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House of Commons

Tuesday 2 June 1992

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Departmental Relocation

1. Mr. Devlin : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is his policy on relocating his Department's resources and personnel between different regions of the United Kingdom.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Archie Hamilton) : In line with Government policy, the Ministry of Defence aims to locate its work wherever best value for money can be obtained, taking account of the operational requirements of the Department.

Mr. Devlin : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, wherever possible, the Department should seek to locate jobs in areas of higher unemployment, where the jobs and skills base of the local community need bolstering? As his Department failed in the previous Parliament to deliver the quality assurance unit to my constituency, why is he now seeking to move 170 jobs from my constituency to Bath?

Mr. Hamilton : The proposal to move 180 jobs from the naval stores depot at Eaglescliffe is not a decision ; it is merely a proposal which we are considering on the basis that the support side of the Navy should be located in the Bath region. I apologise once again to my hon. Friend in relation to the quality assurance unit, which we certainly intended to move to Stockton. However, we decided later that it was possible to absorb its functions into the Defence Research Agency.

Mr. Frank Cook : The Minister may be pleased to learn that although his apology is welcome and polite, it is small consolation to the people of Cleveland, who were disappointed by the previous decision. It is good news that the decision is yet to be made. In reaching a conclusion, will the Minister take account of the fact that it has proved difficult--at least, it is reported to have been so--in the south-west to recruit people of adequate calibre to fill vacancies, whereas it is exceedingly easy in the north-east? There are many considerations other than a pure statement of account. Will the Minister give an assurance that all those factors will be considered fully?

Mr. Hamilton : I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks. We take all such factors into account before reaching a conclusion. I shall have to be

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persuaded that recruitment, among other things, is an assumption that holds up before we transfer these jobs from Stockton.

Western European Union

2. Mr. Ian Taylor : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he plans to meet the Secretary General of the Western European Union to discuss future European security arrangements.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind) : I shall meet Dr. Van Eekelen at the Western European Union Council of Ministers meeting on 19 June, but I hope to see him in London before then.

Mr. Taylor : Will my right hon. and learned Friend give clear evidence that progress is being made within the WEU on its strategic thinking about how to react to the increasing dangers outside the traditional territory of NATO, given that it is rethinking its strategy and given the rather worrying and puzzling aspect of the Franco-German brigade? We need strong WEU thinking on this.

Mr. Rifkind : I very much agree with my hon. Friend. A clear decision was reached at the end of the Rome summit that the WEU should be the European arm of the NATO alliance. My hon. Friend referred to the proposed Franco-German corps--to which, as an example of Franco-German co- operation, we do not object. However, a number of questions are still to be answered about the relationship of the corps to NATO and we would regret any weakening in the commitment of those countries to the alliance.

Mr. Menzies Campbell : Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the effectiveness of European security arrangements will depend not only on institutions such as the WEU but on the adoption of common policies in areas such as procurement? Does he share the concern of many hon. Members at the announcement again today of the possible withdrawal of Germany from the European fighter aircraft programme? Would not such a withdrawal have considerable implications for European security arrangements?

Mr. Rifkind : Yes, I share that concern unreservedly. Over the years, Germany has been an extremely reliable European partner and I am happy to pay tribute to that. However, the European fighter aircraft is perhaps the most important example at present of European collaboration. The United Kingdom, Spain and Italy are very keen to go ahead with the project. We very much hope that the German Government, who have not yet reached a decision, will confirm their willingness to be associated with the project, as it will be difficult to take seriously protestations about the need for European co-operation and collaboration if such an important project is endangered.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : While accepting my right hon. and learned Friend's assertion that the Germans have been reliable partners in defence, many of my constituents believe that the Germans have had their defence on the cheap. They will be extremely angry if the Germans renege

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on their participation in the European fighter aircraft project, thus depriving many people in my part of the world of their jobs.

Mr. Rifkind : My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the important employment implications in this country. There are similar implications in Germany ; my hon. Friend may have noticed the strong representations supporting the EFA project from the coalition partners of the German Government and the similar views expressed by hon. Members of all parties.

Mr. O'Neill : I welcome the Secretary of State's continuing commitment to EFA. Does he agree that replacements have still to be found for the Phantom and Jaguar aircraft, not only in our own Air Force, but in others in Europe and the rest of the world? Does he agree that there must therefore still be possibilities for additional orders and sales? If the Germans backed out, the contract could still continue with the continued participation of Italy and Spain. Will the Secretary of State also bear it in mind that the present figures were arrived at in 1986 on the basis of the threat assessment then and may not be figures to which we should be committed in terms of the EFA numbers that we should want in future?

Mr. Rifkind : I welcome the hon. Gentleman's interest in defence sales, which has not always been apparent on the Opposition Back Benches. We have been working on a planning assumption of 250 European fighter aircraft. That assumption would be concluded only at the appropriate time. We do not need to reach a conclusion on the precise numbers for some time, so it is appropriate at this stage simply to give our unqualified commitment to the project. I have no doubt that a substantial number of aircraft will be required ; the precise number can be decided at the appropriate time.

Army Restructuring

3. Mr. Ancram : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what reconsideration, if any, he has given to the pace of the restructuring of the Army in the light of developments in the former federation of Yugoslavia and other international areas of unrest.

Mr. Rifkind : Changes in the international security environment and the need to provide forces relevant to the challenges of the mid-1990s and beyond were taken into account in the Government's decisions on the restructuring of the armed forces.

Mr. Ancram : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, in the light of the horrific events in Bosnia and Croatia and of the increasing tensions in former parts of the Soviet Union, the security considerations and the potential peacekeeping responsibilities facing this country have changed dramatically since the restructuring was first proposed? Will he now reconsider the pace and extent of that restructuring in the light of the uncertainty in the international scenario? Does he agree that the lesson of history is that it is always easier to disarm than to rearm?

Mr. Rifkind : We are already committed to a peacekeeping presence in Croatia. An advance party is already in that country and the remainder of the field medical unit is due to go out shortly. With regard to any future commitments on peacekeeping, we should always

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take into account whether there is a genuine peacekeeping contribution to be made. I always make a distinction between peacekeeping and peace enforcing ; that is a very important distinction which should always be borne in mind when such issues are raised.

Mr. Rogers : I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware that the Opposition have been asking for some years for the Department to carry out a full-scale defence review. In view of the substantial changes taking place in Europe and the world, there is obviously a need for such a review. Will the Secretary of State give an undertaking to the House today that he will instigate such a review so that we can match our resources to our present and potential commitments and not simply respond, as we do at present, to Treasury demands for cuts?

Mr. Rifkind : I do not accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman's question. My predecessor and his colleagues gave deep consideration to the likely demands on our armed forces in the years to come. Of course we continue to monitor the international situation. It is always appropriate in this country and in any other country continually to assess the demands likely to be made on our armed forces over the years and to ensure that our armed forces are of a scale and quality able to respond to those challenges.

Eltham Palace

4. Mr. Peter Bottomley : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when and how decisions will be made on the future of Eltham palace.

Mr. Archie Hamilton : A study examining the implications of moving the headquarters of the director of educational and training services (Army), including the Service Children's Education Authority, to Worthy Down is nearing completion. No decision will be taken before we have consulted all concerned, including the trade unions.

Mr. Bottomley : Will my right hon. Friend accept that my suggestion that a deputation should meet him or his colleagues because the future of Eltham palace, with its historic setting and great hall, should continue to be linked to education, whether or not with a military connection? That is a matter of great concern locally, although it may not be the biggest issue facing the military services at the moment.

Mr. Hamilton : I should be delighted to receive a delegation from my hon. Friend and to discuss the future of Eltham palace with him. We are having discussions at the moment with the Crown Estate Commissioners, the freeholders of Eltham palace, about how Eltham palace might be handed back.

Options for Change"

5. Mr. Viggers : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the implementation of the programme "Options for Change" for the armed forces.

Mr. Rifkind : "Options for Change" is a necessary reform which has its parallels in all NATO countries as well as in those of the former Warsaw pact. A number of

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announcements have already been made about the implementation of our proposals ; I will continue to keep the House fully informed of progress.

Mr. Viggers : I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Does he recall that when the Select Committee on Defence examined the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1991 it considered a range of defence procurement projects and concluded that if all the projects were to go ahead, that would lead to what the Select Committee called "a strikingly well-equipped Army"? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that that procurement is now going ahead, confirming the Government's claim that although the armed forces will be smaller, they will be more flexible and better equipped? Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept--this concerns many people in my constituency who are armed forces personnel-- that the armed forces continue to provide an excellent career opportunity?

Mr. Rifkind : My hon. Friend is correct. The Select Committee referred to the fact that the Army should have available to it proper equipment of a high quality and it mentioned the Challenger tanks for the Royal Armoured Corps, armoured personnel carriers and other forms of equipment, all of which are at various stages of implementation. I warmly endorse my hon. Friend's final comment that a career in the armed forces still offers superb opportunities and can be a source of considerable fulfilment for the men and women coming forward to serve in the forces now.

Sir David Steel : A few moments ago the Secretary of State drew a proper distinction between peacekeeping forces and peace enforcing forces. Is he aware that hon. Members are concerned about the lack of capacity under the "Options for Change" scheme to engage in future peace enforcement activities, which is a crucial role for this country as a permanent member of the Security Council?

Mr. Rifkind : I hear the right hon. Gentleman's point. I remind him that at present there are 1,200 British forces involved in various United Nations peacekeeping forces in Croatia and Cyprus ; they will also be in Cambodia and several other countries. I think that we have demonstrated our commitment to the United Nations and our ability to respond to reasonable requests from that body.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many of us who supported the "Options for Change" decision in the last Parliament, although we were well aware that we were cutting very close to the bone, would not be prepared to back any further cuts that might be suggested by the Treasury? Does my right hon. and learned Friend realise that he has considerable support on the Conservative Benches for a bit of early firing in that direction?

Mr. Rifkind : I am naturally delighted to hear what my hon. Friend says. I accept his remarks both in the spirit and in the letter.

Rev. Martin Smyth : I welcome the Secretary of State's assurance that he will keep us informed of changes. When will he make a statement about the reorganisation of the medical reserves in the Territorial Army, bearing in mind the need to keep a strong medical team in the light of our experiences in the Gulf preparation and in the ensuring conflict?

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Mr. Rifkind : I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a date at present, but perhaps I may keep him fully informed as soon as that information is available.

Mr. Cormack : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that there is continuing widespread concern at the cuts in the infantry? Will he look again at that? Does he appreciate that the concern would be considerably reduced in Staffordshire if he reprieved the Staffordshire regiment?

Mr. Rifkind : I am, of course, aware that concern has been expressed in a number of different quarters. I acknowledge that it is very important to ensure that future force levels will be adequate to the tasks that we ask the services to undertake. I intend to keep that requirement firmly in mind.


7. Mr. Hinchliffe : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he has any proposals to amend the list of sporting activities recognised within the armed forces.

Mr. Archie Hamilton : We have no plans at present to alter the list of sports which are officially recognised. The range of sports which enjoy official recognition is, however, kept under review to ensure that it reflects demand originating from grass roots level within the services.

Mr. Hinchliffe : The Minister will recall meeting an all party delegation in March about the recognition of rugby league in the armed forces. What steps were taken to communicate the outcome of that meeting to the heads of establishments and units within the armed forces? Why, at certain RAF stations, were station orders posted indicating that personnel should not have contact with the rugby league's national development officer? Why were personnel at RAF Marham, who were organising a rugby league competition next Saturday, refused permission to use the pitches at that base? That seems to be completely against the spirit of what was agreed at the meeting in March.

Mr. Hamilton : As I assured the hon. Gentleman at the meeting, we were happy to give him all possible facilities in terms of publicity material which would be circulated within the three armed services. I have no idea why facilities should have been debarred or such notices put up : it is totally against the spirit of the undertaking that I gave the hon. Gentleman at our meeting, and I will investigate both events.

Surplus Land

8. Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what are his proposals for the return to public use of surplus Ministry of Defence land ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Archie Hamilton : The rationalisation of our land holdings and the early disposal of surplus property remains a high priority.

Mr. Hughes : Given that in 1985 Ministry of Defence policy was confirmed as being to acquire an extra 50,000 acres of land for training purposes, and given that on 11 February the National Audit Office said that the proposals were unjustified in terms of supporting evidence and that

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they would use more land than was needed, will the Government now agree to an independent external review of Ministry of Defence land holdings so that we can ensure that it has the right land in the right place, and that it uses it properly and fully, and no more?

Mr. Hamilton : I do not think that an external audit is necessary. We are trying to make sure that the training areas that we have are suitable for the weapons systems and the type of training that we are trying to do. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the range of many of our weapons systems gets longer all the time, so we need bigger training areas. As the hon. Gentleman will also know, we are bringing back some troops and weapons systems from Germany, which will also change our demand and need for training areas. We constantly review the number of training areas that we have and we dispose of unwanted land whenever we possibly can. The hon. Gentleman will know that we disposed of £102 million of surplus property last year and £86 million the year before. We are hoping to repeat a £100 million disposal this year.

Mr. Ian Bruce : Should my right hon. and learned Friend be considering proposals to buy yet more land north of Bristol to build yet another MOD facility when we have excellent and underused facilities at Portland which could accommodate all the necessary staff? Will my right hon. and learned Friend instruct the MOD to stop looking at new sites and use the sites that we already have?

Mr. Hamilton : I can certainly give my hon. Friend the undertaking that he needs. We seriously consider our own land holdings. Only with the greatest reluctance would we purchase new land to put up new office blocks and so forth. Obviously, we prefer to use the land that we already have.

Mr. Cryer : Does the Minister recall that a few years ago the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) went to Molesworth common in a flak jacket and with more troops than stormed Goose green in the Falklands war to turn off a dozen peace people who were growing crops? Would it not be a good idea for the Ministry of Defence to put Molesworth and Greenham common to use for growing food? It should get rid of the land entirely. It is no longer necessary. It should give the food to the starving people of the world. That would also be a good principle to apply to the expenditure on Trident. We should cancel Trident and use the money for the national health service and the starving people of the world.

Mr. Hamilton : If the hon. Gentleman is such a good friend of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, perhaps he would like to go down to Greenham common and remind the women down there that the missiles have left and no one can understand why they are still sitting there making a filthy mess of the area.

Mr. John Greenway : Is there not already plenty of public access to much land already owned by the Ministry of Defence? Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that as the need for such land perhaps reduces in the years to come there will be proper consultation with local authorities and the countryside agencies about the continuing amenity value of the land to the public and its value for nature conservation?

Mr. Hamilton : Yes, indeed. We issued a pamphlet recently at a press conference given by Lord Cranborne. It

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was pointed out that we give access to most of our training areas. There are footpaths where people can walk and when ranges are not being used for live firing they are available to the public. We are considering ways of making our ranges increasingly available to the public when we are not using them.


9. Mr. McAllion : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he next intends to meet other NATO Defence Ministers to discuss NATO defence policy.

Mr. Rifkind : I met my NATO colleagues last week at meetings of the Eurogroup, the Defence Planning Committee and the Nuclear Planning Group in Brussels. We discussed a range of current alliance business and reaffirmed NATO's fundamental importance to the security of Europe. Copies of the communique s issued following the meetings have been placed in the Library.

Mr. McAllion : With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact, is it not time to reassess with our NATO allies our strategic defence policies, including a full review of our so-called independent nuclear deterrent? Should not that review begin by calling into question the relevance of keeping one Polaris at sea at all times when, according to press reports today, safety problems caused by that policy are endangering the lives of submariners and the public by increasing the likelihood of a nuclear accident?

Mr. Rifkind : The reports to which the hon. Gentleman refers have already been repudiated as baseless. The hon. Gentleman should be aware that no submarine goes to sea unless all safety requirements have been fully complied with. On the general strategic situation, the hon. Gentleman must be aware not only that Russia remains a major nuclear super-power but that massive reductions in the nuclear potential of both the alliance and the former Soviet Union are already taking place. The United Kingdom has indicated its intention to withdraw certain tactical and other nuclear missiles as a contribution towards that welcome process.

Mr. Wilkinson : Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure at his next meeting with his counterparts in other NATO countries that the naval forces of the alliance will be available if necessary to enforce the United Nations blockade imposed against Serbia? It must be made effective. Could those naval forces also be a deterrent against the indiscriminate use of force by the Yugoslav navy against helpless civilians in Dubrovnik and other Croatian towns?

Mr. Rifkind : The decisions taken so far have been to impose economic sanctions against the Yugoslav republic. No decision has been taken by the United Nations in favour of a naval blockade. If any proposal is made, we shall have to consider it, but there is no such proposal before the international community at present.

Dr. Godman : Is not it inevitable that Europe--through the Western European Union rather than NATO--will have to take a much greater responsibility for its security and defence? Is not it also likely that future American presidents will come under enormous pressure from the United States Congress and the American people to reduce

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their commitment to the defence of Europe? When will the Government face up to the realities surrounding the security and defence of Europe?

Mr. Rifkind : There might be pressures of the kind to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but I remind him that the Atlantic alliance has been uniquely successful in ensuring the peace of Europe for the past 40 to 50 years. I and the Government believe that the alliance has a continuing relevance to the well-being of Europe. It is interesting that the newer, emerging democracies in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary emphasise the desirability of NATO continuing, and that that is also the view of the majority of people in the United States.

Sir Michael Marshall : Would my right hon. and learned Friend care to expand the answer that he has just given by rejecting what the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) has just urged him to do? Surely, when one considers Yugoslavia or the world scene at present, the link with NATO, within the United Nations, is likely to be the more fruitful in dealing with many worldwide problems. We must all play our part. Does he agree that the idea of Franco-German or other European initiatives is premature and ineffective?

Mr. Rifkind : My hon. Friend is correct. The NATO alliance represents an area of stability in a continent which has unfortunately become turbulent, and it is appropriate for us to consider--as is being done within NATO--whether NATO can make additional contributions towards peacekeeping or other requirements. Those matters still have to be discussed and conclusions have to be reached. However, I am sure that NATO continues to have an enormous contribution to make to the security and well -being of the countries that make up the alliance and of Europe.


10. Mr. Kirkwood : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to be in a position to respond to the Select Committee on Defence's proposals on the size of the infantry in "Options for Change".

Mr. Rifkind : I expect to be in a position to respond shortly to the Defence Select Committee's third report.

Mr. Kirkwood : Does the Secretary of State recall that, at the time of the Kincardine and Deeside by-election, he wrote a letter expressing his hope at that stage that some of the proposed amalgamations for the Scottish regiments could be reconsidered? Having regard to the situation that obtains in Yugoslavia and to the extra demands that may be made on our infantry, and to the intolerable pressure on service families in some regiments facing amalgamation, would the Secretary of State respond as early as possible? Will he make his response positive and reprieve, or bring back, at least some of the regiments facing amalgamation?

Mr. Rifkind : I have said that it is important to ensure that the needs of the armed forces are fully met and that we do not impose on them any requirements to which they cannot properly respond. It is therefore important to use those criteria to determine the imposition of "Options for Change" during the next two years. Parallels can be found

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throughout the western world which show that substantial savings can be made on defence and they are appropriate at the present time.

Mr. Bill Walker : Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear it in mind that it is better to take time and to view the matter coolly and properly, rather than to make hasty decisions? Most defence decisions are made in the light of events and in many areas of the world, those events are not under our control. Yet, as history has shown, we are often required to send Scottish regiments to trouble spots around the world.

Mr. Rifkind : As my hon. Friend said, it is certainly the case that our armed forces have often been called on to meet obligations in other parts of the world. About 1,200 British forces are in peace-keeping roles in other countries, and we have 13 United Kingdom dependent territories, many of which require a military presence to ensure their security. All those factors have to be taken into account when determining what the force levels in the armed forces should be in the years to come.

Dr. Reid : May I take this first opportunity to congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment? Is not the fact that he holds that office, and that the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) has demitted office, a sign and a tacit admission that the Government got their sums wrong over "Options for Change"? Will he now answer the question put to him--does he stand by the views that he expressed in his letter during the Kincardine and Deeside by-election about the possible overstretch of the infantry? Will he give us, in plain words, a guarantee that that decision will be re-examined, as urged by every section of the House, including the Select Committee on Defence, apart from his predecessor?

Mr. Rifkind : May I first pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), the former Secretary of State for Defence, for the courage with which he proposed "Options for Change"? Throughout that time he showed a determination worthy of our admiration. With regard to the issues to which the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) referred, I emphasise that I attach considerable importance to ensuring that force levels are appropriate to the demands expected of our armed forces. If the Government ever came to the view that force levels needed to be reviewed that is what they would do. Those are the criteria to apply.

Mrs. Ann Winterton : Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that real and informed concern is being expressed within military and civilian circles about the future size of the infantry, bearing in mind our responsibilities, not least in Northern Ireland? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that overstretch is a serious problem? Will he consider the report by the Select Committee on Defence? Will he consider, once again, the excellent case for the retention, as a single county regiment, of the Cheshire regiment, which is well recruited and well retained?

Mr. Rifkind : I note what my hon. Friend says. To put the position completely in the round, my hon. Friend is aware that there are proposals not only to reduce the number of battalions in the armed forces but to reduce greatly their commitments because of the rundown of our forces on the continent and, ultimately, the withdrawal of

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certain battalions from Hong Kong. Those factors must be borne in mind when deciding what the appropriate level of our forces should be.

Secrecy Classification

11. Mr. Martyn Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence at what level of secrecy classification he is willing to disclose documents to hon. Members.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Jonathan Aitken) : Hon. Members may be allowed access to information at various levelof classification depending on the circumstances. Classified information is also made available in accordance with the published rules to members of Select Committees.

Mr. Jones : I think that I heard the Minister's reply that, sometimes, restricted documents would be available. May I remind the Minister that, last year, I asked the Secretary of State for the criteria applied to the construction of safe ranges? That information was refused me as it is in a classified document. I was then sent it anonymously-- [Interruption.] Does the Minister agree that it is ludicrous for the information on the safety criteria for ranges to be classified in any way and that it is even more ludicrous for hon. Members to be refused access to that information? Is it not even more ludicrous-- [Interruption.] Is it not even more ludicrous that I was able to obtain a copy of that document not from some foreign agency, but from a constituent of mine? Does he not--

Madam Speaker : Order. This is Question Time. It is not a debate and the hon. Member has asked quite enough questions.

Mr. Aitken : There is no ministerial responsibility for anonymous letters.

Mr. Dickens : Am I not right in saying that the key element in the defence of the realm is surprise and that there is a great difference between betraying classified information to a potential enemy and the citizens charter, which gives people their rights? We must be careful in the information that we make available.

Mr. Aitken : My hon. Friend has made his point in his usual robust way. He is right to point out that there is a difference between classified information and the information covered by the citizens charter, which is simply information already in the public domain, but which needs greater and wider amplification.


12. Mr. Raynsford : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he will be placing an order for the fourth Trident.

15. Mrs. Helen Jackson : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he intends to place an order for the fourth Trident.

Mr. Aitken : We intend to place the order for the fourth Vanguard class submarine as soon as contract negotiations with Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Limited have been satisfactorily concluded.

Mr. Raynsford : What is the Minister's latest estimate of the total cost of the Trident programme, including

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inevitable future costs such as decommissioning? How do those costs compare with original estimates for the programme and what value-for-money criteria are applied to that element of Government expenditure?

Mr. Aitken : I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that Trident remains on time and within budget. The total procurement cost is £10.5 billion, which is £2.9 billion less than the original cost estimate, a point which was well praised by the Select Committee on Defence which said that it was pleased by the

"gratifying and unusual spectacle of a major defence procurement programme coming in far below estimate."

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is pleased with that good news. I can tell him, in answer to his questions about other costs, that the general operating costs of Trident are expected to be similar in percentage terms to those of the Polaris programme--that is, something below 2 per cent. of the overall defence budget.

Mrs. Helen Jackson : Is the Minister aware that that cost is more than double even the amount of public money that the Conservatives have put into the failed docklands development? Will he consider including the whole Trident programme in the arms reduction talks with the Americans and Russians when the new round of talks start, enabling the programme to be decommissioned and the money put into social and economic programmes that better serve inner-city residents? Or is he considering putting 6,000 civil servants on the first Trident submarine to be commissioned?

Mr. Aitken : That would make the Trident submarine rather overcrowded. I do not think that we could accept the hon. Lady's suggestion under any possible terms. Trident is a minimum deterrent system. That view was endorsed by President Yeltsin during his recent visit to Britain. We do not believe that we can make compromises with Britain's essential security requirements.

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