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House of Commons

Tuesday 20 July 1993

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Citibank International Bill


Unibank Bill


Considered ; to be read the Third time.

Crossrail Bill

Ordered,That the Promoters of the Crossrail Bill 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 not later than the day before the close of the present Session of their intention to suspend further proceedings and that all Fees due on the Bill up to that date be paid ; Ordered,That on the fifth day on which the House sits in the next Session the Bill shall be presented to the House ; Ordered,That there shall be deposited with the 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 ; Ordered,That the 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 and second time and committed (and shall be recorded in the Journal of this House as having been so read and committed) ; Ordered,That all Petitions relating to the Bill presented in Session 1991- 92 or the present Session which stand referred to the Committee on the Bill, together with any minutes of evidence taken before the Committee on the Bill, shall stand referred to the Committee on the Bill in the next Session ; Ordered,That no Petitioners shall be heard before the Committee on the Bill, unless their Petition has been presented within the time limited within Session 1991-92 or deposited pursuant to paragraph (b) of Standing Order 126 relating to Private Business ; Ordered,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 ; Ordered,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 ; Ordered,That these Orderes be Standing Orders of the House.-- [The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.] Message to the Lords to acquaint them therewith.

Highland Regional Council (Wester Bridge) Order Confirmation Bill

Considered ; to be read the Third time.

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Oral Answers to Questions


Employment Statistics

1. Mr. Jon Owen Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is his Department's estimate of the number of people employed in the defence industry in the United Kingdom.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Jonathan Aitken) : We estimate that approximately 500,000 people are directly or indirectly employed in the United Kingdom defence industry.

Mr. Jones : The Minister will know that there are many jobs in the defence industry, but does he realise that those jobs are most unfairly distributed? There is one post for every 300 individuals in the east and west midlands, one post for every 300 individuals in Wales, but only one post for every 700 individuals in the north of England and one post for every 130 individuals in the most prosperous part of Britain, the south- east of England. Will he consider the implications of distributing the jobs more fairly when he considers job cuts in the defence industry?

Mr. Aitken : I was fascinated by the hon. Gentleman's statistics. They seemed to come from one who labours under the delusion that he is still an old-fashioned, unreconstructed, socialist planner. It is not the Government who direct where defence companies put their factories or locate their offices. Those decisions are taken by companies themselves. My Department places its contracts on a value-for-money basis with the best possible firms. That is the only correct policy for a Government Department to follow.

Mr. Devlin : When the Minister considers not only the defence industry but the civilians in his Department, will he look at the implications of moving those people around the country as a part of "Options for Change"? Will he confirm that the cost of moving a person from one region to another has now risen to a figure in excess of £40,000? If that is the case, how can my hon. Friend justify concentrating the naval support command in Bath away from the north-east of England?

Mr. Aitken : Unlike the previous questioner, my hon. Friend is at least right to concentrate on something for which the Ministry of Defence has responsibility--the location of its own personnel--although, of course, it is not directly related to defence industries. We are careful to take into account the costs of relocation, which are expensive these days. I cannot comment on the individual case raised by my hon. Friend, but we will certainly consider it in the light of his representations.

Dr. David Clark : Is the Minister aware that with the cuts in defence spending, more than 100,000 men and women working in defence- related industries have lost their jobs and that many more face redundancy? Does the Minister feel no responsibility at all towards those workers and will he set up a defence diversification agency to ensure that the skills of those workers are retained for Britain's manufacturing effort?

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Mr. Aitken : That is another unreconstructed, old-fashioned socialist idea : creating a Government quango at the taxpayers' expense to do a job for which Governments are not qualified. It is not for Governments to direct companies on where they should diversify their efforts. I recognise the sadness that the hon. Gentleman feels about the loss of defence jobs, but, as he well knows, the strategic environment has completely changed. The figures that he quoted cannot be reconciled with those produced by the House of Commons Library, which show that not 100,000 but 52,000 jobs have been lost in the past two years. One job lost is one too many, but there is no point in crying for a defence diversification agency, which would only increase the amount of money that is wasted by Government.

Mr. Mark Robinson : My hon. Friend is, I am sure, aware of what the consequences would have been if the Labour party had been in power and had implemented its policy of reducing defence expenditure to the European average. What effect would that have had on defence jobs in this country?

Mr. Aitken : My hon. Friend is right to point out that the policies of the Labour party, which proposed a cut in defence spending of one third, would have reduced jobs in defence industries by more than a third. About 150,000 jobs or more could have been lost in defence industries if its policies had been implemented.

Desert Fever

2. Mr. Enright : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what investigations he has undertaken into the incidence of desert fever.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Jeremy Hanley) : There is to date no clincial evidence in the United Kingdom that the alleged complaint known as desert fever or Desert Storm syndrome exists as a separate medical condition. Statistics compiled by the Ministry show that, since the Gulf conflict, there has been no overall increase among serving service personnel in the incidence of the type of diverse symptons that are alleged to make up the syndrome. My Department will continue to investigate any information that is provided and to monitor all evidence bearing on the situation.

Mr. Enright : I am extremely grateful for that answer. The Minister will be aware that the United Nations Environment Programme and the United States Congress are extremely keen to monitor the results of depleted uranium shells that were left after the Gulf war. Will he give an unequivocal assurance that he will support on-site inspections by United Nations scientists and ignore the mealy-mouthed words of the Ministry's civil servants?

Mr. Hanley : The hon. Gentleman's last few words serve neither him nor this issue well. This is a serious issue. We are trying to gather all the facts and information because we have an interest in all our personnel. It is in our interests that our serving forces and those who have left them are fit and well and stand no extra risk because of their experience. We will, therefore, co-operate with any investigations to try to ensure that there is not the risk that the hon. Gentleman perhaps believes there is.

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Mr. Ashby : Will my hon. Friend confirm that spent uranium shells were used by the United States, and did the British Government know that they were being used?

Mr. Hanley : I can confirm that the United Kingdom used depleted uranium shells. We fired some 88 such shells during the conflict. The United States also fired depleted uranium shells, but perhaps I should say to my hon. Friend and the House that we use such sophisticated and effective ordnance if it is intended to save our lives. This ordnance is extremely effective and it gets through the toughest armour. Our lives were saved because of its use.

Dr. David Clark : Will the Minister take this opportunity to apologise to service personnel who fought in the Gulf, but who were not provided with proper advice on the health and safety risks of depleted uranium? Following the admission in his letter of 13 July, will he come completely clean and set up an investigation into Desert Storm syndrome along the lines of that set up by the United States military authorities?

Mr. Hanley : We have been open and honest throughout. I answered a question on the basis of the information that was given to me, and in all good faith. The following day, I discovered that the leaflet had not gone as far afield as I was told. I immediately gave the extra information to Members who had written to me. We were not forced into this. There has never been a cover-up. There has been a genuine search for information so that we can help people who might be suffering from what is suspected by certain newspapers and certain television programmes. All those who served in the Gulf who were most at risk--those who collected ordnance and those who packed the shells to bring them home because so few were used by us-- were told of the risks, but, in the heat of battle, tank crews were not given the instructions, for the simple reason that time was tight. They had to use the shells to save their lives, and the risk was infinitesimal.

Eurofighter-2000 Project

3. Mr. Waterson : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the effect of the proposals in his White Paper, Cm 2270, on the Eurofighter 2000 project ; and if he will make a statement.

12. Mr. Heald : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the implications of his White Paper, Cm 2270, for the Eurofighter 2000 project ; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind) : The White Paper reaffirms our commitment to the Eurofighter 2000 project, which will be the cornerstone of the RAF's capability in the future.

Mr. Waterson : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that that statement will be welcomed not only by the RAF, but by my constituents in Eastbourne who work for Computing Devices, a company which has won orders worth £20 million for the project? Will he reassure the House that production work on the project will be allocated between the partner countries on the basis of the number of aircraft ordered?

Mr. Rifkind : Yes, I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the project provides valuable work in his constituency and in the constituencies of many hon. Members around the

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country. I can also confirm that, when we come to the production stage, the precise aircraft number requirements of the various participating countries will be taken into account.

Mr. Morgan : Does the Secretary of State agree that lessons must be learnt on how to look after the Eurofighter 2000 from the appalling fiasco involving the recent modification work that was carried out on the Tornado F3--the Eurofighter's predecessor--by Airworks at RAF St. Athan? Will he confirm that the damage was discovered by aircraft technicians at RAF Leeming only as a squadron of Tornadoes was preparing to fly to Bosnia?

Will the Secretary of State further confirm that the technicians became aware of the huge quantities of aircraft Polyfilla known as Thiokol that had been used to cover up the damage when they took down the undercarriage just before the aircraft were to fly? Did that give a possible risk of the aircraft crashing in Bosnia?

Mr. Rifkind : The important point which the hon. Gentleman failed to mention was that the defects in the workmanship were discovered in the normal and proper way by the RAF. As a consequence, there was no risk to RAF personnel, and the work required to correct the defects is being undertaken.

Mr. Quentin Davies : In view of the volatile international scene and the near-certainty that substantial nuclear proliferation will occur over the next few years--not only in the CIS but through north Africa and the near east--does my right hon. and learned Friend think that it would be wise to provide an effective dual-purpose tactical air-to-surface missile system for the Eurofighter 2000?

Has my right hon. and learned Friend considered that system? Will he tell the House what the approximate cost would be for such a system, which could have a possible range of 500 miles?

Mr. Rifkind : My hon. Friend is correct to draw attention to the fact that proliferation could occur during the years that the Eurofighter may be in operation. That proliferation may not only be of nuclear weapons, but of other weapons of mass destruction. It is appropriate to consider that the Eurofighter should have proper equipment. The precise details of the equipment are being worked on. I acknowledge the relevance of the point made by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Lewis : In view of the scandal that surrounds the Airworks F3 fiasco, will the Secretary of State consider for a moment putting the rest of market testing on hold?

Mr. Rifkind : The incident to which the hon. Gentleman refers has nothing to do with market testing, which has already produced savings of tens of millions of pounds for the RAF. Those savings enable them to carry out their responsibilities in an even more effective fashion.

I understand why the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are hostile to the private sector making a full contribution to the United Kingdom's defence needs, but the hon. Gentleman does a great disservice to the RAF and to its interests.

Mr. Brazier : Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that for EFA to do its job it must indeed have the right weapon for the sort of threats that we are likely to face in the next few years? Many countires are trying to

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acquire nuclear technology--some of them already have delivery systems. What studies will he instigate, as there was a complete absence of discussion of nuclear proliferation in the White Paper, to look into nuclear proliferation, so that these issues may be debated in the House?

Mr. Rifkind : As my hon. Friend is aware, nuclear proliferation is particularly relevant to the work being undertaken on the sub-strategic nuclear weapon and to any future for the WE177 freefall bomb. That work is now at an advanced stage and I would expect to report to the House on conclusions about the sub-strategic nuclear dimension in the relatively near future.

Departmental Land

4. Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will list by English local authority (a) the extent of land held by his Department and (b) the amount or proportion of such land (i) in respect of which agreement on sale has been completed and (ii) it is proposed to sell by the end of 1993.

Mr. Hanley : The total area of land held by the MOD in England on 1 April 1993 was 194,541 hectares, of which some 850 hectares has been, or is expected to be, sold in 1993. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand, as he asked for a breakdown for each local authority, that it would take me the rest of the day to give a full answer. I have, therefore, taken the opportunity to put the figures, by county, in the Library of the House.

Mr. Hughes : I am grateful to the Minister and I look forward to reading the figures. A parliamentary answer from the Minister last week showed that in the past four years the MOD's land holdings have increased by 1,242 hectares. There is enormous concern that the review of land holdings is not happening quickly enough. Counties such as Hampshire and adjacent counties in the south of England would benefit greatly if the land were released, thereby creating jobs and homes and allowing development to occur. It would also save the green belt and compensate for some of the jobs that are being lost in the defence-related industries.

Mr. Hanley : The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. Every year we have to look at what land we need and take into account the draw back of battalions from Germany and how to house and train them. The purchase of land is, therefore, a fluid issue. It is matched by land sales, because we are deeply concerned about the taxpayers' interests, so we have to ensure that when land that is not in use becomes available for sale it is sold at the best price.

This year, we will be selling £68 million worth of land, and selling 2,050 married quarters and making 200 sales of houses to civilian tenants.

Mr. Wilkinson : My hon. Friend rightly refers to bringing British troops back from Germany. In that connection, will he please answer questions in future in acres, not hectares, so that we can better understand what he means? Will he recognise that the Russians have only 68,000 troops in the eastern part of Germany and that, we hope, by August of next year they will all be out? Would it not be wise to make land available in the United Kingdom for the eventual return of all British forces?

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Mr. Hanley : My hon. Friend's latter point must certainly be kept under consideration, because it is important. As for his former point, there are 2.2 acres in each hectare. I know that there is a lot of nostalgia about these things in the House--my hon. Friend can use any measurements that he chooses.


6. Mr. Patrick Thompson : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the current share of gross domestic product spent on defence ; and what is the comparable figure for other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries.

Mr. Rifkind : United Kingdom defence expenditure in 1992 was some 4.1 per cent. of GDP, but is expected to reduce to 3.2 per cent. by 1995- 96. Figures giving defence expenditure for other NATO countries as a proportion of GDP are included in the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1993" on page 76. These range from 1.2 per cent. for Luxembourg to 5.5 per cent. for Greece.

Mr. Thompson : I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that detailed reply. Will he note my concern, and that of many of my constituents, that defence expenditure, as a percentage of GDP, is falling significantly at a time when, as I believe, many threats to our national security remain in prospect? Will he confirm, in particular, that the reserves remain a vital component of our defence forces? Will he pay tribute to those serving in Bosnia ; will he offer encouragement and further resources to the men and women in Norfolk and elsewhere who give up their time to train and to serve the community so excellently in this way?

Mr. Rifkind : Defence expenditure is falling in the United Kingdom. It is also falling at a far faster rate in some countries of the former Warsaw pact, particularly Russia. As for the reserves, I am happy to confirm the inviolable role that they play. My hon. Friend will have welcomed our announcement some weeks ago that in future the reserves will have the opportunity to carry out operational work in peacetime, in the format that we indicated during the recent defence debate.

Mr. Cohen : Will the Secretary of State confirm the figures of Malcolm Chambers of the university of Bradford, given in the July edition of "Parliamentary Brief"? He said that between 1988 and 1992, defence spending fell far more slowly in the United Kingdom than in our allied countries, and that we now spend 74 per cent. more than our western European allies. Is not that an example of the Government's overspending on militarism, and a lost opportunity to gain a proper peace dividend?

Mr. Rifkind : No, it is another example of the hon. Gentleman's muddled thinking. If he wants to examine the reality of the situation, he will find that Britain, France and Germany, in the past year, spent almost exactly the same amount on their defence forces. That is a far more accurate reflection of the security and defence interests of the most prominent members of the NATO alliance in Europe.

Dame Peggy Fenner : Does my right hon. and learned Friend recognise that the great naval base at Chatham had a very early peace dividend when, in the early 1980s, it lost

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7,000 job opportunities at one fell swoop? Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider the centuries-old connection between Chatham and the Royal Navy and not close HMS Wildfire, and allow us to keep the RNVR as a last connection with our great naval tradition?

Mr. Rifkind : I fully understand the concerns behind my hon. Friend's question. As she is aware, the proposals on the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service are currently out to consultation. We will look very carefully at representations, from Chatham and from any other part of the country that is affected by the proposals.

Mr. George : Defence expenditure in 1974-79 averaged 4.9 per cent. of GDP. Now it is 4.1 per cent. and is falling to 3.2 per cent. If current trends continue, does not the Secretary of State run the distinct risk of having his conventional defence policy unanimously approved by a Labour party conference?

Mr. Rifkind : I think that the hon. Gentleman can take some comfort from the fact that he will feel distinctly uncomfortable when he attends Labour party conferences. Indeed, his own Front Benchers, desperate as they are to try to appear respectable on defence matters, constantly come up against the massed ranks of the Labour party--if that is not an inaccurate expression--who still believe that there should be £6 billion worth of cuts in our defence expenditure, with all the consequences that that would have for the armed forces.


7. Mr. Moss : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he is making to improve the quality of housing for the armed forces ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hanley : The three services have continuing programmes for the repair and modernisation of their housing stock.

Mr. Moss : Does my hon. Friend share my concern at the recent reports of unsatisfactory handovers and takeovers of service married quarters, which causes anxiety to the wives and families involved and has a serious effect on service morale generally? Does my hon. Friend agree that there are no insurmountable difficulties in transferring MOD housing stock to the private sector? If that were to happen, would not tenants get a much better deal?

Mr. Hanley : Naturally, this is a matter which should cause serious concern because of the social implications for those who work in the forces. In recent years, great progress has been made in developing imaginative schemes to help serving personnel and their families to inhabit their homes and to take over their homes when they leave the forces.

The Ministry of Defence is working out on the concept of the new housing trust that was announced last year. That will offer exciting opportunities to improve the quality of life of our service men and women and their families. It would help the House if I put an explanatory note in the Library of the House to show the progress of the new housing trust in the private sector.

Mr. Frank Cook : As the Government are so keen to support the principles of market testing, will the Minister

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undertake to consult service families in Cyprus, who are suffering a colossal level of condensation for three quarters of the year? Will he also consult families at Tidworth, who are currently accommodated in hovels--I used the word advisedly--and can hear the weather forecast being broadcast on small pocket transistor radios four doors away? The Minister says that he is putting 2,050 married quarters on the market this year. Will they be at the top or the bottom end of the market? Will our service men and women be compelled to go on living in dog kennels?

Mr. Hanley : The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the problem of sub-standard housing for service personnel wherever it exists. It is because of that problem that a continuing programme is in operation in all three services.

I am aware of the housing problem in Cyprus to which the hon. Gentleman specifically referred. Some 50 per cent. of those properties belong to the Ministry ; 50 per cent. are tenanted outside. I know that dissatisfaction exists, and my noble Friend Lord Cranborne, the Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State, is examining the position. I will ask him to examine the Tidworth case as well. I also take on board the hon. Gentleman's final point.

Mr. Clifton-Brown : Will my hon. Friend give urgent consideration to Ministry of Defence housing stock? While bearing in mind the need to maintain available housing stock to which to repatriate our troops, and to improve its quality, will he also consider whether surplus stock could be sold off--particularly the surplus stock at RAF Rissington in my constituency?

Mr. Hanley : My hon. Friend is right : any surplus stock should be sold off. He should remember, however, that in March 1993 9,166 quarters were vacant, out of a total stock of some 71,000. Felexibility is needed, because of the movement of troops and other parts of the services--for instance, back from Germany and around the United Kingdom. We cannot sell every empty house ; that simply is not possible.

Railway Freight

8. Mr. Grocott : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to encourage his Department to use the railways for the carriage of freight.

Mr. Hanley : My Department uses the most convenient and cost- effective methods to transport freight, including railways, but has no plans specifically to favour the use of rail over any other method of transport.

Mr. Grocott : The facts do not square with the Minister's answer. Can he confirm that, when the Government came to power, 38 Ministry of Defence depots has rail links with the main line? They have been progressively closed, however, and now only 21 are left. One of the closures was at Donington, in my constituency. Is it not ridiculous that, while the Department of Transport argues that freight should be transferred from road to rail, the Ministry of Defence pursues a clear and determined policy of transferring it from rail to road?

Mr. Hanley : I am well aware of the hon. Gentleman's constituency point. He may take some comfort from the fact that a £10 million, two- year contract between the

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MOD and British Rail has recently been extended by a further year, to next June. Moreover, we use rail whenever it is sensible, practicable and economical to do so.

The hon. Gentleman should consider British Rail's freight transport policy, as it has changed its practices, which makes freight transport difficult, especially when an entire train has to be hired, rather than one or two carriages.

Deaths and Injuries (Northern Ireland)

9. Mrs. Ann Winterton : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many service men have been killed or injured in the last 10 years while stationed in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Rifkind : In the 10-year period up to 31 December 1992, 145 service men were murdered in terrorist-related incidents in Northern Ireland ; a further 1,ecisions in extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances? Inevitably, mistakes occur from time to time. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, when a genuine mistake is made, soldiers should not be subject to the threat of criminal proceedings? Will he and his colleagues examine the present law and ensure that soldiers fighting the brutal Irish Republican Army do not do so with one hand tied behind their backs?

Mr. Rifkind : My hon. Friend raises an important point. There can be no doubting the courage and gallantry of so many soldiers in Northern Ireland. In 1992 alone, 356 awards were given for gallantry or meritorious conduct in Northern Ireland.

There have been occasions when individual soldiers have been charged with criminal offences. These are always difficult and sensitive issues, but I think that my hon. Friend would be the first to agree that our armed forces must operate under the same law of the land as the rest of the British public. It is for the courts to decide any case where a person, whether a civilian or a soldier, has broken the law of the land. The Army would be the first to insist that that should continue to be the case.

Mr. John D. Taylor : As many soldiers have been tragically killed along the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland-- including, regrettably, another one this week--is the Secretary of State surprised at the astonishment felt in Northern Ireland at his statement last week that there is now great co-operation between the security forces on both sides of the border? If he is correct, when the British forces are under attack across the border, why do the Irish Army still refuse to speak or communicate with the British Army?

Mr. Rifkind : The remark that I made was that co-operation between the British and Irish Governments on battling against the Irish terrorist menace is better than it has ever been in the past. That is something about which the right hon. Gentleman will not disagree. The fact that he may point out, quite correctly, that there is still considerable scope for further progress is something on which we both can heartily agree.

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Mr. Cyril D. Townsend : My right hon. and learned Friend knows well the determination of the British Army to eradicate terrorism. What talks is he having with the Northern Ireland Office to try to reduce the size of the British Army in Northern Ireland to its level of a few years ago? Will he insist that the British Army remains in support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and locally raised defence forces in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Rifkind : The size of the Army contribution to Northern Ireland must depend on security considerations and on security considerations alone. I have no doubt that the defence of territory of the United Kingdom and its citizens must continue to be the first call on Her Majesty's armed forces. We will continue to discuss with the Northern Ireland Office whether there are ways of improving the use that is made of our armed forces in order to ensure that they, in co-operation with the RUC, can be as effective as possible in the battle against terrorism.

Defence Procurement

10. Mr. Roy Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had with his United States counterpart concerning future defence procurement.

Mr. Aitken : My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State met United States Defence Secretary Mr. Les Aspin in April and May. They had wide-ranging discussions on defence matters.

Mr. Hughes : I draw the Minister's attention to the clear message coming from the United States that Governments should do more to assist the defence industry to diversify. Many defence establishments are being closed or run down and people are being put out of work. Market forces alone will not provide the new jobs. There is a need for active Government intervention. Does he accept that simple message coming from across the other side of the Atlantic?

Mr. Aitken : I certainly do not accept the message coming from the other side of the House on that matter. The hon. Gentleman praises the American announcements, but if he looked more closely at them he would see that they have been greeted by a great deal of quite knowledgeable criticism. In particular, I draw his attention to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal headed "The False Promise of Defence Conversion". It contained a great line from a senior defence official saying that the programme so far had been "unblemished by success." We should like to see a much more credible programme before a penny of taxpayers' money is put into it.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith : My hon. Friend has taken a number of important initiatives to let British industry know about the future defence needs of the country and the part that it can play. I congratulate him on that. Is he aware that, during the past few years, defence procurement as a proportion of our arms budget has fallen, and that if we are to have a smaller but meaner, tougher and better equipped Army, it is necessary for that trend to be reversed?

Mr. Aitken : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's point. I should make it clear that the defence equipment budget remains, by any standards, a substantial one. In the

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current year, we expect to spend just over £9 billion, or 39 per cent. of the defence budget, on it. In view of the new strategic and security situation, that is a realistic proportion.

Mr. Menzies Campbell : In the matter of defence procurement, is not the best way ahead to be found in the memorandum of understanding signed last week by the United Kingdom, France and Italy for the development and production of an anti-air warfare frigate to replace the type 42? Are not such procurement decisions important steps towards the common defence policy that the Maastricht treaty envisages?

Mr. Aitken : We believe that that project is the right one. That is why we signed the memorandum of understanding. However, it is a most acrobatic leap, which only a dedicated Liberal federalist could make, from a simple procurement project to a common European defence policy. That is going a long and dramatic way, and I cannot go down the same road.

Senior Officers

11. Mr. Anthony Coombs : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what are the current numbers of Royal Air Force officers of air rank, Army officers of general rank and Royal Navy officers of equivalent rank ; and what were the comparable figures for 1988.

Mr. Hanley : The number of two-star appointments in the Royal Navy at 1 April 1988 was 60 and at 1 April 1993 was 51. The equivalent figures for the Army are 83 and 77, and for the RAF 60 and 56. These figures include officers in NATO appointments, on training courses and on terminal leave.

Mr. Coombs : Given the significant reductions in numbers that have taken place in service personnel over the past five years, does my hon. Friend agree that it is important for service morale that any future reductions are made on a proportional basis between senior and other ranks? What plans does he have up to 1995 to ensure that that principle is adhered to?

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