|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Neubert : There has been no waste of taxpayers' money. Our participation in the NFR90 project cost £4.5 million, and the value of that work will be reflected in the work that we do on the type 42 successor, which we plan to have in service at the turn of the century or thereabouts.
Mr. Brazier : Does my hon. Friend agree that the bulk of the money spent on a frigate is on its weapons systems, on which we are still doing much collaborative work? Does he further agree that it would be unnecessary for us to continue to design ships with a dozen teams of naval architects trying jointly to produce a sea camel?
Mr. Neubert : My hon. Friend is right. There is a close connection between the design of the ship platform and the associated weapons systems. He drew attention to the fact that we have announced our decision to enter into collaboration with partners in the family of anti-air missile systems project for anti-air warfare systems, which will be a considerable advance in the planning and design of the type 42 successor.
Column 813Mr. Tom King : A number of letters have been received, the majority of which warmly welcome the proposals that I announced on 11 December.
Dr. Moonie : Does the Secretary of State agree with the statement made by his colleague in another place, the Earl of Arran, that it is impossible to revise pensions for war widows without considering the problem of the war disabled pre-1973? If he does, what will he do about it?
Mr. King : The view that was generally held in the House when I made the statement on 11 December and the strong view of the many people who were campaigning was that war widows occupy a unique position in the affections and respect of the people of this country. Against that background, I was able to make the proposals that I did.
Mr. John Marshall : Does my right hon. Friend accept that the Government's decision was warmly welcomed throughout the country and that most people regard it as sheer humbug and hypocrisy for the Labour party to raise the issue when it did nothing to deal with it when in Government?
Mr. King : I do not think that the economy under the Labour Government was ever in a condition to afford such initiatives. I was proud to have the opportunity to make that announcement, which has brought considerable comfort and relief to people for whom many in this country have particular respect.
Mr. Archie Hamilton : The operation of the ballistic missile early warning system at Fylingdales is under Royal Air Force command and control, and will remain so when the system is modernised. However, the maintenance, engineering support and operation of the radars and associated equipment has been carried out under contract since 1964. A competition is currently being run for similar services on the modernised system.
Mr. Fatchett : Is this not a case of the Government's ideology and blind commitment to privatisation taking preference over the country's security? How many times have Ministers told us about the importance of the Fylingdales installation for national security, and how can they justify those comments if they are prepared to give sensitive maintenance contracts to private contractors, who may easily fall into foreign ownership?
Column 814meetings in the past three months. At all these meetings, he has emphasised the continuing commitment of the United States to maintain forces in Europe as an essential contribution to NATO's collective defence.
Mr. Michie : The United States defence budget will be published later this month and it is widely expected that next year there will be a reduction compared with this year which reflects the changing situation in eastern Europe. In view of that and the announcement made by the Soviet Union, why are the Tory Government standing alone in increasing the budget to the tune of over £1 billion a year for the next three years, instead of spending money to help those who need it in this country?
Mr. King : It is no secret that the United States is considering possible economies in its defence budget and that it has already announced possible economies through the closure of bases in the United States and in relation to its other defence commitments. The hon. Gentleman asked his question as though he were wholly ignorant of the fact that we are at present actively engaged as a full partner in the NATO discussions with the Warsaw pact on the reduction of conventional forces in Europe. We are determined to ensure that we maintain the security of our country and to see how that can be done safely, with a reduction of forces and armaments.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett : Is my right hon. Friend aware that Conservative Members welcome the fact that the United States continues to be a staunch ally of the western Alliance and helps to defend Europe, and that we believe that during the past 10 years that policy has brought the USSR to the negotiating table and has brought about the present state of affairs in eastern Europe?
"The United States will maintain significant military forces in Europe as long as our Allies desire our presence as part of a common security effort".
We see, as the United States clearly does, the importance of maintaining strong defences. Strong defences made possible the progress that we now see in eastern Europe.
Mr. Sean Hughes : In view of the reply by the Minister of State, will the Secretary of State confirm whether it is the Government's position that whatever the prospects of reductions in military spending by the United States and whatever the developments in eastern Europe, they can never envisage a change in the doctrine of flexible response?
Mr. King : These questions are matters which we keep under continual examination. We must ensure that if we change any arrangements for defence, such as introducing a different balance in helicopters or armour, we do so with a clear understanding of the background. At a time of great instability, the biggest mistake that we could make would be to make rapid changes when we cannot be certain of the outcome.
Column 815Mr. Archie Hamilton : Levels of recruitment over the next three years will be affected by a range of factors, including the success of the measures being taken to improve the retention of trained service personnel.
Mr. Hamilton : We have already considerably enhanced the advertising budget, which has increased enormously. We are trying to attract ethnic minorities and greater opportunities have been found for women in two of the services. A decision will be taken shortly on the Royal Navy.
18. Mr. George Howarth : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent representations he has received about providing compensation for ex-service personnel who took part in the nuclear testing programme.
Mr. Howarth : Does the Minister accept that every other country in which there are veterans with these problems have now conceded this point? When will this Government concede it, in line with all the others?
Mr. Hamilton : That is true only of the Americans, and the position in the United States is different from that faced by our nuclear test veterans. We have always made it clear that if we can find direct evidence that nuclear test veterans are suffering from cancer as a result of their service in the forces, we shall compensate them. To date, we have found no evidence to support that.
Mrs. Fyfe : The House rather resembles school returning for the first day of term, Mr. Speaker. In the light of events in eastern Europe, when the Minister acquires his first Trident missile, at which country will he aim it?
Mr. King : The hon. Lady may not be aware that the Labour party supports the need for the maintenance of a nuclear umbrella with the presence of United States forces in Europe. We recognise the need to maintain a balance of nuclear and conventional forces. That is our position and I understand that it is also the Labour party's position.
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.
Mr. Archer : The right hon. Lady having flatly refused to meet two successive presidents of the Methodist Conference, who were asking to see her on the instructions of conference, may I ask her to say whether the deep concerns of the Methodist people are as much a matter of indifference to her as are the concerns of the other churches, the Royal College of Nursing, the British Medical Association, the Royal Society, the Bar Council and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom? Has she ever considered as a possibility that everyone else may be right and that she may be wrong?
The Prime Minister : I am very flattered that everyone would like to come and see me, but I am afraid that there just is not time for all that to take place. The president of the Methodist Conference wrote me a letter. I replied fully to it--the reply received a great deal of publicity-- pointing out that despite the complaints of the president of the Methodist Conference, the amount spent on social security was vastly in excess of what was spent by Labour, that the same applied to the amounts spent on health and the disabled, and that this Government had well and truly discharged their duty of increasing the social services available to the people of Britain.
Mr. Dunn : Does the Prime Minister agree that the first duty of the British Government is to provide the means of defending their people and that it would be foolish in the extreme to change our defence policy now to take account of the short-term changes that appear to be happening in the eastern bloc?
The Prime Minister : Yes. I agree with my hon. Friend. The defence policy that we have is a NATO defence policy, as was made clear in the replies that I heard by the Secretary of State for Defence to previous questions. It is a flexible response and it can be changed only by NATO. These matters will be considered when the agreements on reductions in conventional arms have been completed. We shall have to consider the issues together so that one nation does not take advantage over another of the reductions.
Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister join me today in paying tribute to the skill and dedication of all the ambulance workers who worked at the scene of the tragic multiple crash on the M25 last night? Does she agree that it is inaccurate as well as insulting for those people to be described as merely professional drivers?
The Prime Minister : I gladly pay tribute, as I have always done, to all the ambulance workers, many of whom are still working full time and many of whom in particular are providing full emergency and accident cover. A number of those at the scene last night were on normal emergency and accident cover, in the usual way.
Column 817As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it has been our wish--I believe that it has been the wish of the ambulance and Health Service--to increase the number of ambulance staff who have paramedical qualifications. For that reason, the pay offered to the ambulance workers, varying between 9 and 16.3 per cent. according to their qualifications and where they work, was slanted towards those who also have paramedical qualifications.
Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister now answer an essential part of the question? Does she agree that to describe the people who went to the scene of the crash last night as merely professional drivers is both inaccurate and insulting?
The Prime Minister : I have gladly paid tribute to the ambulance service and pointed out that we require a bigger proportion of ambulance workers to have paramedical qualifications so that they can give life- supporting medical treatment at the scene of accidents. For that purpose we have slanted the pay offer to the ambulance workers of up to 16.3 per cent. in London towards those who have the requisite medical qualifications.
Sir Anthony Grant : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is wholly inappropriate and has never been the case under any Government that Cabinet Ministers negotiate directly with trade unions? Will she confirm that the line that the Secretary of State for Health is taking commands the wholehearted support of Her Majesty's Government?
The Prime Minister : Yes, I gladly confirm that. As my hon. Friend knows, the latest offer of 9 to 16.3 per cent., according to where a person works and his qualifications, included some £6 million of new money. The NHS executive had already moved to make that extra money available and we look forward to the ambulance people settling.
Mr. Banks : Will the Prime Minister take time today to compare her travel time to work with that of the average Londoner? As she sweeps out of Downing street past those new regal gates in her bullet-proof limo, with the police holding back the traffic and the angry crowds-- [Laughter.] her travel time to work is probably about 90 seconds. We should all like that. Is she remotely aware of the terrible congestion on London's roads and the appalling state of London Transport? Will she come out of that bunker in No. 10 and, for once in her life, travel on public transport in London in the rush hour? If she did it just once something would change, but Londoners have to do it twice a day.
Column 818on policies such as unilateral disarmament, the closed shop, sale of council houses and nationalisation, would the voter believe that she or any party that did so would revert to type after the next general election?
The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, the Government's policies are founded on sound principles and strong convictions. The policies will not change. The principles are excellent and they have done very well for the British people. We shall continue until the next election and through the next Parliament to pursue the same policies which are relevant, beneficial and advantageous to our people.
Mr. Smith : Does the Prime Minister agree that, in the interests of proper public and parliamentary accountability, her former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Lord Young, must now agree to appear before the Public Accounts Committee to answer for the public losses and the threat to jobs at Cowley and elsewhere arising from the Government's giveaway of the Rover Group?
The Prime Minister : I do not believe that it is at all usual for Ministers to appear before the Public Accounts Committee, for reasons that the hon. Gentleman knows. It is quite a different matter to appear before the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, which I understand my right hon. and noble Friend has agreed to do.
Mr. Hind : Does my right hon. Friend agree that excessive and irresponsible increases in spending by county councils will lead to vast unnecessary increases in the community charge? Is she aware that Labour- controlled Lancashire county council has increased its expenditure in the past 12 months? If a rate were to be declared, it would represent an increase of 33.4 per cent., which would cause unnecessary hardship to the ratepayers of Lancashire.
The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend that unnecessarily high spending will increase the community charge and place an extra burden upon the electors whom councils are meant to serve. Let us look at the settlement for the coming year. In our settlement proposals, the provision for council spending is 11 per cent. more than the corresponding figure for last year. That should be quite sufficient for reasonable programmes and, therefore, a reasonable community charge. If that policy is not followed, I trust that electorates will know precisely what to do and cast their votes against such councils.
Column 819warning by Sir Robert Reid that there must be a substantially increased investment in north-south rail links?
The Prime Minister : Of course, Scotland will benefit upon the completion of a whole common market of the kind that we shall have after 1992. In Edinburgh, for example, we have a flourishing thriving financial centre and one of the things that we are trying to do is to get much greater freedom to sell our services in the market. With regard to manufacturing goods and their movement, I hope that the hon. Lady will read in full Sir Bob Reid's speech, which was very complimentary about the enormous advances made in the past few years during his chairmanship of British Rail. He pointed out a number of things that he wished to see done, some of which require private Bills--particularly the link from Heathrow to Paddington, which would affect everyone who travels down that way. It was some Labour Members--not members of the hon. Lady's party--who prevented the passage of such private Bills.
Mr. Boswell : Most people think that this is the first Prime Minister's Question Time of the decade. Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to comment on the recent staggering events in eastern Europe and take an early opportunity of going to eastern Europe and telling people there of the benefits of policies based on democracy and free enterprise?
The Prime Minister : I gladly respond to my hon. Friend's question. The events in eastern Europe confirmed that Socialism has utterly failed and has been totally rejected by the people of eastern Europe who want much greater freedom than they have ever known, a freer market economy and genuine democracy. We shall do all that we can to assist in that aim. We are already giving Poland and Hungary extensive help, in concert with other countries in the European Community.
Ms. Primarolo : The Prime Minister referred to the Government's sound principles and strong convictions. As a mother and grandmother herself, will she explain why her Government have introduced social security changes which mean that a 16-year-old pregnant woman living in a hostel has only £3.65 per week to buy her meals and keep herself-- excluding rent and breakfast? What is so sound about those convictions and principles?
The Prime Minister : The hon. Lady knows that benefits were changed so that those living in hostels have the same kind of structural benefit as those living in flats. They got their housing benefit, and of course they will get their rent rebate, and they have the requisite income support. That is very much fairer than favouring one group, who live in one kind of accommodation, against the other.
Mr. Butler : Does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment at the banks' withdrawal from the student loans scheme? Does it not show that it is naive to depend on alternative economic strategies that involve the banks rationing their own credit at Government request alone?
The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. I am sorry that the main banks pulled out of the student loans scheme. I am afraid that it will be disadvantageous for students because it means that they will not be able to have the facilities offered by local banking branches. It is unwise of the students to urge the banks to do that, and it is unwise of the banks to agree to do it--it harms everyone. Nevertheless, the student loans scheme will go ahead.
I agree with my hon. Friend about credit control. Credit control would not work on days when we had no foreign exchange control, and it would be quite absurd to rely upon the banks to try to operate such a system.
|Next Section (Debates)