HC Deb 03 March 1981 vol 1000 cc127-30
Q3. Mr. Emery

asked the Prime Minister whether she will extend an invitation to the President of the United States of America to visit the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister

During my visit I renewed my invitation to President Reagan to visit this country.

Mr. Emery

Will my right hon. Friend assure the President of the United States that he will have the warmest welcome in this country? Will she also tell the House what positive steps she can take, prior to his visit, to carry out that part of her statement yesterday concerning the American purchasing of British defence equipment? Has not that been a wish that has been frustrated previously by Congress or by the industrial lobby on Capitol Hill? Will not positive action be needed to turn that intention into reality?

The Prime Minister

I discussed that matter with Defence Secretary Weinberger. We recently signed a memorandum of understanding for the United States to purchase Rapier. Secretary Weinberger told me that the Administration are giving their support to the development and production of the Harrier AV8B, which is for Congress to decide on. The Administration will also give their support to the United States rejoining the JP233 programme, which is an airfield denial weapon. We also took the opportunity to mention a number of other weapon systems to Secretary Weinberger, such as the Searchwater Radar, Sting Ray, the Wavell command and control system, Giant Viper and the Hawk jet trainer. The Government are concerned with getting orders for this country and with keeping people employed where we have excellent defence equipment. We are also concerned that while every member of the Alliance cannot become involved in the production of every weapons system, we should concentrate our research and development on those things that we do best. We put all those points to Secretary Weinberger. I should like to think that such a robust case would never have been put by the Opposition.

Mr. Canavan

While agreeing that it is wrong for the Russians to use their military might to prop up a puppet regime in Afghanistan, may I ask why the Prime Minister is afraid to tell President Reagan that it is also wrong for the Americans to use their military might to prop up a puppet regime in El Salvador? Has the right hon. Lady been reduced to being President Reagan's puppet?

The Prime Minister

I rather think that I was at it before President Reagan came to the White House. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that the President does not need any warning about the Soviet system. With regard to El Salvador, I hope that the hon. Gentlemen will support the statement that we made before we went to the United States and will support the call that arms should not be supplied to guerrillas, because that is where the initial interference is coming from.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Is my right hon. Friend aware that her visit to Washington has not only revived the Anglo-American alliance, but has created a much better climate for British trade, investment and jobs? However, bearing in mind that it is deeds and not words that count, will she hesitate before making further reductions in British defence equipment, because that could lead to our being unable to carry out in practice some of the undertakings that she gave to the Americans to assist them in defending freedom outside as well as inside Europe?

The Prime Minister

In our first year of office we reached our target of spending 3 per cent. more in real terms on defence. This year we shall go over that target, possibly to 4 per cent. or even as much as 5 per cent. In view of that performance we cannot order extra equipment, but I think that the performance speaks for itself.

Mr. Foot

I refer to the right hon. Lady's answer on El Salvador. When she made the statement expressing the British Government's support of the American position, was she aware that the Americans were about to dispatch about £30 million worth of military equipment to El Salvador? Does she approve of that form of military intervention? Has she had a chance to examine the possibility of some form of mediation, as was originally suggested by the West German Government? Whether that was suggested by that Government or not, will the British Government seek some form of mediation in what has been described by the last American Ambassador in El Salvador as civil war? Will she take a constructive initiative in this matter?

The Prime Minister

As my noble Friend and I said yesterday, extensive armaments are reaching the guerrilla forces in El Salvador. It would be most advisable if those were stopped. The people of El Salvador must then be left to sort out their own matters in their own way and have the chance to choose democracy. As I said to the right hon. Gentleman yesterday, I cannot comment on each and every action of the United States Administration. I fully understand their alarm and concern at any subversive activity in a country that is so close to them.

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Lady has not sought to answer my question about mediation. She says that she cannot comment on each and every action of the United States Government, but did she not examine the amount of military supplies that were being sent to El Salvador before she made the statement approving their policy?

The Prime Minister

To examine evidence is one thing; to comment on every particular action is another.

Mr. Temple-Morris

When my right hon. Friend sees the President, will she invite him to welcome the release from Iran of the three missionary detainees? Will she make it clear to him and to the world that normal relations between our two countries, let alone Western commercial confidence in Iran, cannot be restored until Mr. Andrew Pyke is also released?

The Prime Minister

President Reagan was pleased at the action that we took to help secure the release of the American hostages from Iran. He was also pleased about the release of our three detainees from Iran. Normal relationships between this country and Iran cannot be restored until Mr. Pyke is similarly released and brought home.

Q5. Mr. Leighton

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 3 March.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Leighton

Is the Prime Minister aware that in 1981 her East of Suez posturing and bombastic bluster at the Dispatch Box yesterday are pathetic and absurd? Will she answer the question that she dodged yesterday? Will she consult the Gulf States about the so-called rapid deployment force?

The Prime Minister

We said that if the Americans create a rapid deployment force we will be prepared, in principle, to join it. A rapid deployment force is not meant for deployment in any particular region of the world or to be stationed in any particular region. If States did not ask for it, they obviously would not have it. The tragedy would be if certain States needed it and there was not one prepared and ready to go.

Mr. Kilfedder

When the Prime Minister spoke to the President of the United States about arms, did she remind him that the RUC is still waiting for the second half of its order for sidearms, which was suspended as a result of pro-IRA sympathisers in the United States lobbies? Did the President have any comment to make on the capture of a United States machine gun from the IRA in Belfast?

The Prime Minister

I did not discuss Irish matters with President Reagan. I understand from the Chief Constable of the RUC that the force has sufficient arms for its present requirements.