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Mr. Shaw : I was asking whether in next week's debate it would be appropriate to raise the matter of the 40 unelected members of the council

Madam Speaker : Order. It is a question for me whether it would be in order appropriate to raise it. Therefore, when the time comes, if the hon. Gentleman raises the matter with me, I shall give him an answer.

Mr. Shaw : If I may-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman must try harder.

Mr. Shaw : I will try harder, with your encouragement, Madam Speaker. I am trying to achieve a motion next week which, if it has not been tabled already, will enable us to discuss the unelected state within a state in Monklands district council, where 40 close relatives of councillors are employed by the council, and the unsatisfactory state of affairs where poor Tom Macfarlane lost his job for "being a naughty boy" in relation to the Labour mafia families on the council. He appears to have upset the ruling councillors. Would it be appropriate to raise that matter in the debate next week ?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend may have moved from asking whether something was in order to whether it was appropriate. I am sure that you will guide him on whether it is in order, Madam Speaker. I will guide him that, if it is in order, it might be appropriate.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth) : The Leader of the House will recall that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Employment have both in the past fortnight stated their concern about unemployment in my constituency and promised to act quickly on it. As RECHAR 2 was announced by the European Commission yesterday, will the Leader of the House arrange for the President of the Board of Trade to make a statement next week promising to match that cash so that we can get going with it immediately to solve some of our desperate problems ?

Mr. Newton : I cannot promise what the hon. Gentleman asks, but I can promise to make sure that my right hon. Friend is quickly made aware of his request.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : May we have a debate next week on local government taxation, so that we may examine how the Conservative Ealing council has again been able to reduce the council tax by an average of £100 and compare it with the Labour council which, in 1987, raised it by 65 per cent. in a single year by imposing additional taxation on old people and on Ealing hospital of nearly £500,000 ? What do they care about the national health service ? The matter should be examined by the House.

Mr. Newton : I am tempted to think that the success that my hon. Friend describes must have something to do with his own assiduous efforts on behalf of his constituency.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : May we have a debate next week on the plan to reduce from 86 to 49 the number of women cleaners working in the House and its outbuildings and to subject them to training programmes to teach mature women how to dust and use vacuum cleaners ? Those women have been serving the House for

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many years and many of them are no longer young. Is not it a despicable way to treat those loyal servants of the House ?

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman probably knows that his remarks are more properly to be directed towards the Chairmen of the Administration Committee or the Accommodation and Works Committee, neither of whom is in his place at the moment.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) : Is the Leader of the House aware that, precisely when Ministers at the Department of the Environment were answering questions in the Chamber on water, sewage charges, EC directives and costs, civil servants were sneaking out a statement welcoming a new proposal from the Commission that would effectively ban bathing from some of our most famous beaches ? Is it not extraordinary that, as a result of the Prime Minister's initiative at the European summit and the meddling that took place thereafter, we have a worse muddle and we do not even have the opportunity to question Ministers in the House ? Will the Leader of the House ensure that there is an opportunity next week for us to question the Secretary of State for the Environment on that important issue ?

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman will realise that I cannot give precisely that undertaking, but his question probably links with one asked a few moments ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason). I will bring those questions to the attention of my hon. Friends.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) : Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on inward investment, especially into the south-east, which is of great interest to the CBI in my constituency in Hertfordshire ? May we also debate the maintenance of this country's excellent record of attracting inward investment over the past decade and the likely effect on that record of the so-called business plan from the Opposition, which would undoubtedly increase business costs and deter investors, as well as undermining the competitiveness of businesses that are already here ?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend's remarks are absolutely on the ball, if I may use a colloquialism. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown), who speaks for the Opposition today, is still here to listen to another suggestion for Monday week's Opposition Supply day.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North) : Is the Leader of the House aware that, despite having had several stabs at it, his responses on the manner in which the announcements were made on Bosnia today are still entirely unsatisfactory, particularly as, to justify their being made as an oral answer, he had to diminish the importance of a statement in his second response to the House ? Does he not realise that the matter was much more important than he allows : first, because it was a tactical deployment, which will not only add troops to Sarajevo, but, by definition, withdraw them from central Bosnia ; and secondly, because it is a refutation

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is not in order to discuss policy during business questions. If he has a point to put to the Leader of the House, he must do so. We are not in a political discussion at this stage.

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Dr. Reid : I am not in a political discussion ; I am seeking to describe the reasons why there should have been a statement today--I hope that there will be a statement next week--because it was a refutation from the Dispatch Box of a request by a British general to send more troops. Will the Leader of the House ensure that when such important statements are made on matters of life and death they are made in the form of a statement so that hon. Members on both sides of the House, of all political persuasions and whatever their opinions on the matter, get the opportunity to question the Prime Minister on it ?

Mr. Newton : I have now responded twice to such points. I do not think that I can add to what I said earlier. I have already made it clear that the possibility of statements, and, indeed, of debate, will be kept closely under review.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside) : The Leader of the House will have seen early-day motion 496 concerning the tension on the Korean peninsula.

[ That this House, aware of possible intervention by the U.S.A. against North Korea, and that Her Majesty's Government's policy is for the peaceful re-unification of the peninsula , calls upon Her Majesty's Government to have urgent discussions with the U.S. Government in an effort to avert a possible war which will prevent re-unification and for the sake of de tente and peace. ]

As the Government's policy is for the peaceful reunification of both north and south, will he ask his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to have urgent discussions with the American authorities on this critical situation ?

Mr. Newton : I will bring the hon. Gentleman's concern to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie) : Will the Leader of the House confirm that primary legislation is needed to close the Commonwealth Institute ? Is it not therefore improper that, because of the withdrawal of public funding, the institute is issuing redundancy notices to its staff, and will continue to do so ? When will we look at that primary legislation, because it is wrong to close a place before we have given consent, is it not ?

Mr. Newton : I was not aware of the circumstances of the redundancy notices to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The right course for me is to bring his question and his concern to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

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Points of Order

4.13 pm

Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker, which arises directly out of business questions. During business questions, the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant), an experienced and well-liked Member of the House, came in with the clear and deliberate intention of referring to remarks that he says were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Ms Armstrong), who serves as the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition. The thrust of his question to the Leader of the House was that, somehow, the hon. Lady's views were at variance with the official policy of the Opposition.

Can you, Madam Speaker, confirm that it is a convention that, if a matter of this kind is to be raised, the hon. Gentleman should inform the hon. Lady that he intends to refer to what he thinks are her views, so that she can have an opportunity to be present and refute them if he is wrong ?

Madam Speaker : That is the customary procedure here. When one hon. Member intends to refer to another, it is a matter of courtesy for that hon. Member to give notice to the Member who is to be mentioned, so that any statements that are made can be challenged.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham) : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker

Madam Speaker : I do not think that there can be a further point of order. I have given a ruling. Does the hon. Gentleman wish to raise a different matter ?

Mr. Bottomley : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. For most of my years in the House, it has been the convention for an hon. Member intending to attack another to give that person notice ; but I did not think that it was necessary to give notice if one intended to repeat another hon. Member's remarks--in no derogatory sense--by quoting from the Official Report .

Madam Speaker : If the hon. Member who is to be mentioned might reasonably reply, I think that it is a matter of courtesy to give that hon. Member notice that he or she will be mentioned.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I draw your attention to pages 267-68 of yesterday's Votes and Proceedings, particularly items 9 to 13 ? Between 44 and 50 hon. Members voted against certain motions. Two or three Conservative Members said that the Opposition had voted against pension and other increases, which is completely untrue.

There are 270 members of the parliamentary Labour party--not to mention the Liberal Democrats, the nationalists and the Ulstermen--and I understand that the 44 to 50 hon. Members who voted against the motions did so because the increases were not large enough. It is wrong for Conservative Members to pretend otherwise.

Madam Speaker : That is not a point of order for me. I cannot comment on the accuracy or otherwise of the Official Report ; the record stands.

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Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I want to try to assist in the conduct of business--which you, of course, manage so very well.

There were difficulties during Prime Minister's Question Time. This place is sometimes very noisy, which I consider right and proper : sometimes there is an outburst of anger that is very difficult to control, when hon. Members think that they are being abused by the Government. On this occasion, the Prime Minister made what amounted to a mini-statement during Question Time. Such action deprives hon. Members of the opportunity to ask questions about what has been said, and of what many regard as a good opportunity to question the Prime Minister generally : it destroys two opportunities at the same time. I suggest, Madam Speaker, that it would help both you and the House if you made it clear to the Prime Minister, and other Ministers, that if they want to avoid causing difficulties for you as a result of anger in the House, they should make statements from the Dispatch Box about important issues such as the sending of troops to other countries, to make bombing raids and possibly kill people. Several hon. Members rose

Madam Speaker : No. I do not wish to take any more points of order. I appreciate the efforts of the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) to avoid creating difficulties for me ; it is most unusual for any hon. Member to go out of his way to do that. I understand the frustration felt in many parts of the House, but the Prime Minister was perfectly in order today in answering the question that was put to him. I am always disturbed when there is so much noise : it takes up a great deal of time. The Prime Minister could not be questioned further about what he had said, because the time had been taken up by a great deal of noise--which, I must add, comes from all quarters of the House.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. During business questions, the hon. Member for Castle Point (Dr.Spink) referred to a sex magazine ; in fact, he described it as a sexy magazine. The Leader of the House replied.

Is it not conventional for a document referred to by a Front Bencher to be placed in the Vote Office ? If that happens in this case, what action will be taken to control the queues ?

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Madam Speaker : If I understand the position correctly, only quotations from state papers appear in the Vote Office. As the magazine was not a state paper, the hon. Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) was perfectly in order simply to bring it to our attention.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sure that, as the defender of the rights of Back Benchers, you have observed, in your visits to Parliaments abroad, that they often have, especially in the newly democratised states, more subtle methods of voting than we have in our Chamber, whereby they do not have to vote yes or no ; there are other possibilities, using sophisticated electronic systems. Last night in the Chamber, many of us spoke in the debate on the social security measures, and we wished to express a certain point of view. That point of view was to support pension increases but to be highly critical of what the Government were doing. The only method available for us to do that was to vote no. Will you consider other possible methods by which we can express that point of view ?

Madam Speaker : Of course, abstention is always open to hon. Members. I think that if the hon. Member is seeking to change the method by which we vote, he ought to refer it to the appropriate Committee.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : As a matter of fact, there was another reason why we voted last night. I think we ought to draw it to your attention because sadly you were not in the Chair ; you had other business to do, no doubt. There were five votes. There happened to be a meeting of the 92 Group across at Queen Anne's Gate, which was being addressed by the Secretary of State for Social Security. Prior to that, the leader of the 92 Group, the hon. Member for Reigate (Sir G. Gardiner), was in some trouble. He looked like being carved up by the left of the Tory party. We wanted to ensure that the Tory party remains divided. The only way in which we could do it was to stop that business taking place, so we had five votes.

Madam Speaker : The hon. Member for Bolsover is being as helpful as ever.

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Royal Navy

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Michael Brown.]

[Relevant document : The Eighth Report from the Defence Committee on Royal Navy Commitments and Resources, HC 637 of Session 1992-93, and its First Special Report, HC 142 of Session 1993-94, containing the Government Reply thereto.]

4.21 pm

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Jeremy Hanley) : It is, of course, a year which has been of great significance for all of us, marking as it does one of the great events of history--the deciding battle, 50 years ago, for the future of Europe and the greatest combined land, sea and air operation of the second world war.

It is only right that the achievement of our forces who fought throughout the second world war with tremendous determination and courage should be marked by special commemorative events. The Royal Navy, the subject of today's debate, paid its own special tribute in May last year when Merseyside hosted a series of events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the battle of the Atlantic, the longest continuous campaign of the second world war. The Royal Navy will also play a full part in the forthcoming D- day events which commemorate the largest amphibious operation ever undertaken in history. Among other things, such commemorative events serve to remind us of our responsibility to ensure that such a war never happens again. The military tasks of today for our armed forces, set out in the defence White Paper "Defending Our Future", published last July, are those deemed necessary by the Government both to maintain the freedom and territorial integrity of the United Kingdom and its dependent territories and to enable the United Kingdom to pursue its legitimate interests at home and abroad.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : I am grateful to the Minister for giving way so early. Before he departs--perhaps he has just done so-- from the subject of the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest events that led to the total elimination, downfall and defeat of Nazism, may I ask whether he is aware that many of us take the view that not enough is known by the younger generation about the significance of D-day compared, for example, to French children, who perhaps have a better reason for understanding it ? Can he do anything with his ministerial colleagues in other Departments to ensure that, in schools at least, there is far greater understanding of the significance of D-day ? The people who participated and lost their lives did so for the most heroic cause conceivable. All of us are deeply proud, 50 years on, that the people who took part--the people who died and the people who survived--did so to ensure that Nazism was defeated.

Mr. Hanley : I agree, and I am sure that the House agrees utterly with the hon. Gentleman's sentiments. I am certain that associated with the 50th anniversary of D-day will be a number of events throughout the country and television programmes and media opportunities for explaining exactly what he has said. It is important that this generation understands the sacrifice that was made, and the reasons why it was made 50 years ago.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Those are wonderful sentiments. I remember looking at the maps from Benghazi

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to Tobruk and all the rest as a little kid and thinking about those great victories, but I also reflect on what has happened today. The Germans have captured Rover and there is a Japanese flag flying over the Greater London council.

Mr. Hanley : As usual, the hon. Gentleman fails to rise to the occasion and is somewhat flippant. The matters to which the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) referred were far more serious than the hon. Gentleman's weak joke.

Hon. Members will be aware of the significant changes that are taking place in the strategic setting of our overseas and defence policy. Some have enhanced the security of the United Kingdom and its allies ; others have added to uncertainty and created new commitments. It is reasonable to ask where maritime forces fit in this modern world.

The whole ministerial team at the Ministry of Defence and I remain convinced that there is an enduring need for sea power. The generic capabilities of our maritime forces--their reach, endurance, mobility, flexibility and ability to station off a hostile coastline--make them ideal for deterrent or peacekeeping missions, or both. The Polaris and, in the future, the Trident submarines, of course, provide the ultimate deterrent. As for conventional forces, the three core elements of the Royal Navy are the capabilities provided by our nuclear-powered submarines, our aircraft carrier task force and our amphibious forces.

The SSN--the strategic submarine nuclear--has tremendous mobility which allows it to be deployed rapidly and covertly and it can contribute greatly to enforcing sea control. Carriers and their escorting frigates and destroyers can provide considerable support to the land battle, with fixed and rotary wing support and, of course, air defence, surface strike and anti-submarine warfare. Our amphibious ships are a highly flexible national capability which is admired and admirably suited to the present strategic environment. In the Adriatic, our national carrier task group, with HMS Ark Royal currently acting as flagship, continues to stand ready to provide additional protection for British forces ashore in Bosnia. The carrier- based Sea Harriers have been conducting training missions over land in Bosnia-Herzegovina, to ensure their readiness to provide close air support if required. They have also been flying air defence missions as part of the NATO operation to enforce a no-fly zone over Bosnia and are available to take part in NATO air operations if called upon to help protect Sarajevo and its citizens from further bombardment by the parties to the conflict.

Four Sea King MK4 helicopters from 845 Squadron have been based in Split since November 1992. They provide key casualty evacuation support for land forces operating with the UN and have almost become stars in their own right on television. Support ships, the Royal Fleet Auxiliaries Resource and Sir Geraint based in Split, are also playing a key role in providing essential logistics support to our troops ashore. In addition to our national forces deployed, we have ships in NATO's Standing Naval Force Mediterranean and the Standing Naval Force Atlantic, which are both operating in the Adriatic in support of Operation Maritime Guard, the joint NATO-WEU operation to monitor and enforce compliance with the arms embargo against the whole of the former Yugoslavia and the trade sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro.

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Elsewhere, our long-standing commitments in the Gulf, the south Atlantic and the Caribbean continue. In the Gulf, the Armilla patrol--currently HMS Glasgow and HMS Cumberland, supported by Royal Fleet Auxiliary Bayleaf--is now in its 14th year of continuous operations. The Armilla patrol makes a valuable contribution to regional security and stability and to the protection of British interests in the region. An interesting recent development has been the occasional presence in the Gulf of a Russian task group which has operated alongside allied ships in support of the remaining UN sanctions against Iraq.

In the south Atlantic, the Navy continues to patrol around the Falklands and provides a visible demonstration of our continued commitment to the security of the islands. HMS Endurance also continues to deploy annually to the area in support of our interests in the Antarctic region. Indeed, earlier this month, HMS Endurance pressed further south into the Antarctic's Weddell sea than any other royal naval ship in history.

In the Caribbean, the West Indies guard ship--the WIGS--has continued to carry out its duties successfully in support of the ground forces in Belize. This commitment has afforded the opportunity for the Royal Navy to make an important contribution in the area by assisting the United States and other authorities in the international campaign to counter the operation of drug traffickers. WIGS has achieved a number of successes in this area over the past year. It has been finding millions of dollars worth of illicit drugs.

The West Indies guard ship, in the latter part of the year, also assisted in the United Nations embargo operations off Haiti. Our future defence policy in that region--including the need for the full-time presence of the WIGS--is currently under review. I envisage, however, that our historic ties with the area will continue, and that the Royal Navy will continue to deploy there.

In the far east, the three Hong Kong patrol craft provide support to the Hong Kong garrison and assistance to the Hong Kong authorities in a variety of law and order tasks. In south-east Asia, until mid-November last year, Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel made a valuable contribution to the United Nations peacekeeping operation in Cambodia.

The Royal Navy also carries out a range of overseas visits which support and extend bilateral naval contacts and are also undertaken at the request of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in support of Her Majesty's Government's interests and our industry overseas. One of the most notable overseas visits of recent months was that carried out by HMS Norfolk and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Grey Rover to South Africa at the end of January. The aim of the visit was to renew relations between the Royal Navy and the South African navy, and they were the first foreign naval ships to visit since sanctions were lifted. The ships and crew received a remarkable warm welcome in Simonstown and Cape Town, where 69,000 people visited our ships. The Navy is also playing a full part in the process of developing contacts with Russia and countries in central and eastern Europe. An impressive programme of contacts has been developed with these countries over the past four years, and highlights of the past year have included visits by royal naval vessels and submarines to ports in Russia,

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Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. HMS Avenger's visit last September to Novorossisk in Russia, where no foreign warship had visited in living memory, coincided with the 50th anniversary of the city's liberation during the second world war, the 150th anniversary of its founding and the 300th anniversary of the Russian navy.

Reciprocating those visits, for the first time ever, three Russian frigates visited the Gibraltar naval base and, on departure, took part in a short exercise with HMS Brilliant. Here in the United Kingdom, in October, the Russian training ship Gangut visited Dartmouth and Britannia royal naval college. Also, the Royal Navy will again be working closely with the Russian armed forces in March, when a royal naval destroyer will take part in a multinational maritime exercise in the Barents sea, which has been devised in response to an initiative by our Norwegian allies.

The House will also be aware of the important agreement, announced this week in Moscow by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, concerning joint military exercises between units of the armed forces of the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom, beginning in 1995. The exercises will represent a major step forward in the process of deepening our defence relationship with Russia, will usefully promote closer contact and better understand-ing between our respective armed forces, and will accord fully with the spirit of the partnership for peace proposals announced at the NATO summit in Brussels on 10 January. Details of those proposed exercises are to be developed jointly by our respective military authorities, and also add to the excellent work of my right hon. and learned Friend, the Secretary of State, who visited Russia last year.

All that shows that we can be proud of a Royal Navy that continues to operate in all parts of the globe--from the north Atlantic to Antarctica, from the Caribbean to the far east, and many places in between. At home, the Royal Navy has continued its task of ensuring the integrity

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) : In his list of deployments, the Minister mentioned Ark Royal and its current station off Bosnia. Both he and the Secretary of State will no doubt be aware of the correspondence that I have had with the Department relating to Ark Royal and its refit in 1959, when asbestos was stripped out of its boilers by ratings who often had inadequate protection. I have mentioned to him the case of Mr. Michael Ward in my constituency who is now suffering gravely from asbestosis. Will the Minister agree to look at those case papers and, if he feels it appropriate, is he prepared to meet Mr. Ward and me to make representations on his behalf ?

Mr. Hanley : I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving notice of his intention to raise this matter concerning a previous HMS Ark Royal. Mr. Ward has telephoned a number of officials in the Ministry. On several occasions, he has been invited to write giving details of his claim, but he has not yet done so. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will encourage him to get in contact. It is not possible, without details, to consider his claim. We do not know his employment record since his discharge from the Royal Navy in 1963, and it is not immediately clear that his asbestosis is necessarily attributable to his naval service. However, we shall gladly look into the matter. If details are provided, the hon. Gentleman and I will be able to contact each other again.

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At home, the Royal Navy has continued its task of looking after British territorial waters and protecting British rights and activities in the surrounding seas. The maintenance of a 24- hours-a-day, year-round presence in our waters provides considerable reassurance to merchant vessels and other mariners that they can rely on the Royal Navy in the event of an accident or emergency.

The Navy's fishery protection squadron is continuing to conduct fishery protection patrols on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency. The squadron also carries out a number of duties for other Government Departments, including the monitoring of dumping at sea, combating oil pollution and the famous search and rescue operations. In 1993 naval search and rescue crews responded to 647 call-outs and winched to safety some 600 people requiring assistance. Assistance can be provided to Her Majesty's Customs and Excise when the opportunity allows. Last year, three Royal Navy vessels assisted customs officers to board a merchant vessel suspected of drug trafficking off Land's End.

Measures to improve the safety of fishing vessels operating in waters frequented by submerged submarines have recently been implemented. Moreover, the recently introduced SUBFACTS information scheme, which broadcasts advance warnings of dived submarine movements to other mariners, has been extended to include the Sea of Hebrides, the Minches and sea areas off Plymouth and Portland. It is only right that I should pay tribute to Members of Parliament of all parties for the constructive way in which they have helped in the development of the SUBFACTS programme by recognising the need for it.

The Royal Navy also supports the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the defeat of terrorism in Northern Ireland. Ships of the Navy's Northern Ireland squadron conduct counter-terrorist deterrent patrols in both the coastal and the inland waters of the Province. The Royal Marines provide troops to support operations and contribute commando units on short tour infantry deployments. In addition, since last year and until further notice, Royal Navy Sea King helicopters--currently from 707 Squadron-- have contributed to military operations in support of the RUC.

It is the Government's clear intention that, at a time of public expenditure stringency, we should obtain the greatest possible output from the available resources. It is, of course, entirely appropriate that defence should play its part. As hon. Members will be aware, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has established a radical and searching scrutiny of defence support functions. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, who heads that initiative, will deal in more detail with "Front Line First" later, if time permits and if he catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker.

It is important to remember that, in spite of major changes in the way we do business, as well as the pressures on the defence budget, there is still a healthy naval procurement programme in hand. Work continues on the landing platform helicopter, our helicopter carrier ordered last May ; tenders are outstanding for a further batch of up to seven Sandown class single role minehunters ; 18 new FRS2 Sea Harriers are on order, as part of a deal worth some £200 million ; and a contract has been awarded for the development and production of Sonar 2076, which is part of our extensive programme to modernise the

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Trafalgar class attack submarines. My hon. Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement will spend more time on that aspect of our work later in the debate.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln) : As my hon. Friend will know, almost 400 conventional submarines are deployed around the world, more than 200 of them by third-world countries. It is therefore essential that we keep our power of anti-submarine warfare at full capacity and I was grateful for the account that he gave of some of the programmes. Does he agree that it is essential that we go ahead undisturbed with the programme to purchase the excellent Westland EH101 Merlin helicopter, which is an essential part of our anti-submarine warfare capacity ?

Mr. Hanley : My hon. Friend is a former Defence Minister and will know that we are well aware of the excellent capabilities of the EH101s. Will he allow my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement to respond to that question ? Negotiations are under way but, if there is anything to add, I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to do so.

I was mentioning the Trafalgar class attack submarines and the fact that my hon. Friend may be able to spend a little time on that subject later. I shall conclude my opening remarks to allow hon. Members as much time as possible to speak on the wide range of issues which cover the Royal Navy. I wish to emphasise that at the heart of the Royal Navy, including the Royal Marines, are our men and women. They serve at sea, on shore and in the air to maintain the high standards of quality, loyalty and efficiency of which we are justly proud. It is encouraging to report that they are working hard and that those with key operational commitments especially find, and continue to find, their work rewarding and stimulating.

Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North) : I hesitate to interrupt my hon. Friend at that point, but does he agree that the morale of the excellent young men and women who serve in the Royal Navy would be damaged if compulsory random testing for drugs were introduced ? That would have implications for the majority of young sailors ; as we know, although the problem exists, it is small.

Mr. Hanley : Compulsory random drug testing is being studied by all three forces. My hon. Friend will be aware that the Army recently carried out two trials, one in Berlin and one in the United Kingdom, and the results are being examined. My hon. Friend has said that it is a small problem, but it is growing and it is serious, especially when we are talking of men and women who have control of not only expensive but potentially dangerous property. A mistake or an action that has been caused by, or has been affected by, drugs or drink--causing serious episodes when abused--has great impact. We must consider those issues seriously. The Royal Navy has no immediate plans to introduce compulsory random drug testing, but I would support it if it decided that it was necessary.

I was telling the House that morale in the Navy is generally good. I pay great tribute to all in the Royal Navy for keeping their morale as high as it is. In difficult times of contraction of our armed forces, the men and women in the Navy understand the rationale behind the decisions. Morale is good, notably among those working on some of the modern, lean-manned ships, such as the type 23 frigates with reduced complements, where particular challenges are

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offered. Even on type 23 frigates, men and women work together. We are living in times of change and times of challenge, but I know that our men and women are rising to those challenges.

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) : My hon. Friend refers to men and women rising to the challenge. Does he agree that it is not a universal view in the Royal Navy that the mixture of sexes at sea in a front-line fighting unit is necessarily for the good and that there are many who believe that the efficiency of the Royal Navy has been diminished by the presence of Wrens at sea ?

Mr. Hanley : My hon. Friend expresses a view which I hear from time to time when I visit Royal Navy ships and bases, but it is not shared by the majority of people who work in the Royal Navy. The women in the armed forces have always undertaken a wide variety of duties and, over the past three or four years, we have announced decisions to widen their employment opportunities further and to recruit more. The number of women in the services in general has increased over the past five years from 16,000 to 18,000. That shows that not only are there places in the armed forces for women but that women want to take those places. I see no reason on earth why they should not do so.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) : Apart from the additional costs of accommodating women at sea--a factor that I am sure my hon. Friend considers seriously--will he comment again on the substantial costs to the Exchequer that have been incurred in granting compensation awards to women of the Royal Navy who have become pregnant ? It is an intolerable state of affairs that people who sign on to serve their country, and who thereby should be available for any duty at the behest of the Crown, are compensated for not being available.

Mr. Hanley : My hon. Friend mentions a matter which has caused considerable concern over recent months. It is a finite problem, because those women who were discharged from the armed forces between August 1978 and August 1990 would have no reason to be discharged now because the employment regulations have changed. We were apparently at fault in discharging women in that way. The level of compensation paid to them seems to have been extremely high, but it would not be right for me to query the right of a woman to take an action in court or the amount of the settlements, since those are beyond our control.

I recognise that this matter has given rise to offence in many quarters, especially as the compensation may have been seen by some as excessive in the light of elements of compensation for people wounded in warfare or in action. Nevertheless, that has been the law.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) : It appears that the Minister is trying to mislead the House because, in answer to a written question which I tabled, he said that the average compensation was just over £5,000. That does not seem high to me.

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