Home Page

Column 843

House of Commons

Tuesday 17 July 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother

The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported Her Majesty's Answer to a loyal and dutiful address as followsI thank you most sincerely for your loyal and dutiful address on the occasion of the 90th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. I am deeply moved by this expression of your great pleasure on this joyful occasion and I welcome your intention to send a message to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother offering your cordial congratulations and expressing your warmest desire for her long continuing good health and happiness.


River Tees Barrage and Crossing Bill

[Lords] Order for Third Reading read.

Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.

Read the Third time and passed, with amendments.

Hasmonean High School Bill


Read the Third time, and passed.

Southampton Rapid Transit Bill [Lords]

Motion made,

That the Promoters of the Southampton Rapid Transit Bill [Lords] shall have leave to suspend proceedings thereon in order to proceed with the Bill, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament, provided that the Agents for the Bill give notice to the Clerks in the Private Bill Office of their intention to suspend further proceedings not later than the day before the close of the present Session and that all Fees due on the Bill up to that date be paid ; That if the Bill is brought from the Lords in the next Session, the Agents for the Bill shall deposit in the Private Bill Office a declaration signed by them stating that the Bill is the same, in every respect, as the Bill which was brought from the Lords in the present Session ;

That as soon as a certificate by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office, that such a declaration has been so deposited, has been laid upon the Table of the House, the Bill shall be deemed to have been read the first and shall be ordered to be read a second time ; That the Petitions against the Bill presented in the present Session which stand referred to the Committee on the Bill shall stand referred to the Committee on the Bill in the next Session ; That no Petitioners shall be heard before the Committee on the Bill, unless their Petition has been presented within the time limited within the present Session or deposited pursuant to paragraph (b) of Standing Order 126 relating to Private Business ;

That, in relation to the Bill, Standing Order 127 relating to Private Business shall have effect as if the words under Standing Order 126 (Reference to committee of petitions against Bill)' were omitted ;

Column 844

That no further Fees shall be charged in respect of any proceedings on the Bill in respect of which Fees have already been incurred during the present Session ;

That these Orders be Standing Orders of the House.-- [The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Hon. Members : Object.

To be considered tomorrow.

Oral Answers to Questions


NATO Summit

1. Mr. Allen McKay : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the defence implications of decisions taken at the NATO summit on 5 and 6 July.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom King) : The purpose of the London summit was to preserve the fundamentals of NATO while adapting the alliance to the new circumstances in Europe and to reassure the Soviet Union that a NATO including a united Germany represented no threat to them. The agreement between Chancellor Kohl and President Gorbachev yesterday confirms this success of the London summit.

Mr. McKay : Two lines of NATO's press release state

"that there are now circumstances in which nuclear retaliation in response to military action might be discounted."

What is the difference between the new policy and the old policy of flexible response?

Mr. King : The hon. Gentleman is aware that the declaration makes a number of references to nuclear weapons. It states that none of the NATO weapons will be used except in self-defence and that we seek the lowest and most stable level of nuclear forces needed to secure the prevention of war. Nuclear weapons will have an essential role in the overall strategy to prevent war in the way in which the hon. Gentleman described. NATO added that the weapons will be

"truly weapons of last resort."

That is a clearer definition of the nuclear strategy and emphasises the point that many Opposition Members still do not appreciate--that nuclear weapons are not for fighting a war, they are to prevent war.

Mr. Cormack : During this period of uncertainty for those in our armed forces, will my right hon. Friend do everything possible to stress the nation's sense of gratitude and obligation to them for what they have done and for their contribution to the peace that we are now seeing in prospect? Will he also do everything possible to reassure them that this House will not forget them in their difficulties in the future?

Mr. King : I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I shall certainly seek to do that. My hon. Friend has made an important point. I know that he did not mean this, and I do not say this, as some form of valedictory address. Although the position in central Europe has changed, our situation in needing to ensure a certain basic level of defences against the eventualities that we hope would not arise, but which could arise, mean that our defences will

Column 845

have a continuing and important role and will offer a continuing and important career for those who give their lives and service to them.

Mr. Menzies Campbell : If nuclear weapons are weapons of last resort and not for fighting wars, is not the Government's inclination to deploy the tactical air-to-surface missile on behalf of the United States a decision that should be scrapped immediately? Does not it also bring into considerable doubt the need for tactical air-to-surface missiles to be deployed by the NATO alliance?

Mr. King : After the manifest success of the NATO summit, I am surprised that the hon. and learned Gentleman should seek to challenge head -on one of the statements of NATO policy, which is that

"the Alliance must maintain for the foreseeable future an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces based in Europe and kept up to date where necessary."

He does so at the very moment when we are celebrating the success of the NATO strategy and on the day after one of the objectives of NATO strategy for 40 years--to seek a united Germany within NATO has been achieved. I am surprised that the hon. and learned Gentleman should query the unanimous agreement on that strategy.

Mr. David Martin : Will my right hon. Friend continue to make clear the necessity for strong defence in the future not only for short-term foreseeable events but for long-term unforeseeable ones? Does he agree that it would be criminal folly to reduce our defences, including nuclear weapons, to a level lower than any eventuality, however unforeseeable, might demand?

Mr. King : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know that in saying that, he also recognises that circumstances are changing and that one of the most important aspects is that NATO must adapt. One of the greatest strengths of recent events and one of the values of NATO that was shown yesterday is that after the NATO summit, after the NATO declaration and after the visit of the secretary general to Moscow, President Gorbachev felt confident enough to move because he knew that he was dealing with an alliance which had the strength to deliver.

Mr. Rogers : In view of the Secretary of State's description of the talks as unanimous and successful, does he intend to make a full statement to the House on the implications of the unanimous decisions made and of "Options for Change", or shall we have to wait for a statement to be made during the recess?

Mr. King : No. The House is well aware of the outcome of the NATO summit and the Leader of the Opposition has already made certain comments in the House about it. Indeed, I noticed that in New York the Leader of the Opposition, referring to the changes and the positive outcome of the NATO summit, said that it was a good time to be alive. I am not sure whether that spirit has spread to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers).

Defence Commitments (Europe)

2. Mr. Cran : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress is being made in his Department's review of Britain's defence commitments in Europe.

Column 846

Mr. Tom King : We are considering options for change in the scale and deployment of our armed forces and their supporting structures in the light of the changing international circumstances.

Mr. Cran : Does my right hon. Friend agree that despite Mr. Gorbachev's good intentions--and there is no reason to doubt them-- The Times was correct to draw attention today to the uncertain nature of Soviet politics and on another occasion to the fluid situation in eastern Europe? Against that background, does he agree that any defence cuts should be gradual and should take into account long-term rather than short-term political developments?

Mr. King : I certainly agree with the importance of recognising that while much has changed, some elements endure. Our

responsibilities in other parts of the world, whether in the Falklands, Belize, Cyprus or Northern Ireland, have not changed in any way. We must continue to recognise those elements and the need to maintain our defences. The one element that I would add to what my hon. Friend said is that it is also important that we work in close partnership with the NATO alliance and consult it about any changes that we might have in mind.

Mr. Douglas : Will the Secretary of State confirm that changing circumstances require changing strategies, particularly in relation to nuclear weapons? If it is now NATO strategy that nuclear weapons should be weapons of last resort, why is it necessary for at least three countries in the alliance to possess them? Why should we not be content--if we can be content at all with nuclear weapons--with one nation, the United States, having sole possession of strategic nuclear weapons?

Mr. King : In the end a Government must take responsibility for the defence of their country. We believe that nuclear weapons have been for this country, as they have for others, the ultimate instrument of war prevention. We believe that nuclear weapons have saved millions and millions of lives. That is the key reason why Europe has just enjoyed the longest period of peace this century. It is against that background that we believe it is sensible to maintain a nuclear deterrent.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop : Will my right hon. Friend constantly remind the House that whereas the time sequence for developing new nuclear weapons and keeping current nuclear weapons effective is very long, the time sequence in which international political relationships can change is almost immediate? Therefore we must never bring about a situation whereby the Russian military deposing Mr. Gorbachev could leave us defenceless, effectively, against that changed situation.

Mr. King : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for emphasising the need for a certain prudence. No one could have observed the events of the past year without recognising the truth of what he has said. The headlong process of change that has taken place in recent months could alter. Today's announcement, encouraging as it is, might easily have gone the other way and then there could have been a great deal of tension in Europe. If the Soviet military establishment had finally decided that it could not accept a united Germany in NATO, we would face a different situation. The very fact that we believed that in

Column 847

the end the Soviet Union would recognise the rights of the German people to self-determination and to choose to which alliance they belonged is extremely important.

Nuclear Tests

3. Mr. Caborn : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what nuclear tests have been carried out by NATO countries and France in the current year ; and for what purpose.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Archie Hamilton) : The last United Kingdom nuclear test was in December 1989. Such tests are required to maintain the effectiveness of our nuclear weapons capability.

The French authorities have announced four and the United States three nuclear tests so far in 1990.

Mr. Caborn : I thank the Minister for that reply. Were those tests carried out in conjunction with tactical air-to-surface missiles? If so, does the Minister condone that, given that the threat has now been considerably reduced, if not removed? Will he also inform the House whether the Government intend to start progress towards a comprehensive worldwide nuclear test ban? That would be a significant step in enhancing the agreement reached yesterday and the decision would be received throughout the world as a progressive move towards further stabilisation.

Mr. Hamilton : The Government regard it as essential that we continue to test nuclear weapons so long as we remain a nuclear state, as we intend to do for the foreseeable future. That stand is unlike that of the Opposition, who have made it clear that they see no role for nuclear weapons and will negotiate them away as soon as they ever get into power. In those circumstances, we intend to continue to test nuclear weapons. We do not, of course, go into detail about the form that those tests take.

The Government have made it clear that we do not support the idea of a comprehensive test ban because we regard the testing of nuclear weapons as essential for the future development of our nuclear programme.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith : Can my hon. Friend confirm that in recent years the Soviet air force has modernised its nuclear air capability and that it would be extremely foolish for us to deny ourselves similar opportunities other than as part of some international agreement?

Mr. Hamilton : Yes, that must be right. The Soviet Union will continue to be a highly nuclear-capable country for the foreseeable future. In those circumstances, it would be madness if we did not maintain our capability as well.

Weapons Development and Deployment

4. Mr. Terry Fields : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he last met his United States counterpart to discuss weapons development and deployment.

Mr. Tom King : I last met Mr. Cheney at the NATO nuclear planning group and the defence planning committee meetings in May. We discussed a wide range of current defence issues.

Mr. Fields : Although I might argue from a socialist perspective that imperialist, capitalist treaties and pacts

Column 848

are worthless pieces of paper, can the Secretary of State tell the House whether the Government are serious about the non-proliferation treaty, or does he support the statement made by his hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement who described it as a "worthless piece of paper" on 18 June in the House? Is not that a further example of the Thatcher-Ridley tendency of chauvinistic dislike and hatred for foreigners and all things foreign?

Mr. King : I am not sure what that contribution will do for the cause of the Leader of the Opposition in trying to persuade people in Washington that the Labour party is a very different animal now from that which some of its previous critics may have suggested. The hon. Gentleman's contribution said it all.

Mr. Roger King : Does my right hon. Friend agree that technology in the United States, particularly in military aircraft, has reached an all- time high with the stealth characteristics of those aircraft? Would it be possible for European aviation manufacturers to feature much of that stealth technology in the next generation of European fighter aircraft, and thus benefit from American research?

Mr. King : We seek to co-operate wherever possible in the European programme group on research and development in various collaborative projects and, where applicable, with the United States. Obviously, some of the skills of the United States are of great interest to us.

Mr. Boyes : Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that American ships will be carrying stocks of nerve gas, in the form of 100,000 artillery projectiles, from Nordenham in Germany through the English channel? The projected time for the movement is mid to late September when there are frequently severe gales in the English channel. When precisely will the movement take place, and what contingency plans does the right hon. Gentleman intend to make in case of a serious accident? The British public have a right to know, or do the Government simply not care?

Mr. King : I will see what information I can give the hon. Gentleman about that.

Mr. Latham : Regarding contact with United States counterparts on weapons development and deployment, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is excellent that Sir Peter Levene has managed to copy the American system of labelling spares' costs, resulting in a substantial reduction in costs to public funds?

Mr. King : Many of the innovations that Sir Peter Levene has brought to the public procurement process have been of tremendous benefit, and there is no question--this should unite the House, whatever levels of defence expenditure one may approve--but that whatever money is spent should be spent to the best effect.


5. Ms. Quin : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had about the future defence role of Germany.

Mr. Tom King : In recent months I have had discussions on defence aspects of German unification with Dr. Stoltenberg, with other Defence Ministers in NATO, and with Marshal Yazov. The British Government have consistently supported the right of a united Germany to be

Column 849

a full member of the NATO alliance, and we are delighted that Chancellor Kohl and President Gorbachev have now reached agreement on this crucial point.

Ms. Quin : Which Tory view is likely to prevail in future consideration of these matters? Will it be the views of the former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and, presumably, the Prime Minister, or will it be wiser and more moderate counsels? Since the Soviet Union, despite its historic experience, has been able to change its stance towards the defence role of Germany, is not there a danger that only the United Kingdom will be negative and backward-looking?

Mr. King : The Foreign Secretary has made it clear that friendship and partnership are at the heart of British foreign policy and I can tell the House that friendship and partnership with Germany are also at the heart of our defence policy. That could never have been more obvious than during the past more than 40 years when 60,000 to 70,000 British troops and their families have been stationed in Germany. I am deeply grateful for the friendship and warmth of reception that they have had in Germany and for the close collaboration that has existed between us. That has perhaps never been more true than now when, under the vicious terrorist threat that they face, the outstanding co-operation of the German police and security forces has been beyond praise.

Mrs. Currie : Does my right hon. Friend agree that in this extraordinary week, in which President Gorbachev has withdrawn his objections to a united Germany joining NATO, the truth of the matter is that they could not beat us and therefore they are joining us? Does not it follow, therefore, that a united Germany should not be a weak member of NATO, but a strong one capable of playing a full part in the future?

Mr. King : There is absolutely no question but that my hon. Friend is right. Germany is an essential member of NATO. The Soviet Union has properly recognised, as we hoped that it would, that in the final analysis it is a matter for the democratic decision of the German people which alliance they join. Hon. Members will have noticed the phrase used by Chancellor Kohl and President Gorbachev, that their agreement yesterday recognised the

"full and unrestricted sovereignty of a united Germany." That has to be right.

Mr. O'Neill : Does the Secretary of State agree that yesterday's momentous decision, which we all welcome, has come about because of the persistence and patience of the Federal Republic of Germany and its allies in seeking to do deals with the Soviet Union? The outcome of the negotiations would not have been possible without the long-standing co- operation to which the Secretary of State alluded in respect of Britain and the federal republic. In those circumstances, is not it the more surprising that one of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues tried to upset the apple cart with his ill-tempered outburst last week? Will the right hon. Gentleman reassure the House that there is now no one in the Tory Cabinet prepared to talk in terms of German revanchism in the way that his former colleague was prepared to do?

Hon. Members : What about the Prime Minister?

Mr. King : There is not much point in covering ground that has already been covered. I have made absolutely

Column 850

clear the importance of our alliance with Germany. The hon. Gentleman will know that I have consistently made clear, on behalf of the Government, the belief that a united Germany should be in NATO and the hope that the people of a united Germany would so choose. It is Chancellor Kohl's clear belief that that is what they will choose after the German elections.

County Regiments

6. Mr. Speller : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make it his policy that under any Army reorganisation those county regiments with affiliated Territorial Army battalions bearing the same name will be retained.

Mr. Archie Hamilton : It is not yet possible to comment on the future of particular regiments or their organisation.

Mr. Speller : Does my hon. Friend agree that while military mergers are nothing new, it must be logical to encourage those regiments with centuries of local recruiting tradition to continue that tradition? Examples include the 11th Foot, the North Devonshire regiment, now the Devonshire and Dorset regiment, where the local groundswell of support is such that recruiting will continue even in times when it is more difficult than in other parts of the world.

Mr. Hamilton : Yes. Clearly, the ability of any regiment to recruit- -and the ability of the Devon and Dorsets to get the support that they enjoy in their part of the country will be taken into account in any reorganisation that we consider.

Mr. Thorne : In considering that matter, will my hon. Friend ensure that he does not overlook the claims of the Household Division or the Gurkhas? This year the brigade of Gurkhas celebrated 175 years of service to the British Crown and in the last war they raised 250,000 troops. If we overlooked them, I am sure that the British public would never forgive us.

Mr. Hamilton : I am well aware of the concern and respect that hon. Members have for the Gurkhas and the Household Division. We shall take that into account when we reconsider the shape that the Army should take in the future.

Mobile Forces

7. Mr. David Nicholson : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what emphasis his Department places on mobile forces.

Mr. Archie Hamilton : As last week's summit declaration made clear, NATO forces will in future need to be highly mobile and versatile. We are currently examining options for change in our force structures to reflect new circumstances.

Mr. Nicholson : With reference to mobile forces, is my hon. Friend aware that I strongly support the point made a moment ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) about the role of the Gurkhas? Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to say something about developments in NATO's strategy in view of the exciting and reassuring developments in eastern Europe, and about the possibility of a NATO role out of area?

Column 851

Mr. Hamilton : Yes, indeed. One of the advantages of the versatility and mobility alluded to is that they will enable the forces to be dual-hatted and play a role out of area as well as a reinforcement role in NATO.

Mr. Graham : The Minister mentioned versatility and mobility, but was it in order for a Royal Navy helicopter to be deployed at a Tory party event in my constituency, since, as has been admitted by the local Tory party, it was a fund-raising event for the Tories? Is that the new role for our military helicopters--to be used to prop up the Tories' fund-raising effort to try to win the next general election? Mr. Hamilton rose-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. I think the question was about mobile forces.

Mr. Hamilton : In as much as the supplementary question refers to mobility, I have answered the hon. Gentleman's question. As he well knows, that occasion was not laid on solely for the benefit of the Tory party. Serious sums of money were raised for other charities-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The House must listen to the Minister's reply.

Mr. Hamilton : Serious sums of money were raised for other charities, but if it had been known that it was a Tory event, the contribution from the Royal Navy would not have been made.

Mr. Conway : When my hon. Friend has recovered from that formidable onslaught, will he give his attention to the role of the Territorial Army in the mobile forces and say whether in the light of developments, he believes that in future reservists and Territorial Army personnel will be able to play an even larger part in our mobile and specialist forces?

Mr. Hamilton : The Territorials and the reserves will certainly have an important role in terms of reinforcement of our role in NATO. We are considering that carefully under "Options for Change".

Low Flying

Mr. Wallace : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the policy of his Department with regard to low-level military flying over the Isle of Man.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Michael Neubert) : Much of the Isle of Man falls within controlled airspace associated with Ronaldsway airport. Military aircraft do not generally carry out flying training at low level over the remainder of the island, although the RAF makes extensive use of the air weapons range off Jurby Head.

Mr. Wallace : I am grateful for that answer, but does the Minister accept that if having civilian air traffic over Ronaldsway airport is good cause for not having low-level military flying, that must also be a relevant consideration in low-level flying over my islands constituency, where the two important airports, at Kirkwall and Sumburgh, deal with not only a large amount of civilian inter-island traffic but with helicopter traffic from the North sea oil platforms? If this has been a relevant consideration in not

Column 852

allowing low flying over the Isle of Man, will the hon. Gentleman reconsider the decision to increase low-level flying over Orkney and Shetland in recent years?

Mr. Neubert : Ronaldsway airport was a factor in the consideration but it was not, as the hon. Gentleman seeks to suggest, the only one. He knows that each case is considered on its merits. I am sure that the people of Orkney and Shetland want to make their contribution to the defence of these islands. The Isle of Man does so by contributing the range for low- level flying, and other ranges--for example, RAF Tain--are equal contributors. The hon. Gentleman might have a word about that with his hon. Friend President Kennedy.

Mr. Bill Walker : Does my hon. Friend agree that in the Isle of Man or anywhere else in the United Kingdom, low-flying sorties, if they are to mean anything, have to be about 300 miles long so that pilots and navigators can undertake the necessary training to be able to operate in wartime conditions wherever they occur?

Mr. Neubert : My hon. Friend understands these matters much better than does the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). It is true that the average sortie takes at least 300 to 500 miles, and it must encompass that distance to be worthwhile practice. It is our intention, through the United Kingdom low-flying system, to spread low-flying training as fairly and evenly as possible. Avoiding one area puts an unnecessary burden on other areas. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. I ask the House to settle down ; a lot of background conversation is going on.

NATO Summit

9. Mr. Mullin : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the defence implications of decisions taken at the NATO summit on 5 and 6 July.

Next Section

  Home Page