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Mr. Hamilton : As I said earlier, small reductions in Soviety capability of about 500,000 troops must be compared with the total of 5 million men under arms in the Soviet Union. During that time, Soviet arms production has continued apace. Many new tanks, aircraft, submarines and ships have been produced, which have enhanced its capabilities.
Sir Richard Body : When considering this matter further, will my hon. Friend bear in mind that per capita, in relation to gross domestic product, Britain is spending four times more on defence than West Germany? Given the renewed economic strength of Germany, is that a reasonable distribution of the burden of defending central Europe?
Mr. Hamilton : The percentage of our gross national product spent on defence is somewhat higher than that of the Germans, but one must bear in mind that they have a conscript army, which is paid much less than our professional forces. Given our commitments, the amount that we spend on defence is not out of line.
11. Mr. Doran : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will provide compensation for those ex-British service personnel whose health has suffered as a result of their participation in British nuclear tests.
Mr. Neubert : The Government would be ready to pay appropriate compensation wherever the Crown's legal liability was established and where there was firm evidence to show that, on a balance of probabilities, ex- service men had suffered ill-health as a result of exposure to radiation during the course of their duties as members of the armed forces. In the absence of any such evidence, special compensation for the nuclear test veterans could not be justified.
Mr. Doran : That is as grudging and as penny-pinching a response as the one that we heard on the war widows' pension issue. Is it not the case that these service personnel were injured in the course of their duties and that many
Column 574leukaemia cases have gone uncompensated? Does not the Government's recent response to the haemophiliacs who contracted HIV, grudging and minimal though it was, provide a precedent for the Government to act with a bit more compassion in this case?
Mr. Neubert : The hon. Gentleman is not correct. The findings of the National Radiological Protection Board, which were published last year, support the Government's view that no harm due to ionising radiation was suffered by participants in the programme. However, the report shows a slight increase in the rate of occurrence of certain leukaemias and multiple myeloma, which, although providing no firm evidence of a link with radiation exposure, raised enough doubt to allow Department of Social Security medical advisers to regard such illnesses as attributable to service.
Mr. Bellingham : Is my hon. Friend aware that a number of members of the Royal Norfolk regiment were involved in observing these tests? Many have since died, but there is evidence that many suffered ill-health. Can my hon. Friend assure the House that if a compensation scheme is introduced, the widows of those personnel will not be forgotten?
Mr. Neubert : It is true that as we grow older, illnesses increase. I can only reiterate that the report shows no link with radiation from those tests in the Pacific. If such a link were established--a new report has been commissioned to update the figures for a further five years-- appropriate compensation would be considered by the Government as a matter of legal liability.
Mr. Ashley : Is the Minister aware of the deep, brooding sense of injustice in the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association? As its patron I know how deeply its members feel about the injustice of not being compensated. If the Minister is so certain of his answer, how does he explain the fact that the United States Government pay their nuclear test veterans compensation for 13 cancers and the British Government pay nothing?
Mr. Neubert : The right hon. Gentleman's part in this campaign is well known. He pursues it with his customary vigour in the House and outside it. The belief that there is no link is not the Government's finding but the independent finding of the National Radiological Protection Board. Its report is endorsed by Sir Richard Doll, an eminent professor. As for the American experience, the circumstances are not comparable and, in any case, they are a matter for the American authorities.
Mr. Trotter : Does my hon. Friend accept that it would be wrong for the British Army to have to depend on imports for so important a part of its equipment as the main battle tank? Can he confirm that if Vickers continues
Column 575to make such good progress and achieves milestones two and three next year--as planned--a production contract for Challenger 2 will follow?
Mr. Clark : I very much welcome the progress that Vickers is making, but I must refer my hon. Friend to what the former Secretary of State for Defence--my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger)--said on 20 December 1988 when this subject was discussed at great length by the House. He told the House that we were taking a "staged approach" to this procurement which
"will enable us to keep our options open for the future, if that proves necessary."--[ Official Report, 20 December 1988 ; Vol. 144. c. 284.]
Mr. Clelland : The previous Secretary of State also said that he very much hoped that Vickers would produce an adequate prototype and win the contract. Is that the view of the current Secretary of State? If so, why does the Ministry of Defence actively support the Department of Trade and Industry in sponsoring a tour of Britain by Vickers' main rival, General Dynamics of the United States?
Mr. Clark : The tour by General Dynamics--for which it is paying--is connected with the principle of banking offset arrangements, which is a good principle from which British industry benefits. Most of the subjects under discussion relate to offsets unconnected with armoured vehicle procurement.
Mr. Amess : Is my hon. Friend aware that many jobs in Basildon depend on defence contracts? Will he tell the House what he believes would be the impact on defence exports of the establishment of the defence conversion agency, as advocated by the Labour party?
Mr. Clark : It is absolutely absurd that the most successful parts of British industry in exports should be forced to desist from what they do well and be diverted into work that is thought to be socially acceptable-- whoever is the judge of "socially acceptable." It illustrates why the Labour party is so reluctant to go into detail about the agency in its various policy proposals.
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. This evening, I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen. Later, I shall have talks with President Roh of South Korea, who is on an official visit to this country.
Mr. Yeo : Has my right hon. Friend noticed, following a 45 per cent. increase in real terms in spending on the National Health Service since 1979, that next year, for the first time in British history, spending on health by central Government will exceed spending on defence? Does she agree that this is very timely, in the light of recent international developments, and that it makes absolutely clear which party in the House is genuinely concerned about improving the National Health Service?
The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. Next year spending on health in real terms will very nearly have doubled since we came to power. There are more doctors and more nurses, and more patients are being treated. It is a most excellent record, as is our record on defence. I noticed an article in a newspaper yesterday by a doctor who had not been of our political persuasion, but who said of our health reforms :
"An examination of each aspect of the reforms would lead most intelligent and informed people to see that they make sense." He also said :
"On health, Mr. Kinnock and his colleagues have nothing to offer." Mr. Kinnock : Is the Prime Minister aware that today's report from the National Audit Office shows that the Government sold Rover for at least £60 million less than it was worth? Will the Prime Minister now make a public apology for that gross incompetence?
The Prime Minister : Apart from the year in which it sold Jaguar, Rover had not made a profit since 1976. To privatise that company successfully was a major achievement and the Government struck the best deal that they believed possible in all the circumstances of the sale.
Mr. Kinnock : Does the Prime Minister not recall that it is the second time in two years that the Government have short-changed the British public by selling off assets? It happened with Royal Ordnance, it is happening with Rover and tomorrow it will happen on a monstrous scale with the sell-off of water. When are the Government going to stop asset- stripping the country?
The Prime Minister : No, Mr. Speaker. Rover-Leyland had not made a profit at all except in the year when it sold Jaguar. It was able to carry on only because of Government guarantees to trade creditors and to the banks. The liability mounting up on the British taxpayer was enormous. It was a good thing to privatise Rover under those circumstances.
Mr. Carttiss : Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that, although I was listed as one of the Tory rebels by the Radio 4 programme and have the honour to represent the constituency once represented by the distinguished Member who was the father of my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer), I, my constituents and the British people demand that she remains-- [Interruption.]
Column 577The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that he and his constituents are both right.
Mr. Cryer : Does the aspiring President for life and Prime Minister accept that if she visited west Yorkshire she would find extensive anger and resentment about water privatisation because, over the years, billions of people have bought and paid for a comprehensive system of water supply and disposal through the rates? When sites are sold off which people already own it is regarded as legalised theft. Is she aware that if the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) had the guts to stand against her she would be swept from office and dumped with the garbage of her policies?
The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman is aware, 25 per cent. of the water supply industry is already privatised. Even Socialist France knows that privatised water is a better deal than nationalised water. I hope that water privatisation will proceed successfully. The hon. Gentleman had better wait and see in the light of the facts rather than pontificate.
Mr. Wallace : As the Prime Minister in her interview last night said that in matters of government we should retain for ourselves the things we do best ourselves, will she give the Scottish people greater opportunities to govern themselves?
The Prime Minister : I believe that the Scottish people are best served by the present arrangements--the United Kingdom in the European Community and the continuance of the European Community as an organisation with maximum co-operation between sovereign nations.
Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson : May I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on her successful meeting with President Bush at Camp David last Saturday? Will she tell the House that there is agreement between Britain, the United States and our European allies on the best approach to the historic changes taking place in eastern Europe?
The Prime Minister : Yes, Mr. Speaker. For four and a half hours last week we had excellent discussions with President Bush at Camp David which showed a substantial identity of view on the way ahead for East-West relations. It is most important to secure democracy in all east European countries and throughout the Soviet Union, and not to raise the question of borders until that is complete. When it is complete there will be a different world and all sorts of things will be possible. Meantime NATO must be kept intact, our defence sure and negotiations between the Warsaw pact and NATO on the reductions of armaments must continue, giving us a basis of security for the enormous changes to take place to advantage.
The Prime Minister : For those between the ages of 16 and 18 there are more youth training places available than young people to fill them. The Government believe that it is better for young people to take up training than to be idle. If young people are in difficulty or facing hardship, special grants are available.
Mr. Jack : What advice would my right hon. Friend give to the Vauxhall car workers at their plant in Ellesmere Port in Cheshire who, because of the action of Labour's acolytes--the Transport and General Workers Union--face the prospect of losing a £200 million engine plant development as a result of a damaging, selfish inter-union dispute on working premises?
The Prime Minister : Good jobs and good prospects come from working with and investing in equipment to its maximum extent. It is time for restrictive practices to go out of the window so that our labour costs become lower and our productivity higher, and so that we can compete with car manufacturers in Europe, Japan and the United States. Most ordinary trade unionists know that and I hope that they will pass that message on to their trade union leaders.
The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Gentleman to my speech at Madrid which laid down specific conditions to be met before we join the ERM. The first is that inflation must be got down. The second is that stage 1 of Delors with the necessary directives, together with the freeing of financial services, the freedom of capital movements plus the abolition of foreign exchange controls, must be met by other member countries, as they are being met by us. Moreover, we must get fair competition between countries. Hon. Members in most parts of the House accept that that is the right and proper way to proceed.
Mr. Stanbrook : In response to some fancied labour shortage, the Government appear to want to encourage more mothers of young children to go out to work. Would it not be wiser--for the sake of the care, happiness and fostering of our children and of society--for mothers of young children to be encouraged to stay at home?
The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is aware that it is for mothers themselves to decide. We do, indeed, need many more women at work, but it is for mothers to decide whether they can make full and proper arrangements for their children or whether they should wait until later, when their children are off their hands, to return to work. My hon. Friend knows that from next April, the taxation of married women will change and that they will be taxed separately. That will be a great advantage to them and will enable them to make their own choices.
Rev. Martin Smyth : Will the Prime Minister comment on recent developments in which the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland looked forward to entering discussions with Sinn Fein, whose aim is the British withdrawal from Northern Ireland, and on the weekend statement by Cardinal O Fiaich who asked for that intention to be declared?
Column 580Kingdom. That is the wish of the majority of her people and could be changed only if the wish of the majority changed and they did not want to stay with the United Kingdom, in which case it would be a matter not only for them but for hon. Members of this House. I hope and believe that Northern Ireland will remain a part of the United Kingdom.
Mr. Kirkhope : Does not the recent announcement that the National Health Service executive and the social security directorate are to move to Leeds--with 2,000 members of staff--show the Government's true commitment to the interests of the people of the north of England? Does not it also provide further proof that Leeds and West Yorkshire are drawing people to them like a magnet?
The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend that the move of the Health Service executive and the social security directorate to Leeds is greatly to be welcomed. I believe that they will give a better service at less cost. They are fortunate to be able to move to that part of the world where they will have facilities which are much better than they are in London. I hope that the move will add much to the attraction of Leeds for others who may wish to move there.
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