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Dr. Reid : At a time when there is chronic overstretch among our infantry battalions and when our young men in Bosnia have their patriotism rewarded by being sacked while under fire, is it not deplorable that Ministers have sanctioned the spending of more than £1 million on four houses to be refurbished for the top brass of the RAF ? Is that what they mean by putting the front line first ?
Mr. Hanley : The hon. Gentleman knows very well that the redundancies which were announced were the third phase of the Army redundancies as part of the "Options for Change" programme. They were an orderly reduction of the forces that we have at our command. We need to recruit more as well to keep the flow through and the talent coming in. As for the latter question, I refuse to answer.
Mr. Aitken : We recognise the importance to the Royal Navy of a continuing specialist hydrographic capability. We therefore plan to replace our current specialist hydrographic vessels and equipment as this becomes necessary.
Mr. Luff : Is my hon. Friend satisfied that there are sufficient resources available to the Hydrographic Service to meet its current survey requirements, never mind the new requirements that will be imposed on Britain if we ratify the United Nations law of the sea convention, as I hope that we shall ?
Mr. Aitken : Yes, I am satisfied that the hydrographic squadron is able to meet our established defence hydrography requirement. It may also be possible to divert Royal Navy hydrography vessels from defence tasks to contribute to other hydrographic work. Our current review of the excellent Hydrographic Service is also considering further possibilities such as bare -boat chartering with Royal Navy crews.
Issues relating to the United Nations law of the sea convention are the responsibility of the Foreign Office, but I have noted my hon. Friend's point and will pass it on to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.
Mr. Rifkind : The number of personnel deployed in support of operations in Bosnia fluctuates, of course, but on average over the last year there have been some 2,300 personnel on the ground. This has recently been increased to 2,450.
Mr. Rifkind : Both Russia and the Ukraine are currently in Bosnia. We believe that they carry out a valuable role and are making a useful contribution to meeting the United Nations requirements. Until now, Turkey has not been
Column 143invited to send forces to Bosnia. This partly reflects Turkey's historical involvement in the region, but it is, of course, a matter for the United Nations to decide.
Mrs. Helen Jackson : In the circumstances, how can the Secretary of State justify sending redundancy notices to soldiers on active service in Bosnia, such as my constituent Alistair Charntler, who was given no reason for the redundancy notice that he received on 24 February and no indication as to why he had been selected for compulsory redundancy ?
Mr. Rifkind : If the hon. Lady consults the Army, she will find that it believes that it would be intolerable for liability for redundancy to depend on whether a soldier was serving at any given moment in Bosnia, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland or elsewhere. It is appropriate that these matters be considered in relation to the needs of the armed forces and the personal qualifications and ability of the individual soldier. I believe that the Army's view is entirely correct and justified in that respect.
Mr. Ian Taylor : Given that one sixth of our armed forces are tied up in Northern Ireland and that there are disturbances elsewhere in the world which may require a response, if my right hon. and learned Friend authorises more troops to go to Bosnia, will be bear in mind that there is already considerable fear of overstretch in the British armed forces ? Is there not a particular need to make sure that our armed forces have full supplies and logistic support ?
Mr. Rifkind : Our commitments in Northern Ireland, as a part of the United Kingdom, will always take precedence over our commitments elsewhere, and Northern Ireland must have first call upon Her Majesty's forces if necessary. With regard to any further deployment of forces to Bosnia, I can assure my hon. Friend that we will bear in mind the importance of maintaining the objective of ensuring that there is a 24-month interval between emergency tours, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces suggested a few moments ago.
Mr. McAllion : Can the Minister not understand that threatening the peoples of other countries with mass destruction serves only to ensure that those countries develop their own weapons of mass destruction to respond to that threat ? When will the Government take the only
Column 144step that matters in reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons and announce their intention to scrap the costly, wasteful and useless Trident system ?
non-proliferation treaty co-depositaries such as the United States and Russia, and in concert with G7 countries, NATO allies and our European Community partners, we are seeking an unconditional and indefinite extension to the non-proliferation treaty.
Mr. Salmond : How can the United Kingdom keep a straight face in international negotiations on the proliferation of nuclear weapons while the Government, ably supported by the Labour Front Bench, hang on to the expensive and useless military plaything that is the Trident missile system ?
Mr. Hawkins : My hon. Friend is well aware that a large number of my constituents work at British Aerospace in Warton on the EF2000. Will he say how many jobs in the north-east depend on that project and on any involvement that British Aerospace may have in future large aircraft ?
Mr. Aitken : My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the importance of the project to employment in the north-west and in his constituency. Some 300 British companies are involved in the Eurofighter project as sub-contractors. That means that there are some 9,000 jobs in the development phase of EF2000. At peak production, we estimate that some 28,000 people will be employed on the project in Britain and some 60,000 in Europe.
Mr. Martlew : Is the Minister aware that the delay of more than two years in the Eurofighter 2000 project will mean not only that there could be a loss of valuable exports of that product, but that the Royal Air Force will have to continue to maintain aging aircraft until Eurofighter comes into service ? [Interruption.] How many millions of pounds extra will we have to spend on maintaining those aging aircraft because of the delay with Eurofighter ?
Mr. Aitken : The cheers for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister were so loud that I missed part of the question. The delays that the hon. Gentleman criticises are to allow us make absolutely sure that all the lessons are learnt from the technological difficulties with similar projects, such as the Gripen. The manufacturers are simply taking care that the flight control software is in perfect condition for the first flight, which is now expected in
Column 145April. Neither the manufacturers nor the Governments concerned should be criticised in any way for taking care to ensure that everything is perfect before the first flight.
Mr. Ward : Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Department of Health examines carefully the Audit Commission report published today, which shows that £425 million could be saved on the national health service drugs bill if doctors reassessed their prescribing requirements ?
The Prime Minister : We spend something over £15 billion a year on drugs in the primary care sector, so it is in everyone's interests to have cost-effective prescribing. As the report shows, our general practitioners are among the most cost-effective prescribers in the world, although I believe that there is still room for improvement.
Mr. John Smith : At a time when, regrettably, there are so many innocent victims of crime, why are the Government intent on pushing through, in less than four weeks from now, a major weakening of the criminal injuries compensation scheme by substituting a crude tariff system for the proper assessment of damages suffered by victims ? Is the Prime Minister aware that a police officer who was seriously injured in a criminal attack was awarded £121,000 last year under the existing scheme, but would be entitled to only £7,500 under the new scheme ? What justification can there be for that ?
The Prime Minister : I do not have those precise figures in front of me, but we are seeking to change and make more efficient and effective the criminal injuries compensation scheme. It has met with many delays, while the amount of compensation was determined. We are seeking to produce a better, more effective and more efficient scheme that provides for speedier compensation.
Mr. John Smith : I notice that the Prime Minister did not attempt to justify the change that will result. May I ask him directly why future loss of earnings and future costs of medical care are to be excluded completely from damages when, in the case of badly injured people, those are perhaps the most important losses ? Is it not bad enough that crime has doubled under the Government without making the victims pay for it ?
The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that the actions that we have taken against crime have been effective and efficient and have often been opposed by him and his party. I need no lectures from him about crime. What we are seeking to do is to make a more effective and efficient system fairer between both the recipient of assistance and the taxpayer.
Mr. John Smith : So that the Prime Minister understands the issue involved, may I remind him of the case of Mrs. Slater, a young wife with two children who saw her husband murdered at her front door ? She was awarded £137,000 under the existing scheme. Under the Prime Minister's proposals that lady would get £17,000. Why should she lose £120,000 in a Government cost-cutting exercise ? We hear constantly from the right hon. Gentleman about the victims of crime. Unless he withdraws the scheme he will be guilty of hypocritical humbug.
The Prime Minister : We have one of the most generous systems of assistance in the world in terms of criminal injuries compensation, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows. We are seeking to make sure that it is more efficient and more effective and that the compensation is paid more speedily than at any stage in the past. The right hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor were saying recently that they would enter into no more spending commitments until they knew how those commitments could be met. Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman broken his own edict yet again ?
Mr. Luff : Does my right hon. Friend agree that one sure way of improving performance in our schools is to publish examination results ? Is he aware that at the weekend the Labour party pledged that it would scrap such performance tables, depriving parents in Worcestershire and the rest of the country of information that they need and deserve when taking important decisions about their children's future ?
The Prime Minister : I have no doubt that publishing that information acts as a spur to higher standards. It also throws the spotlight on the quality of teaching in many schools. I regret very much that Labour Members wish to remove this right, that they do not trust parents with the information and therefore wish to keep them in the dark. But it is not a question just of performance tables. In the same speech, the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) promised to scrap grant- maintained schools, thereby removing from hundreds of thousands of parents the right that the Government have given them. And it is not just the Labour party : the Liberals would join in the introduction of that repressive legislation.
Mr. Ashdown : There will be a warm welcome for the Government's decision this morning to respond to General Rose's request for reinforcements in Bosnia and, indeed, for the fact that this afternoon the United Nations has taken control of Tuzla airport. As the job in Bosnia is not to reinforce failure but to strengthen success, is it not now vital that other nations follow Britain's lead and would it not be helpful if the United States were to do so ?
The Prime Minister : As the right hon. Gentleman has said, we have been leading diplomatic efforts to help the United Nations to secure reinforcements. As I told the House a few days ago, we are prepared to provide more forces proportionately as part of a wider international effort. The right hon. Gentleman is right about Tuzla
Column 147airport : an important objective has been met. This will assist the aid operation, and we shall provide an aircraft specially to take aid into Tuzla.
Mr. Colin Shepherd : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Commonwealth as a whole has a great contribution to make to the causes of peace, democracy and stability, especially in southern Africa at this very sensitive time ? As we approach Commonwealth day, will my right hon. Friend reaffirm the United Kingdom's commitment to the Commonwealth ?
The Prime Minister : I am happy to do so. At both the last two Commonwealth conferences we proposed reforms to make the Commonwealth a good deal more relevant and bring it up to date. Relationships within the Commonwealth are better than they have been for many years. As my hon. Friend referred to South Africa, let me say that many of us look forward to that country's first democratic elections which will be held in April and, I hope, to South Africa's wishing to return to the Commonwealth in due course.
Mr. McKelvey : Will the Prime Minister explain why, in 1994, it is necessary for my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Dr. Berry) to introduce a private Member's Bill to provide basic civil rights for the disabled ? Will the right hon. Gentleman seriously consider backing that humane Bill so that it may become part of the law of the land ?
The Prime Minister : As I have indicated on other occasions, the Government have done a great deal for disabled people--rightly so--and we certainly intend to do more. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the changes on access, on social security, on education-- [Interruption.] If Opposition Members will wait, they will get an answer. The hon. Gentleman will be aware also of the changes in relation to employment. It is a rolling programme. We share the aim of eliminating discrimination against disabled people. We have put in place a number of measures to do this. Of course we shall examine carefully the Bill of the hon. Member for Kingswood (Dr. Berry). There will be a debate on Friday, after which I hope that the Bill will go into Committee for detailed examination of its provisions, what it would achieve, what it would mean, what it would cost and those parts of it that are appropriate.
Mrs. Gorman : Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that during the 1960s and 1970s the Labour party spent a great deal of taxpayers' money on overseas aid, but achieved very little benefit for the people of this country in return ? Will he take pride in the fact that nowadays, under a Conservative Government, we make sure that the British taxpayer and work force benefit from our policy of linking trade with aid ?
The Prime Minister : We have a very high-quality aid programme, a small portion of which is linked, under the aid and trade provisions, with trade with appropriate countries. Aid and trade provision has existed since the late
Column 1481970s. It is appropriate, it works well both for the recipient countries and for British exporting prospects, and I look to see it continue.
The Prime Minister : I did not specifically raise this subject with President Yeltsin during my recent visit, but Russian policy is in line with our own on this subject. We are in contact on a day-to-day basis with Russia and with our other G7 colleagues on this particular matter.
Mr. Dalyell : May I thank the Prime Minister for making time to see me in his room last Thursday about the appalling malnutrition and infant mortality problem in the valleys of the Tigris and the Euphrates ? Since disease knows no boundaries and since there is the likelihood of a sweltering summer, can he do anything about the urgently needed water filtering and pumping equipment and the list of much-needed pharmaceuticals that I handed to him on that occasion ?
The Prime Minister : I understand and respect the hon. Gentleman's long-standing concern for the people of Iraq, which he sees as quite distinct from the present leadership of the Government of Iraq. I share his concern about the people there. Since April 1991, we have spent more than £60 million on aid for Iraqi citizens, including food, essential medicines, heating supplies and help with agricultural projects. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will continue with our aid programme and with the exemptions for food and medicines from the embargo, and that I will look at the specific point that he raised with me.
Mr. Spring : Can my right hon. Friend confirm that manufacturing output rose by some 1.1 per cent. in January, well above expectations, and that in difficult world trading conditions it is the policies of low inflation, low interest rates and low corporate taxation that has made Britain a beacon of success in the world ? [Hon. Members :-- "That's a hard one, John."]
The Prime Minister : Just relax. My hon. Friend is entirely right. There is no doubt that the manufacturing figures today show that manufacturing output is sharply up. That is very encouraging, and it was considerably above expectations. We have seen a strong export performance particularly to non-Community countries in recent months, but equally to many European Community countries, despite the fact that their markets are in recession and are reducing in overall size. I am delighted that we are making more and selling more at home and selling more abroad.
Rev. Martin Smyth : Is the Prime Minister aware of the answer that I was given on 1 March, which showed that during the past three years some 13 rescue operations have been carried out by Royal Navy and Royal Air Force aircraft in the territorial waters of the Irish Republic ? Will he impress on Mr. Reynolds the importance of extending such co-operation to save the lives of innocent people, especially from terrorism, as the forces co-operate with the Crown forces ?
The Prime Minister : I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. We are constantly reviewing the co-operation with the Garda and with other elements of the security forces in the Republic of Ireland. Co- operation today is better than it has been at any stage in the past and I will continue to seek further improvement. There is a regular and good liaison specifically between the United Kingdom search and rescue authorities and the Irish marine emergency services which specifically includes a regular
Column 150exchange of information and participation in the appropriate joint committees, so I believe that the liaison is extremely good at present. Of course, I will seek to ensure that that remains good and is improved wherever possible.
Mr. Peter Ainsworth : Will my right hon. Friend remind his G7 colleagues that there are really only three ways in which Governments can help to foster jobs--the promotion of sound finances, the deregulation of national economies and the encouragement of maximum flexibility in labour markets ?
The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is quite right. If we wish to have jobs that last rather than temporary jobs, we need free trade, competitive industries and a flexible labour market. That is what we have now attained and that is, I believe, the principal reason why we are the only country in the European Union where unemployment is falling and seems to be on a firm downward trend.
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