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Column 724for his views--I thought, unfairly. Far be it from me to rush to his defence, but what some have argued was that the time has come for alliances to wither away. He correctly argued that we should hope that the Warsaw pact will survive. He did not argue that it should survive in its current form. It is necessary for NATO to outlive the present situation for a variety of reasons. Ironically, we should also try to sustain the Warsaw pact. It is as though two heavyweight boxers reached the 13th round, and one was in better shape than the other and tried to hold up the other to prevent him from collapsing. It is in our interests that the Warsaw pact survives, but in a different form.
I have been to almost every non-Soviet Warsaw pact country and contributed six chapters to "Jane's Warsaw Pact High Command," so I speak with some interest in the problems of non-Soviet Warsaw pact militaries. Clearly, the reliability of such forces to the Soviet Union is questionable. Most of them have ordered, or begun negotiations, for Soviet withdrawal.
If the alliance collapses, as it might, the Soviet Union will be in further disarray. The military will be even more angry with President Gorbachev for having apparently torpedoed its security interests. The relationship between NATO and the Warsaw pact, which is critical in terms of arms control negotiations, might be severely damaged. I put that argument in Hungary and said that it was easy for somebody who had not lived under the Soviet Union to argue for the survival of the Warsaw pact.
I am not arguing for its indefinite survival, but if it is altered and non- Soviet Warsaw pact countries inject more control and influence over it, it will not necessarily be a force of instability but will be in their and our interests. That argument should be seriously addressed and is why NATO must survive, not entirely in its present form, but more or less in the way with which we are familiar-- [Interruption.] I give way to my hon. Friend.
NATO has a useful role. We are fortunate that, since the Harmel report 20 years ago, NATO has been both a political and a military alliance. Clearly, the political dimension will assume greater prominence. It still has a military role and an economic role, particularly in terms of the Third world. There are many environmental challenges which NATO can play a role in meeting. It has a role to play in combating terrorism and a critical role in arms control. It is a means by which, in these tempestuous times, there can be some stability.
It is also important to think not just in military terms vis-a -vis eastern Europe but to do far more for it economically. It is simple to applaud events in Romania when we see them on television, and it is easy to say that we must provide economic assistance. I have recently returned from spending a week in Romania, and it is with some embarrassment that I say that many people inside and outside Government believe that the British Government's aid programme to Romania, although not derisory or trivial, is at the lower end of the third division of aid donors.
It is important to think of ways in which we can help to underpin the emerging democracies in eastern Europe. If someone had told western Governments two years ago that the Soviet Union would be a marginal force in eastern
Column 725Europe, that democratic Governments would be estab-lished there within two years and had asked how much they were prepared to give to achieve that, they would have offered enormous sums. Now we have an opportunity.
I received a parliamentary answer from the Foreign Secretary stating how much we give in aid to Romania. Our private charities such as the Red Cross have been magnificent, but the Government contribution has been little short of unsatisfactory.
We are at an exciting crossroads in world and European history. We were all brought up with a cold war mentality and some of us with a pre-cold war mentality so it is difficult for us to adjust to changed circumstances. There are enormous opportunities. Clearly, defence expenditure will have to fall. Nevertheless, it is critical that the Alliance that has helped to maintain our security for over 40 years survives. It is important that we relate to the Soviet Union and eastern Europe in a way that will help to underpin the democratic forces that are emerging there.
Perhaps the time will come when the amount of money that we need to spend on defence will genuinely fall and we shall see the beating of swords into ploughshares, but that time has not quite come. 9.21 pm
The debate was prefaced by discussions between what are known as the usual channels, about which we dare not speak. Suffice it to say that we discussed whether it would be better to have separate debates about deployment and procurement or debates about the individual services. In some respects, our discussions were largely academic. The ingenuity of both Opposition and Conservative Members has been such that they have wangled in every service and piece of hardware, and every thought or idea about the world situation.
Of the six or seven debates on the Navy in which I have participated, this has been the most exciting, varied and encouraging. Although hon. Members have shown varying degrees of optimism, few of us have been too bleak in our expectations. Of all the issues, the most difficult is how to deal with the Navy and naval arms control in a world of disarmament. It can be said that, because in NATO there was so much anxiety about the disposition of forces in central Europe, it turned its attention there when we first had signs of improvement in East-West relations. It is natural that we have had a CFE discussion in Vienna and that, of all the issues, the Navy is at the bottom of the list.
Despite that justification, I am impatient about the way in which we address maritime strategy. Although it is mainly the Norwegians and ourselves who make a substantial contribution to the defence of the north- eastern Atlantic, we seem reluctant to throw our weight around and to try to encourage proper discussion of some of the problems.
To an extent, I understand why some of those difficulties arise. Naval power is essentially about the projection of power. It is a flexible asset that can be moved across the globe with relative ease and lack of obstruction.
Column 726It is therefore desirable for super-powers-- in their eyes at least--to have such flexibility in moving the pieces around the chessboard.
It is a paradox of our modern political systems that the Navy is perhaps the most expensive of all the services. It certainly has the most expensive equipment. An aircraft costs £20 million to £30 million at most. For the purposes of the example, I am not looking at such aircraft as stealth bombers. A frigate is essential to naval deployment and costs at least £100 million. For amphibious craft such as Fearless or Intrepid, the cost may well be twice that or more. It is uncertainty over those sums that causes the Government to take so long to make up their mind. I shall come back to that.
The Navy also requires highly qualified and skilled service personnel because expensive weapons platforms require high technical skills and a great deal of training. They also require maintenance that would tax the ingenuity of the best engineers. All those factors give rise to problems with the Navy across the globe. The Navy probably has one of the tightest and most effective political pressure groups in any political system in the shape of its procurement systems and its friends. Because of that, it is difficult to get beyond the starting gate on matters such as the
confidence-building measures that are necessary, before we get to arms control.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South spoke about consensus. The consensus that some of us would like to see--by that I mean the Government agreeing with us--would take account of the provocative and potentially destablising nature of the forward deployment of ships in the North sea and at the edges of the Arctic. Cat-andmouse tactics are often a feature of their deployment and they are relatively close to the Soviet fleet in the Kola peninsula. To use an inelegant phrase for which I can never find an alternative, it is thought, as John Lehmann said, that the aim should be to beard the bear in its lair. It is felt that there should be a first-strike capability, certainly of a conventional nature, as close to the Soviet Union as possible--and that could lead to the early start of a nuclear confrontation. Because of that, we are getting a measure of agreement across the political spectrum about the desirability of less provocative deployments of sea-launched cruise systems and the like. It is notable that Ambassador Nitze and Admiral Crowe, who are not known as long-time supporters of irresponsible disarmament or of giving the game away to the Soviet Union, or as being open to the sort of challenges made by Conservative Members, have made constructive statements about the desirability of changing some of the maritime strategies and about the possibility of finding ways to have more confidence-building measures in respect of naval deployment and so on.
I wait with interest to hear what the Minister of State for the Armed Forces has to say about some of those matters. The Under-Secretary did not cover them to any great extent and was non-specific about many others. Adjournment debates present an opportunity for right hon. and hon. Members to take a balanced approach, but today we listened to a narrow expression of Government policy on the north Atlantic.
I should have been pleased to hear more about the sea lanes of communication and the reinforcement of the United Kingdom and Europe. Are the sea lanes as essential as they were some time ago? We are told that it would take 40 days to realise that a threat was emerging.
Column 727In those circumstances, the reinforcement of Europe would still need to be effected as rapidly as it could be today. Would a post-CFE deployment of American and British troops need the same level of rapid deployment across the Atlantic that is possible today? Conservative Members may argue that the Soviets have uninterrupted railway lines that just happen to pass through Czechoslovakia, Hungary and the German Democratic Republic and that railway carriages full of troops would be greeted with open arms. There is an assumption that the workers, peasants and students of those people's republics would join the Red Army, cross the Oder-Neisse line, and liberate the people of western Europe from capitalism. Is that the argument that is being posited by the Government in the context of the length of time that it would take for an invasion threat to materialise? If so, they are still living in the bleakest days of the cold war.
This evening, we should have heard a clearer exposition of the problems. Is it better for us to have a surface fleet to secure the sea lanes of communication, or can a better case be advanced for the use of submarines? The Government are not sustaining a rate of ordering compatible with that required to keep open the sea lanes. If the Government are thinking in terms of submarines, do they propose placing orders additional to those already announced? The Minister should have dispelled such confusion.
Mr. Mates : Some of the questions that the hon. Gentleman poses are valid and should be debated. However, when he talks of a diminishing threat and of reducing our forces in Europe, he must agree that the more we take away--as peace breaks out and the situation improves--the more will be the need for reinforcement. There will be more to reinforce if anything goes wrong.
Mr. O'Neill : That assumes that American troops, for example, will not be civilianised but will be landed in the United States and returned to military bases. However, from last week's statement I am led to believe that President Bush intends to close many of them. We are talking of armies of a different size, and that raises different questions of support. It is incumbent on the Government to anticipate events and to inform the House of their thoughts.
It may be that we shall have to wait until the White Paper is published. If it contains the right information, perhaps I shall not have to make the same speech when the House debates the defence estimates, and the hon. Member for Hampshire, East, (Mr. Mates), or his Committee members, will not have to ask the same questions when the Minister and his officials go before them in the early summer. We must be clear also about our view of the reinforcement of Norway, as that will probably be the last matter dealt with in the CFE talks and in negotiating the settlement of the European question. If there are no answers yet, the Government should be frank and say so, rather than use that as an excuse and have Ministers saying at the Dispatch Box year after year, "We are still thinking about what to do with HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid. We are not sure what to do about aviation support vessels. We do not know our plans for amphibious vessels. We are
Column 728still considering." Those excuses have been trotted out for an intolerable length of time. When that is set alongside the manner in which the Government are ordering ships and the way in which the hulls are being laid, it is even more intolerable. We have to be grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence for making that valid point.
It is one thing to announce that there will be orders, but it is another to have competition and get the orders. There is an even greater delay before the hulls start to be laid.
This evening we have had no clear statement about the number of surface ships available to us--perhaps the Minister can help remedy that in his speech--the net number of the Armilla patrol, the net number of the commitment to the Falklands, and the number of ships that we would need if there was a crisis. The Government seem to be conscious of the fact that a crisis could arise quickly.
We are still no clearer about support for the frigates that have been ordered, and that has emerged in several speeches. For example, there is the absence of CACS for the first four years of the life of some of the type 23 frigates, or the problem with the EH101 and the likely cost overruns. Those cost overruns seem to be consuming a great deal of the savings that we used to hear about in the days when competitive tendering was all the fashion. I realise that it is still available in some areas of procurement, but opportunities for competitive tendering in shipbuilding are becoming fewer and fewer. The failure of Cammell Laird to secure any part of the most recent round of orders is having a devastating effect on employment prospects in the Wirral, and in that part of Merseyside. It is also fair to say that Yarrow has been afflicted by its failure to get any part of those orders. Problems are now arising in yards such as Yarrow because of the doubt surrounding the future of the Euro-frigate.
Understandably, there will be national difficulties and differences about the hull design of such a ship, and, as I understand it, that is why the programme has collapsed ; but, since modern frigates are nothing if not weapons platforms, perhaps the Minister can give us a clearer idea of what will happen to that ship. Are the Government committed to sustaining the effort to secure an agreed programme for the Euro-frigate?
We know that fewer armaments will be required, and that there will be problems of employment in the defence industries. We also know that the Government, almost alone among Governments in the Alliance and the Warsaw treaty organisation, choose to pour cold water on any prospects of a conversion programme.
I know that the Minister is not responsible for procurement. That is the responsibility of the Minister of State for Defence Procurement. However, throughout Europe and across the Atlantic, people are concerned about the economic and industrial consequences of peace. Perhaps the Minister is not aware of it, but he should ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State because he and I spent a weekend at a conference on the subject.
In Britain we have a fundamental problem with shipbuilding skills, because the crucial mass of those skills is contracting to such a point that it may not be possible to transfer them to merchant yards if there were a need for an upturn in merchant shipbuilding in Britain. At the moment, most shipbuilding skills are based in warship building yards.
Column 729All hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have praised the quality of our service personnel. I referred to their skill and dedication earlier. A new round of pay awards has just been announced. It will probably take us some time to appreciate the fine print of the awards and for messages to come back to us about them. As for my hon. Friend for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) said, the Government have honoured their commitment to the pay review process that was entered into while Lord Mulley was Secretary of State for Defence.
The arrangements for wages set up by the Labour Government have largely been honoured, but the arrangements for conditions have not. There is an X factor, in that, although we may not be able to say that promises have been broken, undertakings have certainly not been fulfilled to the satisfaction of the personnel. That is why many are voting with their feet. It is only right that people who are both expensive to train and valuable to the nation's security should be given a better deal in the 1990s, when the demographic trough will hit recuitment in all the armed services.
Nuclear submarines have been mentioned in the debate. The Minister has said that he is satisfied that the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority is investigating, and we appreciate its record ; nevertheless, if a fault were found in a commercial aircraft, I cannot imagine that the airline company would get away with allowing it to continue flying. It would not say, "We shall have to wait until it gets back to the airport." How long must the nuclear submarines in the categories that are prompting anxiety remain at sea before returning for a thorough check? Surely we owe it to the crews and their families to ensure that safety is taken seriously.
I realise that questions of confidentiality and security arise, but it ought to be possible to make such undertakings, and to make them in a way that the public can understand. A number of anxious calls and letters have already been received, and they will continue and increase unless the Minister takes the necessary steps to reassure the public.
The split in today's debate has been less between optimists and pessimists than between the optimistic and the less optimistic. There is a case for caution, but that caution should not be based on the bleakness of spirit that sometimes emanates from Conservative Members. There is also a case for the pursuit of stability, but that should not be based on the rigidity that has characterised statements on the armed services in recent months. All our clippings files are replete with quotations from generals and admirals who say that not another troop must be allowed to leave Europe ; last week, President Bush said that another 100,000 would go.
We now have a better chance than ever before to seize the challenge--to seize the peace. The optimism that many of us feel could be reinforced if the British Government began to exercise the political independence exercised by our German allies across the political spectrum in areas where the Royal Navy makes its unique contribution to the safety of Europe. The Germans have forced America to reconsider the basis and priorities of many of its policies. I am sure that we should have a safer Britain and a safer Europe if we took such action, but I believe that it will take a change of Government for that to happen.
Column 7309.43 pm
The hon. Gentleman--and the hon. Members for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes), for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) and for Leyton (Mr. Cohen)--all raised the issue of the safety of our nuclear submarines. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington for reading into the record my letter to him of today's date. I am sorry that he did not receive it earlier--he might then have incorporated it in his speech a bit earlier-- but he has removed the necessity for me to repeat the essence of its contents.
I assure the House that the Government place a high priority on the safety of nuclear-powered submarine operations. There are rigorous monitoring and safety standards. The decision to inspect all submarines as they come alongside from their operational tasks is in line with that policy. It was taken as a prudent precaution, to deal with a possible defect with potential safety implications. I reiterate that there has been no incident, accident or injury to anyone and that submarines alongside present no hazard to the public.
I said in my letter to the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington that detailed information on the design of nuclear power plants is classified, so he will understand why I cannot comment on the nature of the defect ; nor can I comment on any implications for submarine operations--which are also classified--except to say, in order to avoid any doubt, that the deterrent force certainly remains operational.
The hon. Member for Houghton and Washington also referred to protecting the deterrent. He missed the point, due to his concern that there has been some increase in the Royal Navy's role in the protection of the deterrent, which was mentioned in the defence White Papers of 1988 and 1989. It has been the practice of the Royal Navy for many years to provide forces to protect Polaris submarines during their deployment from the Clyde. That does not reflect in any way on the ability of the submarines to maintain a deterrent patrol undetected by hostile forces.
The hon. Member for Dumbarton referred to maritime nuclear weapons. They have an important role to play in support of NATO's strategy of flexible reponse. We must also bear in mind that the Soviet Union has an impressive array of sub-strategic maritime nuclear weapons. In meeting that threat, the Royal Navy must maintain a full spectrum of capability in order to give sufficient operational flexibility to respond to acts by an aggressor at sea.
My hon. Friends the Members for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) and for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) and the hon. Members for Houghton and Washington and for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) asked about the replacement of the assault ships Fearless and Intrepid. The
Column 731Government remain committed to maintaining an amphibious capability in the longer term. We have been assessing the results of studies into replacing the capability offered by these ships, either by new build or by extension of their current lives. A decision will be made within the ships' current planned lives. Tenders for the aviation support ship were received in July 1989. We hope to place an order later this year. No decision has yet been taken on when to order a second vessel.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East is concerned about when the latest type 23 frigate which has been ordered will be laid down. There is normally a gap between order and the laying down of the first vessel in a new class to be built at a particular yard, in this case Swan Hunter. Work will start this spring on the next type 23 frigate, HMS Westminster, and the following two will be built to a phased programme at six-month intervals.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East asked whether we intend to procure more than the initial batch of 50 Merlin ASW helicopters. We expect to order further aircraft in due course, but no decision has yet been taken or needs to be taken on the size and timing of the second batch.
Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight) : Will the additional ships enable the Royal Navy to fulfil its traditional role of providing a guard ship for the royal yacht Brittania during Cowes week? Last year, was, I believe the first occasion in peacetime when that was not possible.
Mr. Hamilton : I am well aware of the concern on the Isle of Wight that there was no guard ship for the royal yacht, but I cannot guarantee that there will always be a guard ship. That will depend on the number of ships that are available.
Mr. Rogers : It was originally proposed that the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force might order as many as 200 Merlin helicopters. The present figure is estimated at 50, which enhances the single cost of one helicopter alarmingly. Will the Minister say whether he will order 50 or nearer 200 of those helicopters?
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East asked about the disposal of decommissioned nuclear submarines. The Ministry of Defence continues actively to consider the options for disposing of the nuclear reactor plant from the Royal Navy's decommissioned nuclear submarines. The options are the piecemeal disposal of the reactor plant in the deep-level repository to be developed by Nirex, or shallow land burial of the intact reactor compartment. Sea disposal of the intact submarine has not been excluded, but we remain keenly aware of public concern in the United Kingdom, and internationally, about that method of disposal.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East asked about the vertical- launch Sea Wolf. As he knows, a contract for a vertically launched version of the Sea Wolf system was placed with British Aerospace in 1984. To date, no major delays have occurred in the development and production of that missile. The project's costs were
Column 732thoroughly reviewed in 1985 and subsequently re-endorsed in 1986, since when there have been no notable increases in real costs. The hon. Member for Dumbarton questioned the minimal real growth in the defence budget, which he thought thoroughly inappropriate to the times in which we live. I remind him that, when trying to maintain defence expenditure and capability at the same level, one faces rising wage costs, increases in the number of people employed and the fact that as equipment becomes more sophisticated it becomes more expensive.
The hon. Member for Dumbarton mentioned the use of private security firms. Labour Members suggest that the only good security guards are those employed in the public sector. I remind them that many lives were saved in Germany when a German civilian boilerman alerted people to an IRA attack, but was knocked over the head for his pains. We should concern ourselves with the quality of security guards, not who employs them. We aim to improve the quality of security firms employed at our bases.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) made several remarks with which I had much sympathy ; I normally find that I agree with the bulk of what he says. Significantly, he said that we must get the conventional forces in Europe negotiations out of the way. Let us get the treaty signed before considering maritime arms control. If we were to add the further element of maritime arms control we would delay the formal signing of that treaty. I need not remind the House that originally maritime arms controls were specifically excluded from the CFE arrangements.
The hon. and learned Member rightly said that in future we will need to consider the question of reinforcements, our ability to have mobile troops and the specialisation that we may need following future arms control agreements.
My hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) made a welcome contribution to the debate. It is sad that he has had to wait so many years to address the House. I should like to remind the House of the sacrifices that are made by Whips, which are rarely appreciated ; they are appreciated probably even more rarely by our constituents. He wondered, and I could not agree with him more, whether the Labour party is any wiser today than Governments were in calling for disarmament before the last war.
The hon. Member for Attercliffe paid tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome, and mentioned his courage in the last war. My late father served in the same Guards armoured brigade as my hon. Friend. They were both Coldstreamers, but my father was on his feet and my hon. Friend was in tanks. My father saw him blown up three times. The last time that he saw him carried away, he thought that he would never see him again--and he nearly did not. My hon. Friend was critically ill for many months, and it is a miracle that he is with us today. It is a matter of great sadness to me that he will be leaving the House at the end of this Parliament. Let us face it, we do not have many people here who are decorated as he was in the last war. [ Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."]
The hon. Member for Attercliffe went on to spell out the difficulties that we are facing with CFE. It certainly is not a simple business of negotiating with the Warsaw pact. It is not a matter of lack of good will on either side. There
Column 733are great difficulties of definition and verification but, as the hon. Gentleman said, there is no reluctance to reach agreement. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) raised the issue of women going to sea. He seemed to be against it, but I am grateful that my hon. Friends the Members for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin) did not agree with him. I think that many Opposition Members believe that it is right that women should be able to go to sea. I am pleased to be able to announce that we intend to extend the employment of members of the Women's Royal Naval Service to include service at sea in surface ships of the Royal Navy. Our decision has been taken against a background of concern about the Royal Navy's future manning position, but we have also been mindful that the current restrictions on Wrens' employment were in any case ripe for review in the light of developments in other navies and of domestic social trends. It follows decisions already reached and announced to widen the employment opportunities for members of the Women's Royal Army Corps and the Women's Royal Air Force.
There is one important distinction between these earlier announcements and that for the Royal Navy. It stems from the nature of naval operations, and it is that officers and ratings of the Wrens serving at sea are liable to serve there in combat. This represents a change in the long-standing policy that women should not undertake duties that may include direct combat. We have concluded that to attempt to categorise ships as "combat" and "non- combat" would be artificial and misleading in the context of modern maritime warfare, when all ships will be liable to serve in potentially dangerous waters.
We plan for women to serve on a wide range of ships, including the carriers and amphibious ships. A team has been appointed to plan the early selection and modification of vessels so that members of the Wrens may be drafted to sea, and our aim is for the first of them to be embarked by the end of the year. Present plans do not include extending mixed manning to the submarine flotilla, but early studies will be conducted into the employment of women as naval air crew and in the Royal Marines. Separate work is in hand to determine how women can serve at sea in ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.
Serving members of the Wrens will be given the opportunity to volunteer for sea service and those selected will then receive appropriate sea training. From a date to be announced, all new recruits will be required to accept liability for sea service throughout their careers. Initially, sea service for women will be more common in branches and specialisations in which there are shortages of men. The aim, however, is to offer the widest possible opportunities to all Wrens.
Clearly, it is important in this context to seek the greatest possible equality in terms of service for women. This principle is being extended to our administrative planning including pay for Wrens at sea and, logically, includes the right for women to remain embarked whatever the nature of the vessel's employment. That, of course, means that, if a naval vessel is going to war, there will be no question of taking the women off it.
Column 734This major change will also help to ease the pressures on men by reducing gapping in the fleet and improving the ratio of sea-to-shore service in those branches where shortages have been most pronounced. We are conscious of the fact that this decision marks a significant step in the evolution of the role of women in the armed services. On the one hand, it opens up important new opportunities for members of the Wrens. On the other, it will expose them to all the potential dangers of service in naval vessels, dangers from which they have hitherto been shielded. I am sure that, as ever, the service will rise to meet the challenge.
Mr. Sayeed : I think that my hon. Friend should have had that part of his speech rewritten. Does he think that the proposal will pose any problems of retention for those currently serving in the Navy? Will their wives be happy about their serving alongside Wrens? And did the Second Sea Lord, the director of personnel, fully agree with the idea?
Mr. Hamilton : Yes, the decision was taken unanimously by the whole Admiralty Board. My hon. Friend asked about the reaction of womenfolk at home. That was certainly a problem encountered by the Dutch navy, with whose representatives I went to talk. They said that there was a problem initially--lasting 12 to 18 months--and they operated a hotline so that people could ring up and find out what was going on. That reassured them, and they now have no difficulties.
It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
That, at the sitting on Wednesday 7th February,
(1) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business), the Motions in the name of Mr. Secretary Newton relating to Social Security (in respect of the Social Security (Contributions) (Re- rating) Order 1990 and the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 1990), Terms and Conditions of Employment and Pensions may be proceeded with until Seven o'clock ; and, if those proceedings have not previously been disposed of, Mr. Speaker shall at that hour put the Question already proposed from the Chair and shall then put forthwith successively the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the remaining Motions ; and
(2) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Orders Nos. 14 (Exempted business) and 15 (Prayers against statutory instruments, &c. (negative procedure)), the Motions in the names of Mr. Secretary Newton relating to Social Security (in respect of the Social Security (Industrial Injuries) (Regular Employment) Regulations 1990 and the Social Security (Recoupment) Regulations 1990) and of Mr. Neil Kinnock relating to Social Security may be proceeded with until Ten o'clock ; and, if those proceedings have not previously been disposed of, Mr. Speaker shall at that hour put the Question already proposed from the Chair and shall then put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the remaining Motion in the name of Mr. Secretary Newton, and no further such Motion shall then be made.-- [Mr. Nicholas Baker.]
That, at the sitting on Tuesday 6th February, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business), Mr. Speaker shall not later than Ten o'clock put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of the Prime Minister relating to Agriculture.-- [Mr. Nicholas Baker.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn-- [Mr. Nicholas Baker.]
Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale) : I am grateful to have the opportunity of this Adjournment debate to bring to the attention of the House the provision of hospital beds in my constituency. I shall give a little background--not that my hon. Friend the Minister will need any background information because, as a diligent Minister, she will not doubt have done a great deal of homework on the problems that my constituents face.
My constituency is in the south of Trafford and I feel that, in hospital services, we have been the Cinderella of our area. For years, we were promised a new hospital. The site was even chosen and I believe that we were on the verge of getting a decision when suddenly the hospital was chopped, not by the Department of Health but by the North Western regional health authority. Over the years, I have repeatedly tried to find out why that decision was made and I have never really had an answer. It must go down as one of life's great mysteries.
If that promise had been kept and we had had the new hospital, my constituents would have had much better hospital provision than they now enjoy. I must stress to my hon. Friend the enormous sense of disappointment in our area when the decision to chop that hospital was made. We were promised at the time that Wythenshawe hospital would be made available to my constituents. I realise that in Trafford we have our own district hospital, which was called Park hospital and is now called Trafford general hospital, but that is in the north of Trafford and it is difficult for some of my constituents to get there. In 1988 my father, then in his nineties, was a patient there and we had to visit him regularly. We had a car but we noticed how difficult it was to get there and thought how much more difficult it would be for people without their own transport--particularly elderly people.
Wythenshawe hospital has always been much more readily accessible to my constituents, and as long as that was an option, people were not too unhappy. But in 1989 both Trafford and South Manchester health authorities issued consultative documents. I shall deal first with that issued by Trafford. Trafford feared a £1.1 million overspend and put forward a number of options, which it said may--I stress "may"--have to be implemented.
The first of these was perhaps the most controversial, and that was the proposed closure of the accident and emergency service at Altrincham hospital. If that happened, residents needing casualty treatment would have to go to Trafford general hospital, Withington hospital or Wythenshawe hospital, all of which would entail travelling a considerable distance, which is unacceptable to my constituents. Almost 20,000 patients are treated in the accident department in a year.
Altrincham hospital has a special place in the affections of the people in the area. The hospital is small and has been there for many years. I was a patient there in 1978 when I had my gall bladder removed. I went in as a National Health Service patient, and I cannot speak too highly of the treatment that I received. I am sure that thousands of people who have been patients at that hospital over the years would take up that theme. There is an enormous
Column 736feeling for the hospital, but over the years the facilities have been reduced, and the closure of the accident department would be the last straw.
The next option was the closure of the geriatic inpatient services at St. Anne's hospital. A few years ago, there was a geriatric unit at Denzel hospital. That hospital was a beautiful old house, but it was not quite the place for a geriatric unit. When the decision was taken to close it, I did not shed any tears. I was told that the elderly people from that unit were to be dispersed to private homes in the area and I was assured that they would all be taken care of. However, the point was missed.
That little collection of geriatric patients had formed a community. Their relatives cared deeply about them. They visited them regularly and wanted to keep them together as a community. I respect the way in which those people fought for their elderly relatives. In the end they won the battle and those elderly people were kept together as a community. Wards were reopened in St. Anne's hospital and the old people went there. However, they are now under threat once more.
The third option was the cessation of general family planning services. I will say nothing about that tonight, because this debate is about hospital provision.
When Trafford announced that there was likely to be a deficit of £1.1 million, my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) and I went to see my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health. He assured us last year that more money would be going to Trafford. However, we are still not sure how much money will come to us or what affect it will have.
Trafford community health council, in its response to Trafford health authority, said :
"Her Majesty's Government should provide sufficient funds to enable Trafford health authority to maintain appropriate and adequate National Health Services within Trafford."
The theme that more money is the answer to our problems is repeated over and over again.
When my hon. Friend the Minister replies, will she tell us what Trafford health authority's budget was in 1979 and what it is this year? More importantly, will she tell us the level of activity during those years? More and more people have been treated, but people's expectations have also risen enormously.
It is very interesting that the local Labour party always takes 1979 as the starting point for its comparisons. Apparently something very startling happened in 1979, and of course we are all aware what that was--the Conservative party was returned to office. By starting from 1979, the Labour party conveniently forgets what happened before then.
Labour Members are like political Rip van Winkels who sleep for years. If they managed to sleep through the whole of the period of the last Labour Government, they were very lucky. If they had remained conscious, they would know that under a Labour Government the NHS suffered the most severe cuts in its history when the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), as Chancellor of the Exchequer, had to go cap in hand to the International Monetary Fund to bail us out after Labour's disastrous policies had ground to a halt.
Tonight Trafford community health council is holding a public meeting in my constituency. With its customary vigour, the local Labour party has sent out leaflets urging people to attend. I have sent my hon. Friend the Minister