Lords amendments, as amended, agreed to.
1. Mr. Cohen : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the implications of an elimination of the imbalance of conventional forces in Europe for the procurement of theatre nuclear weapons.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom King) : While we warmly welcome the current changes in eastern Europe, we strongly support NATO's strategy that an effective mix of conventional and nuclear forces will continue to offer the best guarantee of our future peace and security.
Mr. Cohen : As President Bush's proposed troop cuts in Europe were warmly greeted in the Soviet Union, there must be a real chance of eliminating conventional forces imbalances and making attack impractical. In those circumstances, is not the Government's strategy of having and using early theatre nuclear weapons obsolete? Are not the Government guilty of taking no account of what is happening in Europe? As proof of that, are not the Government contemplating taking the follow-on to Lance in the United Kingdom in the hope of foisting it on Germany in future? Is not that plain barmy?
Mr. King : I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that our strategy is NATO strategy, which his party--certainly its Front-Bench spokesmen--is supposed to support. We continue to support an effective mix of conventional and nuclear forces. That is NATO strategy.
Sir John Stokes : Is my right hon. Friend aware that, contrary to what the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) has just said, the vast majority of people in this country fully support the nuclear shield in the present uncertain times and believe that on no account must it be dropped? My right hon. Friend has the backing of the vast majority of people in this country.
Mr. King : The truth is that balance or imbalance in conventional forces has never been a pure deterrent. There was a clear message from the last war, which Hitler started with an imbalance against him. He showed how he could
Column 744still succeed with conventional arms. It is clear that nuclear weapons have been a deterrent. That is widely recognised and is the policy which we support and shall continue to support.
Mr. O'Neill : What evidence does the Secretary of State have to support the view that there will be any financial capability in either the Senate or the House of Representatives to back a follow-on to Lance?
Mr. King : The hon. Gentleman knows that Mr. Cheney has put forward his proposals to Congress, which include financial provision for the modernisation of theatre nuclear weapons. That is the position of the United States Administration. The hon. Gentleman also knows that that was covered in the summit communique of the NATO leaders, which I imagine that he supports, in which the need for modernisation was recognised.
2. Mr. David Evans : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what will be the imbalance between Warsaw pact and NATO forces in (a) tanks and artillery and (b) combat aircraft following the completion in the reductions announced by the Soviet Union in December 1988.
Mr. Tom King : At present, the Soviet Union and its allies retain a substantial advantage in conventional forces and, even after the completion of the unilateral withdrawals and reductions programmes announced by them, and before a CFE agreement is implemented, we estimate that they will continue to have an advantage of some 2.4 : 1 in tanks and artillery, and 1.8 : 1 in combat aircraft.
Mr. Evans : I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Does he agree that with the changes going on in eastern Europe and with Russia falling apart, the nuclear deterrent and nuclear forces should be maintained? With Libya, Iraq and Iran likely to have nuclear forces in future, does he agree that we should maintain our nuclear presence and, in future, have more conventional forces and more nuclear weapons? What price freedom?
Mr. King : We all welcome the tremendous changes that are taking place in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union at present. Obviously, that holds out the prospect of a greater chance of peace and greater stability, and a lessening of tension, armaments and weapons. At the same time, it is clear that there are real dangers and tremendous uncertainties now, and it is necessary to be prudent. Many people think that the present time is particularly dangerous and, while we welcome the end of the sterile and frozen position of the cold war, none the less those changes bring dangers of their own.
Mr. John Marshall : Does my right hon. Friend agree that when empires are collapsing, there is a real risk of war? Does he not agree that that fact, and the huge imbalance between East and West, emphasises that any talk of a peace dividend at present is excessively premature?
Column 745Mr. King : My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) referred to the nuclear deterrent. While we can see what look like substantial and probably irreversible changes in the structure of the Warsaw pact, and of its conventional forces, there is no question but that, under Mr. Gorbachev, there has been a significant strengthening of Soviet strategic nuclear forces and of their capability. We certainly hope that we are moving towards a more sensible and rational relationship between East and West, but we must recognise the very real forces that could be used against us.
Mr. Duffy : However satisfactory the outcome of CFE1--and there is no want of goodwill on either side--given current Soviet tank technology and the urgency that the Secretary of State quite properly attaches to a successful third generation of Trigat, there remains a residual need for main battle tanks, although they may well become lighter and more portable. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider acknowledging that publicly, thus reassuring those responsible for preserving the industrial capacity without which we shall not be able to provide tanks in future? I am thinking of those who work at Leeds tank factory.
Mr. King : I understand entirely the hon. Gentleman's point, which he put so eloquently on behalf of his constituents. Certainly, arms reductions and the proposals in CFE involve some reductions in tanks on either side, but there is no doubt that, even within that framework, we have certain problems with the age of present tank components, and we need to ensure that we have a modern tank capability. I think that there is a prospect of significant purchases of tanks, and it is worth putting that on record, but I will not be drawn further on exact details.
Mr. Rogers : In view of the Secretary of State's expressed concern about the imbalance that will occur after the talks, and in view of the answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy), will he tell the House when he will make a decision on the Challenger replacement and on the European fighter aircraft? Many hon. Members on both sides of the House are extremely concerned that we shall go outside of Britain to purchase a battle tank and that it will mean the collapse of the tank industry in this country.
Mr. King : I think that the hon. Gentleman is aware of the programme that is set up for that. The final milestone is in September and, subject to satisfactory achievement of that, which we obviously hope will happen, we shall sit down and examine all the options and reach a decision as early as we can.
Mr. Jack : May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his efforts in connection with the European fighter aircraft radar? He will be aware that there is still uncertainty surrounding that project. Will he confirm to the House today that the Government are still 100 per cent. committed to the project, and will he outline the future course of action that he sees being pursued, particularly with the West German Government, to resolve outstanding problems?
Mr. King : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. He will have noticed that, at the last meeting that I had with Dr. Stoltenberg, the West German Defence Minister, we both reaffirmed the commitment of our two
Column 746Governments to the EFA project. In respect of the ECR90 radar, developments associated with it, the acquisition of Ferranti Defence Systems by GEC, and any remaining contractual matters, I hope that it will be possible for them to be resolved shortly. I also hope that it will be possible for there to be public confirmation of that by both Governments.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Michael Neubert) : In the 12 months ending 30 November 1989 there were 6,396 entrants and 7,609 leavers in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines ; 22,063 entrants and 25,129 leavers in the Army ; and 6,957 entrants and 9,570 leavers in the Royal Air Force.
Mr. Young : Do not those figures--coupled with the Statement on the Defence Estimates--show a clear dissatisfaction with life in the forces? Given the current reduction in tension between East and West, would not a more realistic policy be the reduction of arms and personnel rather than an attempt to redeploy the Wrens or to stockpile the successor to Lance?
Mr. Neubert : I have to listen attentively to the hon. Gentleman when he mentions dissatisfaction in the armed forces, because he was PPS to the last Labour defence Minister, Lord Mulley. At that time--the late 1970s --there were many premature departures as a result of the demoralisation caused by poor pay and conditions and the low priority given to defence expenditure. Under the present Government, with their buoyant economy, the problem of retention is caused by employment opportunities outside the forces, despite the greatly improved pay and conditions.
Mr. Wilkinson : In my hon. Friend's review--although he would probably not call it that--of the long-term consequences of any continued outflow of experienced and highly skilled personnel, will he examine the possibility of the reserves--particularly air and naval reserves--playing a much larger part in our defence, especially if the reduction in European tensions persists?
Mr. Neubert : I assure the House that recruitment is doing rather well. In 1988-89 it was up on the previous year, and the current recruitment year looks set to be better than the last. We are obviously able to recruit large numbers of young men and women to the armed forces. As for the future, we have achieved under this Government a cash settlement for the next three years, an increase of £1 billion in each year, an increase in real terms, and this does enable us to boost measures both to recruit and retain. The reserves are an important factor in our equation, and we shall continue to recruit extra members.
Mr. O'Neill : Hon. Members on both sides of the House welcome the contribution to be made by women in all three services. Will the Minister tell us, however, what preparations he has in mind to accommodate Mr. Colin Wallace in the armed forces if the Calcutt inquiry finds in his favour? Would it not be simpler to arrange a wider
Column 747inquiry that would cover all aspects of the matter, rather than dealing merely with the employment rights of one individual involved in the smear tactics of the 1970s?
Mr. Neubert : To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Colin Wallace was neither an entrant to nor a leaver of the armed forces in the year ending 30 November 1989. I can suggest only that the hon. Gentleman stays up late tonight and listens to the Adjournment debate on the subject.
Mr. David Martin : As my hon. Friend faces the problems of retention, will he always keep under review policy on retirement ages? The royal naval detention quarters at the Portsmouth naval base provide a good example of good service by people who would normally have retired, and I am sure that the services provide opportunities for a much more flexible policy on retirement age generally.
Mr. Neubert : I welcome my hon. Friend's commendation of flexibility in that regard, as in others. We shall be considering a wide range of imaginative measures to improve our retention rates. We are seeking to improve the quality of life through a major programme of refurbishment of married quarters, and trying to provide better professional job satisfaction by contracting out cleaning and the painting of ships. We are also seeking reduced turbulence in the Army by increasing the length of tours.
Ms. Primarolo : As the threat from the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc has diminished virtually to non-existence why is the Minister having discussions with the French about building a nuclear weapon? Will he tell us at whom the weapon is targeted, whether it breaches the intermediate nuclear forces agreement and how many billions of pounds will be wasted on that cold war attitude, when we could be spending money on diversification programmes to employ people in the defence industry?
Mr. Clark : I have some sympathy with the first part of the hon. Lady's question, but lead times in weapons procurement are such that we are discussing a weapons system that is unlikely to be in service until the first decades of the next century. I cannot predict, and nor can anyone else in the House of Commons, who the enemies of the United Kingdom will be or where they will be located.
Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith : When looking at the extent and development of Anglo-French nuclear co-operation, will my hon. Friend bear in mind the recent modernisation by the Soviet Union of its own nuclear capability, including air-launched cruise missiles?
Column 748have the last nuclear weapon on the planet ; they will allow everyone else to disarm but will insist that the last nuclear weapon bears the tricolor alongside its registration number? In view of that ambition, will the Minister make sure that we are not tied down to follow the same policy, which may be unwise and utterly unimaginative?
Mr. Tom King : We shall continue to provide for the strong and assured defence of the United Kingdom, and to meet our NATO and out-of-area obligations. We shall maintain the conventional forces that we need for those tasks, together with an independent nuclear deterrent. The future structure of our forces will need to take account of international developments and progress in arms control negotiations ; and naturally we shall continue to examine options for change, subject always to assuring the United Kingdom's fundamental security.
Mr. Leigh : My right hon. Friend is right to be cautious. The events in eastern Europe are as momentous as their outcome is obscure. Is my right hon. Friend aware of a growing body of opinion among those whose commitment to defence is not in doubt, that if we are to avoid dangerous delays in future, contingency plans may have to be made now for what may be forced on us : a traditional alliance based on strong maritime defence and a well- equipped, home-based Army? It would be a tragedy if the Government, having so decisively won the cold war, were to fail to inherit the uneasy peace.
Mr. James Lamond : When the Soviet Union was alleged to be strong and in full command of the Warsaw pact, we were told that it was impossible to contemplate disarmament. Now that the talks at Vienna are going very well and President Bush is negotiating troop reductions with President Gorbachev over the heads of NATO, why does the Secretary of State for Defence still say that we need the strongest possible defence and to build more nuclear weapons? Will he tell us when and in what circumstances we can begin to dismantle our nuclear weapons?
Mr. King : The hon. Gentleman referred to the United States Government negotiating over the heads of their allies. I should like to pay tribute to the consultation from President Bush, Mr. Eagleburger, Mr. Gates and General Butler, whom I had the pleasure of meeting on Monday before I went to Washington, well in advance of the communication with the Soviet Union that confirmed the President's proposals.
Column 749place in eastern Europe, which we hope will endure and which offer the prospect of economies and changes in our defence arrangements.
Sir Jim Spicer : In looking to the future, will my right hon. Friend make it quite clear that he will not react to what I call the immediate "action man" calls from Opposition Members, but that any statement that he makes and any review that is undertaken will be measured, will take account of all the circumstances and will, in particular, bear in mind the absolute certainty that we need to change the weight of defence policy from armour to airborne?
Mr. King : We certainly need to ensure that we maintain effective security for our country and that we make an effective contribution to the Alliance. Those are our clearly stated objectives. The point was well put by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement that it is easy to stop things, but it is very much harder and takes very much longer to start them again. Some of the procurement processes in which we might be involved to ensure the long-term security of our country can be very long indeed.
Mr. King : No, it is not a question of specific conditions. We must keep under review the changes that are taking place. There is not some quick trick or some smart answer to this problem. We must make an overall assessment of the threat that we face--whatever it may be or from wherever it may come, not just in western Europe--to determine what effective response to make.
7. Mr. Viggers : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had with his counterparts in NATO on the defence implications of recent developments within eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
Mr. Tom King : The last NATO meeting was on 28 and 29 November. Since then, I have had meetings with my German and French colleagues, as well as my visit to Washington last week for discussions with Mr. Cheney. In addition, I met informally a number of other NATO colleagues last weekend at the Wehrkunde conference.
Mr. Viggers : Having sat through yesterday's debate on the Royal Navy, I should like to ask whether my right hon. Friend shares my concern about the siren voices of Labour Members urging us to contemplate how to spend the so-called peace dividend. Does he agree that this is the modern equivalent of what used to be called careless talk? The right attitude, surely, is to work carefully with our NATO colleagues, bearing in mind the comments of its Secretary General that there are many destabilising, and prospective destabilising, elements in Europe, not least of which is the uncertain status of a prospective united Germany?
Column 750NATO's policy of maintaining an effective and credible defence, yet it claims that the peace dividend should be made available immediately for spending. The British people recognise that dishonesty.
Mr. Cartwright : As there is clearly a need to reshape NATO's forces to take account of the changing threat, is not it essential that that process is undertaken on an Alliancewide basis rather than by unilateral cuts? Is the Secretary of State happy that some NATO members seem to be determined to cash in the benefits of arms control before the cheque has arrived in the bank?
Mr. King : I certainly agree that any changes must be made after consultation among allies and must follow clear advice from the military advisers, under the leadership of Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, General Galvin, to ensure that whatever changes and reductions are made, they maintain the military credibility and effectiveness of Alliance defence.
Mr. William Powell : Is my right hon. Friend aware that yesterday I attempted to cross the Berlin wall at the Brandenburg gate and that despite my possessing a British passport the East German border guards, courteously and correctly, directed me to Checkpoint Charlie, because British citizens are able to cross from West to East Berlin only under a treaty signed in 1948? Is not that completely out of date, and will my right hon. Friend discuss with our NATO partners, as a matter of urgency, the revising of the arrangements for Berlin so that they more accurately reflect current and contemporary practice?
Mr. King : We welcome my hon. Friend back from his interesting visit and I take note of his point. I suppose that it is technically correct to say that it does not merely involve our NATO allies if he is seeking to regularise the point that he mentioned.
Mr. Douglas : The Secretary of State should not stay in the ranks of the Tory troglodytes when even someone as obdurate in relation to the Soviets as Richard Perle recognises that there are changes in the eastern bloc. Can the Secretary of State not bring himself to contemplate the distinct change in the threat from the Soviets and from the so-called Warsaw pact and move towards a reassessment of our defence strategy, which would enable us to look more carefully and fruitfully at Mr. Gorbachev's overtures and to give him some assistance in his present difficulties in the Soviet Union?
Mr. King : Everyone is aware of what appear to be the fundamental and irreversible changes that are taking place, but I counsel the hon. Gentleman to realise how fragile the present situation is. At the very moment when I was talking to some Congressmen in Washington last week, a message was brought in to say that President Gorbachev had resigned. It transpired subsequently that it was an incorrect rumour, but it brought home clearly how fragile the situation was. The nervousness in that room brought home to me just how insecure the present position is.
The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Archie Hamilton) : We currently provide contingents to the United Nations force in Cyprus and the United Nations transition assistance group in Namibia. British Forces Cyprus also provide logistic support to the United Nations interim force in Lebanon and the disengagement observer force on the Golan Heights.
Mr. Shaw : Does my hon. Friend agree that over the years the record of British forces in supporting the United Nations peacekeeping forces has been admirable? Does he further agree that British forces might contribute quite a lot to a peacekeeping force in Cambodia? The great tragedy is that Cambodia has been invaded over many years by countries in its vicinity which have professed to instil a Socialist structure that has caused agony, dread and hatred in the Cambodian community? Does my hon. Friend agree that the presence of a British peacekeeping force with the United Nations in Cambodia would be a tremendous advantage for that country?
Mr. Hamilton : I share my hon. Friend's view that we should do everything that we can to help that unhappy country. I am aware that there is renewed interest in the possibility of United Nations supervision of a settlement in Cambodia, but it is too early to speculate on that, although I am sure that any request for British troops would be looked at sympathetically.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : In so far as the complement of British service personnel included Mr. Colin Wallace, who was also involved in monitoring activities as set out in the question on the Order Paper, and as I have sent the Secretary of State all the documents that were in my possession the other day, along with a 20-page written
Mr. Campbell-Savours : In so far as I sent the Minister a copy of a 20-page document which was hand-written by Colin Wallace in 1973 or 1974, and in so far as it relates to Clockwork Orange and attempts to undermine individual Labour, Conservative and Liberal politicians--
Mr. Rathbone : Will my hon. Friend reassure the House that Her Majesty's Government would make available British forces to the United Nations should it become more involved in the war against drug trafficking?
Mr. Hamilton : It is a novel idea that the United Nations might become involved in the war against drug trafficking. We are already playing a role by giving assistance to Colombia and because of the presence of the West Indian guard ship in the Caribbean. However, it is a proposition that we would consider with sympathy.
10. Mr. Ray Powell : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what advice is given to armed services personnel and their families about their eligibility for social security and housing benefits and poll tax rebate.
Mr. Neubert : In general terms, the eligibility of service personnel for social security benefits, housing benefits and community charge rebates is the same as for other members of the public. Therefore, the various leaflets issued by the Department of Social Security and local authorities are equally applicable to them. These are supplemented, where appropriate, by information from service sources. As for the community charge benefit, personnel have been advised of the existence of the scheme and are encouraged to check their eligibility for it.
Mr. Ray Powell : Is it not obscene that a top general can be receiving £95,000 a year, and an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer £200, 000 a year, yet our service men have to depend on handouts from social security? Is it not about time that the hon. Gentleman and the Government started to give real people real money instead of protecting the powerful and the rich?
Mr. Neubert : It is extremely disappointing that the politics of envy are still alive and well on the Opposition Benches. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the circumstances that he outlined would be very untypical. It would have to be a squaddie with a number of children and a wife not working to qualify for community charge benefit. This is because today's modern professional armed forces, under a Conservative Government, receive very good rates of pay.
Mr. Ian Bruce : Does my hon. Friend agree that far from the picture painted by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), the members of Her Majesty's armed forces understand very well that their terms and conditions and pay under a Conservative Government are far better than they have ever been, and that they dread the thought of a Labour Government coming to power?
Mr. Neubert : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The pay and conditions of today's armed forces are a crucial factor in our sustaining their support, loyalty and dedication, and there is no question but that if a Labour Government dedicated to substantial cuts in defence expenditure were to be returned to office, the prospects for serving men and women would be very bleak indeed.
Mr. Wigley : In the context of state assistance for those who have served in the armed forces, can the Minister give any idea of the Government's latest thinking on the undoubted suffering of those who were exposed to radioactivity in tests in the south Pacific? Will he come forward with compensation payments for those people?
Mr. Neubert : That scarcely arises from the question on the Order Paper, but I can say that the Government's position remains the same : if there was evidence that such illness were directly attributable to taking part in those tests, compensation would be considered as a matter of course.
Column 753Mr. Neubert : It is hoped that the introduction of the community charge scheme for serving men and women as well as for the civilian population will encourage them to play more of a part in their local community. To do this they are encouraged and advised to register electorally so that, by their votes, they can influence decisions at the town hall. We are anxious not to encourage a laager mentality among our serving men and women.
Mr. Alan Clark : The insurance of arms exports, as for any other form of exports, is primarily a matter between the Export Credits Guarantee Department and the exporter concerned. My right hon. Friend may give advice where the Defence Export Services Organisation has been involved in the sale negotiations or where specific matters of defence interest are concerned.
Mr. Cousins : Since £2.5 billion worth of arms exports are covered by export credits guarantees, what steps does the Minister take to ensure that the end users of those weapons are not terrorists, official or unofficial? In particular, did the Minister okay the sale of radar equipment for Chinese fighter aircraft last summer when the blood of Tiananmen square was hardly dry on the ground?
Mr. Clark : There are strict controls which are applied jointly by a consultative process among my Department, the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry. They sometimes relate to the countries involved in particular conflict areas, such as the Gulf, and they are invariably broadly drawn to take into account human rights and other considerations. I was at the Department of Trade and Industry at the time of the sale of the radar to China. My recollection differs from that of the hon. Gentleman because I believe that the export licences were granted before Tiananmen square, not afterwards as he maintains.
Mr. Barry Field : Does my hon. Friend agree that events in eastern Europe could seriously affect the British arms export industry? Will he commission an appreciation of the effect on jobs and prosperity, particularly in the south-east, if there is a substantial cancellation of or downturn in arms sales from Britain?
Mr. Clark : No procurement decisions have been made which may relate to whatever interpretation my hon. Friend or others put on events in eastern Europe. But they will not necessarily have as severe an impact upon employment as my hon. Friend suggests.