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House of Commons

Tuesday 30 October 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

PRAYERS

[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

PRIVATE BUSINESS

Redbridge London Borough Council Bill

(By Order) Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question proposed [24 October],

That this House doth agree with Lords in their Amendment, to leave out Clause 6.

Debate further adjourned till Thursday 8 November.

Killingholme Generating Stations (Ancillary Powers) Bill

[Lords]

Motion made,

That the Promoters of the Killingholme Generating Stations (Ancillary Powers) 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 ;


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

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 First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Hon. Members : Object.

To be considered on Thursday 8 November.

Clyde Port Authority Bill

London Underground (Victoria) Bill

Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority Bill

Shard Bridge Bill

Motion made,

That so much of the Lords Messages [17th October, 24th October and 25th October] as relate to the Clyde Port Authority Bill, the London Underground (Victoria) Bill, the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority Bill and the Shard Bridge Bill be now considered.

That the Promoters of the Clyde Port Authority Bill, the London Underground (Victoria) Bill, the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority Bill and the Shard Bridge Bill shall have leave to suspend proceedings thereon in order to proceed with the Bills in the next Session of Parliament, provided that in the case of each Bill 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 on the fifth day on which the House sits in the next Session the Bills shall be presented to the House ;

That there shall be deposited with each Bill a declaration signed by the Agents for the Bill, stating that the Bill is the same, in every respect, as the Bill at the last stage of its proceedings in this House in the present Session ;

That each Bill shall be laid upon the Table of the House by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office on the next meeting of the House after the day on which the Bill has been presented and, when so laid, shall be read the first, second and third time and shall be recorded in the Journal of this House as having been so read ; 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 First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Hon. Members : Object.

To be considered on Thursday 8 November.


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Oral Answers to Questions

DEFENCE

Local Government Finance

1. Mr. Skinner : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what has been the involvement of armed forces officers in enforcing collection of the poll tax from armed services personnel refusing to pay.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Archie Hamilton) : None, Sir.

Mr. Skinner : Is the Minister aware that, recently, some squaddies were bullied into paying their poll tax by having their arm twisted by officers, who were acting on advice from the Government? Is not it squalid and nasty that American forces do not have to pay the poll tax when these young lads can be sent out to the Gulf to fight for Queen and country and that self-same Queen does not pay a penny piece in poll tax?

Mr. Hamilton : Officers in the armed forces advise service men to abide within the law when it comes to paying the community charge. I sincerely hope that the hon. Gentleman does the same for his constituents.

Mr. John Browne : Will my hon. Friend assure the House that those members of the armed forces who have been assigned a duty in the Gulf will not suffer under the community charge because of their posting?

Mr. Hamilton : After a single man has been abroad for about 60 days, he no longer has to pay the community charge. For married men, the period is up to six months. That will cover a large number of service men who are serving in the Gulf.

Mr. O'Neill : Is the Minister aware of the sense of injustice felt by poll tax payers in the armed services, not least when the figures that he gave me in July of this year show that in the past 10 years, a private's pay has fallen by 4 per cent. while that of a general has increased by 45 cent., and that of a field marshal has increased by 86 per cent? Is not that an injustice to the lower ranks? Should not they be given some assistance?

Mr. Hamilton : As the hon. Gentleman knows, the pay of service men is decided by the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, and that of generals is decided by the Top Salaries Review Body. We have merely accepted the recommendations made to us.

Mr. Viggers : Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a problem, but that it is the reverse of that put forward by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)? Is he aware that service men on full-time courses of education can be deemed to be students, which means that they pay only 20 per cent. of the poll tax? Does my hon. Friend further agree that that is not fair on a constituency such as Gosport, which has lost £270,000 as a result of that concession? Will he look at the situation with a view to changing it?

Mr. Hamilton : My right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of the Environment are aware that people who are judged to be in full-time education need pay only


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20 per cent. of the community charge. It is obviously up to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, if he wishes to, to change the legislation to deal with that.

Greenham Common

2. Ms. Short : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many people have been removed from Greenham Common since the byelaws were declared invalid.

Mr. Archie Hamilton : Although the House of Lords ruled on 12 July that the Greenham Common byelaws were invalid, there can be no general right of access to any operational RAF station and any persons entering without authority will be removed as trespassers and for their own safety. Between 12 July and 23 October, 532 such cases were recorded at Greenham Common, but the number of individuals involved is much smaller.

Ms. Short : We all understand that in this country no one can be arrested or detained except under the law. Now that the byelaws in Greenham Common have been declared illegal, that means that thousands have been wrongly arrested, detained and charged. More seriously, since the byelaws were declared illegal people are still being detained and removed from the base in vans. The Minister has said that that is allowed, but under what law is it allowed? His declaration does not make it right or lawful.

Mr. Hamilton : The hon. Lady does not seem aware of the laws of trespass, which are such that if someone trespasses, he can be asked to remove himself. If he fails to do so, such force as is necessary can be used to make sure that he is removed from the premises. That is the law under which people are acting at Greenham Common at the moment.

The women at Greenham Common put themselves there as a so-called peace camp because they wanted to see the departure of cruise missiles from the base. I remind the hon. Lady--perhaps she would like to tell the women there, who do not seem to have realised this--that all the cruise missiles will be gone by April next year, so I cannot quite see what they are doing wasting everybody's time and money camping outside Greenham Common.

Mr. Tredinnick : Does my hon. Friend agree that the Greenham Common women contributed nothing to the end of the cold war, and the decision to deploy cruise and Pershing missiles was a much more fundamental reason for the ending of the cold war?

Mr. Hamilton : That is absolutely right. We should pay great tribute to the diplomacy and negotiations that took place between the United States and the Soviet Union which led to the intermediate nuclear forces agreement and to the removal of those missiles from Greenham Common next year.

NATO

3. Mr. Cartwright : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he next intends to meet the Secretary-General of NATO to discuss the organisation's future role.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom King) : I next expect to meet Dr. Woerner at the nuclear planning group and defence planning committee meetings in December. I would expect to discuss with him a wide range of defence issues.


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Mr. Cartwright : When the Secretary of State next meets the Secretary-General, will he make it abundantly clear that closer European defence collaboration is practical common sense but that it must be kept firmly within the NATO framework? Will he particularly reject the current daydreaming about some European Community defence force, which can only undermine the transatlantic relationship which has been so successful over the past 40 years?

Mr. King : I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. He will know that at the very successful NATO summit in London, it was specifically agreed that a key pillar of NATO for the future would be the continuing transatlantic connection. United States forces based in Europe are a very important element of that.

Dr. Goodson-Wickes : Given NATO's magnificent record in maintaining peace in Europe since the second world war, would my right hon. Friend consider using NATO as a framework in a non-military sense as well as a military sense in ensuring continuing United States involvement in the future of a changing Europe?

Mr. King : Certainly, the NATO summit envisaged continuing discussions in the North Atlantic Council about a political dimension as well, but four of the key pillars of the alliance for the future shape of NATO are an integrated military structure, an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces, United States

forces--including nuclear--based in Europe and a united Germany in NATO.

Mr. Beggs : Now that there is movement towards political union in Europe, will the Government encourage the Government of the Irish Republic to join NATO?

Mr. King : I am not sure that that arises on this question.

Mr. Soames : Will my right hon. Friend elaborate on what discussions he has had about the further out-of-area role for NATO when he next meets the Secretary-General?

Mr. King : At present the NATO countries are separately involved in an out-of-area role in the Gulf. Hon. Members interested in defence matters are watching with great interest to see how well the various structures perform. We are co-operating in the Western European Union--that is one aspect of our activities in the Gulf. Our working relationship with the United States clearly benefits from our previous experiences working together within NATO.

The Gulf

4. Mr. Roy Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the latest estimated cost of British forces in the Gulf to the end of the financial year.

Mr. Tom King : The full operating costs of the operation in the Gulf to the end of the financial year are, in current circumstances, expected to exceed £600 million.

Mr. Hughes : Whatever the cost, will the Secretary of State ensure that it is not paid for in human lives? Will he stress to all concerned the need for patience, to give sanctions a full opportunity to work? Will he also seek to ensure, bearing in mind public opinion, that no pre-emptive strike is made by forces under United States command?


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Mr. King : We are seeking to end Iraq's aggression by peaceful means, which is why we, together with many other countries, are throwing our efforts fully behind the United Nations embargo. In that way, we hope that the aggression can be ended without conflict. But, as was said by the leader of the hon. Gentleman's party, the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), in our debate on the Gulf crisis, it would be extremely unwise to discard the military option. It is important that the message is borne in every day on Saddam Hussein that, one way or another, he will lose. His understanding of that reality offers the best hope of the matter being settled peacefully.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend : In view of the fact that the Treasury funded the Falklands conflict separately from the defence budget, what success is my right hon. Friend having in persuading the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make a similar arrangement in meeting the cost of our troops in the Gulf?

Mr. King : I am very grateful to my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury for their help. I made it clear that we do not know at this stage precisely what will be the additional cost over our continuing defence budget, but I outlined the gross cost in answering the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes). I have made it clear to my right hon. Friends that we shall seek to cover what we can in the defence budget, but they have assured me of their sympathetic consideration of the extra costs involved in our essential defence of freedom and our stand with other allies against aggression.

Mr. Denzil Davies : We are pleased that the Secretary of State can meet the extra cost from within his existing budget.

Mr. King indicated dissent.

Mr. Davies : Or if not, that the right hon. Gentleman will bring a supplementary budget before the House. Has the Secretary of State held discussions with any countries that have an equivalent interest to ours, both within the Gulf area and outside it, as to what contribution they will make?

Mr. King : To avoid any misunderstanding, I must make it clear that I shall cover what costs I can from within the defence budget, but I certainly anticipate that it will be necessary to bring a supplementary budget before the House, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested.

I confirm that discussions are continuing with other countries about their contribution. We have already received certain help, such as assistance with training from the German Government, and food, fuel and water from host Governments in Saudi Arabia and in the Gulf. We are looking for contributions from other countries towards meeting some of our costs.

Mr. Marlow : I share my right hon. Friend's desire for the crisis to be resolved diplomatically, but obviously it could turn into a conflict. What contingency plans has my right hon. Friend made for what he anticipates will be the likely level of casualties in the event of a conflict?

Mr. King : I shall not answer the second part of my hon. Friend's question, but we are making appropriate arrangements for medical facilities. Some are already established because we have a substantial number of


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troops in the Gulf, and they never travel without having appropriate medical facilities. We are seeking to ensure that adequate facilities exist to meet any situation that may arise.

Trident

5. Mr. Cryer : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the current development position and cost of the Trident nuclear missile programme.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Alan Clark) : The Trident programme continues to time and to budget towards its in-service date of the mid-1990s.

Mr. Cryer : Will the Minister confirm that there has been a delay in purchasing the missiles? Since that appears to be the case, would it be better to cancel Trident and save £9.5 billion, to ensure that the strategic arms reduction talks are successful, by concluding those negotiations, and to strengthen the United Nations nuclear non- proliferation treaty, which, as the Minister knows, has been signed by 139 non-nuclear nations, which have agreed not to deploy or manufacture nuclear weapons? If the Minister repeats the arid nonsense that nuclear weapons keep the peace, will he distribute them to the middle eastern countries so that he can apply the theory there?

Mr. Clark : The hon. Gentleman has been in the House for 16 years-- [ Hon. Members :-- "Off and on."]--except for a brief gap when he was looking for a more amenable electorate. During that period he has asked almost the same question throughout, and he should not be surprised if he gets almost the same answer. The delay in purchasing the missiles will not affect the in-service date.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith : Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be extremely foolish for us to give up our nuclear capability, in view of the fact that many countries have a chemical capability and a potential nuclear capability?

Mr. Clark : Of course, it would be entirely wrong to give up the capability, to which the present decrease of confrontational tension is largely attributable, at the very moment when proliferation among more widely diffused and less responsible regimes looks imminent.

Mr. Hood : Following on from the question put by the hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), are the Government considering putting forward the argument that nuclear weapons deter chemical weapons? If that is the case, are they saying that they are prepared to use nuclear weapons if the Iraqis use chemical weapons?

Mr. Clark : We are saying that the nuclear weapon is an essential part of deterrent capability, and its use is a matter of judgment for the Government, on the advice of the operational commanders on the spot.

Defence Review

7. Mr. Cran : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what reassessment has been made of the options outlined in his recent defence review, in the light of developments in the Gulf.


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Mr. Tom King : I have not reassessed my proposals in my statement on "Options for Change", since those proposals specifically addressed the need to retain sufficient defences to be able still to respond flexibly and effectively to new and unexpected threats.

Mr. Cran : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the international milieu is dangerous, that it has been in the past, and that it will be again in the future? Does he further agree that those who advocate making maximum use of the so-called peace dividend should sit back and consider what the ramifications may be in the future? It may well be that we would not be able to react in the same way as we have to the gangsterism in Kuwait. Therefore, will my right hon. Friend give a commitment to the House that he will fully consult service chiefs on any cuts that may be considered in the future?

Mr. King : I can certainly give that assurance to my hon. Friend. On 25 July I said :

"We shall therefore continue to need a robust defence capability as our insurance against the unexpected."

I also said that the abilities and professionalism of our armed forces

"are not something that can be lightly discarded and then easily recalled when they may suddenly be needed."--[ Official Report, 25 July 1990 ; Vol. 177, c. 470-72.]

Anyone who has watched the skill and professionalism of the deployment to the Gulf of the seventh armoured brigade, of the Tornado and Jaguar squadrons and of the Royal Navy understands exactly what that means, and that is why this party and this Government will stand for the defence of this country, and make adequate provision to ensure that if those forces are needed they will go there properly trained and properly equipped.

Dr. Reid : When does the Secretary of State expect to be able to give us more information than hitherto on the implications of "Options for Change" for NATO strategy? What changes will there be to forward defence as a result of "Options for Change"?

Mr. King : As was made clear at the NATO summit, there will clearly be scope for change in forward defence, with greater mobility and greater flexibility likely to feature as the emerging strategy, which is under discussion at the moment within NATO, following the London summit. I shall not repeat it all to the House, but I set out the pillars on which the NATO summit agreed that the review should continue. Certainly there will be scope for change. Discussions are taking place now to see how we can adapt most effectively to the new situation while ensuring that we maintain strong and credible defence in Europe.

Mr. Bill Walker : Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the lessons of the Gulf that comes through clearly is the need for Royal Air Force pilots to fly low and fast and to be able to do so in operational conditions at short notice? Is not that one lesson that we should never forget?

Mr. King : My hon. Friend is accurately aware of the needs of the Royal Air Force. What he says is true. Part of the capability of the Tornado GR1 fleet very much depends on its ability to fly low and to survive. It is essential, therefore, that if the fleet is asked to do that, it should have had adequate opportunity to train for it.

Mr. O'Neill : When will the Secretary of State produce the detailed figures that were so evidently missing from his


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25 July statement? Does he agree that it is not good enough just to sit back after making that statement--that he has to anticipate what is likely to happen now that the conventional forces in Europe agreement is almost signed? Will there be a second statement before too long, which will include the figures and state what further defence cuts the Government think should be made further into the 1990s?

Mr. King : That is a bit rich. I remember that the hon. Gentleman told me at the time that he was surprised by how detailed my 25 July statement was. The work is going ahead. I shall give the hon. Gentleman a copy of what I said at the time. It spells out precisely what we regard as the Royal Navy's requirements in terms of numbers of frigates, the Trident submarine fleet, minehunters and hunter-killer submarines. I went right through the list. I shall not weary the House with in now ; it is all in Hansard. That work is goind ahead without, I am pleased to say, amendment, even in the light of the new developments that we face. We put forward those proposals to ensure that the Royal Navy's requirements are met. That has to be compared with the Opposition's stance. Twice at their party conferences they have approved expenditure plans that would make quite impossible the present support that we are giving to the allied effort in the Gulf.

The Gulf

8. Mr. Watson : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what consideration he has given to the pay and conditions of United Kingdom service men and women in the Gulf.

Mr. Archie Hamilton : My right hon. Friend has already announced measures that will ensure that no service men or women will suffer a net reduction in pay and allowances as a result of service in the Gulf. Many of our service personnel in the Gulf are living in difficult conditions, but I am satisfied that the services are doing their very best to ensure that the general welfare and morale of our troops is maintained.

Mr. Watson : It is noticeable that the goalposts have shifted since 18 October. On that date the Minister said in a written reply that no one serving with the forces in the Gulf would lose out financially as a result of that service. We hear now that that relates only to pay and conditions. Are not service personnel in the Gulf obliged to pay an additional loading on life assurance premiums, most of which they are obliged to meet out of their own resources? Should not it be the case that no person serving with the forces in the Gulf is out of pocket financially? Should not the Minister deal urgently with the matter?

Mr. Hamilton : Service men are faced with additional life assurance premiums, but the vast bulk of the money is now being found by the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Colvin : Will my hon. Friend confirm the high morale among both service men and British civilians employed on defence contracts in the Gulf? Will he further confirm, as he will have understood from his visit to the Gulf, that military personnel there say that, if it came to a war, they would rather be attacked by chemical weapons than by conventional weapons because of the highly efficient state of our nuclear, biological and chemical


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equipment that provides protection against chemical warfare? I have learnt that that equipment is the envy of our American allies.

Mr. Hamilton : I must confess that I did not find any service men who made a comparison between wanting to be attacked by chemical weapons or by conventional weapons. I suspect that if it came to a war, they would be in danger of being attacked by both sorts of weapons. The morale of the service men whom I met was very high. I found that they had great confidence in the NBC clothing and equipment that we provided. They regard it as being some of the best equipment available in the world to any soldiers. As for civilian employees, I was told by the Saudis that they were encouraged by the support that they were getting, particularly from the employees of British Aerospace.

Mr. Douglas : Does the Minister accept that I shall try to put this issue very gently to him? I accept that no service men will be worse off, in net terms, but yesterday I had a telephone call from the wife of a naval service man. She said that her husband and others are severely stretched financially, to the extent that some of the naval personnel are giving blood for money in order to be able to telephone home from the Gulf. That is disturbing and I trust that the Minister will investigate all the circumstances that are imposing onerous burdens on our service men in the Gulf.

Mr. Hamilton : Our initial concern was that people would be worse off as a result of moving from Germany to the Gulf and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has ensured that that will not happen. On general rates of pay in the Navy, on the whole the Armed Forces Pay Review Body addresses that problem and ensures that rates in all three services are comparable with civilian rates of pay. That is a much bigger issue and is addressed every year by the AFPRB.

Mr. Conway : Will my hon. Friend confirm that the field conditions applying to the service men in the Gulf would apply in any case if they remained in Germany and were out on exercise? That being so, will my hon. Friend assure the House that their families will not suffer the loss of the local overseas allowance, which may otherwise be the case?


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