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Mr. Tom King : That was one of the matters that I discussed with Mr. Dick Cheney during my visit to
Column 754Washington last week, when he confirmed to me that the Trident D5 system is expected to enter service with the United States navy at the end of next month.
Mr. Bennett : Does the Secretary of State agree that many defence analysts in the United States think that there is at least a 50 per cent. chance that the Americans will cancel the D5 programme, that there is grave concern about its technical problems, that there is great pressure in Congress for financial savings and that there is also a possibility that the United States will negotiate it away? Does not that leave the British Government with a major strategy problem and is not that the explanation for the talks with the French to try to develop a new nuclear weapon?
Mr. King : The answer to the latter part of the question is no. That is an entirely different sort of weapon. The hon. Gentleman cannot have listened to my answer. He says that he thinks the Americans might be about to cancel the Trident D5 system, but did he not hear me say that it is coming into service at the end of next month? He may also have noticed the proposal that the United States Administration put to Congress last week requesting funds for the 18th Trident submarine and 52 Trident 2 missiles.
Dr. Hampson : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, given the potential instability in central and eastern Europe, and who knows what might be the longer-term commitment of the United States to Europe, it becomes even more crucial that we retain a credible independent nuclear deterrent so that potential territorial ethnic disputes in central Europe are not dragged into a wider context of the major powers?
Mr. King : My hon. Friend is aware that even if the Start negotiations are completed successfully, the Soviet Union will still be left with a substantial and modernised strategic capability. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) implied about the attitude of Congress, I found that, not only in the Administration but among the responsible leaders in Congress, whatever other changes might be envisaged, the importance of preserving a strategic nuclear deterrent was clearly recognised throughout Congress.
13. Mr. Michael : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make it his policy that safety practices to be observed by members of Her Majesty's services and contractors undertaking work for them are subject to adequate monitoring and that the results of such monitoring is open to normal public access where no considerations of national security dictate otherwise.
Mr. Neubert : Service units and other Ministry of Defence establishments already carry out checks on all work activities as a normal routine to ensure the safety of the operation. They are also subject to periodic checks by the Health and Safety Executive. We do not intend to publish the results of such monitoring which are produced for internal management purposes. It is our normal practice to ensure that the public are properly informed in any case of wider concern.
Mr. Michael : Why does the Minister seek to limit public access to information when no national security is
Column 755involved? Is he aware that it looked ludicrous a few weeks ago when he tried to limit answers about broken hawsers on a submarine? Is he aware that it became absolutely ludicrous when a Member of this House was unable to get answers about an accident in his constituency, yet a member of the American legislature was able to get answers in Washington about that precise accident, which took place in Gwent? Does he agree that there is something wrong about that?
Mr. Neubert : The Government are required to observe the Health and Safety at Work Act etc. 1974, except in a very few circumstances which relate to national security and the defence of the nation. There is, therefore, no call for the wider access for which the hon. Gentleman asks because routine matters are dealt with under that Act and meet the requirements of the legislation. Other matters would, in any event, be classified.
Q1. Mr. Sean Hughes : To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 6 February.
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 shall attend a reception to commemorate the 150th anniversary of New Zealand's founding treaty.
Mr. Hughes : Will the Prime Minister explain which is the more effective way to enhance the security of this country? Is it by investment in a new short-range nuclear missile or by development aid to the economies of those very countries against which the missiles are targeted?
The Prime Minister : It is to keep a sure defence, both for the NATO area and for our out-of-area obligations. That means keeping good conventional forces, which also means keeping a nuclear deterrent, and reducing those conventional forces only in accordance with the CFE negotiations that are being conducted and in agreement with NATO.
Dr. Michael Clark : To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 6 February.
The Prime Minister : I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Dr. Clark : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the high value of the green pound is adversely affecting farm incomes in a serious way? Does she agree that the green pound is an anachronism which should be abolished so that British farmers, like other British business men, can trade in the pound sterling?
The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend that the green pound system at present causes British farmers to receive lower prices than their competitors and that those lower prices must be eliminated by 1992 at the latest. We agree in the European Community that they should be eliminated and we also agree that progress should be made towards that objective in the forthcoming negotiations on farm prices.
Mr. Kinnock : Does the Prime Minister accept the conclusions of Her Majesty's inspectors who say that one third of Britain's schoolchildren are getting a raw deal? Does she consider that to be a damning indictment of her Government?
The Prime Minister : I have read the inspectors' report very carefully-- [Interruption.] Paragraphs 3 and 4 give the overall picture and perhaps a better summing-up than that given by the right hon. Gentleman. They say :
"The overall picture is of a service in which most of what is done is of reasonable quality or better. That is a sound basis for improvement and change and should be recognised as such." Of course, they went on to say that a number of things were wrong and needed to be remedied-- [Interruption.] --and they went on : "Across schools and colleges around 70 to 80 per cent. of the work seen was judged to be satisfactory or better : roughly one-third of it at all levels was adjudged good or very good. That is not a profile of a service in great difficulty about its general standards of work."
Mr. Kinnock : Does the Prime Minister realise what she is really saying-- that because on two thirds of cases things are not bad, it somehow justifies the fact that in one third of cases they are lousy? Does she recognise that the inspectors themselves--since the right hon. Lady wishes to quote from their report--say that the
"overarching picture must not hide the fact that there are serious problems"
and that in 30 per cent. of cases pupils are "getting a raw deal"? If she intends to try to get at the truth, why will she not go for the whole truth?
The Prime Minister : I have read out the general view and the words that I used were the inspectors', not mine.
Mr. Kinnock : It is in the report.
The Prime Minister : Yes, I have the report, too. I pointed out that some things still need to be done, although much is being done and improvements are being made under this Government. More is being spent on education per pupil than ever before ; there are more teachers in proportion to pupils than ever before ; the new national curriculum is warmly praised by the inspectorate ; and there has just been a recommendation for teachers' pay which gives special help to those teachers whom we need, especially in the shortage subjects. It is a good report. It highlights things that need to be done. Those things are under way, including an extra £400 million capital support for further developments in schools.
Mr. Kinnock : The Prime Minister speaks of a good report. That shows how easily she is satisfied with the mistreatment of other people's children in education. She speaks of reforms. Which of her reforms will provide the maths teachers, the science teachers, the technology teachers and the language teachers where there are none or when, as the report says, they are inadequately trained? Which of her reforms-- [Interruption.] Conservative Members do not even send their children to state schools. Which of her reforms will provide books in libraries where there are no books ; equipment in laboratories where there is no equipment ; raise the morale of the teaching force ; and stop the buildings from crumbling? [Interruption.] Eighty-five per cent. of parents are concerned. Which of those reforms will stop the children of this generation being failed and their future being betrayed?
Column 757The Prime Minister : I am glad that the inspectors faced their task more calmly that the right hon. Gentleman-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker : Order. Let us settle down.
The Prime Minister : More money is being spent per pupil in real terms than ever before. There are more teachers in proportion to children that ever before. There is a good new teachers' pay settlement that will help to recruit those teachers that are in short supply in particular subjects. There is a new national curriculum, and the inspectors' report says :
"Across schools of all types, the implementation of the national curriculum is beginning to bring about specific and general improvement",
"The majority of the primary schools visited had suitable and reasonably well-maintained accommodation".
Yes, of course there are still things to be done. There always will be, but it takes time-- [Interruption.] Opposition Members ask questions in a very temperamental way and refuse to listen to the answers. The education service is in far better shape than it has ever been.
Q3. Mr. Latham : To ask the Prime Minister whether she will pay an official visit to East Germany.
The Prime Minister : I have at present no plans to do so. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs made a successful visit to East Berlin and to the German Democratic Republic on 22 to 24 January.
Mr. Latham : Since a free and reunified Germany seems not only inevitable but imminent, will my right hon. Friend confirm that that will have immense implications for western defence policy? Will it not require detailed, radical and possibly uncomfortable consideration by the NATO leaders?
The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend that the German people are likely to vote for unification. I agree with him, too, that it is a matter not only for the German people but for other countries which will be seriously affected by it. Germany has also entered into obligations under the NATO Alliance--we must consider its effect on that--the Helsinki accord which 35 nations signed, and the four-power agreement on Berlin. We must agree these things. It seems that a lengthy transition period is needed so that they can all be properly worked out and so that the unification of Germany gives rise not to more worries but to greater security.
We must keep up the level of our defence, both conventional and nuclear, and not make changes until they are agreed with NATO or through the CFE talks.
Mr. Harry Ewing : Will the Prime Minister give an absolute guarantee that if the two Germanys want to unite she will not use the veto available to her under the 1954 convention signed by the United Kingdom, France and America, but will allow the will of the German people to prevail over her prejudice?
The Prime Minister : If the hon. Gentleman had been able to listen to what I said, he would have found his question answered. It is also answered by the agreement in the Strasbourg communique from the European Twelve, after we had agreed that unification must come about in
Column 758accordance with the other obligations that Germany has entered into--the NATO agreement and the Helsinki agreement, under which 35 nations agreed not to change boundaries except by peaceful accord--and in consideration of the four-power arrangement in Berlin. I do not think that there will be any difficulty with Chancellor Kohl in trying to meet these obligations. That is why he has formally proposed a considerable transition period, so that they can all be met.
Sir Alan Glyn : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, whatever happens in East Germany, the future of Europe is so uncertain and the Soviet Union is still building up such an enormous defence that, until matters have settled down, it is essential to retain the nuclear deterrent?
The Prime Minister : It is essential to keep-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker : Order. I ask the House to settle down and listen to the questions and the answers that are given.
The Prime Minister : It is essential to keep a strong and assured defence of the United Kingdom, both within NATO and outside it. That means effective conventional forces and reductions only in accordance with the negotiations taking place in Vienna and in agreed numbers between us. It also means maintaining a strong nuclear deterrent.
Mr. Cohen : Will the Prime Minister meet the people of East Germany and explain to them why she wants a whole new assortment of short-range nuclear weapons to blow them to smithereens at a time when they are struggling for democracy?
The Prime Minister : The changes and negotiations that are taking place will require some differences in the weapons that we need, but those can be brought about only by agreement with our NATO partners. That is absolutely vital to the future of Europe, and I was glad to see President Bush's assurance that American forces and American nuclear weapons will remain in Europe ; it is a recipe which has ensured the security and peace of Europe for many a long year, and we should not discard it lightly.
Q4. Mr. John Browne : To ask the Prime Minister is she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 6 February. The Prime Minister : I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Browne : Does my right hon. Friend accept that in the United Kingdom cot deaths claim roughly 2,000 babies' lives each year and that the presence of certain fire resistant and preservative chemicals in cot mattresses appear to be the common cause? Will she agree to speed up the Government chemist's inquiry and, in the mean time, issue a Government warning to parents as a matter of urgency?
The Prime Minister : I share the great concern of parents and Health Service staff about the incidence of unexplained cot deaths, the suddenness of which is especially tragic for the families. The Department of Health has promptly commissioned the laboratory of the Government chemist to undertake a scientific assessment, which is under way. I understand that, so far, those tests
Column 759have not reproduced the result obtained by the independent researcher who proposed a link with fire-resistant chemicals. We shall, of course, consider whether it would be right to issue warnings in the light of the scientific assessment currently being undertaken--[ Hon. Members :-- "Come on!"] One was concerned to get an accurate assessment of the report ; Opposition Members perhaps are not.
Mr. Ashdown : Is the Prime Minister aware that, despite his welcome speech on Friday, President de Klerk's Government today kicked out two British journalists--Mr. Paul Weaver of Today and Mr. Gareth Forby of Independent Radio News--apparently for unwelcome reporting of the Gatting cricket tour? Will the Prime Minister now realise that this is not the time to relinquish sanctions but the time to continue international action until a true democracy is established and Mr. Nelson Mandela and his people are free?
The Prime Minister : President de Klerk's speech was very widely welcomed--I believe the world over. As we
Column 760agreed both at the last meeting of the European Community and in the Commonwealth, it is necessary to have encouragement for such steps as well as chastisement for what has not yet been done. We believe that when Mr. Mandela is released it would be advisable to relax some of the very minor sanctions that we have--in particular, the voluntary ban on new investment.
The right hon. Member referred to the two journalists. As he knows, President de Klerk announced on 2 February that the state of emergency would be fully lifted as soon as circumstances on the ground permitted. We support the freedom of the press and we have told the South African authorities that we regret the expulsions. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will look at the reasons that have been given for the expulsions. I am advised that one of the journalists entered South Africa as a tourist, failing to obtain the necessary brand of visa and permit. The other gave a first-person account of a demonstration at Johannesburg airport that greeted the cricket tourists' arrival but it later transpired that he had not been present. I emphasise that that is the explanation that the South Africans have given of the incident.
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