The whole House will welcome the decision on No. 41 Royal Marine Commando, but is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the damage being caused to the operational efficiency of the Royal Air Force as a result of the mass exodus from married quarters, 10,000 of which have been vacated, if we take the overall figures for the three Services in the past two years, as a direct result of the over-comparability on which the Armed Forces Pay Review Body has insisted in respect of accommodation charges?
I cannot, without notice, confirm or deny the hon. Gentleman's figures, but there is a tendency, in civil as well as in military life, for people to desire to own their own homes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This is well known. I have no idea why Opposition Members should be so surprised. This has been Labour Party policy for many years. However, there is no point in flogging the horse involving comparability of charges or otherwise. They are on an analogue device which was set up by a Conservative Government. If anybody comes up with any other basis on which we can make our charges, subject to pay policy we shall be happy to consider it.
The short programme for NATO to improve its readiness would not include consideration of the neutron bomb or any other weapon of that character. We have no such plans ourselves. Although it is difficult for me to go beyond the communiqué of the Nuclear Planning Group, I can tell my hon. Friend that we did not consider that matter.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the greatest contribution which NATO countries could make to the readiness of the Alliance to meet attack would be to support a common communications and signalling system?
That is one of the priority areas of the study. I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that the more common and more efficient communications and signalling systems we have, the better will be our readiness at relatively low cost.
I think that the Alliance is aware that the warning time in the event of any emergency might be shorter now than was expected in the assessments that were made some years ago. In common with our allies, we are reviewing and improving the time for our reinforcements. It would be counter-productive if we were to issue a list of those arrangements, because it would make such reinforcements ready targets in the event of attack.
Since the right hon. Gentleman has spoken of an analogue, may I ask whether he has seen reports in the Press, if not in his Department, on the message sent by the Northern Ireland Command to his Department, regarding the grave disquiet in our forces in Northern Ireland about pay levels and the danger to morale as a result of what has happened so far? What does he intend to do about the situation?
The comments to which the right hon. Gentleman refers were collected before I was able to make my announcement about putting resident battalions on field service conditions. My information is that there was considerable satisfaction among those resident battalions as a result of a tax-free increase of £5 for privates and up to £10 for lieutenant-colonels.
The minute makes clear that the improvement in respect of resident battalions was welcomed, but what was causing concern was the question of conditions for the rest of the forces in Northern Ireland.
As far as I had official sight of the papers, I think it is clear that the comments concerned were collected before 27th May, although I understand that the letter was dispatched thereafter. However, I cannot comment on illinformed pieces in papers such as the Daily Telegraph.
At those meetings will the right hon. Gentleman raise with his NATO colleagues the subject of the growing influence of the Soviet merchant marine, which has been used as an extension of Russian influence? Does he think that in the light of these developments he should consider increasing the Royal Navy's contribution?
I think it is probably the case that my NATO colleagues do not fully appreciate the substantial contribution made by the Royal Navy to NATO defences, although I know that it is appreciated by the Supreme Allied Commanders, particularly by SACLANT. I cannot say until I see the agenda of the meeting whether it would be appropriate to go into detail about Soviet maritime marine forces.
Since the Government carry a major responsibility for the weakening of NATO during the past three years, is it not the prime duty of the Secretary of State to respond to the call of the conference of NATO Ministers to increase defence budgets in 1979 and thereafter? For a start, will he announce, and inform his NATO colleagues, that he proposes to cancel the plans to cut the defence budget by £200 million in 1978–79?
I totally refute the suggestion that this country, which continues to share a heavy part of NATO's defence capability, is responsible for any weakening in the Alliance or that the Alliance has been weakened. That is contrary, for example, to the view of the retiring Chairman of the Military Committee, the distinguished Admiral of the Fleet Sir Peter Hill-Norton. I do not accept that NATO has been weakened or that this country has been responsible for such a weakening. The defence cuts have been decided and debated, and it would be a little irrelevant to bring what we are doing by way of cuts this year into the 1980s planning of NATO. We shall be considering further provision for defence in the normal way that Governments conduct their public expenditure surveys.
When my right hon. Friend meets his NATO defence colleagues, will he consider having a particular word with the German Defence Minister to remind him that the burden of the Army of the Rhine is ever-increasing and that the Germans have not made their contribution, although they said that they would? Will my right hon. Friend tell the German Minister that unless the Germans play fair by us we shall have to think in terms of reducing numbers in order to effect the necessary economies?
That is a bilateral matter of a sort that I am not sure would be appropriate for the deliberation of the full NATO Defence Planning Committee. I expect to have the pleasure of meeting my German colleague later this week. However, the negotiations with the Federal Republic are being conducted by the Foreign Secretary. I hope and believe that some settlement of this offset matter will be achieved before too long.
When the right hon. Gentleman meets the NATO Defence Ministers and raises the subject of improved readiness, will he be able to assure them that British forces can be ready without the use of British Airways aircraft and Sealink ferries, or, if not, that these will be readily available?
Of course we have contingency plans of the kind that the hon. Gentleman has in mind, but it would be a grave misuse of defence resources to have available all the sea and air transport that would be necessary only in the event of an emergency. The whole of NATO's policy is to prevent—and it has been successful in preventing—such an emergency. I can imagine the criticism if we had a whole fleet of aircraft and a flotilla of ships that were never used because NATO was successful in preventing war.
At the next NATO meeting, will the right hon. Gentleman regard himself as a nearly normal Defence Minister and abide by the decitions of the Alliance, or will he, owing to the incompetence of his Government, be contracting out of any decision which has been made, saying that it does not apply to us?
I do not know what "nearly normal" means in the right hon. Gentleman's vocabulary, but if anyone has run away from talking in plain language it is the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. I have asked how much they think we ought to spend and I have received no response. I shall certainly continue to make a robust defence of what we are doing in this country. I have not run away from any commitment that I have given, and my NATO colleagues know exactly where I and the Government stand in these matters.