indeed for the hon. Gentleman to appreciate that there has been no evidence whatever of Royal Naval personnel suffering from the dangerous effects of radiation. Indeed, there is a certain amount of evidence to show that the fact that they are in submarines means that they are protected from much of the radiation to which the rest of us are exposed.
Mr. Brandon-Bravo : Does my hon. Friend agree that we should be more concerned with practice than with promise? We have had many promises in the last few years. What steps can we take to ensure that they are put into practice? On what forms of inspection will we insist?
Mr. Hamilton : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The whole issue of verification will be an extremely important component of any agreement that is reached on conventional or nuclear reductions. That is an important element of the talks that are now going on.
The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher) : This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today, including one with former President Reagan.
Mr. Porter : Will my right hon. Friend confirm, if confirmation be needed, her commitment to the European Community and her determination to fight for Britain and British interests within the Community? Will she accept from me that anybody who doubts that she will fight for Britain within the Community needs to have his head and his conscience examined?
The Prime Minister : Yes, we shall continue to fight for Britain's interests in a strong Community, which we believe is both in Britain's and in Europe's interest. We have fought successfully in the past and we shall continue to do so in the future.
The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense-- [Interruption.] --absolute nonsense. On Wednesday of last week, in the economic debate, out of which the Opposition came so poorly, the Chancellor set out the Government's position clearly and in some detail. He said :
I repeat, overriding--
"objective is to bring inflation back down."
We will not be diverted from that course. As the Chancellor went on to say :
"These are the policies that have successfully brought inflation down in the past, and will do so again."
The Prime Minister : Had the right hon. Gentleman listened, he would have heard the answer-- [Interruption.] --when I answered his first question. I would add that towards the end of his speech, the Chancellor, when tackling the right hon. Gentleman, repeated : "Opposition leader asked what he would do. Opposition leader says, to cut a long story short, we don't know'."-- [Official Report, 7 June 1989 ; Vol. 154, c. 264- 65.]
Mr. Franks : Having regard to Britain's success in creating more jobs than the rest of the Common Market combined, may I ask my right hon. Friend to agree that it might be more appropriate for the European Commission to be studying British policies rather than lecturing us on its proposals for a so-called social charter?
The Prime Minister : Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. The social charter would mean more regulation and put heavy additional burdens on industry. It would make our industry less competitive and mean that we would be less able to create the many jobs that we have created, far exceeding the record of any other country in Europe over the same period, and would result in moving jobs from Europe to Asia. We have attracted a great deal of inward investment into this country by a policy of enterprise and deregulation, and they trust us to pursue a sound economic course.
Mr. Sillars : Is the Prime Minister aware that in Scotland no single thing is more detested than she is, other than the poll tax, which is known in Scotland as Thatcher's poll tax? Is she further aware that 1 million Scots have not paid a penny and that that act of repudiation will be manifest on Thursday when her party is annihilated at the polls? Will she take a piece of advice and bring forward a Bill to repeal the poll tax, because her current legislation has no chance of working in Scotland?
The Prime Minister : Whatever the people of Scotland think, they have taken advantage of the policies that this Government have pursued and they have the second highest standard of living in the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman asked me to take advice from him. The answer is no, because he supported the Socialist policies that brought this country, including Scotland, to its knees. As he still supports those same policies I will never take advice from him. I believe that the people of Scotland are honourable enough to wish to pay a fair and reasonable amount towards the costs of local government through a community charge.
Mr. Marlow : As it would be better-- [Interruption.] --for all of us if the balance of payments deficit were slightly lower, and as the largest factor in the deficit--[ Hon. Members :-- "Reading."]-- is the aggregate of the individual decisions to buy foreign cars--[ Hon. Members :-- "Reading."]--does my right hon. Friend agree that it is anti-social, selfish and unneighbourly to buy foreign cars when equally good British cars are available? What would she say to those self-centred economic vandals who in future persist, for reasons of bogus status or inverted patriotism, in buying foreign cars?
The Prime Minister : I agree that quite a bit of the adverse balance of payments deficit is due to the import of foreign cars. Britain's rate of growth has exceeded that on the Continent, which means that there is a good market for foreign cars in Britain. The current production of cars is above its 1979 level and is rising because we have attracted large overseas investment. It will continue to rise, not only for the companies already in this country but because of increased production at Nissan and Toyota. That will do the balance of payments a great deal of good because there will be more British-produced cars for people to buy.
Mr. Robert Sheldon : As the presence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer next to the Prime Minister is a sign of how seriously she is taking the foreign exchange movements in today's markets, is she aware that, for any given exchange rate, the level of interest rates must be set higher if there is uncertainty in the markets? Given the unprecedented relationship between the right hon. Lady and her Chancellor, is it not clear that she should end that uncertainty now by stating publicly whether she intends to back him or to sack him?
The Prime Minister : I have firmly indicated that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's policies are the policies of the Government. Had the right hon. Gentleman listened to my previous reply he would have heard me precisely when I said that on Wednesday last week, in the economic debate-- [Interruption.] If hon. Members do not listen they must hear it again, so that there is no room for doubt. The Chancellor set out the Government's position clearly and in some detail. He said :
"Our overriding objective is to bring inflation back down. We will not be diverted from that course."
As the Chancellor went on to say :
"Those are the policies that have successfully brought inflation down in the past, and will do so again."--[ Official Report, 7 June 1989 ; Vol. 154, c. 264.]
I could read out my right hon. Friend's whole speech--it was extremely good --but it might take rather a long time.
Mr. Colvin : Will my right hon. Friend find time today to consider the 3 million Hong Kong Chinese who might wish to come to the United Kingdom if the Armageddon referred to by their Governor takes place? If those people are given the right of abode in the United Kingdom, will
Column 701that also give them the right ultimately to settle anywhere within the European Community? If so, does not that make the issue of Hong Kong and the Chinese as much a matter for our European partners as for this Government, and another very good reason for ensuring that there is the maximum Conservative representation in the European Parliament following the polls on Thursday?
The Prime Minister : On the particulars that my hon. Friend raises, right of abode in the United Kingdom would not in itself allow people to settle elsewhere in the European Community, whether before or after 1992. I very much agree with him that, as a matter of political co-operation, we should look to our European partners for the strongest possible support for Hong Kong and its democratic way of life and prosperity, and look to other democratic countries for support.
I agree wholly with my hon. Friend's last point. We want the strongest possible representations and turnout on Thursday for the European Parliament elections.
Mr. Ashdown : Will the Prime Minister give a few moments today to consider the plight of young Chinese students who, because of their faith in democracy, are hiding for their lives in Peking and are waiting for the knock on the door that will take them to gaol or before the firing squad? Will she now tell the House what she will say if, in eight years' time those scenes are re-enacted in Hong Kong and involve British passport holders to whom she and the Labour party have refused to give refuge?
The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman does not have a monopoly of strong feeling on this matter. I think that throughout the House we feel equally as shocked and appalled as he does. That applies to both sides of the House. Just because he has been to Hong Kong and finds it easy to say things, because he has no responsibility
The Prime Minister : --no responsibility whatsoever, does not mean that he feels any more strongly than we do. While he was away, we indicated that we would be very happy to seek more flexibility in the arrangements that we already have, particularly for those who have worked for the British Government, that we would look at the other immigration rules, and that we shall be bringing forward proposals in due course. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is really in our interests to keep Hong Kong prosperous, capitalist and a free society, which is the way in which it will be most valuable in 1997 and the way in which the Chinese will need to keep it going.
Sir Hal Miller : Does my right hon. Friend accept that among people in Hong Kong there is a real sense of grief and shock at the loss of so many young lives, as well as a growing sense of insecurity about their personal future? Will she take an early opportunity to show that we share that sense of loss and grief as well as being determined and capable of remaining responsible for the administration of Hong Kong until 1997?
The Prime Minister : Yes, we gladly do so. In all parts of the House we feel exactly the same way about the people of Hong Kong, for whom we are fully responsible. We shall keep the administration going in the very best way possible until 1997. Then, as my hon. Friend knows, under the agreement we have reached, there will be a liaison committee that will continue for a further three years. In the meantime, we shall do all that we can to reassure the people of Hong Kong and to reaffirm our commitment to them and to their future.
Mr. Grocott : Is the Prime Minister aware that the whole House will have noticed her failure today to give unequivocal backing to her Chancellor? Is she further aware that in last week's vote on the honours system, the only Cabinet Minister to vote in favour of honours for political services was the Chancellor? Does she know something that we do not?
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