Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough) : An horrific judicial crime has been committed against those four innocent people. Those of us who have struggled for some years to try to set things right have often had opprobrium heaped on our heads as though we accept terrorism. After bombings and terrorism, vigilantism and vengeance always raise their heads, but many of us have struggled against that to our best abilities. Hon. Members have heard a lawyer, the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), say that ordinary people should not try to argue against an injustice and that they should not try to influence the state machine about such an horrific crime. It really is sad that such a man is involved in the law. To ordinary people it is unbelievable that uncorroborated confessions exist. Many of us who are not lawyers or lawyer-like cannot believe that confessions could be accepted without some corroboration and some evidence. If that matter is not set right large numbers of people who are in gaol at this moment because of uncorroborated evidence will suffer for years to come. Surely the best thing that we can do immediately is to set ourselves to the task of setting free the Birmingham Six.
Mr. Hurd : I disagree with all the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised--certainly in respect of Birmingham and uncorroborated evidence. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) was saying that justice should not be politicised. That is quite right. That is the difficulty which lies at the heart of getting this problem right. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's contribution, although obviously sincerely meant, is a helpful contribution to that.
Mr. John Morris (Aberavon) : We welcome the Home Secretary's response as regards the breadth of the inquiry, particularly his indication that the treatment of confession evidence, along the Scottish pattern, will be within the remit of Sir John May's inquiry.
I shall mention two points of detail about this non-statutory inquiry. First, how will the inquiry ensure the presence of witnesses? Will they be compellable? Secondly, is it contemplated that there will be immunity from prosecution, or is this phrase that the inquiry will be able to "adjust or adjourn" its work meant to cater for such an eventuality?
With regard to the Birmingham case, will the Home Secretary give further consideration to the significant developments in the police force since the Court of Appeal ruling which may affect--and I choose my words carefully-- the relevant period?
Mr. Hurd : There would be no question of compellability of witnesses, and, in practice, it has been found in the past on similar occasions that that does not turn out to be a substantial problem. Immunity is a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions, not for the Home Secretary, but certainly no kind of immunity or promise of it flow from anything that I have announced today. Regarding the right hon. and learned Member's last point, perhaps he will reflect on what I have already said about the police.
That the matter of the National Health Service in Wales, being a matter relating exclusively to Wales, be referred to the Welsh Grand Committee for its consideration.-- [Mr. Patnick.]
That the London Docklands Development Corporation (Vesting of Land) (London Borough of Southwark) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Youth Service (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Patnick.]
European Community Documents
That European Community Document No. 8673/88 relating to nutrition labelling be referred to a Standing Committee on European Community Documents.
That European Community Documents Nos. 7648/89 and 7654/89 relating to animal welfare be referred to a Standing Committee on European Community Documents.
That European Community Document No. 4093/1/89 relating to gas appliances be referred to a Standing Committee on European Community Documents.-- [Mr. Patnick.]
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on amendment to Question [18 October] :
That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1989 contained in Cm. 675.
Which amendment was, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof :
believing that the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1989 has been overtaken by the superpower disarmament initiatives, and supporting those agreed at the 1989 NATO Summit, considers that Her Majesty's Government should undertake a Review to ensure that Britain is defended by properly supported Armed Forces and by the negotiation of verifiable disarmament agreements, to assess future commitments and priorities, to provide Forces and defence industries with a framework to plan future needs, and to examine the allocation of resources which could be released for social and economic purposes ; recognising that negotiated disarmament is now more probable, and welcoming progress towards a world-wide treaty banning the possession or production of chemical and biological weapons, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to support NATO in seeking to reduce short-range nuclear forces before complete implementation of any conventional force agreement and to delay a decision on the Lance replacement ; urges Her Majesty's Government to seek NATO's abandonment of the destabilising flexible response strategy ; demands that Her Majesty's Government indicates its willingness to participate in the next stage of the START process ; recognising the impact of government economies and the lack of an industrial procurement strategy on the Services and on major contractors now vulnerable to foreign takeovers, calls upon the Government to establish a Conversion Agency to employ the skills and resources of the defence procurement industry in the civil sector ; condemns the cowardly attacks of murderous paramilitary groups ; and demands that the Government ends the sacrifice of safety at military bases and establishments by the excessive dependence on private contractors.'-- [Mr. O'Neill.]
Question again proposed, That the amendment bemade.
Mr. Speaker : I remind the House--I have already said it twice--that as a great many hon. Members wish to participate in the final day of the Defence debate, I shall ask for a limit of 10 minutes between 7 o'clock and 10 o'clock--I am sorry--7 o'clock and 9 o'clock.
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, in c. 144 of Hansard, you said that it is not possible for the Chair to select more than one amendment. I would never dream of questioning one of your rulings, but I fear that you have been wrongly advised, as my advice is that there is no such rule. If an amendment had been tabled by the leader of the Liberal party, it might well have been considered for a Division, yet an amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), which was a fortnight ago
Column 294supported by 4.2 million people in this country, is not to be considered. In view of this, would you reconsider your ruling?
The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Alan Clark) : The traditional two-day defence debate has the advantage that more hon. Members can have the opportunity to put their views and the interests of their constituents to the House and that the four Defence Ministers can submit themselves to the scrutiny of the House for their several responsibilities.
I shall speak about weapons procurement. The House knows that it is a subject of great complexity and expertise. I shall endeavour to give way to hon. Members as often as I can, but I invite them--although I do not insist --to recall the curiously tetchy remarks of the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) yesterday, when he said :
"It is always annoying when a question is asked that has no relevance to what we are talking about."-- Official Report, 18 October 1989 ; Vol. 158, c. 160.]
That was a curious remark for someone who has been in the House for 10 years, but his command of the audience is such that he does not express it very often.
I shall do my best to give way but, due to the complexity of the subject, it is possible that hon. Members may have to content themselves with a two- tier answer--I shall answer in general terms and we may have to provide hon. Members with fuller written texts later. Seven out of the nine Select Committee reports linked to this year's debate relate directly to defence equipment procurement issues. This shows the interest that the House takes in, and the importance it attaches to, ensuring that our Armed Services are equipped with the best available equipment. I pay tribute to the skill and diligence with which the Committee has applied itself to a series of difficult topics.
In procuring equipment, we spend more than £8 billion a year of taxpayers' money. To obtain the best value for this outlay, the Ministry has adopted a commercial aproach which makes the maximum use of competition and taut contracting. I found it very odd yesterday that the hon. Member for Clackmannan said that this approach is filling him with disquiet. He related it to what he alleged was a fall-off in quality. I must tell the House that I have absolutely no evidence to suggest that this happens. The importance that we attach to this issue is shown by the recent appointment of a director of reliability to act as a focal point for reliability matters within the Procurement Executive. I am certain that competition promotes the efficient use of industrial resources, leading to greater export success, as we have witnessed during the last few years. In 1988, our exports sales amounted to more than £3.5 billion. This is one industrial sector where we are in surplus on the current account. It seems extraordinary that Opposition Members who, on other occasions, deplore and protest most loudly at the decline in our manufacturing capability and the effect that it has on the balance of payments, should have singled out this one exceptionally successful sector for the application
Column 295of a curious mixture of doctrinaire and muddled suggestions and the almost batty concept of the arms conversion agency.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward), in a most able speech yesterday, fell into an argument about what the hon. Member for Clackmannan said at a trade union meeting. I am not interested in what he said at the meeting because I am content to settle for what he said here yesterday evening. He said that Labour "would help those firms in the defence industry to move into new markets, by way of grants, training, and advice on restructuring and markets."--[ Official Report, 18 October 1989 ; Vol. 158, c. 168.] In other words, he intends to take one of the most successful industries--one that knows exactly what it is doing--and move it-- Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) rose
He would take those industries away from what they are doing successfully and ask them to do something about which they have no knowledge or experience. How will he assist them? Who will give advice, one wonders? Will it be officials? Will it be Ministers? Will it be funded from the public purse? Will it be discriminatory? It will not be available to other industries, or so I understand. The hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes), who wound up the debate for the Opposition yesterday, had some words of comfort for the luckless work force in these industries. He said that the scheme would involve putting people into socially acceptable jobs. Unfortunate souls that they are, they are now working in a productive and useful industry but they are to be shifted by some agency into socially acceptable jobs.
Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan) : What are the Minister of State and his Department doing to try to assist his contituents in Plymouth who have been made unemployed as a result of the contraction of the Royal Navy's core programme in shipbuilding and refitting? What is he proposing to do in that part of the world about such problems because they are exactly the ones that an arms conversion agency would seek to address? At the moment the Government are doing nothing for the people of Plymouth, Devonport.
Mr. Clark : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has been slightly wounded by my comments. He has staged a diversion which has little to do with what was being said. Although as I understand it, his measures were deliberately conceived to shift people out of the defence industries into socially acceptable jobs, if he wants to deal with the people who would be made unemployed in that industry, whole corporations would have to move to making things of which they have no experience. However, since the hon. Gentleman asks, precisely 27 people in my constituency have been made compulsorily redundant in the dockyard. I repeat that the figure is only 27, which is a very much smaller number than that for compulsory redundancies in six or seven other industries.
Column 296Mr. Alfred Morris rose --
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) rose
Mr. Morris : The Minister talked about job losses in his constituency. There were 700 job losses announced in my constituency by Ferranti earlier this year. There is fear now of further job losses. Is there anything more that he can say today over and above what his right hon. Friend said yesterday, about the firm? Will he accept that there is very considerable concern among the work force at Ferranti?
Mr. Clark : I am delighted to hear the Labour party adopting the position that job losses are regrettable and that in the defence industries they must be cured by a more diligent and higher level of Government expenditure in that area. I find that extremely helpful and I look forward to the assistance of Labour Members later when the question of defence spending in the aggregate comes up. However, we were not talking about job losses. There was no suggestion in the speech of the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) that he was talking about job losses ; he was talking about the compulsory redirection of industrial activity. That is what he said.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Does the Minister accept that the whole point of this debate is that the Government should set out their policies, not spend their time on a knockabout in the House of Commons? Will the Minister tell us the Government's strategy for our defence industries over the next 10 years on the basis that if we get a reduction in tension between East and West and a reduction in regional conflicts, the demands for arms worldwide will decrease, and if that happens it will be difficult for British defence contractors to get as much work as they are now getting? What is the Government's strategy on finding them alternative products to sell?
Mr. Clark : I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's counsel. It is true that we have been diverted, but plainly I had to draw the attention of the House to the curious statement by the hon. Member for Clackmannan, which was reinforced by his colleagues with all their claptrap about social acceptability. That seems an odd posture to take. When the implications of what was said are fed back to the people on the shop floor of the defence industries, I feel that we shall soon hear little more of it. The capacity of the Labour party's designer-mode Front Bench to adjust their policy in a fine-tuned response to public demand is infinite. I expect that this policy will soon sink without trace.
However, I accept the implied rebuke from the hon. Gentleman. The Government attach particular importance to the opening up of the European armaments market. Our buying "off the shelf" from each other can avoid needless development costs. All the Independent European Programme Group nations have now nominated focal points for companies from other member countries to register their interest in bidding for contract opportunities. Starting next year, all the IEPG nations will publish their own defence contracts bulletins similar to those now issued by the United Kingdom and France.
Column 297We are also fully committed to the principle of collaboration with our allies to reduce duplication of effort and to promote standardisation and further the cause of equipment interoperability. Collaborative projects now account for some 15 per cent. of the United Kingdom's procurement budget, while overseas purchasing alone accounts for a further 10 per cent.
However, I must emphasise that our efforts to strengthen collaboration with our allies have to be carefully considered to ensure that they provide tangible results in terms of value for money. Collaboration is not an end in itself, to be pursued purely for symbolic reasons. Rather, it is the means to an end, which is value for money.
In that connection, I turn immediately to the subject that was exercised in the House yesterday, especially by Opposition Members. I refer to the background to our withdrawal from the NFR90 programme, which was announced on 29 September.
When in January 1988 the then Secretary of State for Defence announced that the United Kingdom would be participating in the project definition stage of NFR90, he said that the United Kingdom had made it clear to its collaborative partners that our continued participation was conditional on agreement of a timetable which was both realistic in technical terms and properly matched to the timetables for the ships major weapons systems. We emphasised that the United Kingdom would decide at the first project review whether or not to continue participation in this project.
This first project review has now taken place. As a result, and also taking account of the reduced prospects for achieving a common design, the Government concluded that the timetable proposed for the remainder of the project did not meet the conditions which they sought and consequently took the decision to withdraw from the project. In informing our NATO partners, the Government have emphasised their full commitment to the principle of collaboration where this is sensible and efficient.
Where collaborative projects are successful--the Tornado aircraft is an excellent example of a highly successful collaborative project--they will receive the full backing of the Government. Our support for the European fighter aircraft project, to which my right hon. Friend referred yesterday, has also been made plain. But where collaborative projects fail to produce the results they were designed to achieve ; then we should not flinch from withdrawing.
Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East) : It is all very well for the Minister to slide off the issue of the NATO frigate merely by saying that agreed specifications could not be arrived at, but surely he must face his own responsibilities in these matters. Because the United Kingdom withdrew, agreed specifications were not agreed because the United Kingdom would not agree to the specifications. In precisely what details did the agreed specifications of other nations not meet our requirements?
Mr. Clark : It is better to withdraw from projects at an early stage --[ Hon. Members-- : "Answer."]--before considerable investment in time and money has taken place. The decision to withdraw does not affect the key element of the project, which is the development of the systems.
Column 298The weapons systems will have to be mounted on hulls and there is no question but that the amount of hulls and the number of vessels will change. It is better that the hulls on which the systems are to be mounted should be built in Britain according to the staff requirements of the Royal Navy and to meet precisely-- [Interruption.] I could not hear what the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) was saying. Perhaps he would like to intervene.
Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West) : The Minister is using this as obfuscation. The Government made a decision to withdraw from the project, but not for the reasons that have been given. Will the Minister tell us where we go now? Do we need a frigate which in rough terms is related to the NATO frigate for the 1990s?
Mr. Clark : The hon. Gentleman did not hear me say precisely that in my last sentence before I gave way to him. Yes, we need a successor frigate and, yes, we shall be examining the possibility of designing a British hull and building it in British yards, but it is assumed at present that there will be a certain commonality of the systems that will fit in with the NFR90 hulls. It seems extremely sensible to adopt that course at an early stage rather than to waste our time and resources developing a hull which at an early stage in the project definition--we gave notice that that was our intention--would not be appropriate.
Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North) : First, it is an enormous pleasure to see my hon. Friend at the Dispatch Box with his new responsibilities. Does he agree that the matters raised by Opposition Members are largely dealt with in paragraph 411 of the White Paper which deals with the new machinery to develop closer links so that we can take full advantage of the opportunities after September 1997?
Mr. Clark : I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend, who, formerly, had ministerial responsibility for the Navy. Therefore he is familiar with precisely those problems. On reflection, I believe that the House will agree that the course of action we have adopted is preferable to continuing with the project, which was, beginning to look unsatisfactory for our needs to some degree.
Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead) : I also welcome the Minister to his new position. He is an old friend of mine and I hope that we will not fall out this evening. I hope that I have not caused him any problems with that confession.
The answer that the Minister has given on the NFR90 does not seem adequate. I take the health warning that he issued earlier : he is newly in the job and he will receive letters and suchlike thereafter. Jane's Defence Weekly of last week, when speaking of the NFR90 withdrawal, said :
"Just how sudden the decision to exit the programme was can be gained from the fact that as late as the end of last month the MOD intended to issue a number of invitations for contracts on the NFR90. These included surface weapon and ship platform studies along with three combat system studies."
The MOD seems to have had a dramatic about face on this project.
Mr. Clark : The studies can, of course, proceed because, as I have already explained, the systems can be accommodated in whatever hull thought appropriate by the Royal Navy as best suited to meet its needs.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) : In future will my hon. Friend bear in mind the importance of maintaining the credibility of the United Kingdom as a consistent and reliable industrial partner for collaborative programmes, particularly in view of the decision to be taken on the future of the EH101 naval helicopter? Will he also bear in mind that it is usually preferable for British industry to be able to bid in to get its systems on to a large number of vessels, which would be the case with a collaborative programme, rather than on the somewhat limited number of vessels available on a purely national basis?
Mr. Clark : The systems remain collaborative and they can be fitted in different hull designs. It is possible that the Dutch will produce a frigate design that has slight variations on the Royal Navy frigates. I accept my hon. Friend's point that systems--they are the most expensive and difficult items in our inventory--are best approached on a collaborative basis in many cases. I cannot accept the implication that one should never be able to feel free to withdraw from a project because of the damage that it might do to confidence. If one were locked into projects at as early a stage as this one would never find oneself being party to such collaborative projects.
Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South) : What my hon. Friend has said about system collaboration and the use of such systems will be music to the ears of many of the professionals in the Admiralty research establishment and in the Navy, to whom I have spoken recently about whole ship procurement. Has the MOD decided that the decision to go the whole ship procurement route, which we were doing with NFR90, was the wrong decision? Was it decided that we would be much better off collaborating and making systems and weapons-- actually focusing on how we design and develop--rather than on whole systems? The NFR90 has demonstrated the difficulty of trying to stick everything onto a single hull.
Mr. Clark : It certainly looks as though we are moving in that direction, but I would not like to lay down a positive guideline at this stage because the project is some 10 to 15 years in the distance.
Before I turn to our specific procurement programmes--no doubt Opposition Members will want to ask questions about that--I should like to mention our civilian staff, whose contribution to the nation's overall defence is critical. Yesterday the Chairman of the Select Committee paid tribute to them in his speech. We are a major employer with some 142,000 United Kingdom-based civilian staff spanning a range of several hundred different occupations in support of our armed forces. For our civilian staff, the past few years have seen many changes, not least the reduction in overall numbers from 248,000 in 1979 to the present level. I should also like to pay tribute to all the Ministry's civilian staff for the way in which they have managed the introduction of those changes while carrying on their valuable and important work.
We face problems of shortages in some grades and locations, which were well illustrated by the recent Select Committee report on staffing levels. We are grateful for that report and welcome its useful analysis of our staffing difficulties. Our response sets out what we are doing to improve the position.
Column 300Over the past 10 years, the Government have ordered a total of 64 major vessels and current annual expenditure on procurement for the Royal Navy is running at approximately £3 billion.
Since we last debated defence, two type 22 frigates, one Trafalgar class fleet submarine, one Hunt class mine counter-measures vessel and the first of a new class of single-role minehunters have been accepted into service. Twenty-two vessels are under construction. HMS Norfolk, the first of seven type 23 frigates so far ordered, and HMS Chatham--the last of 14 type 22 frigates--are both planned for acceptance into the fleet later in the year.
In the summer we received tenders for up to four more type 23 frigates and for an aviation support ship to provide dedicated helicopter support for amphibious operations--I know that Opposition Members are extremely keen on such operations.
Mr. Clark : The reason for the delay is that the aircraft and the systems within it have not yet been accepted and they are still undergoing tests. I am sure that my hon. Friend and the House would agree that such testing must be as rigorous and as comprehensive as possible to ensure that the best items of equipment are taken into service.
Right hon. and hon. Members will also be aware that we are analysing the results of feasibility studies into replacing our assault ships or extending their lives. We are carrying this work forward as quickly as we can and will make an announcement as soon as possible.
We are also in negotiation with Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd. over its tender for the third Vanguard class Trident submarine.
The first of the new class single role minehunters, HMS Sandown, was among those vessels accepted into the Royal Navy earlier this year. Four more of the class were ordered in 1987 and are proceeding to programme. I can advise the House today of our intention to seek tenders in the next few months for a further batch of those vessels--pre-eminent in the world in its class--for the Royal Navy.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Is that the only reference that the Minister intends to make to the Trident submarine? Is there any point in ordering another one if the missile system will not work? If we are to go ahead with the programme surely it would be much better to go for a
Column 301totally redesigned submarine which would take the C4s rather than the D5s which have been suggested? Surely the entire programme is in question and there is little point in going ahead with another submarine if the Americans do not have a missile system that will work.
Mr. Clark : I was in Washington last week and I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman or his somewhat skittish colleague, the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) were there. I spoke to the chairmen of the various congressional committees and I spoke to them about the technical difficulties. I am satisfied that they are capable of quick solution and they are confident that the system will work.
We fully expect Upholder, the first of the new class of conventional submarines, to enter operational service early next year. This class of submarine will provide a powerful upgrade in the conventional operational capability of the Royal Navy. We are also presently considering proposals for the future generation of Hunter killer nuclear submarines--the SSN 20 class--which will incorporate the same propulsion plant that is to be used in the Trident boats, together with a sensitive new sonar.