Previous Section Home Page

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): I am grateful for the opportunity of mentioning briefly three issues about which I have written to the Ministers during the recess, and which cause great anxiety locally. I hope that I receive more satisfactory replies in the debate tonight than I have had during the recess. I hope that we have the right Minister of State for Defence Procurement to give me that reply.

Last summer, in the estimates debate, I urgently questioned my right hon. Friend's predecessor about the reports of problems with the ancient Polaris submarines. There had been many incidents. As the Minister knows, there have been further incidents this year about which I have written to him, and especially the incident on HMS Renown in August, which shortly before had had a five-year refit. The Minister admitted to me in a letter that the crew was tested for radioactivity following the return to Faslane and that the submarine had what he described as "a minor defect". Minor defects can turn nuclear submarines into floating time bombs, and they sail down the Clyde past my constituency.

Why is HMS Resolution, the oldest of the Polaris submarines, still continuing in service? It was due for retirement many years ago. Is not the reality that there has been a long series of incidents with those submarines causing dangers to the crew as well as to local people? There should be--I am asking the Minister to institute it--a full safety review of the state of all Polaris submarines so that such disturbing incidents do not occur. Safety considerations must be paramount.

I disagree with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) about the future large aircraft. Many of my constituents work at the British Aerospace Jetstream factory at Prestwick. Dick Evans, the chief executive of British Aerospace, has given me an assurance that some of the FLA work will come to that factory. I am keen to press the case of the FLA as the best long-term replacement for the Hercules. Strong arguments were advanced to show that the FLA option not only safeguards the future of British Aerospace as a whole, which is vital, but is the best aircraft for the country's military


Column 196

requirements. I say to the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) that I do not think that we can pursue both options.

The Government should recognise that refurbishing the existing fleet--in answer to an earlier challenge, I can say that I have flown in one of them- -is a viable option in the short term. The Government should not rush into a decision on the first tranche by the end of the year, but should wait for the results of the FLA feasibility study. I do not think that that is an unreasonable request in the light of all the implications.

Another concern that I have held for a long time, as have a number of my colleagues in rural constituencies--I see that my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) is in his place--involves the dangers of low flying. It is a matter of great concern to my constituents. A recent tragic accident at Killin in Perthshire resulted in the loss of two RAF personnel. A Tornado crashed into the hillside narrowly missing a school. I understand that, had it not been for the bravery and skill of the pilot, the aircraft would have hit the primary school. That incident has serious implications. I have received letters from residents in Killin concerned about the implications of low flying.

I understand the need for some low flying training in the United Kingdom, but the Government recognised that it should be reduced as long ago as 1991. I hope that the Minister of State will give a sign today of when the Government intend to reach all the targets for promised reduction in low flying that his predecessor announced three years ago.

Will the Minister consider reviewing and extending the avoidance areas? A number of schools in various rural constituencies in Scotland and the north of England and a number of other sensitive targets are not in the excluded areas. I hope that the Minister will consider an immediate review and an extension of the avoidance areas.

I hope that the Minister will consider seriously the extension of the use of simulators--a policy which was recommended by the Select Committee on Defence. I know that pilots like to fly by the seat of their pants and train in real aircraft, but simulators can be just as effective.

On a subject of great importance, I want to ask the Minister for a commitment on the date of the introduction and full operational capability of the Alfens computer system for controlling low flying. That would be a vital safety addition. It was promised in 1992, and has been delayed again and again. At present, there is no contact between low-flying aircraft, civilian aircraft, helicopters, commercial aircraft and training aircraft. That presents a huge potential danger--there is a major tragedy waiting to happen. I was astonished to read in Airforces Monthly recently that low- flying aircraft are allowed, in the name of electronic warfare training, to use their defensive aids to jam Skyguard radar, which checks the height and speed of aircraft. Skyguard has been given the role of monitoring adherence to the low flying regulations that are so important for safety. Granting such an allowance effectively gives pilots carte blanche to flout the rules. I hope that the Government will launch an immediate inquiry into the report. How can we take seriously a promise to monitor important low flying regulations when the use of Skyguard seems to be a sham? Low flying


Column 197

monitoring must be kept separate from the operational training role or the public's faith in the policing of low flying will be totally undermined.

I have made a few simple, straightforward, but important requests to the Minister of State. I hope that his reply today will provide me with more satisfactory answers than I received throughout my long correspondence during the recess.

6.55 pm

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside): Truly, the mind of a Member of Parliament is conditioned by the state of his seat. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) was living proof of that as he spoke up on behalf of his constituency--I intend to do the same.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) on his appointment as Minister of State for the Armed Forces and on his speech. It is good to have an ex-soldier in his job. We are glad that he has given up his charger for the Dispatch Box--and so, I suspect, is the horse. To misquote Punch , as a cavalry man, my hon. Friend will no doubt add tone to what, too often in this place, is a vulgar brawl.

I wish to place on record my tribute to the late Manfred Wo rner who, as Secretary-General of NATO since 1988--a crucial time in its history--guided that organisation for the collective security of the west to victory over the eastern bloc. He then began the work, through "Partnership for Peace", of winning those countries over to democracy, warts and all--it has been a difficult and painful transition for most of them. He will be a hard act to follow. His courage and determination to continue his work although he was seriously ill was truly noble. Mr. Willy Claes, whom we wish well, will have a hard act to follow.

Successive defence estimates since "Options for Change" have benefited from the so-called peace dividend, but we were always left with the feeling that the Treasury had as much to do with the exercise as the Ministry of Defence. This year it is different. The defence budget is set in spite of the Treasury, not because of it. That budget is now £23 billion, which means that we spend a greater proportion of our gross domestic product on defence than most of our NATO allies, although it is still less than we used to spend during the days of the cold war.

In 1992, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State set out our three defence roles, the third of which was to continue to contribute to promoting the United Kingdom's wider security interests through the maintenance of international peace and security. I recall that at that time no resources were allocated for that third role. So commitments--for example, to UN peacekeeping operations--could be met only by taking resources from roles one and two. This year, for the first time, there have been specific allocations of resources to role three, as our international commitments have become clearer--but that can leave us seriously overstretched elsewhere, especially as regards tour intervals in Northern Ireland. That worries us all.

As a result of the peace dividend, our teeth have been cut but they have also been sharpened. Now, the "Front Line First" document shows how the cost of our defence administration, the tail, can also be cut to the tune of about


Column 198

£750 million. Like many other hon. Members, I want to know where that saving on administration is going to go. I hope that some of it will be ploughed back into the teeth. What about the £500 million that was going to be saved through the setting up of the housing trust? If that trust does not come into being, where will that money be found?

We are assured that the defence costs study will reduce the administrative costs of defence but will not cut our defence capabilities. Only time will tell; but what we can do now is applaud the professionalism of those who carried out the 33 studies. Three cheers also for the fact that we hear that the Treasury is to embark on a similar exercise--perhaps the Ministry of Defence can assist with that.

Many of the changes under "Front Line First" will involve mergers, closures or even the growth of military bases. About 200 hon. Members will have constituency or other local interests to defend. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West (Sir D. Mitchell) and I take a particular interest in two options: first, the proposal to set up a joint defence helicopter flying school either at Shawbury in Shropshire or at Middle Wallop near Andover and, secondly, the plan to combine the chaplains schools in one tri-service establishment, either at Amport in Hampshire or elsewhere.

As a member of the Defence Select Committee I have visited Amport in connection with our study of the MOD estate, and I have been to Middle Wallop to see the Army Air Corps on many occasions. I believe--this view is shared by the local council, Test Valley borough council, which has carried out a detailed study of the issues--that the case for retaining both the Middle Wallop and Amport establishments is compelling on military and cost- effectiveness grounds. It also happens to be common sense.

The school of Army aviation at Middle Wallop already trains the largest number of helicopter pilots of any of the three services. It is well located to serve Royal Navy bases in the south and many RAF stations nearby. It is near the training areas of Salisbury plain and convenient and acceptable low-flying areas that would not be available in Shropshire-- where flying activity would more than double if the Army aviation school were moved there.

Middle Wallop, on the other hand, could easily cope with the marginal increase in flying activity that would result from amalgamation. There is also a considerable civil infrastructure to support both Middle Wallop and Amport House, where 2,000 jobs would be lost if these establishments were closed and the services moved elsewhere.

The Amport RAF chaplains school has already amalgamated with the Royal Navy and is demonstrably cost-effective. If it combines with the Army chaplaincy centre from Bagshot Park, the cost per student day can be significantly reduced without major capital investment--in contrast to what would be needed at other possible locations. Amport is well located to serve the Royal Navy bases at Portsmouth and Plymouth, the Army garrisons at Tidworth, Aldershot and Bulford and the surrounding RAF stations. Amport is also up and running, unlike the alternatives, where establishment costs would be very high.


Column 199

The alternatives are the redundant education corps establishment at Eltham palace in south-east London, the disused WRAC Queen Elizabeth Park barracks at Guildford and the Royal Naval college at Greenwich. The only serious challenger is Eltham palace. The building is grade I listed, it has been boarded up for two years and, because of archaeological digs nearby, it would have serious planning disadvantages, besides having only 25 years of lease to run. Being in south-east London, it is well away from the hub of military activity. Amport House wins hands down, and has a Gertrude Jekyll garden to boot--good for contemplation.

I want briefly to refer to Farnborough airfield, because no one else has. It is scheduled for disposal, but it is an essential shop window for our aerospace industry. I know that its closure will involve complex considerations. I welcome the fact that the MOD has jointly set up a study group with the DTI to look at its future. Its continued availability is guaranteed only until the end of the decade--only three more air shows--but the airfield needs a firmer undertaking than that. I hope that it survives and that, in time, both the FLA and the C130J will go on show there.

Much has been said about both aircraft. Some people suggest that the air frame of the C130J would be old, but it is not so. It has been completely redesigned, incorporating many lighter and stronger materials. It is thus a new aircraft that follows the original design. I welcome the fact that there will be a feasibility study on the FLA, because I believe that, ultimately, there will be a mixed solution to the problem of transporting our armed forces. Our Select Committee report went into the matter in great detail, and I commend its conclusions to the House.

Having served as a Regular soldier through an earlier period of cuts, let me remind the Minister that the bane of any service man's life is uncertainty. Cuts to both teeth and tail are necessary and sustainable, but so far and no further. Our services now need a period of stability. If the Minister can promise that when he winds up the debate, and then deliver it, his speech will be welcomed here and outside the House.

7.5 pm

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone): It will come as no surprise to anyone that, in the short time that I have, I intend to talk about defence almost exclusively in the context of Northern Ireland. After 25 years of violence, one obviously welcomes the ceasefire by the Provisional IRA, the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association.

I have spoken in these debates for the past 12 years and the violence has been going on for twice as long as that. No one in my party, not even my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), has been in the House at a time when Northern Ireland was not suffering at the hands of terrorists. Yesterday, the Secretary of State reassured us that there will be no reductions in troop numbers in Northern Ireland until he is convinced that violence has decreased to the point at which he can allow that to happen. I am glad that he intends to resist the siren voices prematurely and


Column 200

irresponsibly suggesting that troops be withdrawn. Although there is a ceasefire at present, there has been nothing so far to demonstrate its permanence.

This is a good time for me to express the thanks of all in Northern Ireland who oppose terrorism to the 300,000 young men and women--it is a startling number--who have served in Northern Ireland in the past 25 years. I express everyone's thanks to them for what they have done to sustain a degree of democracy in Northern Ireland. I am absolutely certain that no other army in the world would have endured the insults, the violence and the number of deaths that these young men and women sustained while remaining courteous in their day-to-day relationships with the general public and restrained in their behaviour.

Amid the euphoria of the ceasefire it is important to introduce an element of reality. The Ulster Unionist party will work only to advance the political process. We are not out to make political capital at anyone's expense during this ceasefire, but any peace settlement in Northern Ireland must be based wholly on democratic principles of the sort outlined in the Downing street declaration. At that moment in history our Prime Minister, in conjunction with the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic, said to the people of Northern Ireland, "We believe in consent; we believe that the people of Northern Ireland have the right to decide their own future." The endorsement of that declaration by the United States was welcome, but one must look carefully at how the IRA has reacted to it and try to put the correct interpretation on what is happening.

The IRA equivocated for months about accepting the Downing street declaration. Mr. Gerry Adams went off to the United States and, helped by some of his friends there, he was given the world stage and expected to talk about the peace process. Unfortunately, as soon as he reached the stage he muffed his lines. When he came back he was faced with the problem that the political basis--what the IRA needs for its campaign of violence-- had been swept away by the Downing street declaration. That was why my party was able to predict months ago that the IRA would go for a three- month ceasefire: it needed to obtain a political base from which it could continue its terror campaign.

I caution the House that the IRA intends, at active service unit and brigade level, to recommence its violence in January or as soon thereafter as it believes that it can do so. The IRA does not want to enter the democratic process, and the lack of any sign that it does in anything that has been said by Joe Cahill, Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness, who have all regressed over the past six weeks, shows that we are likely to be in for a torrid time in the new year. I wish that the IRA would look at the statement issued by the loyalist paramilitaries when they announced their ceasefire. If the IRA could express its intentions in the same terms, the clock could properly start ticking.

Perhaps when the Minister replies to the debate he will clarify a matter that arose today at Prime Minister's Question Time. The Prime Minister said that if the IRA would give up its Semtex, we could move forward. Will the Minister confirm that the Prime Minister was being illustrative and not definitive in mentioning only Semtex? There has been some confusion in the House and in the press about that extremely important issue.


Column 201

We all want to be optimistic about the permanency of peace. However, as the Minister will be aware, a permanent end to violence would bring with it the loss of 20,000 security-related jobs which are presently worth about £0.4 billion per annum. Those jobs must be replaced if all sections of the community are to feel that they have a stake in Northern Ireland's success, and that will happen only if economic growth is substantially accelerated. The drive for investment is crucial and the wealth-creating companies in Northern Ireland must have our support if we are to avoid an inevitable increase in unemployment and the problems that go with it. The recent announcement of a 300 per cent. increase in European Commission funding to the International Fund for Ireland is a well-intentioned response to the possibility of peace in Northern Ireland, but it must be used wisely. That has not always been the case in the past because long-term benefits to the community have too often been hard to identify. If much of the increased IFI resources could be used to provide our young people with extra training opportunities that were relevant to real high-technology jobs, that would prove successful.

In present circumstances we must look to expanding the Province's technological and industrial base, in which aerospace and defence play a key role. Shorts, which has 7,000 employees in the Province and 3,000 in other parts of the world, is our largest employer, and over the past five years it has invested in key technologies and is now a leader in its chosen markets.

The opportunities which the Ministry of Defence's attack helicopter requirement and Hercules replacement programme would open up for aerospace companies in the Province are considerable and would make a major contribution to Northern Ireland's economy in terms of jobs and potential further business. In the Hercules replacement programme, Shorts has joined British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce in the European future large military aircraft project. If the FLA is selected, it will offer United Kingdom companies the prospect of initial work valued at £3 billion. Orders beyond--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I call Mr. Bill Walker.

7.15 pm

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North): I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. As always, the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) and his hon. Friends carry the House with them because of their courage and integrity.

I sincerely welcome the pledges that were given by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State about stability in the armed forces. I welcome the tone of Ministers' speeches, and especially that of my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. I am sure that he will be well liked and well respected if he continues in that vein. He will not be surprised to know that I intend to follow the line of my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) and deal with morale, which must be addressed. I was pleased that the Minister made public the fact that every type of RAF front-line aircraft is engaged on active operations somewhere in the world. That is important because the aircraft have to be manned both on the ground and in the air and we must look at the impact


Column 202

that that has on families. It also makes nonsense of the specious claims by Mr. David Hart and others about the RAF and the Israeli air force.

Is the Minister aware that air and ground crews now spend six months away from their families each year? In some cases, the time away from home is 270 days a year, and it is important to understand what that means to families.

I spent most of the summer with the Royal Air Force and did so because of my interests, which are listed in the Register of Members' Interests. I am pleased to say I got in some flying hours. People at all levels in the service put a number of questions to me, and I said that I would put them to the Government and the House. First, is the Minister aware that the stress caused by the operations that have been mentioned is occurring at a time when the Royal Air Force has been singled out for yet further manpower cuts which will inevitably reduce the pool of uniformed manpower to support future operations? Secondly, are the Government aware that by the time the latest round of Treasury-imposed cuts has been implemented by the RAF, manpower will have been reduced by some 40 per cent. since 1990? That is happening at a time when I and many others believe that the world is growing more dangerous and unstable. My question is to ask what steps have been taken to refute the specious claims about the RAF and the comparisons with the Israeli air force. I hope that the Minister will address that.

Is my hon. Friend aware that many of the personnel who will be made redundant by the Royal Air Force as a result of "Front Line First" will be those to whom the Government are looking to provide savings from improved efficiency, the implementation of new procedures and practices and the introduction of market testing? Do Ministers appreciate that many of those who will be responsible for organising and introducing the market testing programme will be the very people whose jobs are at risk? Do they acknowledge that after heaping change upon change on our loyal and outstanding forces, the introduction of the housing trust initiative and Mr. Bett's independent review have been badly timed and damaging to morale? I have to report that those were my findings.

Does my hon. Friend realise that many families are deeply concerned about the future arrangements for married quarters and the education of their children? Does he understand and realise that those matters need urgently to be clarified?

I turn now to other areas of concern and in particular procurement. I shall deal with weapons systems first. I welcome the proposal to purchase cruise missiles, but I have some reservations about the quantity that will be available and the launch vehicle to be used. The submarine is not my idea of an ideal launch vehicle.

The United States uses large surface ships as platforms. That--and the number that can be launched--offsets the less than 50 per cent. accuracy achieved during the Gulf war. The numbers available to the United States make cruise a credible conventional deterrent for the United States. I am not alone in believing that the United Kingdom submarine-launched cruise missiles alone cannot provide the flexibility and determined capability that the United Kingdom may require.


Column 203

On Royal Air Force procurement, will Ministers confirm that the conventionally armed stand-off missile and the anti-armour weapon--ASRs 1236 and 1238--will be introduced as soon as possible to complement the mid-life update to the Tornado and to provide the Royal Air Force with those urgently needed weapons? Only that, together with cruise missiles, will be an effective and flexible deterrent capability.

Will the Government acknowledge the crucial role played by the Royal Air Force in the Gulf war and the importance of a properly balanced and equipped service for the future? That is vital. Does my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State acknowledge that the bravery and expertise of the Royal Air Force is held in the highest regard throughout the world? The perception in the Royal Air Force today is that the Government have notably failed to acknowledge it. I am confident that the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), will remedy that. I mean that most sincerely because I welcome the letter that he wrote me about morale.

Cuts in the medical services are affecting morale. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the viability of secondary medical care to the armed forces can be sustained and will he acknowledge that the sharp decline in the number of service consultant specialists brought about by the loss of career prospects will jeopardise the provision of secondary care? Will he make a statement regarding primary medical care and the need to provide adequate levels of health support to military personnel in order to return them to active service at the earliest opportunity? I am standing here today thanks to massive benefits that I gained from RAF medical care after a serious accident. I shall never forget that.

Procurement of the future large aircraft was mentioned earlier. The British Aerospace campaign has not been a wise one. Eurofighter 2000 is much more important than LFA at this time. I do not believe that the Royal Air Force should be faced with two major high-risk programmes at the same time. The Eurofighter is much more important and the Royal Air Force should concentrate on that. We cannot have slippage there.

In their procurement programmes the Germans have funds for development until 2010, which could mean that the aircraft will not fly until 2010. If we do not get the C130J, we shall be in the impossible position that we last faced under the Labour Government, with the wrong aircraft at the wrong time in the wrong place. The Royal Air Force has been in the vanguard of introducing new working practices and support initiatives, including information technology. I want my hon. Friend to confirm the very disturbing fact that we have fewer military airfields today than at any time since 1933. When did the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Defence last pay an official visit to a Royal Air Force base in Britain?

7.25 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): The House of Commons is entitled to a serious Government response to the alleged activities of the son of the former Prime Minister.


Column 204

When the issue first arose, frankly I found it distasteful to try to get at the then Prime Minister through her son and I did not ask a single question on the so-called Oman affair.

However, the present position is that many serious people in Britain believe that Mark Thatcher did indeed amass a fortune as a result of an arms procurement and his connection, or supposed or perceived connection, with his mother.

Equally seriously, there is a perception abroad that the integrity of the British state is at stake.

It so happened that I was participating in a conference at Ditchley Park on the Sunday morning when the Mark Thatcher story broke. Ditchley operates under Chatham House rules. Suffice it to say that MOD officials should ask their erstwhile Permanent Secretary, Sir Michael Quinlan, who were the people participating at the conference, because they were people whose opinions about Britain matter. Ministers cannot just pass by on the other side of the road like a biblical Levite and offer a response as the Secretary of State for Defence did yesterday that

"Mark Thatcher is neither a member of the Labour party nor . . . the Conservative party."--[ Official Report , 17 October 1994; Vol. 248, c. 49.]

That is simply not sufficient.

I am not a Johnny come lately to this particular issue; on the basis of extremely detailed information from several sources, I asked seven questions on 27 November 1992. They should now be answered. "First, are the Government aware that an executive of the defence company United Scientific, introduced Mark Thatcher to arms dealer Sarkis Sohanalian in the autumn of 1983 as part of its efforts to win a contract to sell night vision devices ultimately to be used by Iraq?

Secondly, will the Government confirm or deny that Prince Banda, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, personally presented a letter to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher from King Fahd of Saudi Arabia in 1985 and that that letter made it implicitly clear that commissions would be paid as part of the Al-Yamamah deal between Saudi Arabia and Britain involving the sale of Tornado jets and other defence equipment to Saudi Arabia?

Thirdly, will the Government explain the purpose of that letter from King Fahd to Prime Minister Thatcher? Will they explain why Mrs. Thatcher dealt with the Saudi ambassador to the United States and not the Saudi ambassador to Britain while dealing with the Al-Yamamah deal?

Fourthly, will the Government confirm or deny that Mark Thatcher received approximately £10 million soon after the signing of the memorandum of understanding for the Al-Yamamah deal in September 1985 and that the agreement on the deal specified that he would receive a further approximately £10 million subsequently?

Fifthly, will the Government confirm or deny that Mark Thatcher and a Saudi Arabian middle man involved in the deal, whose name was Wafic Said, paid income tax on money which they earned from the Al-Yamamah deal?

Sixthly, are the Government aware that, for some time in 1989, Mark Thatcher lived in a house at 34 Eaton terrace while that house was owned by Formugul, a Panamanian company linked with Saudi Arabian business man, Wafic Said, who played a role in the Al-Yamamah deal? Finally, can the Government confirm or deny that Mr. Christopher Prentice, a Foreign Office official working in the British embassy in Washington in the mid-1980s, was aware that Mark Thatcher was involved in the Al-Yamamah deal?"--[ Official Report , 27 November 1992; Vol. 214, c. 1103-4.]

Much has happened since I asked those questions, including a document originating from United States intelligence which came to light during the


Column 205

Dooley-Sikorsky trial and highlights Mark Thatcher's role. I shall hand a copy of it to the officials in the Box as soon as I have sat down.

The Prime Minister this afternoon, in a reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), said that evidence should be produced. That document, together with another document--an alleged BAe internal memorandum--deserves at least a serious reply. I do not have time to read out the whole of that document, but under the heading:

"Meetings with U.S. Embassy staff in Riyadh brought to light the following concerns"

it refers to

"4 bil U.S. was mentioned in connection with M. Thatcher's son." At the very least, that must be explained.

Furthermore, the internal memorandum states:

"The same source also states that there is a sizeable payment to the Conservative Party ( a huge sum') which is being administered by Wafic Said in conjunction with Mark T."

It also states:

"The additional financial benefit to Mark T. and his friends Wafic Said and other middle men, all non-tax-paying residents of the UK and to the Conservative Party are absolutely enormous, according to the BAe executive."

I want to ask again about Sir Clive Whitmore. A letter sent to my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) said:

"I understand that Sir Clive Whitmore has confirmed that he did not see Lady Thatcher to pass on a warning about Mr. Thatcher's alleged involvement in the Al Yamamah deal."

I have learnt over the years to be very careful about words. I asked whether Sir Clive went to, not saw, the Prime Minister. The MOD press statement is oddly worded. It states:

"Sir Clive Whitmore confirmed that he did not see Lady Thatcher to pass on Mark Thatcher's alleged involvement in the Al-Yamamah deal. There is no evidence that it was felt necessary for any official concern to be passed to Lady Thatcher."

It is very odd for a statement to say that it was not felt necessary for any "official concern" to be passed on. I ask a direct, blunt question--was there any contact on that issue, official or unofficial, between the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence and the then Prime Minister?

It is not only Labour politicians who are concerned about this matter. The leader in The Daily Telegraph on 10 October said: "It may be that both he and his mother are able to produce full rebuttals of the Sunday Times's allegations. It is to be hoped that they will do so, because it would be an embarrassing matter indeed if the son of the most distinguished Conservative leader of modern times was believed to have gained large personal profit from his family association with Downing Street."

When The Daily Telegraph says something like that, there should at least be a response on the Floor of the House. If, as I believe, there has been massive corruption at the heart of the British state, the least that the Government can do is to state their beliefs on the Floor of the House of Commons.

The place where such questions should be responded to is the Floor of the House. They should not be frivolously shoved off. Right or wrong, they must be answered. This issue will not go away because it affects the honour of our country.


Column 206

Silence or a frivolous response on these issues in the reply tonight will be interpreted only as governmental determination to turn a blind eye to what may, at home and abroad, be a real disgrace.

During Question Time, the Prime Minister said in answer to the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) that wrongdoing would be rooted out. There is an obligation on the Government to deal with these questions seriously, not frivolously.

7.35 pm

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): I shall not follow the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) down his route. Instead, I join several of my hon. Friends in welcoming the two new Ministers of State to their posts. We are fortunate in having two such doughty fighters for the armed forces at what is, to be frank, a difficult time.

Only twice in the past two centuries has the economy of a great European power imploded and collapsed. The events in

post-revolutionary France in the 1790s and in Germany at the time of the Weimar republic led to the two bloodiest conflicts of the 19th and 20th centuries. No one here today knows which way Russia will go next. We all wish President Boris Yeltsin well. We are pleased to hear of the splendid reception that the Russians are giving our monarch. However, what we know-- as opposed to what we hope and think--is that Russia has an enormous stockpile of nuclear weapons and that it continues to produce very large numbers of high-quality conventional equipment.

The recent French defence White Paper, which was published eight weeks ahead of our own, commented on the proliferation of fissile materials and technology from the ex-Soviet states into the middle east and north Africa:

"It is to be feared that policies of preventive control alone are not sufficient to protect us against the risks of proliferation." That may be rather rich coming from the French, given their past contribution to various forms of proliferation; nevertheless, they are right on this matter.

The Government are right to recognise that we may have to invest in a strategic defence system, but we must also recognise that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction has implications for more than our nuclear defence. The blunt truth is that, before long, we may find ourselves fighting a war of a mixed conventional and tactical nuclear variety. Indeed, we all know that, had the Gulf war happened two years later, it would have been just such a war. It is just a month before we remember those hundreds of thousands of our gallant former citizens who fell in action. It is worth also remembering that, even before the weapons of mass destruction came into being, it was possible to lose a division in an afternoon. It happened at El Alamein, at Paschendaele and even at Waterloo. It is sobering to remember that our Regular Army is now so small that if-- and pray God it never happens--we were to lose a division in an afternoon in a campaign, we would lose almost half our Regular field Army.

That is why the next spending round is so critical. We should be sending a message not only to potential adversaries, not only to our allies--not least in Washington, where there is a strong isolationist movement--but, above all, to our armed forces that we really are backing our rhetoric on defence with a willingness to fund it properly. We should be saying that


Next Section

  Home Page