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Dr. David Clark : When the Secretary of State next meets the Russian Defence Minister, will he stress the desire of the people of the west to live in peace and harmony with those of Russia, but will he also stress that it is not a hostile act to wish to determine our own security arrangements and that Russia should not expect to veto the expansion of NATO, which in due course will increase the stability of the whole continent?

Mr. Rifkind : NATO has made it clear, most recently in the summit that has just finished, that its future expansion is indeed a possibility, and that the "Partnership for Peace" proposals do not preclude the possibility that a number of states that have shown an interest in joining NATO may one day be members. The present priority is for NATO to develop links with all the countries of central and eastern Europe, including Russia itself, but the possibility of additional membership cannot be excluded.

Global Conflict

10. Mr. Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what are his priorities in relation to reducing the risk of global conflict in 1994.

Mr. Hanley : The Government's plans for the defence of the wider security interests of the United Kingdom are set out in "Defending our Future", the 1993 statement on the defence estimates, a copy of which is in the Library.

Mr. Simon Hughes : Given that events in places such as Korea cannot give any encouragement to the belief that we are succeeding in nuclear non- proliferation around the world, and given the decision announced in the House before Christmas to go ahead with THORP, unless the court case that begins on Thursday overturns the position--whatever else that decision may be, it cannot make nuclear non-proliferation less likely--will the Government state what they intend to do this year to implement their obligations under article 6 of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to

"pursue negotiations in good faith"

for non-proliferation? What action will be taken on negotiations this year?

Mr. Hanley : The United Kingdom Government's policy on the non- proliferation treaty is to work towards its unconditional indefinite extension in 1995. The proof of

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the pudding is in the eating, and we have shown our readiness to reduce our nuclear arsenal wherever we can. In addition to the recent announcement on warhead numbers by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, we have reduced our RAF nuclear strike squadrons from 11 to eight, we have given up our nuclear artillery and Lance missile roles, we have reduced our WE177 stockpile by more than half, and we have eliminated our maritime sub-strategic nuclear capability.

The hon. Gentleman asked about priorities and global conflict. I assure him that one priority of the Government is not to follow the Liberal Democrats' policy of cutting defence expenditure by half by the year 2000, which is grossly irresponsible.

Mr. Robert Banks : Does my hon. Friend agree that we can enhance our contribution to the task of reducing the risk of global conflict by reducing our support services costs in favour of front-line forces? In the context of privatisation and the front-line force review, will my hon. Friend consider freezing the decision to move the RAF's support management group in my constituency to RAF Wyton in Cambridgeshire so that a market test can be undertaken, without the cost of the move, into the possibility of retaining that group in Harrogate?

Mr. Hanley : I think that my hon. Friend has the support of the House when he says that the most effective British forces are those with the greatest capability in the front line. We do, however, need effective and efficient support. That has to be looked at and we should certainly not cut back on the front line at the cost of allowing ineffective and inefficient support.

I am afraid that the particular case that my hon. Friend has raised has already been proven and will not be reopened.

Mrs. Anne Campbell : Does the Minister agree that one of the greatest threats to global security today is the rise of nationalism and facism? Does he not consider that one of the best ways to fight that rise is to indicate strongly to the Serbian fascists that their aggression will not be tolerated?

Mr. Hanley : I think that the whole House will agree with the hon. Lady. I should add, however, that the Serbs are not the only people who can be guilty of those charges.

Front Line First"

12. Mr. Mans : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the purpose of the "front line first" review.

14. Lady Olga Maitland : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on provisions within the "front line first" report.

Mr. Rifkind : The purpose of the "front line first" study is to identify areas where we can reduce the costs of support to our front-line forces so as to ensure that defence provision is properly concentrated on front-line operational effectiveness. That comprehensive and radical study is now well under way.

Mr. Mans : Will my right hon. and learned Friend indicate early in the process the elements and units in the front line that are unlikely to be affected by the review and those that are more likely to be affected? [Interruption.]

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Madam Speaker : Order. I should be obliged if the House would settle down. It is very difficult to hear hon. Members.

Mr. Rifkind : The instruction that has been given to those carrying out the study is that it would not be appropriate for them to consider any proposals that, if implemented, would reduce the fighting capability of our armed forces. I believe that that is the right criterion to apply to such a study.

Lady Olga Maitland : While assessing operational effectiveness under "front line first", will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind that putting extra tanks, helicopters and men into the field is worthless unless those forces are properly sustained by training, fuel and spare parts?

Mr. Rifkind : I do, indeed, accept that. It is important to ensure that our armed forces are not only well manned but well trained and well equipped. Only the combination of those three factors will enable them to be certain of winning any conflict in which they might be involved and of maintaining the high reputation that they deservedly have.

Dr. Reid : First, I sincerely wish the Secretary of State a much happier year in his job than he has had in the past few miserable years and I congratulate him on his low press profile over the recent recess. However, by what curious twist of logic does the Secretary of State feel it appropriate to conduct a formal review of the efficiency and administration of our armed forces when he has pointedly refused for the past three years to carry out a proper and thorough review of their commitments and strategic objectives? How can we possibly review our structures without knowing the strategy and commitments? Is it not clear that the Secretary of State's main priority during the review will be to identify Treasury- dictated budgetary savings rather than to provide for the defence of the realm?

Mr. Rifkind : The hon. Gentleman, as usual, fails to understand the purpose of the review. We are seeking to reduce unnecessary costs and to be able to use at least some of the savings to enhance the fighting capability of our armed forces. It is precisely for that reason that I was recently able to announce an increase in the field Army and the go-ahead for new tanks, support helicopters and mine hunters as indicated a few weeks ago.


13. Mr. Winnick : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the latest position in respect of British troops operating in former Yugoslavia.

Mr. Hanley : An Army battalion group, currently1 Coldstream Guards, is deployed on humanitarian aid and refugee escort duties. Royal Air Force and Royal Navy aircraft are engaged in the humanitarian airlift and other operations and Royal Navy assets are deployed in the Adriatic.

Mr. Winnick : Is it not absolutely essential during these winter months that adequate supplies get through to the civilians in Bosnia? Is it not intolerable that anyone, including the Serb commanders, should hold up supplies which ought to be going to the men, women and childen

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who so desperately need aid? What are the international community and the British Government going to do to ensure that all the humanitarian aid supplies get through to the people who need them?

Mr. Hanley : Without the efforts of the United Kingdom forces and others in the United Nations protection force, no aid would be getting through. We are doing our best, and saving hundreds of thousands of lives as a result. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) is right--we must continue all our efforts to get that aid where it should go.



Q1. Mr. Denham : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 January.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) : I have been asked to reply

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is attending the NATO summit in Brussels.

Mr. Denham : Is the Leader of the House aware that there is a certain amount of confusion about the precise nature of the "back to basics" policy? Will he confirm that honesty is one of the "back to basics" values? If it is, why did the Conservatives promise at the last general election not to put up tax and then impose £10 per family per week?

Mr. Newton : Our concern as a Government is with good standards in education, strengthening the fight against crime and, not least, ensuring a sound economic foundation on which all other objectives must rest. Our policy on taxation and in all economic matters is directed towards that end and it is manifestly bringing about the growth that people want to see.

Dr. Michael Clark : Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the barometers of the British economy is the housing industry? Does he therefore share my satisfaction-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. It is good to start the new year in good humour, but I should like to hear the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark).

Dr. Michael Clarke : Does my right hon. Friend therefore share my satisfaction with the figures revealed yesterday, which show that private sector housing starts are on the increase?

Mr. Newton : I do indeed share my hon. Friend's pleasure in those figures. Private sector housing starts increased significantly in November, as in the previous month. Indeed, in November they were the highest since October 1989, and 42 per cent. higher than a year earlier. That is very good news and it shows the benefits of the policies to which I referred a few moments ago.

Mr. John Smith : Is it not now abundantly clear that "back to basics", a slogan which was devised to get the Prime Minister through the Tory party conference, has spectacularly backfired on a Government who are now in hopeless confusion and disarray about what it means, particularly when applied to themselves?

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Mr. Newton : I have already made it clear, in answer to the first question asked of me this afternoon, that our concern is with raising standards in education, strengthening the fight against crime and, above all, strengthening the British economy. Those are objectives which the British people support and want to see achieved, and they know that they would not get them from the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. John Smith : Does the right hon. Gentleman not understand that the problem is that the current definitions are so markedly different from the moralistic speeches of Minister after Minister at the Tory party conference? Does he recollect the Home Secretary saying to the conference that the distinction between right and wrong had to be sharpened instead of blurred? Why is it all so different now?

Mr. Newton : My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was absolutely right to make that point in the context of the fight against crime, which the House will debate later today. The objectives of what the Government are seeking to bring about remain and will remain as I have stated them and as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set them out at that conference.

Mr. John Smith : Does the right hon. Gentleman not yet appreciate that what the British people dislike intensely is the hypocrisy of double standards which "back to basics" has now become? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us and the public why there should be one set of rules for the the people and another set of rules for Ministers and Tory Members of Parliament?

Mr. Newton : What I think that the British people most dislike is the hypocrisy of a party which talks like that and then opposes every move to raise educational standards and every move to fight crime, and which pursues policies which could only damage Britain's economy.

Mr. Matthew Banks : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Britain continues to maintain a flexible and responsive approach to military action in Bosnia? Does he agree that, until recently, Britain has been entirely right to resist premature calls for air strikes in the region, which would have led to extreme danger for our troops on the ground who were sent there to police a United Nations ceasefire, not to take part in guerrilla warfare?

Mr. Newton : I can say that, after some very fruitful meetings in Brussels this morning, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in speaking there, has made it clear that we will be drawing up plans to help UNPROFOR to bring in a Netherlands contingent to replace the Canadians in Srebrenica and has also agreed to examine how Tuzla airport can be opened, with the intention that it should serve as a conduit for humanitarian relief. My right hon. Friend has also made it clear that if it is necessary to use air power to achieve those objectives, we would be willing to do so.

Q2. Mr. Connarty : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 January.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Connarty : Does the Leader of the House now think that morality is very important also in public life? Is

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he aware that, in the Forth valley enterprise area, thanks to the diligent investigation by the local paper, The Falkirk Herald, it has been revealed that £2 million in grants from the enterprise board has gone to people who sit on the board? In fact, just recently, the secretary of the board resigned after an investigation by Scottish Television. There are allegations of training grants to companies that had no trainees and allegations of the register of companies' interests being falsified, and there is still £50,000 missing. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that appointees who have a self interest to pursue will not look after the public interest and that running the country by quangos, as the Government have tried to do, will lead to corruption inevitably?

Mr. Newton : In view of some of the things that have emerged about, for example, Labour local authorities, I think that that is a curious charge for the hon. Gentleman to make, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will examine anything that needs to be examined in the light of that or any other event of that kind.

Mr. Waterson : Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to read the Dun and Bradstreet report, which shows increased business confidence in trading conditions at the moment? Does he agree that that augurs well for the future of the British economy in the next 12 months?

Mr. Newton : I very much agree with my hon. Friend. The survey published today shows that United Kingdom businesses are more confident about trading conditions in the current quarter, with well over half forecasting higher profits and nearly a third expecting to take on more staff. That shows the benefits of the policy of low interest rates and low inflation which the Government have successfully been pursuing.

Q3. Mr. Eric Clarke : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 January.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Clarke : I wish you, Madam Speaker, and the rest of the House, a happy new year. Will the Leader of the House make it a happy new year for the disabled miners who are at home and worried because of the lack of guarantees for the future of the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation, a worthwhile organisation which looks after them and their families? If the Leader of the House wants a moral crusade, I would name that one.

Mr. Newton : First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his good wishes for the new year, which I much appreciate. With regard to the substantive thrust of his question, he will of course have an opportunity before long to raise that and any other point during discussions on the Coal Industry Bill. I will of course draw them to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Nicholls : Will my right hon. Friend find time today to consider the remarks of Tom Donnett, a Liberal county councillor in Somerset, who has described villagers whose views he disapproves of as being no better than yids, nignogs, eyeties and Pakis? Does not my right hon. Friend find a curious distinction that the Liberal Democrat party leader in his appearances in the House adopts a tone of

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self-righteous pomposity while harbouring people within his party whose views would not be tolerated in the National Front?

Mr. Newton : In line with the good wishes for the new year, I had better say that my hon. Friend might say that, but I cannot possibly comment. I understand that the remarks have been referred to the Commission for Racial Equality. Perhaps we shall see not only what the commission has to say, but in due course what the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and his party have to say.

Q4. Ms Hoey : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 January.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Ms Hoey : Will the Leader of the House urge the Prime Minister, in what will obviously be a review of his "back to basics" policy, to consider a "back to basics" in foreign policy? Does he agree that part of that should be a basic understanding that aggression should not be rewarded? Does he further agree that it is crucial that the siege of Sarajevo be lifted and that the Government call for immediate air strikes to take out the artillery surrounding that city?

Mr. Newton : Without for one moment accepting the suggestion in the first half of the hon. Lady's question, I think that the need with these policies is to get on and ensure that they are effective, which is what we seek to do. On the second part, with reference to Bosnia--the hon. Lady mentioned particularly Sarajevo--I referred earlier to another couple of issues : the position at Srebrenica and the position at the airport at Tuzla. I think that the hon. Lady would be well advised to read full reports of the understandings that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has reached with our allies in Brussels today about further action in those areas.

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Mr. Dickens : Concentrating still on important matters, does my right hon. Friend welcome the improvement in the balance of trade figures announced yesterday?

Mr. Newton rose-- [ Hon. Members :-- "Come on."] I was caught out by my hon. Friend's unaccustomed brevity, but I am grateful both for his brevity and for the good point that he raised. I am delighted to see the improvement in the balance of trade of something like £500 million in October, with exports outside the European Community up by some 12 per cent. on a year ago. It is further convincing evidence of the success of our policies. I look forward, although without much expectation, to the Opposition congratulating not only British industry and British workers but the Government on the conditions that have helped to bring that about.

Q5. Mr. Skinner : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 January.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Skinner : Will the Government be demanding of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) that he repay the £50,000 that he got out of his housing fiddle on the second council house in Westminster? How can the Government justify bailing out the firm owned by the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) at £200, 000 when thousands of firms in Britain have gone to the wall and millions of people have been made redundant? Why does not the right hon. Gentleman demand that the hon. Member for City of Chester foots the bill himself?

Mr. Newton : I have nothing to add to what my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) has said in recent days. I imagine that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) appreciates that the position of my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) is exactly the same as that which would arise with any other company which does not succeed. Neither the company nor my hon. Friend has been treated differently from any other company or any other individual in similar circumstances.

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