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House of Commons

Tuesday 11 July 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


International Westminster Bank Bill

London Docklands Railway (Beckton) Bill

Orders read for consideration of Lords amendments.

To be considered on Thursday 13 July.

London Regional Transport (No.

2 ) Bill--

Read the Third time, and passed.

Oral Answers to Questions


Nuclear Defence Industry

1. Mr. French : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he has made an assessment of how many jobs are dependent upon the nuclear defence industry.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Tim Sainsbury) : Our very broad estimate is about 40,000

Mr. French : What proportion of those 40,000 jobs does my hon. Friend expect would be placed in jeopardy if the Green party's defence policies were ever implemented?

Mr. Sainsbury : In that very unlikely event, all those jobs would be lost as well as a great number of others in the defence industry throughout the country.

Mr. John Marshall : Does my hon. Friend agree that much more important than the number of jobs involved is the fact that the peace of the world and the future of our country are dependent on the nuclear defence industry?

Mr. Sainsbury : I very much agree with my hon. Friend. The nuclear deterrent has proved its worth in the years of peace that we have enjoyed in Europe. I hope that we will continue to enjoy those years of peace because of our continued possession of an effective deterrent.

Nuclear Planning Group

2. Mr. Cran : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he next intends to discuss the modernisation of short-range nuclear weapons with members of the Nuclear Planning Group.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Archie Hamilton) : My right hon. Friend will next meet his

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colleagues in the Nuclear Planning Group in the autumn, when they will discuss a range of matters concerning nuclear issues.

Mr. Cran : Does my hon. Friend agree that the Soviet Union modernised its tactical nuclear weapons in the 1980s--this decade--and that NATO, by trying to redress that imbalance, is not turning its back on peace but simply ensuring peace by having parity in such weapons in Europe?

Mr. Hamilton : That is correct. There is enormous numerical superiority in the Soviet systems, and they have been modernised all the way along. If we are to maintain the flexible response of the mix of nuclear and conventional weapons for our deterrence, it is important that these weapons are kept up to date.

Mr. Menzies Campbell : The justification for short-range nuclear weapons has been the gross imbalance in conventional forces in favour of the Warsaw pact. If President Bush's initiative is sucessful, to the extent that conventional arms reductions have been achieved or are substantially under way by 1992, is not the reality that there will be no willingness in the United States to develop a follow-on to Lance and even less willingness in the Federal Republic of Germany to have it deployed there?

Mr. Hamilton : The reality is that flexible response is an essential part of Alliance policy. Even with reductions in conventional weapons, I think that we will keep to that policy. That was confirmed at the recent summit.

Sir Antony Buck : Does my hon. Friend agree that the reasons for modernisation are precisely the same as those that actuated the Labour party to modernise our nuclear deterrent by the introduction of Chevaline? The only difference is that the Labour party did it without telling anybody and we do it openly.

Mr. Hamilton : That is absolutely right. That was a period when the Labour party took a more responsible attitude towards defence. It is a great pity that the Labour party's new review has not taken us forward one jot.

Mr. O'Neill : Does the Minister of State agree that one reason advanced--usually the main one--for the existence of short-range nuclear forces is the disparity between the conventional forces of the Warsaw pact and NATO? If the CFE--conventional forces in Europe--talks reduce those forces to parity and then below, what justification will there be to retain short-range nuclear forces?

Mr. Hamilton : As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the justification for flexible response is that the enemy should not at any time contemplate attack because of the series of responses that might result. That is the whole basis of NATO policy. It was confirmed recently at the summit, and Labour Members are the only people who are out of step on this matter.

European Fighter Aircraft

3. Mr. Dykes : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the latest stage reached in the contracts appraisal for the radar and receiver equipment planned for the EFA development.

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9. Mr. Fatchett : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made in respect of the radar system for the European fighter aircraft.

Mr. Sainsbury : Bids have been received from two consortia for the development contract for the EFA radar. These are currently being actively considered by the four nations participating in the EFA programme, and a final decision will be made as soon as possible.

Mr. Dykes : I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. He will understand that I obviously support the GEC-Marconi combination--

Mr. O'Neill : Why?

Mr. Dykes : Because it is partly in my constituency. It is therefore understandable.

Before the Opposition spokesman gets overexcited, will my hon. Friend say whether the delays, which are already excessive, are due more to technical complications or to the price that is being offered? Will there be an early end to this delay? It has gone on long enough and there are considerable anxieties among defence contractors.

Mr. Sainsbury : I appreciate what my hon. Friend says about delay. The decision is taking longer than I would have liked. My hon. Friend will appreciate that the choice is difficult. It involves a key element in a very important project. It is most important that all matters, including important technical and cost and contractual aspects, are fully covered and agreed by the four participating nations.

Mr. Jack : My hon. Friend may be aware that the delays on the radar decision have given rise to some reports from West Germany that the whole nature of the EFA project may be reconsidered. Can he assure the many thousands of aircraft workers in my constituency, whose futures are tied up in this project, that the Government are 100 per cent. committed to it, and will do all that they can to maintain the commitment of the other partner nations to its early conclusion?

Mr. Sainsbury : I assure my hon. Friend that we and all the other participating nations are committed to the project. In 1986, all four nations signed a general memorandum of understanding, and a further memorandum on the development of the aircraft was signed as recently as November last year. That demonstrates the participating nations' commitment to the project.

Mr. Rogers : The Minister's answer that a decision will be made as soon as possible, but not as soon as he would like, does not comfort us at all. He said on 10 November 1987 that he expected a decision to be made in "early spring next year"--early 1988. It is now summer 1989. What has happened? Is this yet another example of the Government's mismanagement of the procurement industry? Will we now have another highly sophisticated, extremely expensive aeroplane flying round with cement in its nose?

Mr. Sainsbury : The hon. Gentleman has a vivid imagination when it comes to identifying what he regards as mistaken procurement decisions. I hope that he understands the importance of EFA radar and the complexity of very high-performance radar. As I said, the decision has taken longer than I hoped, but he will agree that it is very important that we take the right decision in the right way.

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Mr. Wilkinson : Will my hon. Friend remind our German partners that unless a decision is reached, preferably unanimously, as soon as possible, the export potential of this aeroplane could be greatly prejudiced? It is in their long-term commercial and operational interests to fall into line with the Italian, Spanish and British partners on the project.

Mr. Sainsbury : All the participating nations will be conscious of the points that my hon. Friend rightly makes. This important aircraft has export potential, although that is a long way down the line. The most important thing is to reach the right decision on the radar and to continue the project in the right way.

Malaysia (Arms Sales)

4. Ms. Lestor : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what are the current agreements and what recent changes have been made to them, between his Department and Malaysia about arms sales.

Mr. Sainsbury : The current arrangements are between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of Malaysia and are encompassed in a memorandum of understanding concerning defence equipment procurement and related services and a memorandum of understanding and a sales agreement relating to the sale of six ex-Royal Navy wasp helicopters and associated equipment. There have been no changes to any of those documents since they were signed.

Ms. Lestor : Is the Minister aware that I had to have the mental gymnastic ability of Houdini to find out from his Department, the Prime Minister and the Overseas Development Administration whether aid was ever discussed in the context of arms sales? That was always denied, yet on Friday 7 July I received a reply saying that Her Majesty's Government had written to the Malaysian Finance Minister on 28 June saying that it would be unacceptable to link aid with arms. If they were never linked, why was it necessary to write such a letter? Why were all my questions given such evasive replies by various Departments? Why will not the Minister now publish all the correspondence relating to those deals?

Mr. Sainsbury : My recollection is that Mr. Houdini was an escape artiste. The hon. Lady may be trying to escape from her own imaginings about linkage. The explanation is merely that the Malaysian Government suggested that aid be considered and it was made clear to them that that was not acceptable. That has been made clear to the hon. Lady and to the House in the answers that she has received.

Mr. Gerald Howarth : Does my hon. Friend accept that Her Majesty's Government deserve the congratulations not only of the House but of the country on having secured a contract that promises to guarantee jobs at home and to enhance Britain's standing and influence in an important part of the world? I hope that my hon. Friend will not listen to the miserable carping of Opposition Members which serves only to destroy our defence industries, not to build them up as he has done?

Mr. Sainsbury : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. It is not unexpected that Commonwealth countries such as Malaysia should be recipients of aid and,

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I am happy to say, that they should purchase defence equipment from the United Kingdom. As my hon. Friend says, defence exports provide many jobs--more than 100,000--throughout Britain. The attitude of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) would threaten all those jobs.


5. Mr. Barry Field : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, when the Hydrographer's department will be able to promulgate notices to mariners (a) electronically and (b) direct on Navtex ; when shipping forecasts will be broadcast direct by Bracknell on Navtex ; and how much British Telecom charges for operating the Navtex frequency.

Mr. Sainsbury : The Hydrographer currently broadcasts information, which may subsequently be included in the printed Admiralty notice to mariners, on Navtex. Neither the Meteorological Office nor the Hydrographer has any plans at present to make Navtex broadcasts direct from Bracknell or Taunton respectively. Weather forecasts from the Meteorological Office are passed to British Telecom International for inclusion in Navtex broadcasts.

I understand that the Department of Transport is charged by British Telecom for Navtex broadcasts, and that currently it costs 3.9p per word for each broadcast.

Mr. Field : Is my hon. Friend aware of the considerable commercial potential of electronically available notices to mariners? Is it not extraordinary that, having passed information to British Telecom the Hydrographer's department then has to receive the Navtex signal to make sure that the information has been properly broadcast? In this day and age could not arrangements be made for the Hydrographer's department to broadcast the information direct?

Mr. Sainsbury : We have considered my hon. Friend's suggestion. It would be technically feasible to make such broadcasts direct, but it would not be more efficient or cost effective than the current arrangements whereby British Telecom is paid for promulgating those broadcasts, which are extremely valuable to mariners.

Mr. Nicholas Brown : Does the Minister agree that one ship that might take advantage of the notices promulgated by the Hydrographer's department would be HMS Southampton when it has been repaired? When does he intend to announce the contract for repairing HMS Southampton?

Mr. Sainsbury : I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity, but I have to tell him that Her Majesty's warships do not use Navtex.

Nuclear Non-proliferation

6. Mr. Heffer : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is his assessment of the implications for British defence policy of the current number of countries accepting the principle and practice of nuclear non-proliferation.

Mr. Archie Hamilton : As one of the depository powers of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the United Kingdom is actively committed to preventing the spread of

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nuclear weapons and welcomes the growing number of accessions to the treaty. This is entirely consistent with British defence policy.

Mr. Heffer : As 140 countries support the non-proliferation treaty, and as the Minister says that the Government actively oppose the spread of nuclear weapons, will he explain why the Government are not reacting positively to the initiatives of the Soviet Union? Do they really believe in the non-proliferation treaty? Is he aware that the Government's attitude makes life difficult for Pakistan and other Asian countries which are equally opposed to the spread of nuclear weapons, because it undermines their position?

Mr. Hamilton : The hon. Gentleman is letting off those nations that want to have nuclear weapons and refuse to sign the non-proliferation treaty. As he knows, when the treaty was drawn up, it recognised two categories of states--nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states. We were in the first category.

Mr. Hill : My hon. Friend will have read the full text of Mr. Mikhail Gorbachev's speech in Strasbourg last Thursday in which he made particular mention of further concessions. Will he give us some information about how his Department will make progress on that? Are we being bamboozled by one of the biggest propaganda exercises that the world has ever known?

Mr. Hamilton : My hon. Friend is right to suggest that we must beware pre-emptive disarmament among our allies. It is right to respond to the initiatives of President Gorbachev, but we must realise that he is taking them and making gestures from a position of enormous numerical superiority, so he can afford to do so.

Mr. Cartwright : As the Government now argue that short-range nuclear weapons will still be needed in Europe even if the present conventional imbalance is negotiated away, on the ground that only nuclear weapons can deter a conventional attack, how can they object to existing non-nuclear states following the logic of his argument and seeking to obtain nuclear weapons?

Mr. Hamilton : The spread of nuclear weapons throughout the world is an extremely unhealthy development, and if the hon. Gentleman does not see that, I despair of him.

Mr. Baldry : To refer back to the remarks of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), is it not disturbing that when complex East -West negotiations are continuing so many Opposition Members either wittingly or unwittingly appear to be auxiliaries to the Soviet negotiating position? Does that not demonstrate that Britain's defences will never be secure in their hands?

Mr. Hamilton : Yes, but I do not think that anything has changed. Some Opposition Members have seemed to speak up for the Soviet Union on every possible occasion for as long as I have been in the House.

Mr. Heffer : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister suggested that some of us speak up for the Soviet Union on every possible occasion. I object to that. My record in this House of opposing the Soviet Union when it went into Afghanistan and on other occasions is second to none. I do not want him or any other hon. Member to lie about us.

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Mr. Speaker : Everyone recognises the hon. Gentleman's position as a highly honourable Member of the House.

Chemical and Biological Weapons

7. Ms. Abbott : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is his estimate of the United States stockpile of chemical and biological weapons (a) currently and (b) over the next five years.

Mr. Archie Hamilton : It would be inappropriate for me to comment in detail on the defence capabilities of an ally. However, the United States is a party to the 1972 biological weapons convention. This prohibits the development, production and stockpiling of biological weapons.

Ms. Abbott : Is it not the case that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics has stated exactly what its stockpile is and that the United States of America is threatening to increase its stockpile of chemical weapons?

Mr. Hamilton : For a long time the Soviet Union would not say how big its stockpile was, and it was only the other day that it came out with the figure of 50,000 tonnes, which does not tie in with any of our estimates. We estimate that the stockpile is several times larger than that, but it is difficult for us to say with any exactitude, because a complex calculation is involved.

The United States produced no chemical weapons for 18 years, from 1969 to 1987, but that unilateral moratorium was not matched by the Soviet Union.

Sir Dudley Smith : An earlier supplementary question referred to Mr. Gorbachev's speech last week to the Council of Europe about chemical weapons. Is it not more important than ever that the Soviet Union's words should be matched by deeds?

Mr. Hamilton : Absolutely--and we are watching with interest to see whether the Soviets adhere to their commitment to get rid of their existing stocks of chemical weapons. There is not much sign of it at present.

Mr. Cohen : Has not the United States planned a large increase in its stock of binary chemical weapons? Is there a danger that other countries will say, "If the United States can do it, we can do it, too"? It is the proliferation argument all over again. Should not the Minister advise those countries to go for a global chemical weapons ban?

Mr. Hamilton : The hon. Gentleman is right, and that is exactly what we are doing : we are going for a global chemical weapons ban, which is what we all want to see. We must remember, however, that the United States went into the manufacture of binary chemical weapons because the Soviet Union refused to stop manufacturing chemical weapons. It continued to manufacture them throughout those 18 years and built up vast stocks, and eventually the United States felt that it could not stand by any longer.

Mr. Brazier : Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Soviet Union's stocks of chemical weapons are much larger than those of the West? The Soviet Union has 14 factories, compared with just one in America. Will he also confirm that the Soviet Union continues to refuse to allow an inspection by the West of its facility at Shikhany, notwithstanding the agreement that it made with us?

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Finally, will my hon. Friend confirm that all the questions that Opposition Members have asked recently have related to our weapons, rather than to the much larger stocks held by the Soviet Union?

Mr. Hamilton : My hon. Friend is right. The Soviet stocks are very large and, as I said earlier, the Soviets admitted only recently to having any stocks of chemical weapons at all. It was very disappointing that they were unable to show us a large plant at Shikhany which we were sure was involved in the manufacture of chemical weapons ; they said that it was a purely commercial organisation with no defence interest. That gives us some idea of their lack of straightforwardness on the issue.

Mr. Boyes : There is no doubt that the Americans are spending billions of dollars on chemical weapons and delivery systems. Nevertheless, President Bush is on record as saying that he wants to be remembered for ridding the world of chemical weapons ; 75 senators have signed a note saying that they want the President to increase his efforts to cut world stockpiles ; and last week a senior military man at NATO told me, as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) and other hon. Friends--we were discussing flexible response--that although nuclear weapons might be used first, in no circumstances would chemical weapons be used first. In contrast, the Prime Minister is on record as saying that the security of NATO depends on the right mix of nuclear, conventional and chemical weapons for all circumstances. This Government and this Prime Minister are prepared to use the most obscene, horrendous and universally condemned weapons first, which demonstrates that once again they are out of step with both British public opinion and the opinions of our allies.

Mr. Hamilton : I am afraid that I do not quite understand the purpose of that question. Is the suggestion that my right hon. Friend said that we were prepared to use chemical weapons first? I do not see how that would be possible, as we have none.

Third Zero Option

8. Ms. Short : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received asking him to reconsider his attitude to the third zero.

Mr. Archie Hamilton : My right hon. Friend has received a number of representations from individuals and organisations regarding the role of short-range nuclear weapons in Europe. I am sure that the British people support the Alliance's recent rejection of the third zero.

Ms. Short : Has the Government's view changed? The Prime Minister told us that she could do business with Mr. Gorbachev, but it seems that today the Conservative party is rubbishing all the disarmament proposals that people all over the world are welcoming. In particular, surely the Minister knows that the people of Europe and the people of Britain are excited by the prospect of getting rid of short-range nuclear weapons in Europe--East and West. We all want disarmament ; it is in all our interests. Why are the British Government standing in the way of progress which would benefit all the people of the world?

Mr. Hamilton : We are certainly not rubbishing the Soviet Union's initiatives. We welcome everything that is

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taking place at the moment. We are involved, within the Alliance, in serious negotiations to reduce strategic, conventional and chemical weapons, and we are hopeful that there will be a fruitful result. However, we must be careful to maintain our guard during the negotiations and not to put ourselves at a renewed disadvantage compared with the Soviet Union.

Mr. Bill Walker : Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be nonsense if our aircraft did not have a stand-off capability when the Soviets already posses one? So long as they have their stand-off capability, surely we should have such a capability.

Mr. Hamilton : I agree absolutely. That is very important. We should always be able to match the Soviet capability and have systems as up to date as theirs. It is also important that we should adhere to the resolutions passed at the recent summit and ensure that we keep flexible response as part of NATO's strategy.

Mr. O'Neill : Does the Minister agree with the statement by President Bush last week, prior to his departure for Warsaw, that he is still confident that a conventional deal can be struck within the next six to nine months and that, following that, short-range nuclear forces should become the subject of discussion with a view to their removal, at least in part? Do the Government share President Bush's optimism or do they wish to act as the dogs in the manger and hold back the process?

Mr. Hamilton : There is no question of our being dogs in the manger. There are a great number of complicated negotiations to go through. Six to nine months is an ambitious programme, but I am not saying that it cannot be achieved.

Nuclear Deterrent

10. Mr. Sumberg : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent representations he has received on the retention of Britain's independent nuclear deterrent.

Mr. Archie Hamilton : My right hon. Friend has received a number of representations from individuals. The British electorate has consistently endorsed NATO's policy of deterrence based on a mix of nuclear and conventional weapons and the maintenance of an independent British strategic deterrent.

Mr. Sumberg : If my hon. Friend receives any representations from members of the Labour party who are also members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, will he tell them and their leader that it is both illogical and ridiculous to maintain that they can be members of CND and yet support the British nuclear deterrent?

Mr. Hamilton : My hon. Friend is right. Belief in unilateral disarmament is clearly written into the rules of CND. Members of CND believe that we should get rid of our deterrent as soon as possible. That cannot be combined with belief in a British deterrent.

Mr. Litherland : Has the Minister honestly read the speech of President Gorbachev to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg last week? If and when he does, he must surely come to the conclusion that the real warmonger in Europe is the Prime Minister.

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Mr. Hamilton : It is extraordinary for any hon. Member to make a remark like that when the Soviet Union has a totally undemocratic system in which scant regard is paid to individual rights. When one considers the disparities in terms of the armed forces on both sides, there is no doubt in my mind as to who is in a better position to fight a war.

Mr. Bowis : Does my hon. Friend agree that the British independent deterrent is necessary not just in relation to the Warsaw pact countries but in relation to those areas of the world where non-proliferation is not a term that is used, including countries such as Iran and Libya? Would it not be the height of folly to abandon our ability to deter attacks and assaults from such countries?

Mr. Hamilton : I could not agree more. There is a great risk that if we had a Labour Government we would get rid of our own independent deterrent, our nuclear weapons, and find ourselves being blackmailed by other countries that had such weapons.

AWACS Offset Agreement

11. Mr. Lofthouse : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made by his Department in monitoring the number of jobs involved in contracts placed under the AWACS offset agreement.

Mr. Sainsbury : The offset obligation between Boeing and the Ministry of Defence is financial and is measured in terms of the value and quality of contracts placed with the United Kingdom industry. However, we are now setting in hand monitoring of employment created by contracts declared in future reports. I am glad to confirm that the level of agreed contracts won by United Kingdom companies has now reached a total value of some $624 million. This is well on the way to the $1.5 billion which Boeing is contracted to spend in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Lofthouse : When the Government cancelled the Nimrod contract and bought AWACS from Boeing, did not Boeing promise 4,500 jobs in the first year in the United Kingdom, increasing to 8,000 jobs? Has the Minister any evidence that those jobs will be provided?

Mr. Sainsbury : I think that the allegation to which the hon. Gentleman refers is based on advertisements which Boeing placed in the national press before the contract was awarded. The memorandum of understanding is based on financial achievements. Bearing in mind that quality is also involved, those financial achievements will create jobs throughout the United Kingdom. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that we have already achieved some 40 per cent. by value of the target, although only some 32 per cent. of the time for the entire programme to be fulfilled has elapsed. That is a great achievement and very satisfactory for British industry.

Mr. Hind : Does my hon. Friend agree that the announcement that he has just made vindicates the decision to buy Boeing AWACS, which was one of the most difficult decisions that the Ministry of Defence has ever had to make? Does he agree that offset deals could not be achieved in any purchase of overseas equipment by the Ministry of Defence if it followed the Labour party policy of stringently limiting the scale of arms sales by Britain and

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