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Mr. King : The latest information about the scale of Soviet nuclear resources suggests substantial quantities and that they are pursuing an increased programme of modernisation. Against that background, it would be grossly irresponsible if we did not ensure that, while pursuing sensible disarmament measures, we keep our own defences modernised and effective.
Mr. Tom King : The NATO nuclear planning group is meeting today and tomorrow in Portugal. I have postponed my attendance so that I could answer Questions in the House today. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces is attending today, and I shall join the meeting immediately after Question Time. The group will discuss a range of matters concerning nuclear issues.
Ms. Ruddock : When the Secretary of State gets to the nuclear planning group meeting does he intend to agree to the return of cruise missiles to Britain on American aircraft? Does he not support the follow-on to the Lance missile, which recycles cruise missile warheads and brings them back to Europe? Is he not, on behalf of the Tory Government, acting as a bulwark for rearmament in Europe, which the rest of western Europe does not want?
Mr. King : I cannot accept that. I have made it clear that we have given strong support to disarmament. The lesson--which I believe profoundly, but on which I know that the hon. Lady and I will never agree-- is that because we have held a strong position we have been able to achieve greater stability and peace in Europe. We intend to maintain the policy which has proved such a success.
Mr. Heffer : Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm or deny reports in The Times and The Guardian yesterday which suggested that the air cruise missile will be brought back to Britain by the United States? Will he confirm or deny that the Government have agreed that this should happen? Are the Government not being deceitful to the people through their actions? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that people thought that the cruise missile was going for all time and it is an absolute disgrace that the Government should follow this policy?
Mr. King : There is no question of reintroducing cruise missiles of the type that the hon. Gentleman mentions. He is talking about discussions that have taken place separately on a weapon that is known as the tactical air-to-surface missile, and also a French equivalent. We have made it clear publicly that we are looking at both as possible alternatives in our modernisation programme to replace the existing free-fall bomb. To try to describe that as the reintroduction of land-based cruise missiles is a total distortion. There is no truth in it whatsoever.
Mr. Brazier : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the gap between nuclear weapons in the East and in the West continues to widen? Would it not be very strange if the Government were to become more worried about the possibility of extra weapons in the West than about actual weapons coming into service in the East?
Column 659their old argument, which proved so disastrous and achieved no disarmament whatever. We are proud of what is happening and we shall play our full part in it.
Mr. Cyril D. Townsend : Does my right hon. Friend agree that both the United States and Britain are well advised to seek to modernise their weapons systems, particularly their nuclear weapons systems and at the same time to try to respond to the changed mood in Moscow towards genuine disarmament at all levels? Would not the real mistake be to seek to substitute one for the other?
Mr. King : My hon. Friend is correct. Everybody knows that the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact have been pursuing their modernisation programme. They respect, and I have no doubt that President Gorbachev respects, the fact that we intend to ensure the security of our people, our country and NATO, in the same way as he seeks to secure his.
Mr. Sean Hughes : If the Secretary of State is asked, how will he explain that the British Government clearly believe that our sea-based nuclear missiles are an insufficient deterrent because we insist on the maintenance of land-based nuclear weapons whether or not we have conventional parity?
Mr. Tom King : I think that the hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. Hughes) is aware that the principle of flexible response has been the NATO strategy for a considerable time, rather than dependence on a single strategic nuclear deterrent. He will also be aware that that strategy was reaffirmed at the recent NATO summit.
Mr. Ian Taylor : At the NATO nuclear planning group meeting will my right hon. Friend remind some of our allies that it would be unwise to anticipate the further successful outcome of talks in Vienna and elsewhere on weapons reductions by further reducing their own defence commitment? It is especially important to remind those allies who already spend less than 3 per cent. of GDP on defence.
Mr. King : It is very important at this time, when there is the opportunity for sensible disarmament built on confidence on both sides, that there is no unilateral disarmament which might destabilise the NATO position. Therefore it is extremely important that NATO holds together. It will be difficult for SACEUR--the Supreme Allied Commander Europe--and NATO command to give advice on exactly how the reductions are to be made and how equality of equipment, which one of my hon. Friends has already mentioned, will be achieved. A number of difficult decisions must be reached, which will be made all the more difficult if some countries anticipate what their share should be.
Mr. Allen : Is the Minister aware that the TA conforms to the Government policy of having conventional defence on the cheap? Would he agree to investigate those companies--particularly a number of those which donate to the Conservative party--which, unlike many other companies, do not allow their staff time off to participate in TA activities?
Mr. Neubert : The national employers' scheme is directed towards employers who are being encouraged to enable their working men and women to take time off for TA activities. I am pleased to say that as a result of the success of that scheme some 50 per cent. of the work force is involved.
Mr. Conway : If my right hon. Friend should change his mind and decide to visit that TA unit, will he take the opportunity to explain that instead of having equipment of the same high standard as its regular counterparts, if we ever followed the policies advocated by the Opposition and slashed £5 billion from the procurement programme, the TA would be drilling with broomshanks and plimsolls instead of up-to-date equipment?
Mr. Alan Clark : My right hon. Friend, as he just told the House, will be meeting the United States Secretary of Defence later today at the meeting with NATO's nuclear planning group, when he will discuss a wide range of matters of mutual interest. It is not our general practice to disclose the details of such discussions.
Ms. Mowlam : I understand that it is not the Minister's intention to give us details of those discussions, but it would be useful if he could give the House some assurance about whether there is any intention to purchase stand-off hydrogen bomb missiles from the United States.
Mr. Clark : Yes, there is a NATO requirement for a medium-range stand-off weapon. That was emphasised in paragraph 92 of the Select Committee report, which suggested that that was the preferable route now that the free-fall bombs were becoming obsolete. The warhead will, of course, be manufactured in this country. We are talking only about the delivery systems.
Mr. Bill Walker : When my right hon. Friend meets the Americans will he remind them of the problem that we are facing in Europe created by the West Germans refusing to allow adequate capability for low-flying aircraft? That has the result of reducing our deterrent capability in the eyes of the enemy. Will he therefore confirm that the need for a stand-off weapon system is essential if the United States and the Royal Air Force are to be credible deterrents?
Mr. Clark : There is no doubt that the stand-off weapon is a requirement and my right hon. Friend will be discussing that. I do not doubt that my right hon. Friend will have noted the points made by my hon. Friend about low-flying aircraft.
Mr. O'Neill : Does not the Minister agree that stand-off missiles on aircraft with in-flight refuelling, the like of which have been described in the press this week, will have a range capable of replicating the work which would have been done by ground-launched cruise missiles, and that because of that and because of their range, these would circumvent at least the spirit if not the text of the INF treaty? It is thus an extremely provocative deployment at a time when we seek further disarmament and possible reductions in tension in Europe.
Mr. Clark : Those missiles do not come within the scope of the INF treaty, which is ground based, and they are not comparable with cruise missiles because both the method of delivery and the warhead are different.
13. Mr. Kirkwood : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what measures he now plans to take to increase the recruitment of ethnic minorities into the armed forces ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Neubert : We have received the report on the study that we commissioned earlier this year into ethnic minority recruitment to the armed services and will be making an announcement shortly. In the meantime, we are giving greater attention to recruitment from the ethnic minorities, which we are keen to encourage.
Mr. Kirkwood : Has it not taken the Government an unconscionable time to get round to doing something about this? Is the Minister aware that we are talking not just about recruitment of non-commissioned ranks but about commissioning for ethnic groups within all services and all ranks. I shall be interested to know how many black RAF officers the hon. Gentleman meets in the next six months of his ministerial duties.
Mr. Neubert : I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's strictures. He knows that we are anxious to recruit from ethnic minority communities. We have had policies under way to this end and shall no doubt be introducing more. Examples of how we seek to recruit from the ethnic minorities include translating recruiting pamphlets into ethnic minority languages, advertising in the ethnic minority press and making greater use of black recruiters in careers information offices.
Mr. Neubert : I regret that I did not hear all the right hon. Gentleman's question. Obviously, the report, which is being considered by officials and on which Ministers will shortly make an announcement, will deal with all factors in the perception of the ethnic minorities in relation to the armed services.
Mr. Alan Clark : Discussions on the choice of radar are continuing between the four nations participating in the European fighter aircraft project. An announcement will be made as soon as they have been concluded.
Mr. Colvin : Will my hon. Friend confirm that in the European fighter aircraft we have a winner with, for a change, a choice of two excellent radar systems, both of which have considerable British industrial components? Following discussions with their West German counterparts, are Ministers any nearer reaching a decision about which radar to choose?
Mr. Clark : Yes, my hon. Friend is right to draw the attention of the House to the fact that there is a British industrial element in both bids. The MFD 2000 system is subject to a technical evaluation at present and we expect the results of that in the middle of next month. The national armament directors will then consider the matter and report to the Secretaries of State of the partner countries.
Mr. Loyden : Does the Minister welcome the experiments taking place in the United States with the Soviet Navy? Will her Majesty's Government be making vessels available for such experiments to take place involving the British Navy?
Mr. Clark : We welcome any experiments which may provide further data in the complex sphere of verification. Although this technology exists, it has not yet reached a stage at which we could have any confidence in its accuracy.
Mr. Alan Clark : No, Sir. The policy of the Defence Export Services Organisation remains unchanged. It will continue in its successful work of assisting United Kingdom companies, both large and small, to market and sell their defence products and services overseas. It is through the sustained efforts of British industry, with the support of the DESO, that Britain is able to maintain its position as a major exporter of defence equipment.
Column 663attempt which might made along the lines of the Labour party's document on changing procurement policy, with a cut of a quarter in the defence budget, would lead to the loss of jobs and investment and would greatly damage the nation's balance of trade?
Mr. Clark : Yes, indeed. We have a surplus of £517 million in this sphere and it is paradoxical that Labour Members should suggest an arms conversion agency which would take industrial production away from the defence industries and into industries which they regard as socially acceptable.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : I have been asked to reply My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is returning from the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Kuala Lumpur.
"the products will stream from our factories and workshops while the customers of the world scramble over each other to buy them." Given the continuing and colossal trade deficit, what is his view now of that prediction?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Lady should understand that export performance, as recorded in the figures reported today, continues to be encouraging-- [Interruption.] Export volume performances excluding erratic items are up over the latest three months by 8.5 per cent. in volume terms. That is consistent with the Prime Minister's claim.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Brazier : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the scenes last night of 250,000 East Germans demonstrating in Leipzig were a reminder yet again of the utter bankruptcy of Communism? Does he further agree that it is ridiculous for any party in the West to want to see a return to state control and economic collectivism?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The point that my hon. Friend makes is entirely valid and of great importance. It shows that people all over the world are turning away from the doctrine adopted by the Labour party, which has a prescription for Britain from which the rest of the world is trying to escape.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : Because, as the right hon. Gentleman knows well, there is no provision for independent arbitration in the Whitley council procedures. On offer to the London ambulance service qualified staff is an increase of more than 9 per cent., with a consequent increase in overtime rates of almost 20 per cent. The real value of the 1986 salary structure has been more than maintained and the offer also contains the prospect of a review of that structure in the light of three years' experience. I am sure that the whole House will join me in wishing that those who are currently taking quite unjustified industrial action would return to the negotiating table and discuss the dispute there.
Mr. Kinnock : If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not help to get the ambulances back on the road by supporting binding arbitration as a means of resolving the dispute, will he tell us at what stage the Government intend to honour the pledge made by the Prime Minister that ambulance workers' pay should have firm and automatic linkage to national price or wage rises?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that the particular proposals put forward some years ago for linkage of ambulance men's pay to that of other services was specifically rejected by the Clegg commission, which was appointed by the Labour Government. I return to the point that there is no provision for independent arbitration in the current arrangements. National Health Service management must retain control over the pay of National Health Service staff, and since 94 per cent. of those working in the NHS have already settled their pay this year without industrial action, it is greatly to be hoped that the ambulance men will do the same.
Mr. Kinnock : It really is not good enough for the Government, faced with the ambulance dispute, to use Whitley and Clegg as excuses. When will they face up to their responsibilities, support binding arbitration and get the ambulances back on the roads?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : We do not need any advice from the right hon. Gentleman about facing up to responsibilities. When will he face up to his responsibility to confront an industrial dispute without supporting those who take industrial action?
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Squire : Against the background that we read of the possible non -uprating of child benefit for the third successive year, may I urge my right hon. and learned Friend even now to consider an alternative--the exclusion of the 500,000 taxpayers who have children and who pay the higher rate of tax from eligibility for child benefit, and the restoration of a full increase for the remainder of recipients? That would have widespread approval in the country and bring much-needed relief to many poorer families.
Column 665shortly in the usual way, and I cannot comment on the matter ahead of it. However, taking account of the principle that my hon. Friend endorses--that there should be some attempt to concentrate help on those in greatest need--he should surely take account of the fact that since 1979, real take-home pay for families on the average wage and with two children has risen by almost a third. In our policy to concentrate help on those most in need through family credit we provided last year about £200 million extra for low-income families, another £100 million extra for non-working families, through income support, and from April this year we have provided for the poorest families an extra £70 million over and above the amount that they would have received through the uprating of benefits. That has been a generous application of the principle that my hon. Friend urges.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Bradley : It is clear from the reply that the deputy Prime Minister gave some moments ago that he has no understanding of the anguish expressed by millions of families in this country or of the horror felt on both sides of the House at the news that child benefit is to be frozen. Does he not realise that one in three families in Manchester already lives in poverty, and that 12,000 children are now not entitled to free school meals because of the so-called targeting of benefits? How do the Government justify these relentless attacks on our children in not uprating child benefit? The answer is certainly not means testing.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman entirely misses the point. The extent to which our social security expenditure of all kinds has risen during the 10 years that we have been in office--by some £17 billion, to a total of some £53 billion, so in real terms, after taking account of inflation, it has risen by more than a third--has been specifically designed to concentrate help on those who most need it, exactly as I described a moment ago. That is the right way to bring help to those in greatest need.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Thurnham : Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept the congratulations of the House on his bold and wise decision, taken 10 years ago yesterday, to bring great economic benefits to this country by his foresight and daring in abolishing all exchange controls? Now that our EEC partners have decided to follow suit, does he agree that the Labour party can no longer rely on exchange controls to save its economic policies, despite its new-found European enthusiasm?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his congratulations. He makes an extremely valid point. It is of great importance that the other countries in the European Community will be following the example that we set 10 years ago--contrary to the expectations of the
Column 666Labour party, which predicted that abolition of exchange controls would be a great disaster. In fact, it has turned out to be a huge success and a disaster for Labour's economic insight.
Mr. Steel : The right hon. and learned Gentleman is a veteran of Commonwealth conferences. When the Government team returns from Kuala Lumpur will he seek two meetings--one with the new Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to console him, as a fellow sufferer, on the way in which he was treated by the Prime Minister, and one with the Prime Minister to try to teach her the difference between free speech and gross discourtesy?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman has not expressed satisfaction at the reform measures now under way in South Africa and has been unwilling to acknowledge the part played in bringing that about--not just through the efforts of the Commonwealth as a whole but through the courageous and consistent stance of the British Government, which was always plainly spelt out. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary agreed on each of the steps taken, on the communique endorsed at the conference, and on the statement issued subsequently. That statement explained clearly the position of the British Government, which has helped to bring about the changes that the whole House should welcome.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has received a number of representations regarding energy conservation and energy efficiency. Over the last four years for which figures are available, the United Kingdom's ratio of energy use to gross domestic product has increased at twice the European Community average.
Mr. Bowis : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is good news that the £100 million invested by the Government has resulted in energy savings of some £500 million per year? Does he agree that much more needs to be done--not least in Government Departments, where energy costs are currently running at £300 million per year? Will he take steps to initiate savings in all Departments, and not least in the steamy sauna that passes for a House of Commons?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of the need to apply the policy to the Government as a whole. He will recall that on 20 July my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy announced the framework of a campaign to be applied to Government Departments, aimed at achieving savings of 15 per cent. of the total energy bill over the next five years and at investing 10 per cent. of the energy bill in measures to improve energy efficiency.
An energy audit of the Palace of Westminster has also been undertaken, but it is more difficult to apply proposals for energy savings to Members of this House than to other parts of Government.
Column 667we not, therefore, ensure proper control of our energy and stop electricity privatisation so as to guarantee proper energy use and conservation?