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Mr. Hanley : My hon. Friend is right. The number of service posts at two-star level and above has already been reduced by 15 per cent. since 1990, and by 1995 that figure will have risen to 24 per cent. For all of the forces overall--in other words, for all ranks--the figure between 1990 and 1995 will be 22 per cent. For their part, the Government have, over the same time scale, reduced the number of serving Ministers at the Ministry of Defence from four to three--a reduction of 25 per cent. The Opposition's policy is unclear.
Dr. Reid : Can the Minister explain why the Ministry of Defence is about to spend £2.5 million to recruit soldiers immediately after putting thousands of soldiers out of work under "Options for Change"? Is it not bad enough that we should be building submarines to sell them and refurbishing tanks to get rid of them without spending millions of pounds more of taxpayers' money to replace soldiers who have been made redundant? For all his excuses about balance of age and rank, has he not merely got his sums wrong? While I am on that subject, perhaps
Column 189I should inform him that, with all its collective wisdom, the Ministry of Defence is still unable to figure out how many acres there are in a hectare : it is not 2.2, but 2.471.
Mr. Hanley : The hon. Gentleman's knowledge of European affairs is clearly deeper than mine and I am grateful for the lesson. It is nice that he can teach me that, at least. As to the hon. Gentleman's other point, he must know that every part of the armed services needs new people of varying ages, qualities and ranks. We need a continuing review of our recruitment. Therefore, what he says is quite wrong. Furthermore, it is vital that we keep equipment tailored to meet the threats.
Mr. Ian Taylor : Will my hon. Friend accept that the shrinkage of the armed services under the "Options for Change" package has been widely understood, although there has been some detailed resistance? Are not the most important factors in ensuring that the morale of the armed forces is kept up and that they are dedicated to the activities to which they are directed an exact understanding of the strategic responsibilities that our forces are asked to undertake and a proper appreciation among the forces of the various threats that may come from nuclear proliferation causing the use of our rapid reaction forces?
Mr. Hanley : In 1992-93, 3,957 people left the armed forces on redundancy terms, of whom 95 per cent. were volunteers. In 1993-94, 8,482 people will leave on redundancy terms, of whom 91 per cent. will be volunteers. Redundancy, restrictions on recruitment and normal early retirement or natural wastage are all being used to achieve the planned rundown in armed forces manpower which began in 1991. The Army will shortly be asking for further volunteers.
Mr. Janner : Will the Minister assure the House that he has consulted the Secretary of State for Employment before making redundancies on such a scale when, even on the Government's figures, there are nearly 3 million people unemployed? Will he please listen again to his hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) and reconsider the proposed relocation of the Army records office from Leicestershire to Glasgow, which will cause nearly 200 redundancies in and around our constituencies if it takes place?
Mr. Hanley : If the Army personnel office were to move to Glasgow, there would be considerable joy among people on the unemployment registers in Glasgow. We are in constant touch with the Secretary of State for Employment. However, we must not run our armed forces on the basis of the social conditions outside, but on that of the threat that they have to meet.
Mr. Coombs : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that today's report from the Confederation of British Industry, showing the fastest increase in retail sales for three years, is clear evidence of the recovery that is taking place in our economy? Are not those figures the results of an economic policy that is based on low inflation, low interest rates and falling unemployment?
The Prime Minister : It is a very encouraging report, and the sixth successive increase that retailers have reported. In the past week, we have seen inflation down, unemployment down, manufacturing up and now retail sales up. We have an excellent opportunity to build the lasting recovery that we all wish to see. I do not propose to put that at risk by burdening business with the extra costs that we have spent the past 14 years getting rid of.
"the one essential principle of the constitution is obedience by all persons to the deliberately expressed will of House of Commons"?
The Prime Minister : By some time this evening, the European Communities (Amendment) Bill will have passed the Lords and Commons and will have Royal Assent. That is clearly the will of the House. Why is the right hon. and learned Gentleman seeking to obstruct it? Mr. Smith rose-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Smith : The right hon. Gentleman has answered a question that was not asked. It is a simple principle : does the Prime Minister accept the will of the House of Commons on whatever subject it is expressed? Can he say yes or no?
The Prime Minister : I might equally ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman--as I just did--exactly the same question, because the clearest possible way to express the will of the House is to pass an Act of Parliament, which will have been done with the Queen's Assent ratified by the close of business today. I repeat to the right hon. and learned Gentleman : after that Act has received Royal Assent, why is he seeking to obstruct it?
Mr. Smith : Does the Prime Minister not understand that the question before the House on Thursday night is required by the very Bill to which he has referred? Will he tell us whether the Government will accept the decision of the House whatever it is?
The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that the House does not support the social chapter. The House genuinely wants the treaty that I signed, and I expect the House to reflect its genuine will in Thursday's debate.
Mr. John Marshall : Is my right hon. Friend aware that Hendon school in my constituency was one of the first schools to become grant maintained? Is he further aware that it is now heavily oversubscribed, and does he agree that what is good for Hendon is good for the country?
The Prime Minister : I think that up and down the country people have indicated that they are in favour of the principle of grant-maintained schools, which have shown that they are very successful. We believe that that choice should be available.
Mr. Ashdown : I understand why the Prime Minister will want time to study in full the Sheehy report on the police, but will he at least dispose of one of its recommendations now? Does he really believe that the battle against crime will be assisted by cutting our already undermanned police force by a further 3,000 as Sheehy recommends?
The Prime Minister : With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, he has misread the report. Sheehy does not recommend that. The Sheehy report is independent. We are examining it, and when we have examined it and consulted on it, we will reach conclusions.
Mr. Burns : Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Ministry of Defence on placing more than 90 per cent. of its defence procurement requirements with British companies to protect British jobs and British expertise? Will he please use his considerable negotiating skills to impress on the American Department of Defence that it is unacceptable that British companies are stopped by Acts of Congress from competing in the American market for the supply of items such as image intensifiers which are produced in Chelmsford, thus causing unemployment in a company whose product is the best in the country?
Mr. Hughes : Does the Prime Minister recall his aim of a nation at ease with itself? His Government are imposing 17.5 per cent. VAT on domestic fuel and attacking those who are on invalidity benefit, and now there is a cloud over state pensions. How does he reconcile that contradiction, as a nation can never be at ease with itself when there are such attacks on the underprivileged in society? I suggest that it might have something to do with his family's circus background-- [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister : I am afraid that I did not hear the concluding words of the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I heard the early part of it. He clearly neglected to mention that last week it was perfectly clear that VAT on fuel was also the policy of the official Opposition and the Liberal party. The official Opposition are still canvassing that. He also neglected in his catalogue many measures that have been taken to help people who are disadvantaged and to reduce tax levels for people on low incomes. Perhaps he should take a more rounded view.
Sir Roger Moate : Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of us are very much opposed to the Maastricht treaty, but still believe that he scored a great personal and national triumph when he secured the opt-outs from the single currency and from the social chapter so beloved of the Labour party? Quite apart from the costs to industry and the loss of jobs, does he agree that the social chapter would reintroduce the corporatism that did such damage to Britain in the 1970s and before? Will he confirm that he has no intention of ratifying a treaty which contains the social chapter?
The Prime Minister : I am well aware of my hon. Friend's long- standing views on the European Community and his disapproval of much of the Maastricht treaty. While I do not share his views, I respect the strength and consistency of his feelings. I entirely agree with him about the damage done by the social chapter. It is an unemployment charter which will destroy our future prosperity. It will prevent the creation of jobs. It is a socialist charter and we want nothing of it.
Mr. Hume : In the light of the clear evidence that Lord Tebbit publicly encourages terrorism, which emerged yesterday when he spoke on television advising loyalist paramilitaries in Belfast that if they wanted to achieve their objectives they should bomb Dublin, and when last evening those same paramilitaries bombed the homes of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) and two leading members of our party, will the Prime Minister now ask the Home Secretary to implement Government policy, issue an exclusion order against Lord Tebbit and send him to Northern Ireland?
The Prime Minister : I think that the whole House knows my right hon. and noble Friend very well. He has suffered violently at the hands of terrorists. All his political life he has been a vigorous opponent of terrorism. I may not share his every view, but I believe passionately that he is one of the strongest opponents of terrorism this House has seen now or at any stage in the past.
Column 193ascribed to his leadership the low inflation, low interest rates and low unit wage costs which are leading Britain out of unemployment and into prosperity?
The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, I believe that our prosperity must be based on a low-inflation economy. It has not been easy to achieve ; there have been many sacrifices made by many people and I repeatedly acknowledge that, but we have the lowest inflation rate for 29 years. We need to sustain it and build growth on that low inflation.
Mr. Jones : Did the Prime Minister find time to see last night's "Panorama" programme? If he did, he will have seen disturbing evidence suggesting that dental equipment can transmit the AIDS virus and that in America strong evidence suggests that it has already done so in some cases, and perhaps in many. As The Lancet states that more than 75 per cent. of all dentists in Britain do not routinely autoclave their equipment between patients, is it not time that we regulated and inspected our dentists in order to protect our dental reputation and our citizens when they go to the dentist?
The Prime Minister : The straightforward answer is no, I did not see the "Panorama" programme last night ; nor has the hon. Gentleman's point been put to me previously. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will have heard about the programme and will be examining its findings.
"terminal insanity with staggering costs and red tape", as common agricultural policy spending next year will be £29 billion instead of the £23 billion last year, as the mountain of cereals has broken all previous records, and as the average family is now spending an extra £20 a week on their food, might it be a possible compromise in a difficult week if the Government were to decide to postpone further transfers of sovereignty to Brussels until the common agricultural policy was scrapped or until individual member states could be excluded from it?
The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend is a great expert on the European Community, he will know that breaking up the common agricultural policy would be incompatible with the treaty of Rome and with the completion of the single market. But the Government do believe that the common agricultural policy should reflect to a greater extent than at present the needs of the market, the interests of the taxpayer and the dual role of farmers as food producers and custodians of the countryside. In pursuing those objectives, of course we will listen to what Sir Simon Gourlay and many others have to say.
Mr. Lewis : Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to reinforce statements that he has made in the past that he will not introduce VAT on children's shoes and clothing and other zero-rated essentials?
The Prime Minister : When the Leader of the Opposition was asked about his tax proposals some time ago, he said very clearly : "Most Chancellors won't tell you that. If you ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what will be the range and bands ... in his tax Budget he will say, Wait until the Budget'."
That was the right hon. and learned Gentleman's advice--the only wise advice that he has ever given the House.
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