Miss Emma Nicholson : Can the Minister explain why the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) does not realise that swallowing the poisoned propaganda of Saddam Hussein leads to a total destruction of the intellect just as swiftly as the thalium poison pumped into the prisoners whom he releases from prison leads to the destruction of the body ? Does not the hon. Member for Linlithgow understand how appalling the cruelty is ? Perhaps we in Parliament now have a Lord Haw-Haw in our midst ?
Mr. Hanley : I recognise that my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) have both seen the same evidence, and have reached diametrically opposed conclusions. I can only say that the evidence of the military is more in line with my hon. Friend's views than with those of the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Hanley : Since 1979, the number of air cadets has remained constant at around 49,000. Whereas there were no girls in the air cadets in 1979, there were more than 9,000 in 1989 and just over 11, 000 in 1992.
Mr. Walker : I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Can he confirm-- bearing in mind "Front Line First" and the interests of the air cadets-- that an important aspect of recruitment and retention is flying and gliding experience ? Will that be taken into account in "Front Line First", so that there is no reduction in the number of air cadets ?
Mr. Hanley : I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who devotes a great deal of time and effort to helping the air cadet organisation. A key objective of the organisation is to provide young people with flying experience, and there is no intention to lose sight of that. Every air cadet currently has an opportunity to fly, and will continue to be given that opportunity. I hope that my answer has helped to reassure my hon. Friend.
Mr. Tony Banks : I was a flight sergeant in the air training corps, and look how I ended up! Would not it be better to encourage our young people to join the Scouts, Guides, Cubs, Brownies or Woodcraft folk and to teach them about getting on with people and about peace and love rather than preparing them for war ?
Mr. Hanley : The United Kingdom's cadet forces provide a useful service. In inner cities, they give excellent training to many young people who find it difficult to have any other structure. I have a sneaking suspicion that the hon. Gentleman's high-flying days were long ago.
Mr. Alton : Will the Minister reject and repudiate once and for all the curious notion that the morality of how a weapon is used has nothing to do with the salesman ? Does he agree that it is high time that Britain published a blacklist of countries to which we will not sell arms because of their record of human rights abuses ?
Mr. Aitken : The United Nations embargoes on countries that, for one reason or another, are considered unsuitable recipients of arms are published. As further evidence of transparency, we subscribe to the new UN register on conventional arms transfers, which makes apparent any breaches of the UN list. The export licensing system ensures that each and every arms transfer is considered on its merits, and human rights and the possible purposes for which arms may be used are taken into account. The hon. Gentleman's point has been understood.
Mr. Thurnham : Will my hon. Friend give every consideration to the export potential of the European FLA Hercules replacement ? Does he agree that its potential export sales could be as high as £7 billion ?
Mr. Aitken : A great deal of loud and persuasive lobbying has taken place in relation to the potential exports of that aircraft. At this stage, however, it is only a paper aircraft, so it would be impossible and unwise to predict the potential for exports. I hope that they will be high once the aircraft is built.
Mr. Donald Anderson : One country to which we have steadfastly refused to sell arms is Bosnia. By contrast, as the Minister wells knows, the United States House of Representatives has passed a binding resolution in favour of a unilateral lifting of the arms embargo and the setting aside of £200 million for the United States to purchase armaments for Bosnia. What will the Ministry of Defence, in co-operation with our European colleagues, do to speak loud to senior senators to try to ensure that the UNPROFOR mandate is not undermined ?
Mr. Aitken : We have made our views known to the United States Administration and to Capitol Hill, but the United States Congress, like the House of Commons, is a sovereign legislature, and both must be respected.
Mr. John Marshall : I thank my hon. Friend for lifting the arms embargo on Israel, which will make it easier for the British arms export industry. Does not he think it strange that those who call for greater help for manufacturing industry are always willing to make snide and sniping comments about the record of our arms exporters ?
Mr. Aitken : The Government welcome the considerable change in the political situation in the middle east as a result of the recent accords, which have made changes, such as the lifting of the arms embargo, possible. We welcome it and I am glad that my hon. Friend does so, too.
Mr. Hutton : I acknowledge the benefits of European defence collaboration in projects such as the common new generation frigate programme and the Eurofighter programme, but will the Minister make it his policy to ensure that any moves towards greater European defence procurement will not be at the expense of further erosion of our defence industrial base, especially the shipbuilding sector ?
Rev. Martin Smyth : Does the Minister agree that some of us used to love playing with paper aircraft, and that when he referred to a paper plane earlier, he meant a plane on paper ? Will he assure the House that no decision will be taken on replacing the transport until FLA has been properly evaluated ?
Mr. Aitken : We are certainly receiving a great deal of information on possible plans for the future large aircraft, but we must bear in mind the fact that the replacement of our transport fleet--certainly the first tranche--will be necessary before the future large aircraft is likely to have come into existence. That may depend on whether we can choose the refurbishment option or a new-buy. Whatever happens, FLA will not be ready for the first tranche of our fleet replacement.
Mr. Robathan : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the real concern throughout the country caused by the continuing reduction in our defence capabilities, as illustrated yesterday by the leak about the defence costs study ? Can he reassure his hon. Friends that he will never allow the growth of expenditure on social security to undermine our national security ?
The Prime Minister : I can reassure my hon. Friend that the "Front Line First" programme will do nothing to reduce the fighting effectiveness of our armed forces or our ability to undertake defence commitments. I assure him that our commitment to effective front-line forces remains undiminished. The purpose of the "Front Line First" study is to ensure that money spent on defence administration
Column 120and support is kept to a minimum. That is a sensible aim, and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will join me in achieving it.
The Prime Minister : A member of my policy unit attended a meeting in Whitehall, at the invitation of the Department of Transport, in order to inform me. The negotiations are between Railtrack and the unions. As the right hon. Lady raises the question, perhaps she will now take the opportunity, at the third time of asking, to condemn the strike.
Mrs. Beckett rose
Mrs. Beckett rose -- [Interruption.]
Mrs. Beckett : I think that we can take that answer as a yes, so we now know that the Department of Transport interfered in the negotiations, although it said that it had not, and that the Prime Minister's office meddled in the negotiations, although it said that it would not. Does not it stand out a mile that the dispute would not be happening if the negotiations had not been sabotaged by the Government ?
The Prime Minister : The right hon. Lady is being ludicrous. The policy unit attends meetings throughout Whitehall, with a watching brief. It takes no part in negotiations that, as the chairman of Railtrack has made clear, are between him and the unions. However much the right hon. Lady tries, she cannot hide the fact that she will not condemn a strike that puts hundreds of thousands of commuters at risk, when hundreds of thousands of other public service workers have settled for pay increases, far below 3 per cent., which can be afforded. As ever, she is the strikers' friend.
Mrs. Beckett : What is completely clear is that no one wants this strike-- [Interruption.] --except, perhaps, Conservative Members-- least of all rail staff and commuters. Is not it crystal clear that it is happening only because the Government interfered ? Yet again, the Prime Minister has caused what he now condemns. Yet again, the Government are saying one thing and doing another. Is not that why nobody can believe a word they say ?
The Prime Minister : This has happened because there is an 11 per cent. wage demand which, by implication, the right hon. Lady would accept. Even now, her condemnation is limply to say that nobody wants this strike ; she will not condemn it. She would, presumably, end it by meeting the demand. She backs that extra spending. I remind her that last week, she criticised tax increases. A week later, she calls for more public spending. How would she pay for the settlement--by raising taxes, by increasing public expenditure ? The hypocrisy in this case rests with the Opposition. The right hon. Lady still will not condemn the strike. To quote her, that is twice she has refused to answer on condemning the strike. Will she now condemn it, yes or no ?
Mrs. Gillan : Is my right hon. Friend aware that more than 40 per cent. of those recently arrested as part of Operation Bumblebee were on bail ? Does not that underline how wise our Government are in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill-- [Interruption.]
Mrs. Gillan : It will not have escaped the House that the Opposition find law and order so funny. How wise the Government were to crack down on bail bandits in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. As three out of five burglaries are committed by people who are under 21, perhaps the Opposition would care to explain why they oppose policies against juvenile offenders so consistently. Is not that proof that the Labour party is Fagin's friend ?
The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend has shown with the figures she has used, there is no doubt that far too many people have been abusing the right to bail. Once the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill becomes law, a person who is charged with a serious offence committed on bail will lose the right to bail. That is entirely right. If that person is then convicted, the court can reflect the fact that the offence was committed while the person was on bail. Operation Bumblebee has been a huge success. It has shown that by targeting crime, one can bring it down. What is equally encouraging is that the last quarter's crime figures show crime down by 9 per cent.
Mr. Ashdown : Does not the atrocity in Loughinisland over the weekend prove that when it comes to evil, there is nothing to chose between the murderers on one side of the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland and the murderers on the other ? I remind the Prime Minister, once again, that the gunmen thrive when a political vacuum exists. Will he confirm that he understands the importance, when he meets the Irish Prime Minister in Corfu on Friday, of regaining, again, the initiative for peace through political progress in Northern Ireland ?
The Prime Minister : There is no doubt that the murder of six people in Loughinisland on Saturday evening was a vicious and depraved act of brutality. Whether it is so-called Loyalists murdering Catholics or the IRA murdering Loyalists, it is equally indefensible by any possible measure. The right hon. Gentleman is right to stress the need for political movement and political settlement. I am in constant contact both with the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland and with the Government of the Republic of Ireland. I will certainly discuss the matter further with the Taoiseach when we meet over the weekend.
Mr. Hicks : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the inherent reticence and tolerance of the people of Devon and Cornwall is becoming increasingly exasperated by the inability or refusal of the Government to do anything to alleviate the growing water charges in the area ? Does my right hon. Friend recall that it was 12 months ago that he personally said that he would look at this situation ? When can we expect some positive news on that front ?
The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend will be aware that it is for the Director General of the Office of Water Services to determine-- [Interruption.] Opposition Members would do well to wait. It is for the Director General of Ofwat to determine the new price limits and he is in the process of doing so. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has published advice on quality matters. That will assist the director general in setting new price limits. We are looking, as I have said, to see what can be done with requirements made under European Community directives to reduce the impact in the west country. We have already found and announced, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks) should have known, ways in which to hold down the cost of some of the directives. Other ways are still being examined.
Mr. Townsend : Does my right hon. Friend agree that since "Options for Change" was prepared, the world has become more turbulent and less certain ? Bearing in mind the fact that the French, who have roughly similar international defence commitments, have recently agreed to up their defence budget, would my right hon. Friend be prepared to look at the planned defence cut of £1 billion in 1996 ?
The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend will know, in cash, the French spend broadly the same as we do, although, of course, they have a conscript army in France as compared with the professional Army that we have in the United Kingdom. As I said earlier, through the "Front Line First" defence costs study, we aim to maximise the proportion of defence resources allocated to the front line. I believe that that is the right way in which to determine our defence expenditure, unlike the Opposition, who scream "cuts", but would halve defence expenditure and would, no doubt, if they had the opportunity, also scrap our nuclear capacity.
Mr. Michie : Is the Prime Minister aware that, next week, on 30 June, a delegation of health workers and friends, supported by Sheffield Members of Parliament, will be protesting about the closure of the Royal Hallamshire hospital accident and emergency unit in Sheffield ? As this is a matter of life and death, will the Prime Minister assure the House that he will not wash his
Column 123hands of that issue, but tell the quangos, which his Government have set up, to stop paying high salaries to bureaucrats and to pay for services for the people ?
The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman knows of the increased resources that have gone into services for the people. I do not have to hand the details of the particular case that he has in mind, but I have no doubt that, now he has raised it, my right hon. Friend will examine it.
Mr. David Howell : Reverting to the horrific killings in Northern Ireland and bearing in mind that there has been some talk lately of a return to internment, does my right hon. Friend recognise, before considering that drastic solution, that there is an opportunity for a concerted and greatly enhanced security drive and for a strengthening of legal and intelligence resources applied against terrorism ? If that is done on both sides of the border--in Dublin, and in Belfast and London--we have a chance of beating the terrorism, without which there will be no political solution.
The Prime Minister : As my right hon. Friend knows, the power of internment remains on the statute book, but would be used only in very special circumstances. Co-operation on security and intelligence matters has improved dramatically over the past few years. It is a matter of constant discussion between the British Government and the Irish Government so that we can ensure that whatever further improvements can be made will be made and precisely for the reasons set out by my right hon. Friend.
Mr. Welsh : Is the Prime Minister aware that Scottish Tories are revolting ? [Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] Led by the Scottish Office Minister responsible for industry, they are scared that percentage levels of VAT on domestic fuel will soon be higher than Tory poll ratings in Scotland. Will the Prime Minister now listen to the voices speaking in his direction ? Will the message to the Prime Minister from the revolting Tories meet with any success ?
The Prime Minister : I am not sure that I see it as the hon. Gentleman does. As he is clearly concerned about the position in Scotland, I remind him that the figures that emerged yesterday in Scotland from Locate in Scotland, the inward investment bureau, show that Scotland attracted more inward investment in the last financial year than at any time since 1981. Ninety-five projects are planned, worth almost £600 million creating 7,700 jobs and safeguarding 3,000 others. That has happened under a Conservative Government in this country improving the quality of opportunity for people in Scotland, whatever gloss the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) may care to put on it.
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