HC Deb 17 November 1983 vol 48 cc1017-77

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Lang.]

5.19 pm
The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Stanley)

I am glad to open the first of our three debates on the individual services. In doing so, I first pay a warm tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker). My right hon. Friend was Minister of State for the Armed Forces for two years, including the whole of the Falklands conflict and its immediate aftermath. During his period in office he worked unstintingly and to good effect for all three services, and he is remembered both by them and by the Department with great respect and warm regard.

In the past five months it has been a great pleasure and privilege to see much of the Army at first hand. I hasten to add that, as we are all fervent tri-service Ministers now, I have seen much of the other two services as well. Here in Great Britain, in Northern Ireland, E AOR, Gibraltar, Cyprus and Beirut, and in Ascension and the Falklands, I have found the Army in good heart and in good shape, and outstandingly expert and professional. We are indeed exceedingly fortunate to have an Army of exceptional calibre.

The kernel of the Army is its people—the skills, the spirit and the commitment of the men and women who serve in it. Even in this technological age, it is the personal qualities and motivation of the individual soldier that are likely to be of decisive importance in a conflict—as the Falklands campaign demonstrated so vividly. No commander and no Government can afford to discount the human factor.

The present Government, unlike their predecessor, in implementing the recommendations on pay of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body in full, have done a good job for the service. I believe that maintaining proper levels of pay has been quite as relevant as the level of unemployment in reducing the rate at which people leave the Army. Since 1979, those leaving at the end of an engagement have decreased by nearly a third, and the number of soldiers who exercise the right to purchase their discharge has decreased by nearly three quarters. The Government have undoubtedly ensured that a career in the Army, and indeed in all three services, is significantly more attractive and more satisfying than it was four years ago.

Despite our preoccupation with events outside the European theatre, the Army's most important operational commitment remains, and will remain. in Germany. I visited BAOR in both July and September, and found 1(BR)Corps extremely impressive. I am delighted that a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have also visited the corps recently.

The corps' reorganisation announced in the 1981 defence review is now almost complete, and has significantly enhanced its combat effectiveness. The two forward armoured divisions are now all Regular, and each is of three, rather than two, armoured brigades, thus improving the corps' ability to deal with any attack after only a short warning. The whole corps now comprises three armoured divisions in BAOR with a fourth division—2 Infantry Division—based in the United Kingdom in peacetime, which can reinforce very rapidly. The Army is confident that it has now achieved pretty well the optimum balance, within the BAOR manpower figure of 55,000, between its in-place units in Germany and its dedicated reinforcements.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear recently, the Government's considered judgment is that present force levels on the central front must be maintained, in accordance with our Brussels treaty commitment, which has been observed since 1955. We cannot afford to do otherwise. The forward defence of West Germany is the forward defence of the United Kingdom. In the Federal Republic, the British Army protects a vital 65 km section of the central front, on one of the possible main thrust lines of Warsaw pact forces. The ability to reinforce BAOR rapidly, which we definitely have, is certainly of great value, but rapid reinforcement can never be an adequate substitute for strong in-place forces, particularly when the Warsaw pact possesses the capability to mount an attack with only a very short warning time.

Nothing in the current deployment of Warsaw pact ground forces in eastern Europe and in the western part of the Soviet Union, or in the continuing strengthening of the capabilities of those forces, warrants a reduction in the strength of Britain's contribution to NATO's in-place forces on the central front which represent such an essential element of deterrence. We cannot shuffle our share of the burden of collective defence on to our other allies. Nor can we expect others to adhere to their present commitments on the central front, and indeed in other NATO areas, if we are unwilling to do so ourselves. Our commitment to the present level of our forces on the central front therefore remains. Not merely do we intend to maintain BAOR's present strength, but we are in the process of making a number of extremely important improvements to its equipment and operational capabilities.

Last week I announced our decision to deploy one of the brigades of the Third Armoured Division in BAOR—6 Brigade—in an airmobile anti-tank role for a trial period. The first phase of the trial began on 1 November and will last for just over a year. This will enable the brigade—now known as 6 Airmobile Brigade and not be confused with 5 Airborne Brigade which I shall come to later—to participate in exercise Lionheart next year, our major reinforcement exercise, in the airmobile role.

During the trial period, mobility for leading elements of the brigade will be provided by helicopters, while the rest of the brigade will be equipped to deploy rapidly by road. The brigade's role will be to move swiftly to counter any breakthrough or to meet an armoured thrust developing from a new direction. For this purpose, it will be equipped with an increased number of Milan anti-tank guided weapons, and with Lynx anti-tank helicopters equipped with Tow and with Blowpipe anti-aircraft missiles. This trial will significantly widen the tactical options open to the corps.

I am glad to say that BAOR's major re-equipment programme has made, and is making, substantial progress. To keep pace with the ever-increasing size and quality of Warsaw pact armoured forces we must continue to place a high priority on improving our armour and anti-armour capabilities. Over the next few years four BAOR regiments will be equipped with Challenger, the first British Army tank to benefit from the greatly increased protection provided by Chobham armour. The first Challenger tanks are now in BAOR on troop trials — I recently had the pleasure of driving one, happily without incident.

We also have a programme of improvements which will keep both Challenger and Chieftain in the forefront of armoured warfare technology. This programme includes a new 120mm high pressure gun specially designed for the new generation of anti-tank ammunition as well as improvements to fire control systems and to gearboxes and engines. To improve our night-fighting capability—the importance of which was so well demonstrated in the Falklands last year—thermal imaging sights are being developed to fit both types of tank.

In the anti-armour role, the anti-tank guided missiles — Swingfire and Milan — are also being fitted with thermal imaging night sights which will enable them to be used more effectively both at night and in day-time conditions of poor visibility. In collaboration with our French and German allies, an improved warhead is being developed for Milan. We plan also to maintain the lethality and performance of both Swingfire and Tow to keep abreast of Warsaw pact improvements by fitting improved warheads. Work is also under way on a new generation of anti-tank guided weapons that are due to enter service in the 1990s. Our anti-armour defence is therefore improving very significantly.

Infantry mobility will be improved by the introduction of the Saxon — the new wheeled armoured personnel carrier for the infantry earmarked to reinforce BAOR. Production orders have been placed with GKN Sankey for the first 50 vehicles. In the late 1980s our forward troops in BAOR will be equipped with the new tracked armoured personnel carrier, the MCV80, the development programme for which is now proceeding satisfactorily.

The infantry will also soon be obtaining its new small arms for the 1980s — the SA80 weapons — which are planned to be in service in 1985. A light assault rifle will provide the basic personal weapon and a light support weapon will replace the existing general purpose machine gun as the basic infantry section weapon. Both the new weapons are being manufactured to the new NATO small arms calibre of 5.56mm rather than the present 7.62mm and both the weapons themselves and their ammunition will be significantly lighter than their predecessors.

The Warsaw Pact's artillery capability is already formidable and continues to increase. The planned introduction of the multiple launch rocket system to replace the existing 175mm M107 gun will represent a major improvement for BAOR. The system is being developed in collaboration with the United States, France and Germany, and should be in service by about the middle of this decade.

The development trials for the Royal Artillery's new self-propelled gun, SP70, are due to be completed over the next two years. Production will commence on successful completion of these trials. The SP70 is planned to enter service at the end of the decade and will provide a great advance on BAOR's current artillery. The SP70 will have longer range, an automatic shell-handling system, much greater mobility, a sophisticated sighting system and improved protection for the gun crew.

With the high mobility of Warsaw pact forces, target location is as important to BAOR's artillery as its firepower. Detailed development work is therefore being carried out on two complementary ways of improving our artillery's target acquisition capability and our battlefield surveillance. One is through the use of remotely piloted vehicles and the other is through the use of airborne radars in manned aircraft. A decision on which systems to choose for full development and production is likely to be made in the next two years and we are aiming for an in-service date of the late 1980s for this very important improvement to our artillery's capability.

Another vitally important equipment area for BAOR is its integral air defence weapons provided by Rapier and Blowpipe. Major improvement programmes are under way to maintain the effectiveness of these missiles in what will be the very sophisticated electronic warfare environment which must be expected in Europe. By the end of next year, all towed Rapier units will have increased immunity to electronic counter-measures, enhanced surveillance radar and improved reliability. Within the next year or two, improvements to the Blowpipe missile and aiming unit should also be in service. In addition, BAOR's present air defence will be increased with four batteries of tracked Rapier for which production orders have been placed. The first battery will be brought into service next year. The mobility and faster speed of reaction of tracked Rapier will be of great value in the forward areas in particular.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Before the Minister leaves the subject of Rapier, will he say something about the proposed £160 million contract in relation to Rapiers and Spain, with special reference to the possibility of end user certificates, in which some of us do not believe? In other words, they may not go to Spain at all.

Mr. Stanley

I shall not allow myself to be drawn on that negotiation. They are continuing discussions and it would not be helpful to go into contractual details at this stage.

To these improvements in weapons must be added the equally important improvements in two other areas that are critical to operational effectiveness: ammunition stocks and what is known as C3 — command, control and communications.

The importance of high quality command, control and communications equipment cannot be overstressed. Military history is littered with instances of well-equipped and sometimes numerically superior forces coming to grief because of a failure of communications. Over the next few years BAOR will greatly benefit from the introduction of three important new C3 systems — Ptarmigan, Wavell and BATES.

The first production deliveries of Ptarmigan, the new trunk communication network for 1(BR) Corps, are expected this year. When the system is fully into service later in the decade, it will represent a quantum jump in secure and survivable communictions within the corps and within the central front generally.

The prototype of Wavell, which is an automated command and control system permitting rapid handling of tactical intelligence and other data, has undergone successful trials with 1(BR) Corps and the first production contract has now been placed.

The battlefield artillery target engagement system, affectionately known as BATES, is expected to enter service in the late 1980s. It is a computer-based system for artillery targeting which will enable our artillery to concentrate fire on the highest priority targets.

All these improvements to BAOR's C3 capability are of the greatest operational importance.

Lastly in relation to BAOR there is the question of war stocks. A weapon is, of course, only as good as the ammunition available to fire it. We are therefore continuing to improve BAOR's stocks of both ammunition and missiles. Besides an increased buy of Milan and Swingfire anti-tank missiles, we have ordered additional Blowpipe and Rapier missiles for our low level air defence systems. We are also providing additional conventional ammunition for our artillery and our tanks.

As well as increasing our missile and ammunition stocks we are also increasing the amount of reserve equipment available. Additional Rapiers have already been ordered and the introduction of Challenger will allow the provision of dedicated reserve Chieftain tanks for 1(BR) Corps.

For the future, to ensure that ammunition is readily availabe as and where required, we are in the midst of contructing a series of new ammunition storage sites for BAOR much further forward than those that we have at present. Lastly, as well as ammunition and equipment, we have increased our fuel reserves in Germany for all BAOR's vehicles and armour.

All this adds up to major improvements in BAOR's conventional deterrence. I shall not pretend that BAOR currently has every item of equipment that it would like, or in the exact time scale or quantity that it would regard as ideal.

I strongly maintain, however, that BAOR's present and prospective effectiveness is very much greater than it was four years ago, and that this has and would only have been achieved as a result of the far higher priority given to defence by the present Government than by our predecessors.

Mr. Robert Atkins (Ribble, South)

Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of BAOR, will he say something about the NBC capability of our forces in BAOR, bearing in mind the growing concern about the chemical offensive capability of the Warsaw Pact and the fact that although our forces have the best equipment and have achieved a great deal when wearing it they have no offensive capability of their own?

Mr. Stanley

My hon. Friend is entirely justified to stress the way in which, although the West has for many years restrained any construction of offensive chemical capabilities, the Soviet Union has substantially increased its capability. That is one of the clearest examples of the dangers of one-sided disarmament.

Vitally important though the British Army's contribution is on the central front, it is also making a very important contribution to the maintenance of peace and security in other parts of the world. I should like to refer to at least some of these, starting with the Falklands.

We are all familiar with the topography of the Falklands from our television screens, but only when one sees with one's own eyes the coverless and totally exposed nature of the ground along 2 Para's approach to Goose Green and only when one walks the route that 3 Para took up Mount Longdon and the Scots Guards took up Mount Tumbledown can one fully appreciate the immense skill and personal bravery required to take those objectives. Those Falklands battlefields themselves say more than words can tell about the British Army and it is a very humbling experience to see them.

The last year in the Falklands has been one of military consolidation and major improvement in living and working conditions. The Army has now created there a remarkably efficient and reasonably comfortable base out of virtually nothing. Those serving there live mainly in complexes of fairly up-market Portakabin type accommodation, which I can assure the House has all mod cons. The food is excellent, the all-important mail is efficient and frequent and the training is unique. Nowhere else in the world can the Army carry out major exercises with both the Navy and the Air Force and with live firing by all three services.

I could mention a number of our Army units in the Falklands, but I should like to refer to just one—the explosive and ordnance disposal teams of the Royal Engineers. Since the end of hostilities in the Falklands, they have been carrying out the enormous and dangerous task of clearing the islands of left-over ordnance. Indeed, since June 1982 they have removed some 2 million potentially dangerous items from the battlefields.

The personal danger to which these men have been exposed in carrying out this work is self-evident. Regrettably, since the end of hostilities one sapper has been killed and a further three have been seriously injured, including this summer the major in command of the EOD team in the Falklands who was maimed by an Argentine mine

The dangers are still very much there, particularly from mines. We have therefore had to call a halt for the time being to any further attempts at minefield clearance. I am sure that the House will agree that the safety of our men must be the paramount consideration, and that the House will want to join me in paying a tribute to the remarkable bravery and skill of the EOD teams of the Royal Engineers.

Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)

Those hon. Members who have had the privilege of going to the Falklands and seeing this operation will want to endorse every word that the Minister has said. The Minister is probably right when he says that the operation should cease and the areas that remain contaminated with mines should be wired off and left. Have we any answer to the plastiic mines that were laid indiscriminately and with great irresponsibility by the Argentines?

Mr. Stanley

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. We do not have a complete answer to the plastic mine. We have been carrying out some intensive research in that area, and that is one of the main reasons why we consider that it would be irresponsible in present peace-time circumstances to try to continue with the minefield clearance programme.

I should now like to turn to Beirut, where the job of our small contingent of Queen's Dragoon Guards has been, I am afraid, as hazardous as that of the Royal Engineers' EOD teams.

Some right hon. and hon. Members have expressed doubt whether our contingent should be in Beirut at all. There is no doubt at all that if there had been no multinational force there would have been no chance of a ceasefire in Beirut, there would have been no opening of negotiations at Geneva and by now Lebanon may well have been on the way to ceasing to be an independent state.

But the price of MNF involvement has of course been to put at risk the soldiers of the multinational force. The Government are acutely aware of that risk — the risks from inaccurate shells and stray bullets, and the risk from those bent on committing terrorism and suicide simultaneously.

I have seen a little of the risks at first hand, and the House can be assured that there are few issues that have exercised those of us on the Government Bench more over the past few months than the security of our contingent in Beirut. Those risks remain—indeed, there is nowhere in Beirut that is free of risk.

I should, however, like the House to be aware of how our contingent is regarded in Beirut itself. That it is very highly regarded by the people of Beirut is abundantly confirmed by the friendly reaction of people of all ages and all religious groupings to our Ferrets passing them on patrol through the city. That it is highly regarded by the political leaders in the Lebanon — again from all religious groupings—could not have been demonstrated more clearly by the fact that it was the British contingent of the MNF that was requested to provide the security force for the ceasefire committee in Beirut.

That is a great tribute to our contingent, which is discharging one of the most difficult international peacekeeping tasks ever attempted, and has conducted itself in a quite outstanding fashion.

After Beirut, the greatest area of potential risk for British soldiers remains Northern Ireland. It is, however, a reflection of the gradual improvement in the security situation that has been achieved through the courage and skill of both the Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary that it has been possible for us gradually to reduce the number of Regular Army battalions that we have in Northern Ireland.

We now have only eight Regular battalions in the Province, six on two-year tours and only two on four and half month roulement tours. That is the lowest total for over 13 years and a far cry from the 26 battalions deployed in 1972. Our eight Regular battalions are, of course, supplemented by what are currently 11 battalions of the UDR. The men and women of the UDR run unique risks. Unlike those serving in our Regular battalions they are part of, and live in, the community. They and their families are, therefore, at risk from the moment they join. Since 1970 136 serving members of the UDR have been murdered as a result of terrorist action.

I am delighted that there has been such a ready response to the UDR benevolent fund appeal. We cannot speak too highly of the personal bravery and the devotion to duty of the men and the women who serve in the UDR.

Finally, I want to refer to three other aspects of the Army which bear directly on its capabilities and its effectiveness — the public expenditure available to defence, the Army's capability outside the NATO area, and the Army's reserves.

The provision for defence expenditure in 1984–85 within the totals just announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is £17.008 million. Our plans for 1985–86 and 1986–87 will be announced in the public expenditure White Paper in the usual way.

In cash terms the provision for 1984–85 is some £1,300 million more than the current provision for this year and, on the assumptions used about the future movement of pay and prices, allows for real growth year-on-year of about 3.5 per cent. excluding Falklands expenditure.

As a proportion of both GDP and per capita the United Kingdom defence budget is now second only to that of the United States among our major allies. That amply demonstrates that we are fulfilling our commitment to the electorate in successive elections to strengthen Britain's defences.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

Would my hon. Friend take this opportunity to allay any fears that the Government's commitment to the 3 per cent. increase in real terms per year to 1986 is at risk or that the Army's finances might be at risk after that date?

Mr. Stanley

Today we can cover only the firm figures for the year 1984–85. As I have said, that will produce an increase in real terms of about 3.5 per cent. before the additional Falklands money is taken into account. I cannot go beyond the next financial year. We must wait until the publication of the public expenditure White Paper.

I now want to touch on the important improvements that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced during our visit to the out of area brigade—5 Brigade—at Aldershot on Monday. Since the end of the Falklands campaign we have already added an armoured reconnaissance regiment, an artillery regiment, an Army air corps squadron and logistic support units to 5 Brigade's strength.

We are now adding another 300 troops to the strength of the brigade bringing it to a total of over 4,500 men. These additions will comprise an air defence troop equipped with the Blowpipe, as well as further signals, medical, transport and logistic units.

We also intend to improve our assault parachute capability by providing additional parachute training for some elements of the brigade's artillery, air defence, logistic and support units, bringing the total number of parachute-trained members of the brigade up to 1,800. These improvements mean that the brigade can now be accurately described as an airborne formation and it has been rechristened 5 Airborne Brigade. I am sure this will please many hon. Members on both sides of the House, and not least my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer).

Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

It would be wrong for me to extend the thanks of the airborne forces to my hon. Friend the Minister today, but I believe that the Government are to be congratulated by Members on both sides of the House on taking a step which is long overdue. I wish to tell the House how grateful all hon. Members have been for the support shown by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister since the early days of Kuwasi. At that moment the decision was made in the hearts and minds of many Conservative Members that we had to return to our previous position with 16 Parachute Brigade. We are very grateful.

Mr. Stanley

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend.

As hon. Members will be well aware, the Government have placed great emphasis on the expansion of our reserve forces. We are increasing the strength of the Territorial Army significantly to 86,000 by the end of the decade. This expansion is well under way and the TA has already expanded from 59,300 in 1979 to more than 70,000 now. On 1 April this year, the three home defence yeomanry regiments were given a new role in light reconnaissance, and we have also formed this year two TA airfield damage repair squadrons at Leuchars and Marham.

Next year, a further two airfield damage repair squadrons will be formed at Honington and Coningsby, and fourth companies established for the 3rd Volunteer Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Wales and the 3rd Battalion of the 51st Highland Volunteers. The TA has also received much new equipment including Blowpipe, the 105 mm light gun and Clansman radio equipment.

In September last year we set up a two-year pilot scheme to assess the feasibility of raising a home service force whose role would be to provide guards for certain key points in times of tension or war. I am pleased to tell the House that, although the scheme has been running for only just over a year, the signs are that it is definitely a success. There is considerable scope to expand the home service force and we are now examining how to do so. The expanded home service force will be a valuable addition to our home defence capabilities.

Our reserves, the members of the TA, and those now forming the embryo of the home service force are a quite vital — that word is no exaggeration—element of the British Army. I am extremely grateful to our reservists and territorials for their time, enthusiasm and commitment.

The British people have every reason to be extremely proud of their Army. In those parts of the world that I have mentioned, and in others such as Gibraltar, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Brunei, Belize and the 35 or so countries where we are carrying out military training programmes, the British Army stands for skill, reliability and trust. No army is a finer standard bearer for its country overseas.

As a one-time, but now distinctly rusty, historian, I always take a close look at the battle honour standards that regiments proudly display, whether in our capital city here in London or far away in the Portakabin mess of the Kings Own Border Regiment in Goose Green. Those standards are a vivid reminder of 300 years of unrivalled military achievement. I am in no doubt that the British Army today is fully worthy of its illustrious past.

5.52 pm
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

I join the Minister in his felicitous words about the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) who, unfortunately, is not in his place. While he was Minister of State for the Armed Forces, the Opposition found him a doughty and robust opponent. Although we disagreed on most issues, especially nuclear, we found him courteous, civil and helpful on matters in which we had a mutual interest and concern.

I extend the Opposition's tribute to the British Army for its work on behalf of this House and the British people. The tasks that the Army is given come about as a result of decisions taken in the House by a democratically elected Government. We must always maintain that position. Equally, it is not for the Army to question the directions of a democratically elected Government.

However, in fixing the Army's role and giving it its tasks, we have a duty to ensure that it has the best means to carry out that role and those tasks. Therefore, any comments that I may make about the role or the tasks facing the British Army are criticisms not of the men carrying out the decisions and directions of the Government, but, perhaps, the role placed upon the Army by the Government.

The Minister slid rather shyly over the problems that the Government and his Department will face as a result of the Chancellor's statement today. Table 2(1) on page 22 shows that the 1984–85 estimated expenditure was to have been £17,288 million. That has been cut to £17,010 million. About £250 million has been knocked off the defence estimate. We must know exactly where those cuts will fall.

In answer to an intervention by the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), the Minister said that the NATO commitment would be maintained. However, he was not prepared to say whether it would be maintained until 1986. He said that we must wait for the public expenditure White Paper. He did not explain what a 3.5 per cent. growth in real terms would mean. Is it according to the assumption upon which the Chancellor has based his White Paper, or does it relate to defence inflation, which is about twice the retail price index rate? What is the meaning of an addition for the Falklands costs? Will the £684 million to which the Chancellor referred be met wholly, or must other cuts be made in the defence budget to meet that cost? I hope that the Minster will answer those questions when he replies.

The Minister spoke about the role of the Territorial Army and the home service force. We have ail been impressed by the organisation of the TA and its ability to fulfil a role in reinforcing parts of BAOR. It has been an impressive exercise — logistically difficult — which has been carried out well. What is happening about the other tasks that have been given to the TA, and at what rate will its re-equipment programme take place? Will it suffer from the cuts announced this afternoon?

I hope that the Minister can provide me with a profile of the home service force. He says that the pilot schemes have been successful. Perhaps I could have an age profile, service profile, experience profile and some indication of the training. Static defence is one of the most difficult forms of defence to maintain, especially for a volunteer force.

We do not always know what to choose as the most important topic in an Army debate. Should it be equipment, services or the new Challenger tank that the Minister has been driving? As he was speaking I wondered whether he was the driver of the tank that outstripped all the armoured personnel carriers. Will the promise of that new tank be met equally by the new Saxon and other APCs? Perhaps it was a little careless of the Minister to give away a major secret to the Russian foe.

During the past four or five years there has been an enormous increase of the Army's tasks. We must, therefore, study carefully the strain placed upon its men and equipment. Its men serve in areas from the Falklands to Norway, it has NATO and other important commitments. Some of those are relics of our imperial past. Others are new commitments accepted by the Government.

Our NATO commitment involves a United Kingdom base, the British Army of the Rhine and a permanent training establishment in Canada. Our commitment in Europe involves the Berlin Brigade, which is not officially part of NATO, Northern Ireland, a dual commitment in Cyprus and Gibraltar. In the far east we have commitments in Brunei and Hong Kong. In South America we have a commitment in Belize. Training has been done in the United States, Canada, Kenya, Brunei, Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Fiji in the past year. Although that training shows a desire to be friendly with our former colonies, which are now members of the Commonwealth, it represents a strain that is being put upon the Army.

As to the Falklands, I am conscious of many of the facts that the Minister pointed out. He mentioned the difficulty of the terrain and the enormous courage of the men who had to capture such difficult places as Goose Green. However, we should consider the Select Committee's criticisms of the long-term effects of maintaining the Falklands garrison. The Department's reply to the Select Committee's report failed to face three important questions. First, how long will we maintain Fortress Falklands? Secondly, how much will it cost? The cost will increase. Thirdly, why are we now there?

Although we could provide some form of answer to each of those questions, the most difficult question is: how long? In that respect, the initiative lies to a great extent with the Government. A new democratic Government is about to take office in Argentina. That provides an opportunity that the Government should have taken earlier when they successfully regained the islands. We might have shown some magnamity. A diplomatic initiative would be appreciated by our many friends. We should try to reach some form of agreement with the Argentines. By using intermediaries we might be able to unlock valuable resources in the form of troops and weaponry to defend these islands and to help NATO.

One of our largest problems with the Falklands resulting from the failure of our policy there is that we are still re-supplying from Ascension Island. We have not yet found one South American Government to give us the regular and proper facilities that are necessary to maintain our garrison in the Falklands. Maintaining the Falklands garrison will put a continuing strain on the Army and the rest of our defence commitment. How long, therefore, will we maintain Fortress Falklands?

We should be aware that it costs £684 million a year to maintain the Falklands garrison. We should consider what that could mean in terms of new equipment and better use of resources. We should bear that sum in mind when we are faced with the possibility of cuts in defence spending.

We have a dual commitment in Cyprus. The United Nations Force in Cyprus—UNFICyp—acts as a peace-keeping force between the Greeks and the Turks on the island. The Government have properly refused to recognise the independence of northern Cyprus. But will that declaration put an increased strain on our forces which form part of the United Nations force there? Can we expect the United Nations to ask us to enlarge our commitment? Is there likely to be a heightening of the tension between the two parts of the island? That would put extra pressure on our troops. Although I hope that none of what I have described happens, we should be aware of the possibility. When our troops pursue a peace-keeping role, they are put under tremendous strain.

We have another responsibility in Cyprus — the sovereign bases. Although the bases are not assigned to NATO, they are vital to its interests on the southern flank and for the supply of our beleaguered troops in Beirut—the Queen's Dragoon Guards. The way in which the Buccaneers flew non-stop to Cyprus to be available to our troops on the ground and show solidarity was impressive. However, we must ask: what is the role of our troops as a peace-keeping force in the Lebanon?

We must distinguish carefully between the three types of peace-keeping force in which we are involved: first, the United Nations force in Cyprus; secondly, a small multinational force with observers in the Sinai; and, thirdly, the peace-keeping force in the Lebanon. When our troops are in the blue berets of the United Nations in Cyprus they are accepted by everyone. Our force in Sinai has been accepted by the conflicting parties—Egypt and Israel.

Our troops in Beirut, however, are in different circumstances. They are part of a Western multi-national force which supports one main faction. They are Western and Christian and are likely to be identified with the Phalangists and therefore treated as being inimical to various Moslem factions. They are in an extremely difficult position. That they have been able to maintain some impartiality says a great deal for the discipline of the troops involved. We should pay tribute to them for that. The deliberate incursions and terrorist atrocities suffered by American and French troops shows that our troops are in difficult circumstances. When the newspapers are full of discussions about the Americans being likely to retaliate against terrorist forces, one wonders about the safety of our troops. Do 100 troops form a viable force? Might they not get sucked into the conflict, thus forcing the Government to become more involved in what is going on there?

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition tried to explain those anxieties to the Prime Minister a fortnight ago, but she failed to see the point. Political circumstances over which the Government and our forces have no control make our troops extremely vulnerable. The distinction between the three types of peace-keeping force that I have described is extremely important.

Belize, another major trouble spot, is also an exposed place in which we have a considerable number of troops. There was considerable anxiety in Belize at reports that the Prime Minster was trying to find ways of disengaging our commitment there at her meeting in Washington before the Grenada incident. It seems to me that, in view of what is happening in Central America and in Grenada, the British Army can play an important role in maintaining peace in Belize—not as a threat to anyone, but as a positive deterrent force in the event of any attempt to upset the situation there. That means that the British Army is likely to be there for a long time during this period of considerable Central American unrest. We need to know more specifically what the Government's intentions are with reference to the garrison if it is to stay in Belize as long as the people of Belize want it. If we are not prepared to commit ourselves publicly to a clearer undertaking to the Government of Belize, uncertainty will be created, and that is not in the interests either of that state or of Central America.

The Minister referred to 5 Brigade and the outside of area commitment. I am not sure whether the Secretary of State read his news release on that matter. I understand that he was called back to be informed about the arrival of cruise missiles at Greenham common in the same manner as the Prime Minister was informed about the invasion of Grenada—after the event.

Mr. Stanley

The hon. Gentleman's last comment is the product of imagination. It is untrue.

Mr. McNamara

The Minister ought to know better than that. The Secretary of State's confusion and distress gave support to the Opposition's view—the view that is now commonly held—that the Secretary of State was not informed until after the missiles and the warheads had arrived. The British public do not accept what the hon. Gentleman has just said.

The 5th Brigade is now to be termed an airborne brigade. Although I appreciate the argument for an out of area capability where we have national interests, I am not sure where we can expect to have an out of area interest that will not involve some of our allies. I understand that the Government regard the Falklands exercise, brilliant as it was, as a one-off. Where else are our interests likely to be involved in a way that would justify our using 4,500 men or launching a parachute assault in order to maintain those interests?

The main areas of tension — the Gulf, the middle east, the Horn of Africa and perhaps parts of South Africa—are areas in which we would not be prepared to act, except in conjunction with other countries. Furthermore, the Minster of State has made it clear today that we would not have the proper logistic and other support to maintain a parachute assault in those areas for any length of time. We would need support from a host nation or a third nation. The idea of acting in our own interests alone does not bear proper examination. We are afraid that the Government have not given enough thought to the realities of an incident in which we would be asked to operate with the number of men and the commitment that the Government have in mind.

With the Minister of State and other Government and Opposition Members, I was privileged recently to visit BAOR and observe operation Eternal Triangle. We were grateful for the attention paid to us and the briefings that we received from everyone from the general officer commanding downwards. My only criticism of the arrangements would be that we spent only three days there rather than four, as we had expected, and we therefore did not have sufficient time to talk to the troops. That was not the fault of those who made the arrangements. Such things are likely to happen in the organisation of an important exercise. However, I believe that all members of the party were sorry not to have an opportunity for significant talks with the ordinary PBI. I hope that those who visit BAOR in future will have such an opportunity.

Generally speaking, Members of Parliament, either as individuals or as members of all-party or party groups, have been well catered for by those in the Minister's Department who are responsible for arranging visits. Perhaps I should not mention the gentleman concerned — he might be embarrassed or not relish a political compliment—but Mr. Ken Blake has been very helpful to hon. Members on both sides of the House. We appreciate his courtesy and hard work.

The hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) referred to the ABC capability of our troops in Germany, and I listened to what the Minister said in reply. It would be very foolish and dangerous to experiment in any way with the introduction of biological or chemical warfare. It is to the credit of the West that—although there are rumours about it in the United States—we have not succumbed to the temptation of experimenting again in that area. We should not do so. It would create a further escalation. However, other countries are envious of the amount of work that we have done to ensure that, even if we do not have such weapons, our troops are protected against them. Perhaps the Minister could tell us whether there has been a complete issue of ABC clothing in BAOR and whether there are sufficient stocks for the rest of the British Army based in the United Kingdom.

The Opposition are worried not so much about the political or defence role assigned to BAOR as about the fact that our strategy for that area relies too heavily and too early on the use of nuclear weapons. I shall quote from an article in The Times today which I believe will be quoted furiously in the next few weeks. I understand that Cardinal Hume said: Britain … however, must extricate itself from its reliance on nuclear weapons. We should do so in BAOR, which relies on the early use of nuclear artillery if it seems that we are about to be overrun by the Russians. The strange communications systems that are said to exist for getting permission to use the weapons creates confusion in the minds of those who seek to operate them and consternation both in the host nation and among people in Britain and elsewhere in NATO. It is felt that once those weapons have been used, there will be no going back. There is a fear that if there were a danger of the weapons being seized by the enemy, the Army would remember the phrase "Use them or lose them." If BAOR or the NATO forces in general on the Rhine were to use those weapons, Lord Carver's words would be relevant. In his Arms Control Council lecture which was reported in The Times on 10 November, he said: It would be criminally irresponsible for any Western leader to initiate a nuclear strike on the assumption that the Soviet Union either would not answer back in kind or would do so to such a limited degree that we could regard it as acceptable within whatever were our war aims. If that is Lord Carver's attitude, it is one that we must bear in mind. We are not talking about a great deal of penetration when we remember that the range of many of these nuclear artillery shells is only 20 kilometres.

Although he is not in his place, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) made the point, which I think is generally accepted throughout the country, that we should have nuclear weapon-free zones. A nuclear weapon-free zone of well over 20 kilometres of the Oder-Neisse line would be an important step forward towards nuclear disarmament in those areas. Lord Carver further suggests that we should quickly, if not immediately, get rid of our nuclear artillery weapons.

The main matter that concerns the Opposition, if we are to maintain our non-nuclear posture, is whether it is possible to have weapons systems which can deal with the perceived threat of a Russian attack across the central plain of Germany. We feel that such a position has now been reached with the modern development of delivery systems and microtechnology. The surrender of tactical nuclear weapons and their replacement with conventional weapons is now a real possibility. That is something which we must face if we are to avoid the risks to which Lord Carver has drawn attention and if the Opposition and country are to disengage from the nuclear alternatives. The examples of developments in technologies in the late 1980s and 1990s, which have been drawn to our attention, show that that can be achieved.

Many hon. Members will have seen the results of a survey on defence technology in The Economist. I do not intend to spend time on the various propositions which are now part of the general literature on the subject.

If we are to replace our nuclear weapons with modern conventional systems, the Labour party must face the fact that it will be expensive. We should abolish Trident and other nuclear weapons, but the savings on Trident would not necessarily meet the cost of its replacement with the sophisticated and expensive weapons that are suggested as the means of avoiding reliance on nuclear weapons.

If we are to do that, we shall have to have the improved Lance and Wasp and the Avco Skeet. We shall need an improved communications system. They will all cost money. People who demonstrate against nuclear weapons, the members of my party who seek a return to conventional weapons, Conservative Members and those who support Her Majesty's Government's present policies have to face the fact that the cost of defence will increase. We must decide whether that is what we want. If the Opposition are to have a viable defence policy, we must study this problem carefully. If we are to get rid of the nuclear deterrent, play our part in NATO and accept our responsibilites under the Brussels treaty for the defence of central Europe, which is my party's policy laid down at Labour party conferences, just as much as getting rid of the nuclear option, we must realise that it is likely to be costly. That is something to which all of us, particularly the Labour party, must turn our minds.

6.24 pm
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

I was extremely nervous earlier this afternoon at the presence of so many of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Chamber who were clearly awaiting my maiden speech as well as the autumn economic statement of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They are now detained elsewhere on important matters and their judgment is to be much commended.

I am most grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to address the House for the first time during the Army debate. It is not the first time that I have sat at the feet of my hon. Friend the Minister, as in a previous incarnation I have listened to other discourses from him.

The constituency of Crawley, which I have the honour to represent, was previously served by my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern)—whose economic expertise I shall not be able to match but whose service to the constituency I will hope to emulate—and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) from whom I have inherited a splendid rural area.

Crawley is a most interesting constituency. It represents a complete cross secton of British life today. It includes Gatwick airport where, among others, that most excellent example of free enterprise British Caledonian makes its home and where also I am lucky to have the headquarters of the British Airports Authority. I am sure that my hon. Friends will be delighted to welcome shortly that most successful institution to the cleansing and more competitive rigours of the free market place.

The Crawley industrial estate contains a remarkable galaxy of successful and innovative industrial companies which have come through the recession with flying colours and which are now set fair for a period of expansion. We have an excellent work force, many of whom are highly skilled, operating in a spirit of determination and harmony—those two great keys to the door of industrial success.

The new town of Crawley is a pleasant and active community. We have a large Asian population which plays an important role in our affairs and which is a great contributor to the undoubted success of the town.

I am also lucky enough to have a beautiful rural area which retains much of the glory of the Sussex countryside. In short, I have a constituency which has sufficient breadth in its diversity for me to be able to seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to intervene in practically any subject raised in the House, in the interest of those whom I represent.

Our debate takes place against a background of some considerable confusion in world affairs. The correlation of defence and foreign policy is most intimate. Our defence policy is, by definition, crucial to the pursuit of our foreign policy. There are several avenues by which we pursue our overseas interests—those that we undertake on our own account; those that we develop in conjunction with our European partners; and those within the context of the Alliance. Whichever way we seek to pursue our objective, our defence and foreign policies are credible only if they stand astride three principles. We need a strong, democratic and united society with an economy to match. We need a sound and effective military deterrent, conventional and nuclear, and, perhaps most importantly of all, a strategy for the future and a practical and realistic policy to pursue.

We have proved beyond any measure of doubt that we are prepared to deter and defend our interests by force of arms under certain clear circumstances. At the crucial moment, we were found lacking neither in the skills and courage of our service personnel nor in the internal strength of the nation.

For the future, we need to develop highly flexible defence policies, not just so that our people may have confidence in us, but because when we discuss these matters with our many friends in the rest of the world they must know that we have a series of definitive and consistent objectives in which they may safely repose their confidence, and under whose umbrella they may wish to shelter their interests. In the paper "The Way Forward" that the Secretary of State for Defence presented to Parliament in June 1981, the Government made a most important point. They said: To go on simply as before, or with all plans and aspirations unabated, is not an option; change is necessary. The Government has taken hard decisions. These reflect our resolve to give defence the resources Britain's security demands; but with equal resolve to see that these resources, which the nation cannot spare without much penalty elsewhere, are put to work in accordance with realistic, unsentimental and up-to-date judgments of what will be most relevant and effective in future years. In that context, and although the Government have done just that, we still need to adjust to circumstances to provide Britain with what it needs when it needs it, both to protect our people and to support our foreign policy.

The question of matching policies to resources is of fundamental importance in the fashioning of defence and foreign policy, just as it is in the making of domestic policy. The interdependence of those two policies was well summed up by the representative of a middle east country who commented on our contribution to the multinational force in Lebanon. He said: Every scout car flying the Union Jack is an ambassador for your country. I realise that we are asking the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office to undertake an almost impossible task. They must predict constantly the Army 's requirements during the next 10 or 15 years and how the Army should be organised and equipped. Army planners must, therefore, consider all the potential aspects of conflict and foreign policy, which could require military involvement. We cannot ignore the fact that a military force, especially the Army, could and does make a considerable contribution to the dynamism and success of our foreign policy by its physical presence.

I am considering not only the Army's peacekeeping role, but the crucial role of military assistance in a broad area ranging from mere advice to providing contract officers, to training teams and to drafting a responsible and judicious programme of arms sales, all of which must be designed to help our friends to help themselves.

From experience and looking out over the future, I cannot help but believe that our military resources would be better spread across a realistic range of limited and, therefore, winnable conflicts. We cannot have flexible response and forward defence quite simply because we cannot afford both.

I took to heart the point made by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces about the commitment of our forces to the British Army of the Rhine. But we must review seriously again and again the role of the British forces in Germany. If we are to retain a flexibility in our foreign policy which is capable of being backed up by our defence policy, we must accept a small reduction in that force. That is not to opt out of our historic role but merely to shift some of our capacity so that in peace time we can reassure our allies, and in time of tension we can reinforce them wholeheartedly. At present we have too many British eggs in the German basket. That is a major problem which Army planners must face sooner rather than later. I do not envy them their task.

May I thank right hon. and hon. Members for the courtesy and consideration with which they have listened to this maiden offering?

6.34 pm
Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), who made a thoughtful contribution to the debate. As with his noble and illustrious father, I am sure that we shall disagree with him from time to time, but we shall always respect him. I am sure that, since he is an ex-cavalry man, we shall hear from him regularly in defence debates, and the House will look forward to his contributions.

This is the first time that I have spoken in a defence debate in this Parliament, so for the benefit of new Members I put it firmly on the record that I am not, and never have been, a supporter of unilateral disarmament, whether of nuclear or conventional arms. However, I have many friends who are sincere in their beliefs and in their support of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, but, much as I respect the depth and strength of their beliefs, we agree to disagree in a very civilised way.

Before anyone tries to hark back to 9 June, I shall quote from the election address which all my electors received. They gave me a healthy majority and sent me here as the first Member of Parliament for the new constituency of Newcastle upon Tyne, North. I shall not bore the House by quoting all of the address—which by any standards was excellent—but I shall quote the part about defence. It stated: The awful prospect of a nuclear holocaust appals every thinking person. We must, in concert with our allies, work towards multilateral disarmament nuclear and non-nuclear. We simply cannot afford to embark on the Trident missile programme costed at 1981 prices at £10,000 million, which, with the enormous escalation of sophisticated weapons systems, I know from my experience, will cost no less than 50 per cent. more, long before the system is ready for use. The only way in which we could afford such a programme would be to deny the British Army of the Rhine the weapons they would need should the unthinkable war in Europe happen. The House will realise from that quotation that, during the election campaign, the Labour party would have failed in its duty to the nation had it not reminded the people of the abject horror of war, nuclear or conventional. Contrary to much that will be said this evening before 10 o'clock, especially by Conservative Members, the Labour party is not pacifist. The Labour party believes as much as does the Conservative party that the first duty of any Government is the defence of the realm. Indeed, support for the NATO Alliance is no less strong in the Labour party now than it was when Ernest Bevin firmly committed the nation to defence by collective security through membership of the Alliance more than 30 years ago. Successive Labour party conferences have supported continued membership and rejected overwhelmingly calls to withdraw, and alongside such decisions they have logically supported multilateral disarmament. That continues to be the party's stance.

For many years I have criticised the Soviet Union for its deployment of SS20 missiles at a rate of about four a month. If the Soviet Union had wished to make an immense contribution to world peace, it would have offered to stop further deployment of SS20s in exchange for a pledge that there would be no deployment of cruise missiles. The Soviets still have the opportunity to do that if they wish. We have to live together or die together. There is no disputing that statement.

I am not impressed by the argument that there must be parity. It is arrant nonsense to deploy such a case. It does not matter that the West has X-plus warheads against the East with X-minus warheads, or vice versa. Whatever the figures, it is undeniable that we have more than sufficient nuclear weapons to destroy East and West many times over. In the name of humanity, a halt must be called before we get too far along the road to the installation of cruise, which will make verification much more difficult in the future, and thus put a block on the road to progress to an agreement that ultimately must come between East and West.

I have had the good fortune to have a fine wife who produced a son and a daughter for us, and they in their turn have given us three lovely granddaughters and a grandson. I dearly want my grandchildren, and those of other people, to grow up in the secure knowledge that they have a peaceful future to look forward to. In that respect, I specifically make a plea to President Reagan, to put the future of all our grandchildren before any consideration of electoral advantage next year. I am sure that more than a suspicion is felt by many hon. Members that some of the recent happenings that have originated from the President have been more out of self-interest for the end of next year than for the peace of the world.

I return to the charge that I have made in Army debates in the past — the matter of equal miseries. I am delighted to see the new Minister in his place, and I have talked with him before about this matter. I am sure that there will be no difference between what he finds and what I found years ago on the sixth floor in the Ministry of Defence building, in the exercise that takes place at least once a year, and, depending on how often the Chancellor introduces a supplementary Budget, perhaps two or three times a year. I have no doubt that the sixth floor of the Ministry of Defence building will see much to-ing and fro-ing to decide how the misery, announced today by the Chancellor, is to be shared out.

The core of my complaint is that, although the Army comprises more than half of the manpower of Her Majesty's armed forces, its share of the budget seldom exceeds about one third of defence spending. Without a doubt—this is an undeniable statement—we have a first-class weapons technology. British industry has been second to none in this, but the re-equipment programme is the only place where the Army can find any savings when the Chancellor wields the axe.

I should have been out of order if I had done so, but I almost applauded some of the splendid statements that the Minister made. However, I made the same sort of announcements, equally splendidly, over four years ago when I was Minister responsible for the Army. We are still waiting, and the Minister is saying the same things that I said four, five or six years ago from the Dispatch Box about the quality and quantity of the brand new equipment that the Army would get.

This takes me back to my election address. We cannot afford the £1,000 million at 1981 costs for Trident and at the same time have a well-equipped British Army of the Rhine. Let not any hon. Member or anybody outside the House forget where the sharp end is. It is on the north German plain. I do not believe that we shall have a nuclear war. I do not envisage a war in Europe at all. We should all be better off without a war anywhere in any shape or form. If there is to be a major disturbance in Europe, it will be in Germany. That is why we keep a British Army of the Rhine.

That is why I say, as I have said before, let us forget our delusions of grandeur as a nuclear power. I am not interested in the Prime Minister being able to walk tall with the President of France, saying "We are on all fours with the great nuclear powers", because that does not impress me. We should forget that, because we cannot afford it. We should commit ourselves instead to providing the best soldiers in the world with the best equipment, which they so richly deserve.

How right the Minister was when he said that well-equipped armies had been beaten because of defects in communications systems. He went on to tell us that the Army is to get Ptarmigan this year. If my memory serves me, it must be at least four years since I made a similar statement. The hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) will remember pre-1974 when he made a somewhat similar statement about Ptarmigan. I am delighted to hear that the first contract has been let and we shall get the system in the late 1980s. That is about on programme because we have been saying that since the late 1970s. However, I am delighted that the communications equipment is being brought up to date, and I say that particularly as an ex-Royal Signals man.

It is right that, in spite of the fact that Belize has its independence, we keep forces there to guarantee the integrity of that country against what is without any shadow of doubt a bestial dictatorship in Guatemala. It is difficult to maintain forces within an independent state, and difficult to justify. From my vists to the Army in Belize, I always think of that country as the best example of a multiracial society and good democracy. I should hate to see that democracy crushed by the military of Guatemala. Before we take the decision to pull out of Belize, I hope that we shall make it clear to that country that we want a United Nations force to guarantee its frontiers against Guatemala.

The role of the Army in Northern Ireland continues to be a mjaor one, although I am delighted to see that there is nothing like the number of soldiers committed there as have been there recently. We cannot overpraise our soldiers there for the way in which they conduct themeselves. The self-restraint of the British Army in Northern Ireland in most difficult circumstances is second to none. That must be one of the most awful postings for a soldier to have, to be among his own kith and kin and not to know which side he is on half the time.

I should like the Minister to make special mention of what is a battalion of the British Army, although it does not always get the credit for being so, the Ulster Defence Regiment. The UDR suffers more than any of the mainland battalions. Its members have to do their normal work to earn their daily bread, as it were, and then go on duty at nights and weekends. They are prime targets all the time. That is why every hon. Member would express the hope that there will be a continuing political dialogue that may produce the solution that has evaded us for so long.

Again, a posting to the Falklands is not comfortable. I have yet to meet a serving soldier who has enjoyed his stay there. Before too long I hope the Prime Minister will realise that there must be negotiations to produce a solution that will enable us to stop that dreadful drain on resources, which we cannot afford.

On the subject of the Lebanon, I want to underline the words of wisdom spoken by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) who compared the United Nations peacekeeping forces with the multinational peacekeeping forces. There is a vast difference between them. The blue beret of the United Nations gives soldiers a respectability that they do not have in a multinational force. We all hope that the negotiations that are taking place will bring relief to that miserable country so that our lads and those of other nations can be withdrawn.

Our soldiers and airmen are doing a superb job in Cyprus in the thin blue line of the United Nations that has kept the peace there for so many years. I hope that the Turkish UDI will not precipitate a crisis where the lives of the peacekeepers will be put at risk.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North was wise to utter words of caution on the announcement about the parachute brigade or 5 Airborne Brigade. I only wish that we had had the parachute capability when Smith declared independence in Rhodesia because it would have been the right answer to have dropped an airborne division on Salisbury. There was a friendly host country that would have taken in an infantry division in preparation for the drop of an airborne divison. Unfortunately, we did not have the capability then. One might well ask why we need it now. I hope that we have not got any visions of grandeur about a presence east of Suez again, where we might need an airborne brigade.

I was delighted to hear the Minister say that the Territorial Army had increased in strength by 11,000 in the past four years. Nothing delights me more than this increase in a force which is, without doubt, the best value for money in the defence budget. I say, good luck to every TA soldier and every future TA man.

6.53 pm
Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)

I welcome the opportunity of intervening in the debate for a variety or reasons. I hope the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Brown) will forgive me if I do not follow him through the whole of his speech. I do not doubt for one moment his devotion to the Army. However, I think he is misguided in his attitude to Trident and on the nuclear issue. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement, who will wind up, will no doubt be able to deal with that. My understanding is that at no stage will the cost of Trident be much more than 5 per cent. of the total defence budget and 8 per cent. of:he procurement budget. So any idea that it will drain us of resources is misguided.

I do not think that a unilateral gesture by us in giving up a nuclear capacity that we have had virtually since nuclear arms were invented would be other than counter-productive in getting what we all want—progress with the START talks and the mutual and balanced force reduction talks. The unilateralists are the enemies of the multilateralists. I do not deny the sincerity of many of those who campaign for unilateral nuclear disarmament but they are totally misguided. It is interesting to have followed the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North, as I have done in past defence debates.

It is also pleasant to participate in a debate in which we have had such a splendid opening by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. We look forward with anticipation to the winding up speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee). It was good, too, to have the bonus of a maiden speech of such distinction from my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames)—I found it throughly interesting. It was ably delivered, as one would expect from someone from such a political stable. We look forward to hearing him many times in the future. When one comes here for the first time, as I did over 20 years ago, one notes particularly the hon. Members who are kind. The father of my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley was particularly kind to me as a new boy when I was very nervous. I expect that he, with his political antecedents, is less nervous than l was. I am glad that such a political pedigree as his is being so ably continued.

I am pleased to participate in the debate for these parliamentary reasons as well as for other reasons. I have the privilege of representing Colchester, North. Until recently my constituency covered all of Colchester. In the new constituency there is the headquarters of the eastern area, so my military connection is maintained. Over the past 20 years and more this has brought me into close touch with the Army. There are usually two major units in Colchester doing a two-year tour. Often in the past they have gone off on roulement tours for four months to Northern Ireland. I have visited units in Northern Ireland on 14 occasions since the troubles. I am not a particularly superstitious person but I was glad to get the thirteenth visit over. The next one, which I hope to make soon, will be the fifteenth.

The Minister and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) were right to pay a fulsome tribute to the performance of our troops in Northern Ireland. Over many years they have sustained a burden that could not have been sustained by any other armed forces in the world with such great fortitude and restraint. One realises this when one has been along the Falls road in an armoured personnel carrier and seen small children throwing stones, which does not stop even when the soldiers get back to barracks. When one sees and hears bomb blasts close at hand one realises the enormous burdens that our troops have sustained over such a period. In his winding-up speech my hon. Friend may wish to deal in more detail with Northern Ireland.

I welcome what was said by the Front Bench earlier about the new method of deployment in the Province whereby there are to be fewer battalions, only two, I believe, on the roulement four-month plus unaccompanied tours and a larger number on longer, accompanied tours. That is a definite improvement. Not only is it good for the troops but it is good for the gathering of intelligence. The difficulty about having troops there for four-month tours is that, just as they are getting to know the area and the dramatis personae, they are moved away. Larger tours are very much to be welcomed. I repeat that our troops have done a magnificent job in Northern Ireland. To have the chance of saying that is another reason why I am glad to participate in the debate.

I hope that the House will forgive me making a few domestic points. It is a privilege to have in my constituency the military corrective training centre. The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) has a more intimate knowledge of it than me. He is a prominent figure in the Labour party, although he has demoted himself to the Back Benches today. The right hon. Gentleman did time at the MCTC as a guardsman. However, I think that we would all agree that he did much good as a Minister when he was responsible for matters in Northern Ireland. That was probably because of his Colchester training in the MCTC, or perhaps it was because of the visit that he and I made to Israel later. However, he was an admirable Minister.

The MCTC is at long last to be rebuilt. It is almost the last hutted camp in the country. The foundations are now being laid for the new MCTC. I pay tribute to it. Of all the young men there who are returned to their units only a small number offend again. The training there is sensible, and it is an admirably run establishment. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) visited it with me when the Armed Forces disciplinary Bill was being considered. The present commandant, Colonel Illingworth, carries on the traditions started by many others, including Colonel Paul, who is now our garrison adjutant. They do an admirable job, as my hon. Friend can corroborate.

I pay a heartfelt and fulsome tribute to what our troops do in Northern Ireland, and in my constituency, where we have admirable town-garrison relations. The local paper was once kind enough to say, Member of Parliament commends garrison-town relationship. A Scottish regiment was there for a short while. The neighbouring headline in the paper was: Jocks do over Bull and Bush". However, it is only rarely that there is real trouble with the military. Only occasionally do we find spirits that are too high.

I am worried about a matter that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North. He wondered whether we were straining our resources and whether we needed more personnel to undertake our wide commitment. The scale of our forces is set out in the White Paper, with which we are familiar. I have a word of caution about an army of our size, which, in international terms, is not all that big. Smaller countries than ours have conscription, and larger forces. There are about 160,000 people in the Army, maintaining the garrison in the BAOR and garrisons throughout the world. Our commitment is graphically illustrated in the White Paper. There is a danger of spreading our resources too thinly throughout the world.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will refer to our small force in the Lebanon. Figures vary. I have obtained estimates from my hon. Friend's Department, which put it at from 90 to 100. I am worried about the troops, which are so isolated. They have been fortunate because of Britain's high prestige, but I am worried about the position of such a small garrison. It is good to see the Buccaneers and air support in Cyprus, but I am still worried about those 90 personnel.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Both my hon. and learned Friend and I were on a recent delegation to Cyprus, where we saw the support operation for the British contingent in the MNF. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that, while our force in Beirut is lonely and isolated, the support in terms of supplies and engineering capability and so on from Cyprus is superb?

Sir Antony Buck

I agree with my hon. Friend. Our air power in Cyprus is an assurance. However, it is a little difficult to know how it would be applied. We have the powerful Buccaneers and so on in Cyprus. However, In the Lebanon a block of flats is occupied by one force and the next is occupied by another force. Buccaneers screaming overhead may have a general salutary effect, but it is difficult to know how they would be deployed. Perhaps the Minister will tell me later. I am concerned about the isolation of the small force of 90 stuck in the Lebanon.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley, in his maiden speech, wondered whether it was appropriate for us to have such a commitment to BAOR—the full 55,000 commitment. I used to have considerable sympathy with my hon. Friend's view, but having visited BAOR I am not sure whether, if we withdrew or had a smaller commitment, the "hole" would be properly filled by our allies. Also, there would not be an immediate saving in bringing our forces back from BAOR. There would not be a real saving to the Exchequer. There would be some saving across the exchanges, but that is all.

The Minister should consider whether the Germans are making a sufficient contribution to defence. We keep our forces in BAOR without a contribution from them, when there was one in the past. We are not under the same constitutional constraints as the Germans, in that we operate extensively outside the NATO area. There used to be an offset agreement, but it is long gone. It might be appropriate for the Germans to make a contribution to our costs.

When the Conservative Government first came to office, the morale of our forces was low. If the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North had had his way, I do not think that he would have allowed the morale of the armed forces to get so low under the Labour Administration. It was largely a matter of pay, and there was a great outflow of key personnel in the Army, particularly what may be described as the middle management, the senior non-commissioned officers, sergeant-majors, and captains and lieutenants of long standing. They left behind people with more limited Army experience. We all know how much the Army and the other forces are dependent on that level of experience and expertise. It was flowing out of the Army. The first thing that we did on coming to office was to deal with the pay issue. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will state what the time schedule is likely to be for the Armed Forces Pay Review Body to report. Pay is now, again, becoming a matter of concern not only in the Army but in the rest of the services, including the Navy. I visited one of Her Majesty's ships yesterday, and found that to be so.

It is not correct to say, as some political commentators have, that defence does not matter in political terms. That is a myth. In every branch of the party there are many retired Army, Navy and Air Force officers or senior NCOs. They would not work for us at election time if they did not realise that we are a party that believes that the first duty of any Government is to see that the country is properly protected — of course in the context of the Alliance. I am pretty convinced that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North has a similar belief. The fact that he is so lonesome on the Oppposition Benches shows that there is not a strong conviction on that point in much of his party. I do not charge him with lack of concern.

Mr. McNamara

It merely shows the confidence that my party colleagues repose in me.

Sir Antony Buck

If the hon. Gentleman believes that, he will believe anything. It is sad that he does not have at least a Front Bench colleague with him. We are glad to have some on our side. We in the Conservative party do not have a monopoly of concern about matters of defence but I sometimes wish that Opposition Members would concede that they do not have a monopoly of care and compassion on social issues.

We have had an interesting debate and I look forward to the remainder of it. It is important that the Government keep the Army at a sensible level, not only because we must keep our country properly defended but because, if we are to achieve progress with mutual and balanced force reductions, we can do so only by keeping our forces strong as a basis for sensible negotiations in the future.

7.10 p

Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)

It is a particular pleasure to follow the typically good humoured comments of the hon. and learned Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) because, having represented Woolwich for the past nine years, my experience is in many ways similar to his in terms of regular contact with the armed forces, and I should certainly like to endorse what he and other hon. Members have said about the contribution made by our service men in Northern Ireland, a contribution that is too often forgotten. From the talks I have had with some of the service men involved, I get the impression that the strains they face are sometimes almost intolerable. We owe a great debt to the young men who carry out that thankless task on our behalf.

I hope that the House will forgive me if I begin with the regular constituency issue of the housing of ex-service men. There are a great many married quarters in my constituency, too many of which, unfortunately, stand empty for weeks and months on end. Yet when service men reach the end of their engagements they find that they are pressured none too gently into giving up their married quarters rapidly. Although some of them have had the common sense to register a housing application with a local authority often years before the end of their period of engagement, they still find when they come out of the forces that housing is not available for them or, if it is available, that it is of a quality that is inappropriate for someone who has spent years in the service of his country. The problem has been regularly referred to in the House and in my experience considerable personal hardship is involved. A very much more sympathetic attitude is needed on the part of the Army authorities and local councils.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

The real problem is that, once they have registered, the local authority is unwilling to give them priority in housing.

Mr. Cartwright

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I am asking not for priority but for service men to be given a fair crack of the whip in the quality of the housing that is offered to them. All too often they are treated as homeless and provided with the type of unattractive council housing that may be appropriate to homeless families in some circumstances but is certainly not appropriate to ex-service men.

In considering the role of our Army in particular and of our defence objectives in general, I should like to take up the issue on which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) concluded his speech—the overriding need to reduce NATO dependence on nuclear weapons. The need is widely recognised not only by politicians but by military commanders. The need is regularly emphasised by General Rogers, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. I wish to concentrate my remarks on two aspects of the issue: first, battlefield and short-range nuclear systems; and, secondly, the need to improve our conventional capability on the central front in Europe.

I have long felt that battlefield nuclear weapons are the most dangerous of all classes of nuclear weapons. I find the military case for the deployment of about 6,000 short-range nuclear warheads in the European theatre extremely dubious. The battlefield and short-range systems are physically deployed close to the area of potential conflict. They are extremely vulnerable to pre-emptive attack and therefore commanders will have the dreadful choice referred to by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North of either using them or losing them. In such a position it is clear that decisions on mating nuclear warheads with launchers would have to be made early in a conflict. Yet, given the need to get political agreement across 16 sovereign nations with 16 independent Governments, such agreements would not be easy to reach in a hurry. With that type of problem, I question whether these short-range systems represent a credible deterrent to the Soviet Union as there is now widespread agreement that, once we crossed that nuclear threshold in battlefield systems, tactical systems or short-range systems, it would lead inevitably to a strategic exchange.

There would be obvious military gains from removing battlefield nuclear weapons altogether. We have a number of dual capable delivery systems, aircraft and artillery, which, if converted to a dedicated conventional role, would provide important assets to strengthening our front line conventional capability. We could also release service men tied up in guarding nuclear warheads for much more effective front line duty.

There would also be a political gain in rationalising our nuclear stockpile and removing the short-range nuclear system from Europe. It would show that NATO was not intent, as it is sometimes presented as being, on piling weapon system on weapon system in a crazy escalation of nuclear weapons. We could show that NATO was about a sensible and prudent modernisation of nuclear weapons. I believe that giving up the use of short-range battlefield nuclear systems would also highlight the idea that NATO was involved in a deliberate change of strategy, a strategy leading away from the automatic early use of nuclear weapons and towards a fall-back reserve position in which we saw nuclear weapons once again as weapons of absolute last resort. That step should be taken.

I was disappointed by the NATO decision to reduce the nuclear short-range stockpile in Europe by only 1,400 warheads over the next few years. That falls far short of what is needed. It will still leave 4,600 short-range warheads in the European theatre. Many of those to be withdrawn were obsolete; others will be withdrawn only to be stockpiled in the United States; and there are ominous signs that the United States Administration intend to press on with the modernisation of short-range nuclear systems. We hear, for example, of the use of the enhanced radiation warhead with the Lance missile. There are reports that new artillery shells with enhanced radiation capability are being designed in the United States.

I believe that last month's NATO decision will not enable the West to seize the political initiative which we should be trying to do in the current turmoil over the cruise and Pershing deployment. Nor will it remove the massive dangers inherent in battlefield nuclear weapons.

I should like to deal now with the question of conventional capability in central Europe. I noticed that the Minister, in introducing the debate, did not, as Ministers often do, give us the latest assessment of the conventional balance in Europe. It is in the defence White Paper and it makes depressing reading, whether one looks at the numbers of troops under arms, battle tanks, artillery pieces, anti-tank weapons or tactical aircraft. In all these key areas, the Warsaw pact has a considerable advantage, in some cases an advantage of more than two to one.

The White Paper sensibly reminds us that we do not necessarily need to match tank for tank or gun for gun, but I believe that the trends, including the improvement of Warsaw pact quality of equipment, make it impossible for us to go on rationalising away what is an ever widening gap. NATO's conventional weakness increases our dependence on the nuclear threat, with all the problems of credibility and appalling risks involved in resting on that nuclear deterrent.

In looking at improved conventional defence in Europe, we are not necessarily aiming at a conventional capacity sufficient to hold and defeat Warsaw pact ground troops and air forces indefinitely. We are simply searching for a capability sufficient to deny the Soviets a quick and easy victory in central Europe. That was put well by General Rogers in an interview in the summer, when he said: What we are trying to do in Allied Command Europe is to provide for a conventional capacity by 1990 that has a reasonable prospect of frustrating conventional attack by the other side. If we get to that position, and are perceived as being in that position, I think we'll deter the Soviets from attacking because if they attack and we're successful in frustrating it, they have two options: one is to withdraw and the other is to be the first to escalate to the use of theatre nuclear weapons. That is the sort of strategy that NATO should be pursuing more powerfully.

Two very differing options have been discussed in the debate. One is the use of what the Americans increasingly call "emerging technologies" and the other is the more mundane but probably more important aspect of improving things such as ammunition stockpiles and reinforcement capability. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North referred to some of the emerging technologies, and there is no doubt that the ability to strike deep behind Warsaw pact front lines with much greater accuracy, greater fire power and much increased range will be considerably improved as a result of the use of the new technologies that are rapidly becoming available.

But the resource implications of the new technologies are in many ways frightening. The European security study group on strengthening deterrence in Europe recently published a report and put the cost of using the new technolgy to create a credible conventional defence posture in Europe at an extra 10 to 30 billion dollars over the next decade, and we know that sophisticated weapons systems throughout the 1970s repeatedly overran their projected costs by very large margins indeed.

It seems clear that the new technology will be massively expensive. It will also raise the need for even more highly trained personnel at a time when demographic changes are reducing the number of potential service men available. Thus, as the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, North rightly reminded us, new technologies do not offer either a soft or a cheap option, and it may be that we would make more progress in the short term in improving our conventional capability by looking at more routine improvements. I was pleased in that respect to hear the Minister spend time on the question of ammunition storage. General Rogers had some trenchant remarks to make recently about that when he said: What concerns me most is that we have failed to provide sufficient sustaining capacity — ammunition stocks, pre-positioned material to replace losses of equipment on the battlefield such as tanks and howitzers—to keep them fighting for a sufficient length of time. Under current conditions, if attacked conventionally, we will have to request the release of theatre nuclear weapons fairly quickly because of that lack of sustainability. That was an interesting comment because I was a member of the Select Committee on Defence, the first report of which in 1980 was on that issue of ammunition storage in the central front. As the Minister may be aware, the Select Committee was not happy about what we thought was a leisurely programme of building ammunition storage places in the forward area of the central front. Nor were we happy about what we thought were extremely amateurish arrangements for transporting ammunition from the rear zones. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that those matters were being tackled, and I hope as a result that we shall not have those deficiencies.

The Select Committee also drew attention, on the issue of ammunition storage, to the differential stocks available to different national forces operating in the central front. Some of those forces seemed to have considerably less ammunition available than even the British national forces. That caused us to make a similar comment to that made recently by General Rogers. We said in the Select Committee report of 1980 that a NATO commander would have to plan for a period of conventional warfare no longer than that able to be sustained by the Corps with the lowest level of supplies. He might, therefore, be forced to recommend the premature introduction of tactical nuclear weapons into the battle. The Select Committee strongly recommended that steps be taken to achieve NATO-wide agreement on ammunition expenditure rates and stock levels. The response of the Ministry of Defence to that recommendation was off-putting because it simply said: In the end, stock levels are a matter for individual nations to decide upon. Maybe that is true, but it is a worrying attitude if we are to approach these matters on a purely independent, separate, national basis. There are reports that NATO's stockpile of ammunition in the central front is still only sufficient for ten days' intensive combat. We cannot have a credible conventional defence if basic problems of that sort remain.

It is clear that the upgrading of our conventional defence to reduce dependence on nuclear weapons is not a soft or cheap option. It will require considerable investment. I applaud the Government's aims in this respect, but I am sceptical, like other hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, about their ability to achieve all the conventional improvements that are needed, in addition to meeting the continued costs of the Falklands exercise and Trident programme.

Faced with economic and financial constraints, something at some stage will have to be sacrificed. The position of my party is clear. We have supported and will go on supporting the NATO 3 per cent. per year growth in real terms provided that it is used for what it was intended, namely, the improvement of NATO's conventional capability. In our view, the priority, if there must be sacrifices, is clear. The priority should be the improvement of our conventional, non-nuclear defence.

7.27 pm
Miss Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)

I shall be brief and confine my remarks to the topic of the British Army of the Rhine. I was one of the party mentioned by the Minister who recently visited BAOR and exercise Eternal Triangle. It was an eye-opener to see the professionalism and high morale that currently exists, and I support the Minister in his remarks on that subject.

I recall that such was not the case in the mid-1970s when last I visited Germany. Then there was considerable depression about rates of pay and, even more, about the stingy economies that were making it almost impossible to carry out proper training. Petrol, for example, was severely rationed. The contrast between then and now is remarkable and is a tribute to the realism and force behind this Government's commitment to the armed services. I also congratulate the Minister on his robust defence of BAOR and its role and his commitment that its strength will not fall below 55,000.

Here I gently take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames). He made an excellent maiden speech and I congratulate him on it, but I thought that he showed a certain coolness towards BAOR and the importance of its role. He seemed to suggest that where we had many commitments and should be drawing back, that might be one area at which we should look again. On the contrary, I regard the role of BAOR as of paramount importance in the defence of the United Kingdom itself, which must surely come first for all of us. Perhaps I may use a rather mundane analogy. If one regards the United Kingdom as the house, West Germany is the front garden. In my view, it is important to stop the would-be burglar in the front garden, rather than allow him to enter the house. It is not far from here to the inner German border, where the Communist regime begins. It is unfortunate that we do not have here the excellent maps and diagrams that are always presented to us at briefings by the Army or the armed services generally. They show just how close we are.

We were fortunate—if "fortunate" is the right term—to visit by helicopter two sections of the inner German border. It is a most chilling experience — even more chilling, I suggest, than the Berlin wall, which is frightening enough. When one sees the series of fences and obstacles that are placed between the free world and the Communist bloc, and considers that it extends the whole length of the country — some 1,400 kilometres — one begins to get a sense of reality. One refinement struck me as particularly poignant. The last fence was set back from the border, so that when people trying to escape from the East get past the dogs, mines, electrification and all the paraphernalia that one can see so clearly they can be shot as they stumble into what they might imagine to be Western territory. We were told by the frontier service that every year escapes are still attempted. A few of them are successful, but many people die in the attempt. We sometimes need that reminder when we consider our defence costs.

Among all the good news about the professionalism of our troops and the excellent new equipment which is there and coming in, which I applaud, one thing worried me. It was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) in an intervention in the Minister's speech. He referred to our entire lack of an offensive chemical capability—splendid military jargon for what I take to be nerve and other gases which can kill, disable or maim. It is not a pleasant subject. It evokes poignant memories for those who were involved in the first world war, when people were killed and crippled by them and their lives ruined. None the less, it remains true that, while we have no such capability, the Soviet Union has. That, I think, is a great weakness in our defence posture.

It is true, of course, that our men have excellent protective clothing. However, even that has its drawbacks. We were given a demonstration of what worn and how it is put on. It was most impressive, but it was clear that it slows up the troops who are wearing it and infinitely reduces their capacity to work for long periods.

Let us suppose the worst happens and an invasion by Soviet troops of West Germany seems to be occurring. It will be of the greatest importance to have our troops in peak condition, bearing in mind what can be thrown against them. It they have to wear this protective clothing, they will be slowed down. Worse still, that could bring about the use of nuclear weapons quicker. because, if the enemy cannot be held back, a point must come at which a decision has to be made whether nuclear weapons should be brought into use. All of us want to avoid that at all costs.

I ask the Minister, because he skated round the subject—that is understandable, since it arose in an intervention—to consider whether we should have our own capability to act as a deterrent to the Soviet Union. I realise that that would be a highly unpopular political decision to have to make. It would require a remarkable degree of political courage and determination to bring it about, because it could certainly be misconstrued. None the less, I ask the Minister to consider the matter seriously.

In general terms, I consider that we have an excellent capability with our forces now in West Germany, hut, however good they are, with modern communications and the complications of working with NATO, political decisions will still be of the utmost importance. Above all, we need the political will to defend ourselves and the courage to make decisions that the military can then carry out. It was clear in the discussions that we had that the military are well aware of the need to work closely with the Government of the day, and with other Governments, and that they are completely reliant on that political will. I hope and believe that while this Government remain in office we need have no fear that there will be any lack of nerve or courage in such circumstances.

7.36 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On his own merits I congratulate the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) on presenting a serious view, and using his maiden speech to consider a central issue. Like the hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Sir A. Buck), I was the recipient of considerable kindness from his father when he was Minister of Agriculture and a senior Minister, and also during the years when I was exiled to the indirectly elected European Parliament, at which he was this country's distinguished Commissioner. I was also—it dates me—a Member of the House when his grandfather used to wander in and sometimes sit in the seat that was his own below the Gangway.

I interrupted the Minister on the subject of Rapier. He said that he would not go into the subject. I understand that. However, the Minister of State, who has just walked into the Chamber, spoke on Radio 4 on the subject of Rapier. The conversation went like this. Jeremy Harris: How big an obstacle is the continuing and often rather bitter dispute over Gibraltar, to a deal like this? The Minister replied: Well I don't think one could pretend that it's in any way helpful, but at the same time I think that they accept that if one wants to take a decision as fundamental as this, it oughtn't to be coloured by considerations of this sort. Harris went on to ask the Minister: Is it responsible to be trying to sell what you've described as very sophisticated systems to Spain, when many of these weapons would actually be deployed along Spain's Southern flank and very close to Gibraltar? The Minister replied: Well, if I can take the inference in your question, you have to remember that Spain is joining NATO, we hope that the referendum will confirm Spanish membership of NATO. We are talking therefore of discussions between two NATO allies. The question went on: But there is a bilateral and profound dispute between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar. To that the Minister replied: There is a bilateral difference of opinion, yes certainly. The questioner went on: So you're saying there would be—looking at it, at its most severe, no possibility—no capacity for these weapons to shoot down British aircraft for example. The Minister replied: I just don't think the question would arise. If I thought the question would arise I wouldn't be here discussing this with a Spanish government. The questioner asked: What assurances would there be in this contract, if it were signed, sealed and delivered, that Spain couldn't on-sell the weapons or weapon systems to its trading partners in Latin America, where of course it has a considerable market, Argentina for example? The Minister replied: Well I think we would have to ensure in any project of this sort that proper working relationships were established, which would deal with the marketing of the new system. I have expressed considerable doubts in the House about the problem of end user certificates. I am not trying to create a difficulty. For goodness sake, given the problems of Gibraltar and on-selling — no one can understand better than the Minister how effective Rapiers could be in southern Argentina in certain circumstances where they are passed on—we ought to be clear about these arrangements. I hope that notice will be taken of the United Nations resolution on negotiations that was passed last night.

If the Minister wishes to interrupt me on the subject of Spain, I should feel obliged to give way. There is an issue in the sale of the Rapier, and I take it that the end user certificate point is taken. In the absence of any interruption, I assume that to be the case.

The main purpose of this speech is to draw the House's attention to an aspect of military expenditure that is not subject to parliamentary questions, and can be raised only during general parliamentary discussion of the services—military intelligence.

The time has now come for the establishment of at least a British equivalent of the United States Senate intelligence committee. The proposal is neither way out nor far-fetched. On 19 January 1983, the first report for the 1982–83 Session of the Liaison Committee on the Select Committee system was published. It stated: One Government activity which already falls within the ambit of the departmental select committees is the work of the security services, and the question of their accountability to Parliament arises from time to time. The arguments against a wide parliamentary discussion of these matters are well known, and have led the committees concerned to refrain from inquiries in this field. On the other hand expenditure of public monies on a large scale should not go wholly unexamined, especially when an examination could be a spur to efficiency. Nor should it be overlooked that the security services, who are frequently criticised in the House, have not in the past had any parliamentary opportunity of putting the record straight. With such a strong case on each side of the question, one thing is clear: the House, having given to the committees a wide and unambiguous duty of overseeing all the functions of the departments, has at present left them in each case to decide for themselves where the balance of the argument lies, and so whether or not to inquire into these matters. Timing is everything, as we know. This report was published the day after the Franks Committee report on the Falklands, whether by design or coincidence—far be it from me to say. It was swamped, and little has been heard of it since.

Some people might expect me to make an all-out attack on our security services. I shall do nothing of the kind. On the contrary, I believe that the security services have been much maligned and, as the Liaison Committee said, we should have a parliamentary opportunity of putting the record straight. I am fortified in this high opinion of the intelligence services by William Wallace, of Chatham house, who, in an article in International Affairs in the summer of 1983, entitled "How frank was Franks?", stated: Yet the Report carries repeated evidence that Britain's intelligence-gathering machinery worked well throughout the years, months and weeks before the invasion, and that accurate assessments of the shifting situation were available to ministers at all times. One must conclude, as Professor Bill Mackenzie concluded of the Plowden Report, that we are faced with a coded document, and that cryptographic skills are needed to read between the lines. That information is in the Franks report for anyone who bothers to study the text carefully.

Paragraph 153 of the Franks report tells us that, when the Prime Minister saw the telegram from ambassador Williams in Buenos Aires of 3 March, she wrote on it, in her own handwriting: We must make military contingency plans". I am told by those who know about these matters that a Prime Minister's note in handwriting on an official dispatch is considered in the Whitehall stratosphere to be a prime ministerial minute.

We are told that, on 8 March, the Prime Minister's private secretary wrote to the FCO—copying his letter to the Ministry of Defence and the Cabinet Office—recording the Prime Minister's comment. Paragraph 153 of the Franks report tells us that on 8 March the Prime Minister also spoke to Mr. Nott, as he then was, and asked how quickly Royal Navy ships could be deployed to the Falkland Islands if required.

It is justified to conclude that all this activity by the Prime Minister would not have taken place if it had not been for the work of the intelligence community and our diplomats. The conclusion is that they did not fail to do their job. Some of the intelligence community are cheesed off with the constant innuendos by their political mistress and others that they had not done their job.

I give a concrete example. The Prime Minister told the House on 26 October 1982 that the crisis had come out of the blue—as she had said to George Gale of the Daily Express on Wednesday 31 March—and that she had had no warning. For greater accuracy, I repeat the exchange. In oral Question No. 1 on 26 October—not an open question—I asked the Prime Minister: does the Prime Minister mean that she had no warning of invasion before Wednesday 31 March? The right hon. Lady replied: I have already made it clear in my speeches during the debate on the Falklands campaign that that was so, so far as the Falkland Islands were concerned."—[Official Report, 26 October 1982; Vol. 29, c. 885.] I contend that this is an example of the Prime Minister misleading the House of Commons at the expense of the intelligence services. It is untrue, and later it was shown to be true that she had had no warning. I argue that a Select Committee on intelligence should be a forum in which the intelligence services could tell their side of the story. If hon. Members are sceptical that the Prime Minister had warning, they should look at Hansard for 3 April 1982 when Mr. Nott stated: I suggest that no other country in the world could react so fast". In this seldom seen passage in Hansard of 3 April 1982, he stated: the preparations have been in progress for several weeks. We were not unprepared."—[Official Report, 3 April 1982; Vol. 21, c. 667.] If preparations for the Falklands had been in progress for several weeks, not only is the Prime Minister misleading the House but this suggests that the intelligence services had done their job properly—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)

This is a wide debate, but its subject is the Army, and the hon. Member is getting wide of that. It would be difficult for a Minister from the Ministry of Defence to answer the points that the hon. Member is now making.

Mr. McNamara

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With the greatest respect to you, my hon. Friend has raised points about military intelligence for which the Minister of Defence is responsible. These matters are his responsibility

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. If the hon. Member were talking about military intelligence, he would be in order, and I would not have stopped him.

Mr. Dalyell

I am talking about military intelligence. I also went to the Public Bill Office and discussed carefully whether my remarks would be in order.

It was not only before the war in the south Atlantic that military intelligence did its job properly. It is clear from a number of sources, including Juan Carlos Murguizur in the May issue of the International Defence Review, that during the conflict on most occasions when Argentine planes took to the air the task force was alerted beforehand. Moreover, military intelligence confirmed very rapidly what Northwood already knew—from the Nimrods with their AD470 Marconi transceiver equipment and from the Americans, whose satellite information was as good in the south Atlantic as it was in relation to the MiG fighters and the Korean airliner—that orders had gone out at 20.07 hours on Saturday 1 May from the operational commander, Rear Admiral Walter Allara, on board the "25th May" confirming that the Argentine surface group should return to Uschaia and confirmed yet again by the naval command in Buenos Aires at 01.19 am on Sunday 2 May. That was also the information of military intelligence.

For at least five hours before she ordered the torpedoing of the Belgrano the Prime Minister knew perfectly well that the vessel's orders were to return to port. Shortly before she awoke at Chequers on Sunday 2 May, the Prime Minister had — from military intelligence and other sources—knowledge of the orders which the intelligence service had intercepted and decoded. The House need not take my word for that, nor the word of Labour Weekly or Tribune. That well known Marxist-Leninist propaganda organ, the Wall Street Journal, referring to the events of 1 May, stated in its issue of 3 October: Late that same night, Admiral Anaya ordered all Argentinian naval ships to port. On the morning of May 2, Mrs. Thatcher had before her reports of the state of the peace proposals, of the Junta Meeting, and of Admiral Anaya's order. Like the rest of us, the military intelligence community is human and deeply resents the leader of the country claiming that the Falklands crisis came out of the blue on 31 March—with the implication that the intelligence community had failed to do its job. I have had many approaches from relatives of people involved in the intelligence community, often with serious service connections, who write in this vein: The son of someone in MI6 told my grandson that she had 3 weeks warning from MI6". Many service people are beginning to tumble to the extent to which the armed services of this country were "used" by the Prime Minister for her own political ends throughout the Falklands crisis.

If hon. Members do not care for my raising these matters today, they had better apply their minds to the creation of a Select Committee on intelligence.

Is it sensible to cut defence intelligence staff? In The Times, under the byline of Peter Hennessey, we read that Sir Louis Le Bailly, who was director general of intelligence between 1972 and 1975, has spoken out publicly against such cuts. The service was meant to provide practical assessments of what was "on the other side of the hill". It is fair to ask whether there may be an imbalance in British intelligence through over-reliance on Foreign Office political output and too few top people to assess intelligence material coming from the military.

Another matter that a Select Committee on intelligence should examine is the use of intelligence reports in published articles by former stratospherically senior civil servants. In The Economist of 12 November Sir Nicholas Henderson wrote: We also knew of an Argentine plan for a co-ordinated attack on the task force to be conducted by aircraft from the mainland, from carrier based aircraft, and from surface ships equipped with exocets". The House should not get me wrong. I am not for prosecuting Sir Nicholas Henderson under the Official Secrets Act, although some people have raised that as a serious question. I am simply saying that a Select Committee on intelligence could lay down guidelines on intelligence reports and Foreign Office telegrams, to which Sir Nicholas refers at least 15 times in 10 pages of The Economist. Before such material is placed in the public desmesne in future, it should be a matter for consideration by hon. Members.

As others wish to participate in the debate, I shall not elaborate on the many other tasks that a Select Committee on intelligence should carry out. For example, Parliament has never formally examined the report of the Security Commission on the Prime case, raising issues about the Government communications headquarters at Cheltenham. Again, I do not criticise the people at GCHQ, Cheltenham. It is remarkable that in a minute or a minute and a half they decoded the Argentine orders. All credit is due to them for that. Nevertheless, when thousands of people work in such a place there should be some scrutiny by Members of Parliament — even if the Select Committee consisted entirely of Privy Councillors, of whom I am not one.

Finally, a Select Committee could also fulfil a watchdog function to ensure that the activities of our intelligence services conform with the principles and practices of a democracy. That is one of the stated reasons why the United States Senate has a defence intelligence committee. I hope that in the coming weeks and months the Ministry of Defence and other Departments concerned will consider that serious proposition. It would be a great help on a number of delicate issues.

7.55 pm
Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

I shall be brief. I am sure that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) will understand if I do not take up the matters that he raised.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces on his first major contribution in the House following his appointment. I also express gratitude for a similar contribution that he made in my constituency on Monday.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames). As another hon. Member said, I also remember his father and grandfather. I am sure that my hon. Friend will make many worthy contributions to our debates, as befits cavalry officers.

Much though I should like to go into issues such as Chieftain and the provision of protective clothing against chemical warfare, I shall refrain from doing so in view of the time.

I pay tribute to the incredible versatility and efficiency that we now have in a fully integrated Army, including not only the Regulars but the Territorials. In relation to paragraph 338 of the 1983 Estimates, as in relation to all the Estimates, I am especially impressed by the extent to which the Government have carried out the actions which they promised. The proposal for the home service force will release more skilled troops to participate in active theatres of war. A previously untapped but highly valuable source will be used—those who have rendered service in the past and who will now be able to continue their service in this new form. That will be of great value in future, especially if we are ever involved in major hostilities.

With regard to paragraph 337, for more than 20 years Members of Parliament have been impressing on Governments the necessity to upgrade the Territorial Army, to give it almost equal status with the Regular Army, and to allow the Territorials to train with the Regulars. I remember the battles that we had to allow the Territorials to train overseas. That is an essential part of their training. Thanks to the Government and to the foresight of Ministers, that battle has now been won. We can now reinforce our NATO forces with a fully trained and integrated Army. Most important, the Territorials are now regarded far more as equals than as junior partners to the Regulars. When they go overseas in time of war, they will feel equal to the Regulars with whom they will have to operate.

Paragraph 336 relates to the Regular Reserve. The Government have finally recognised this important source of manpower, which has been fully trained in the past and requires only a little training to bring it up to today's standards.

Of course, things change. Equipment for the battlefield becomes more complicated. Those who work with tanks must learn how to use the new equipment and technology. Such training will produce a group of people who can use the modern equipment. I am pleased to note that the call-up arrangements for the Territorial and Regular Army have been improved and that the Territorial training will be increased in future.

I believe that Britain has the most efficient and effective professional army in the world. It is versatile and can act in many different capacities.

I wish to paraphrase the important conclusion in paragraph 340 of the defence Estimates — acceptance that the Soviet Union is stirring up trouble throughout the world. NATO members have accepted that Western security is not confined to the boundaries of the treaty area. The most recent example in the world is Grenada. Most people accept that the problem must be solved not within the confines of NATO, but NATO faces a worldwide defence commitment. If has arisen in the Falklands, Lebanon, Cyprus and Belize.

I was glad that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr McNamara) paid tribute to the British forces in Belize. He has recognised that, without the presence of those forces, Guatemala would probably have taken advantage and invaded. He pointed out that the British force must be replaced by a force from the United Nations. I do not mind if that role is taken on by the United States, but a presence must be retained if the independence of Belize is to be maintained. The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), who, like myself, was one of the members of the delegations, pressed Mr. Price to include such a provision in the agreement. The entire delegation realised the importance that a British presence could have in rendering the area stable and enabling Belize to have democratic government.

Paragraph 335 of the defence Estimates deals with the reorganisation of 1(BR) Corps. I hope that that results in a more efficiently organised unit, with less administration and more teeth.

Northern Ireland has been referred to in the debate. All hon. Members recognise and are indebted to the tremendous sacrifices that our troops have made. To fight an army of soldiers is one thing, but it is very difficult to keep one's temper when being fired on by children and people behind windows and when one does not really know where the enemy is. Northern Ireland is probably one of the most crucifying roles that the Army has been called upon to fulfil. It is easy for hon. Members to criticise members of the security forces who fire too early when they are in the hot seat and have no idea of the attacker's position.

I am extremely worried about the orders that will be given to those forces who will defend the cruise missile sites. They must be given concise orders which will have to be thought out carefully. If anything should happen, the Army will be ultimately responsible for the defence of the missiles. If the defences were breached, heaven knows what would happen. I regard the defence of the cruise missiles as being extremely important. I do not know what the Government have in mind to combat the worthy women who think that they are doing a service to democracy, but would be aiding and assisting an enemy in the time of war. A time may come when the demonstrators at Greenham common are no longer demonstrators but the enemies of democracy by frustrating our efforts to utilise those weapons.

I end, as I did 20 years ago, by referring to the lessons learnt from the Hungarian revolution. The lessons that we learnt then apply just as much today. As good as our defences are, I do not believe that they could stop the Warsaw pact countries in a conventional war. There is no doubt that our independent nuclear deterrent has maintained the peace for 40 years. American intervention in 1956 stopped the Russians going over into Austria. I realised from that time onwards that one could never trust the Russians. As they were negotiating in Budapest, I saw their tanks coming from Russia, maintaining radio silence, to descend upon the people and crush them. They carried out the invasion and occupation while they were signing a treaty in Budapest. History may show that that lesson has been repeated.

I am glad that Britain has preserved its independent nuclear deterrent and that the Government have carried out much of what is contained in the 1983 Estimates. I congratulate them on the way in which they have moulded our reserves and created more reserves sc that Britain can put more troops in the battle line.

8.7 pm

Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)

When I entered the Chamber this afternoon, I did not imagine that I would be making what I would term my second maiden speech from the Back Benches. I made my maiden speech in an Army debate in 1966. I think that matters have turned full circle. I would have imagined that more of my hon. Friends would be present to support my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) who made a thoughtful speech and asked some searching questions, but who suffered from the same problem as myself in Northern Ireland. He will have to realise that it is quality, not quantity, that counts.

I wish to pay a special tribute to the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames). We first met in Harare—then Salisbury—in Rhodesia, which is now Zimbabwe. That shows how quickly the world has changed. I enjoyed the hon. Gentleman's maiden speech and I welcome him to the club, because during the time that I have attended debates on the Army and defence I have found that a better type of Tory attends. I understand older Tory Members better than the new ones who have entered the Chamber of late. I shall look forward to listening lo what the hon. Member for Crawley has to say in future debates.

On occasions hon. Members see the sons of famous fathers and grandfathers — I say this with all the friendliness in the world — entering the House as Members of Parliament and suffering a little because they try to live up to the family image. For what my advice is worth, they must be their own man. They must make their own name and not try to be a duplicate. I shall follow the career of the hon. Member for Crawley very closely indeed. I hope that my advice will be helpful.

The debate is a re-run of previous debates. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Brown) had little to say today that he did not say from the Front Bench four or five years ago. Conservative Back Benchers also made similar speeches in previous debates.

I apologise sincerely to the Minister for not being here for most of his speech. If I strike a few wrong notes, I am sure that he will correct me.

I had the pleasure of listening to the hon. and learned Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck), today. It always brings tears to people's eyes to see their old abodes being pulled down. If he had let me know that the corrective establishment was being pulled down, I might have been allowed to drive the first bulldozer through it. It is always a pleasure to listen to Army debates. Nothing new has happened, and we could reiterate our old speeches.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North on his thoughtful speech. He put searching questions to the Minister and I shall look forward to listening to the answers. As my hon. Friend said, after the first flush of the Falklands has passed, we must ask why, what for, and for how long? We certainly cannot continue with the pretence of Fortress Falklands. Sooner or later international pressure will force us back to the negotiating table.

As I joined the debate I heard the Minister say what a grand opportunity the Falklands were for the Army because they provide a live training area. My immediate reaction was that we are paying one hell of a price for that training ground.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said, searching questions must be asked. Any hon. Member who has served in the House as long as I and my hon. Friend will know of his tenacity, which will win out in the end. We cannot carry on with Fortress Falklands. We must negotiate sooner or later. Britain cannot afford the millions of pounds that the Fortress Falklands policy is costing.

I do not need to say very much about our troops, the security forces and the people of Northern Ireland. Everyone knows how I feel about them and about the task being performed by the Army. I am glad that the policy of ending enrolment for formal tours and troops being put on a long-term footing is bearing fruit. There were many reasons for instigating that policy, including intelligence. It has been a long, hard ride for the troops in Northern Ireland. They have not been fully appreciated by the House or the country.

During the Falklands crisis I asked the House not to forget the fellows in Northern Ireland. The position there and their work might no longer hit the headlines, but the troops have a hard task. All of us have known constituents or members of their families who have been kfiled or maimed in Northern Ireland. I have nothing but praise for the way in which the troops have carried out the instructions of the House. No other army in the world could have carried out their task with such skill. It shows the sheer professionalism of the Army that it can handle the job in the Falklands, carry on with its work in Northern Ireland—which is a completely different task—and help in Beirut.

When I and the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) were in Belize, it was the first time that a country gaining independence pleaded for us to leave the British troops. In my Army days I left every country backwards in what I stood up in—and no one ever asked me back again. However, I am sure that that was not meant personally.

I hope that the Minister will explain a little more about the role of the 5th Brigade. My experience of reaction forces is that they were purely that—reaction forces. The back-up forces were needed to go in quickly behind them. If we have such a force, we must not use them in other guises in the ordinary infantry role. If they are to be specialists, let us treat them as such. I cannot envisage what role they would play because they need extensive back-up forces. Experience in the second world war with the paratroopers showed that they were left out on a limb. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North said that had we had such a force when Smith declared UDI in Rhodesia things might have been different. I am afraid that we would have needed a friendly country next to Rhodesia to send in the back-up forces for the paratroopers. We did not have the trained forces to do that.

Many of my constituents feel insecure because of events in the Middle East, the Caribbean and South America, the problems with disarmament talks and the placing of cruise missiles in Britain. The American forces in Britain have made a political gesture, as has the American President. But there is still unease because rumours are spreading rapidly that spares for cruise missiles will be stored on MOD land. This is not the time to debate cruise missiles, but I wish that the MOD would react more quickly to the rumours. There is an MOD depot at Chilwell in Nottinghamshire, and the front page of the local evening paper claims that it will become a storage area for spare parts for cruise missiles. I hope that that rumour will be denied quickly.

It is a strange sight for me—and one that I find hard to accept — to see British Army personnel and paratroopers parading inside wire fences while people are protesting outside. If there must be such a presence, I would like it to be fulfilled by civil authorities. Having British Army personnel and paratroopers fulfilling that role is the wrong image for Britain. The sooner we get away from it, the better. I do not complain about people demonstrating, because it is their right. We should defend that right as much as possible as long as the protesting remains within the law. Many hon. Members and people outside might not agree with the protesters and how they protest, but, as long as they act lawfully, we should do our utmost to protect their freedom to do so. We fought for that right, and I hope that we would all be prepared to fight for it again if it was threatened. We should keep the armed forces and paratroopers away from protesters and use civil authorities as much as possible.

On a more popular note, and as I have said before, I believe that money is well spent on the Territorial Army. It has been expanding recently. In that regard I should like to utter a word of caution. I get a little hot under the collar when I find that, suddenly out of the blue, the Ministry of Defence starts building in the centre of a town that I represent without writing to say what it is for. I asked the local authority, and it does not know. The building can hardly be a new TAVR training centre as there is still one by the new building. I do not know whether there is any significance in the fact that it is being built next to the Mansfield brewery. If a Department intends to do something in an hon. Member's constituency, it should at least drop him a note explaining what is going on and what the purpose of the building is—not least because local people tend to go to their local Member of Parliament as a source of information.

I should like to pay tribute to some sections that have not been mentioned. I am the president of the Mansfield branch of the Royal British Legion. I pay tribute to it. The War Graves Commission does a fantastic job all round the world. It is deeply appreciated by war widows and by those of us who left friends in far places. The commission commands respect throughout the world.

We have all recently been doing our Remembrance Sunday parades. This year, it struck me that the lads are getting older and weaker. They have been able to carry the injuries that they sustained in their youth for a long time, but they are now finding life more difficult. I have aches and pains all over. I should hardly be able to move were it not for soda baths. As the president of my local branch of the Royal British Legion, I come across an increasing number of people who drop through the social security net. They are now less mobile than they were. I am aware that they receive very fair treatment, but perhaps they could be treated more sympathetically. Perhaps a little blind eye could be employed to help some of my colleagues who have now carried the effects of wounds and diseases for a long time. They find such wounds and diseases more troublesome as they get older.

I said that I would not take long. I did not come prepared to make a speech, but there is a certain freedom in speaking from the Back Benches. I can now say one or two things that I could not say from the Front Bench. I hope that I am back in the defence club. It is nice to see so many of the old faces on the Conservative Benches. I mean that in the nicest possible way. They are the better bunch of the Tory party. I know that to be so, because I have known and worked with them in one capacity or another over the years.

8.25 pm
Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East)

It is a real pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), freed from the shackles of office and shadow office which he has held for so long. If I may presume to speak on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends in thanking him for describing us as the better sort of Tory, may I say without hesitation that for our money he is the best sort of Socialist? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The fact that he is sitting on the Opposition Benches all alone except for the Whip on duty is no reflection on the right hon. Gentleman but a rather sad reflection on the party that he is proud to belong to.

I should like to add a few words to the well deserved praise from both sides of the House for the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames). My hon. Friend's speech was well delivered, well thought out, humorous and brief. If he retains those qualities during the rest of his parliamentary life, not many of my colleagues will mind waiting to follow him. I shall take issue with my hon. Friend on one of the points that he made about the British Army of the Rhine, but I will do so later, as it is related to my main argument.

I was gratified to hear the Minister's fulsome praise of the squadron of the Queen's dragoon guards and the job that it is doing in Beirut. I served with that regiment for 30 happy years, and it pleases me to know that it is still doing well.

During the past year I have been lucky enough to see quite a lot of the British Army abroad. I made a brief stop on Ascension Island, on the way to the Falkland Islands, with my colleagues from the Select Committee on Defence. I can only echo what the Minister said about the superb job that is being done there under difficult conditions, and about the tremendous spirit which exists in the Army. In September I saw the 5th brigade deployed in Denmark on an exercise with the NATO Baltic approach force. The 5th brigade, too, was in terrific heart, very pleased with its new role and eager to take part in the combined defence of a crucial but often rather neglected area of NATO's defences.

That was brought home to me again when, with the Select Committee, I visited Turkey and Norway, the only two members of the Alliance that share a border with the Soviet Union. We may think that we are close to where the action might lie on the central front, but it is a different matter to visit a very large but undeveloped country with a real threat from two sides to its own territorial border, and a smaller but equally determined country with a direct border with the Soviet Union. One sees the effect of that not only on the population and on the Government's defence effort, but in the tremendous feeling that everybody is at one in realising what the utter imperatives of defence are.

We have many tasks in the world, and I am sure that the Army will continue to carry them out as successfully as it has in the past. We must not close our minds, however, to the fact that the main task for our Army and our defence forces is the commitment to NATO. The defence of the central front, which is our main NATO concern, is crucial. It is no accident that we have the axis of the most likely advance. It was decided many years ago by NATO commanders that where the full brunt of a possible Soviet advance was likely to come, there the British Army had better be. Maintaining the steadfastness of defence during the past 20 or 25 years, it has always been our pride that we have matched our provision of properly equipped and professionally trained troops to our commitment.

I find it difficult to accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley said about our having too many eggs in the BAOR basket. That is the heart of NATO's defence. We have great problems in priorities, and we must not allow the vulnerable flanks to be under-defended. However, to my mind, it is of paramount importance that we should have a solid and credible deterrent to a conventional advance in the central front.

That brings me to a slight fear that I have, and a slight warning that I should like to share with my colleagues. I hope that it is unnecessary for me to say this, but year after year, as Governments of both parties find themselves in ever increasing economic difficulties, there tends to be a little more yearning to go for the easy option and take a bit away from defence so that other painful decisions can be delayed.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer in his statement this afternoon, when he was talking about the savings that he was making and the extra expenditure that there will be on social security and other things, said that these increases in expenditure will be offset by a reduction in planned spending on, among other things, defence. The autumn statement which accompanies that simply refers to the provision for defence, allowing for an annual growth of 3 per cent. in real terms with an addition for Falkland costs.

Not much has been said by Ministers from the Ministry of Defence over the past weeks when people have been leaking talks of cuts in this, that and the other. I have been asked often by journalists and other people what I think is going on. I have said, "If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is keeping quiet about it, then probably all is fairly well". I think one could have guaranteed that he would have been making a certain amount of noise if things had not been going well. That is fine in the short term, but I have heard it said by our Ministers that when we come to the end of the commitment for the 3 per cent. increase to NATO in 1985–86 it must be looked at again, and there can be no justification in our being the only ally to maintain this level of defence spending.

I should be very sad if I thought that that would get public and wide credibility within the Government and the party. I would be even sadder if it was said publicly by any Minister, particularly Treasury Ministers, "We can only do what we can afford to do".

That was the problem that bedevilled the tenure of office of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) at the Ministry of Defence. For six years the Labour Government made cuts, cuts and cuts again to satisfy other areas where expenditure was to them a greater priority. They were cuts which bore no relation whatsoever to our commitments. The result was to leave us dangerously badly defended and with armed forces whose morale was dangerously low.

It would be fatal for us to go down that road again. I make no bones about saying that defence is different from all the other commitments that we have as a Government to our country. We can adjust other areas, at some pain, to what we can afford. We have to match our defence needs against what we are threatened with. Any talk about taking away the 3 per cent. increase after 1985–86 would mean that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence would have to take a look at our defence and defence resources which would make Sir John Nott's defence review look like a cosmetic adjustment. There can be no reason which would allow our Government to do this, because when that review was commissioned, when we first came to power, it made sense to look at future programmes in the light of the increased defence effort for which all the NATO partners had been asked. That involved some pain and unpopularity.

Sir John Nott took some stick for the way that he decided that there must be a reduction in the surface fleet as against an increase in the submarine fleet. That was, nevertheless, a concrete and well-thought-out plan for the future. By "future" I mean the next 10 to 15 years because the decisions that were then taken about the future shape of our forces and future procurement requirements were sensible in that they were part of a coherent plan. One question he considered was what we should do about the British Army of the Rhine and the fact that it took so much of our defence resources to keep it there. He considered the possibility of bringing one division home, but found that there was nowhere to put it without considerable expense; and there were all the training problems which bedevilled even the forces kept in the United Kingdom because of the shortage of trainers. It would have been counter-productive, not cost cutting.

If there were to be any moves towards a radical reduction in defence expenditure, and we have come to the end of what the Ministry of Defence has achieved in its guaranteed time of price stability, all of this would have to go back into the melting pot. I am perfectly certain that the Minister and his colleagues will fight this hard, and I hope that all my hon. Friends on the Back Benches will do the same. If we were suddenly to decide that we had to return to the concept of providing only for the defences that we could afford—because the shoe was pinching elsewhere—because of the fast increase in the cost of the technology that our soldiers, sailors and airmen need to fight efficiently, we would be back to the nonsensical pattern of cutting here, cutting there, and paring this, paring that, and we would end up with the worst of all possible worlds.

8.37 pm
Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) will not mind if I do not take up his interesting comments about defence expenditure after 1985–86. All Conservative Members and many Opposition Members would be worried if the Government decided to return to the bad old days of paring costs and of not paying proper regard to our defence commitments. I am confident that they will not go down that path.

It is my pleasant duty to say how much I appreciated the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames). He sat through the debate and then, doubtless, thought that a little light refreshment was long overdue and left the Chamber, but I hope that he will read my speech. I welcome him as an hon. Friend and especially as an honourable Sussex friend. His constituency lies close to mine and, like him, I have problems with Gatwick airport and the great pleasure and privilege of representing people who earn their living from rural pursuits. I look forward to our joining forces on many issues of mutual concern.

The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) raised the question of housing. My hon. Friend, who was previously the Minister for Housing and Construction, took a special active interest in pursuing a great social revolution, that is, the sale of council houses. I hope that he will look keenly at housing for soldiers. The problem is how to get on to the housing ladder. If surplus homes are available, I hope that he will consider the possibility of giving the first opportunity to acquire a home that the Army no longer needs to those soldiers who are leaving the Army.

I listened to the Minister earlier and have little doubt about the truth of the old song that the Army today is all right. As I have not visited Northern Ireland for some years as I used to do regularly, I have not seen as much of the Army as other hon. Members have. However, as a member of NATO's military committee I have met many people from other countries who have seen at first hand the British Army of the Rhine. From their comments and those of my hon. Friends, we can undoubtedly be justifiably confident in the training methods of the Army and the quality, motivation and professionalism of our soldiers.

I am impressed by the Government's resolve to do what they can to ensure that they have the best equipment that Britain can afford. My hon. Friend gave an impressive account today of the replacement of equipment that has become obsolete. The replacement of obsolescent equipment is not an arms race but an investment in security. It is especially important to hear that news when one considers the great improvement in the Soviet army's equipment. I was especially impressed that the Minister singled out the need to put into operation the improvement of our communications through electronic means. The new equipment takes advantage of the electronic technology that has been deployed with much success in the Royal Air Force and the Navy. There is little doubt, as he said, that such is the pace of the modern battle that the ground forces whose communications are the most effective and reliable will have a tremendous advantage. It is all too easy for us to talk about more exotic equipment, such as new types of aircraft, warships or battle tanks, but the improvement in communications in defence is long overdue, and I was gratified to hear what my hon. Friend said.

There is little doubt that during the past decade the gap in the quality of military equipment between the Soviets and Britain has narrowed. I do not wish to be alarmist about it, but I suspect that it has happened not only because the Soviet Union has spent more in modernising its forces — although its financial effort is impressive — but because, despite its comparatively small and uneconomic civil industrial base, it has been surprisingly successful in applying defence technology more cost effectively. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East referred to the huge cost of modern defence technology. It is expensive, but what worries me is that the improvement in Soviet equipment, because of the use of advanced technology, shows that they make their money go much further that we do.

One reason why the Soviets get better value for money is that they do not try to achieve to much sophistication. My fear is that the manufacturers and defence staffs of both Britain and NATO are too often tempted to lay down specifications, the effect of which is to demand even more advanced technology, which blows the defence appropriations sky-high. For many military purposes we do not always need to develop new microprocessors, more miniaturised circuits or faster synthesisers. If we are to keep down costs while taking advantage of what western industry has already achieved, we must concentrate much more on what is already proven.

In the production of more sophisticated civil industrial products the West has succeeded in improving the quality of its modern equipment as well as reducing the cost of much new machinery and products. Computers do more and cost less in relation to their capability. The same is true of a range of goods from motor cars to television sets and washing machines. That production is based on the new technology that has emerged swiftly in this space age, and continues to meet a remarkable range of needs both of industry and the consumer; and it achieves that target at prices that we can afford. I sometimes wish that we could do as well for defence.

I have a special reason for emphasising this point because, as my right hon. Friend knows, I chair a committee of the NATO Assembly dealing with conventional weapons, which is looking at how we can improve conventional defence. We are doing so, as the hon. Member for Woolwich said, because of the increasing concern in NATO circles at the Alliance's reliance on the early first use of tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons. What to do about it was the object of the careful study, referred to by other hon. Members, of the European security studies group, which consists of eminent academics, retired military officers and civilians from NATO countries. It concluded, as my right hon. Friend will be aware, that we could and should use advanced technology for conventional weapons, which could increasingly act as a substitute for battlefield nuclear weapons and do so without breaking the bank. We want to know the extent to which the Government share that conclusion.

After the second world war, for many years we were able to establish and maintain a qualititive lead in conventional weapons that compensated us for our quantitive deficiencies. The challenge today is for our defence establishment to apply economically the technological inventiveness that has proved so cost-effective for the rest of our economy.

8.46 pm
Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

I am grateful for this opportunity to take part in the Army debate. Although it is a little frustrating, as a new Member, to wait a long time to be called to speak, on this occasion it has been an educational opportunity, particularly because of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), which was most informative. The time that I have spent waiting tonight has been worthwhile.

My constituency has a particular link with the military, not only because it is the county town of Shropshire but also because we have there the headquarters of the western district. I take this opportunity of congratulating General Keatle on his appointment to Sandhurst as he leaves as GOC western district. I hope that he enjoys the tenure of his prestigious new appointment. I welcome to the town of Shrewsbury Major-General Brendan McGuinness who takes over that command. I urge my hon Friend when he winds up to tell me a little about the future of the Light Infantry depot, Sir John Moore barracks. If he is not able to do so today, perhaps he will do so soon.

In the town of Shrewsbury we have a number of Territorial Army units and the Rolls-Royce factory that makes the power pack for the Challenger tank and for the Saxon vehicle and we have the Shrewsbury Electronic Engineers company. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is able to visit my constituency on Wednesday and will visit these factories. We look forward to giving him a warm welcome when he again visits Shrewsbury, the town in which he attended school.

I should like to comment on the Territorial Army and Reservists aspect of the debate. I am privileged to serve as the operations officer of the 5th Light 'Infantry battalion which is a NATO committed battalion and part of the new 49 Brigade. Although election to this place severely restricts my ability to be involved in the Territorial Army as much as I was before, at least during the recess when many hon. Friends and hon. Members were availing themselves of the opportunity to visit Army units, I took part in my annual battle fitness test, which I passed with not quite the ease that I had hoped. I suspect that the longer I spend in this place the more difficult it will be to get through that rather arduous test.

I am constantly impressed with the men, NCOs and officers in the Territorial Army with whom it is my privilege to serve. Their commitment and enthusiasm for training is always apparent to those who have the opportunity to visit their units. Far from it being boring to have visitors from the outside, they welcome it. They do not always go to special lengths, but people take them as they find them. I hope they always find them well.

At the beginning of the Session I was fortunate to be able to visit the NATO school at Oberammergau as part of my Territorial Army commitment. It is an institution not widely known in the House. I urge some hon. Members to take an interest in it because it is carrying out fine work and it would be well worth closer scrutiny.

As we know, half the Territorial Army is committed to NATO and half to home defence. Of course, we have the new infantry brigades, the 15th and the 49th, which along with the 24th regular Brigade form part of 2nd Infantry Division. I served first in 6 Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, which is now part of 15 Brigade. I am now with 5 Light Infantry which is part of 49 Brigade. My experience is that morale is very high. It has improved because of the extra equipment and better pay and bounty conditions which the Government have introduced. In the several years that I have been associated with those two battalions, I have seen a marked improvement in the enthusiasm which the soldiers give because of this added support from the Government.

I should like to pay particular attention to the Regular service men who are seconded to the Territorial Army. Many who do not know the system do not appreciate how many regular staff are posted to Territorial Army battalions. Although for some of them there is an initial resentment that they have been sent to what they might see as a sort of Dad's Army unit, it is amazing how quickly they come round. Although Territorial Army soldiers obviously do not have the time and sometimes the ability to train to the high standards of regular battalions, the regular service men at least recognise that enthusiasm and commitment can often compensate.

It is very important from the Ministry of Defence point of view that those service men who are seconded to Territorial Army units retain good promotional prospects because that unquestionably spurs on their enthusiasm for training, both as senior permanent staff instructors and permanent staff instructors with battalion units. I am glad that it is not always those who are coming to the end of their careers who are posted to Territorial Army units. I hope that the Government continue that policy to make sure that we get some of the younger and very able career soldiers to help train us.

Of great importance is the kit which the Territorial Army has seen introduced during the lifetime of this Government. I for one was particularly pleased to see Larkspur radios withdrawn and Clansman introduced. The time which was wasted on exercise in trying to establish communications has been reduced remarkably, and training is much more effective now that we have that albeit costly piece of kit. In training terms it has been well worth introducing, particularly as we now have in most NATO battalions six posts of the MILAN anti-tank guided weapons system. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Netheravon school when it was being introduced and I helped to introduce it into 6 Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers when I served with them. That is a very fine piece of equipment.

The fact that the Territorial Army is getting the same sort of kit, albeit not to the same scale at the moment as its regular counterparts in BAOR, along with similar uniforms, pay and conditions of training is very important in removing the two-army concept. I am glad the Government recognise this.

The intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) and the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) commented on biological warfare which we rarely hear about in the unilateralist debate. The unilateralists conveniently forget that, although the Soviet Union has continued to manufacture and stockpile enormous quantities of chemical weapons, this country has not done so since the middle 1950s.

We have heard heart-on-sleeves talk from some Opposition Members about their children and grandchildren, but they should remember that Socialists are not the only people with families. I, too, am concerned about the future of my one and a half year-old son, no less so than are the women who are demonstrating outside Greenham common concerned about their families. However, I urge them to look at the biological capability and record of the Soviet Union. I hope that in commenting on the nuclear biological and chemical aspect of the debate, my hon. Friend will tell us when the next generation of NBC kit is to be introduced, particularly the new distorted pattern material suits, which will make a big difference to the cumbersome training procedures that we now go through.

Section 337 of the defence Estimates states that the Territorial Army is to be increased during this decade from 72,500 in December 1982 to 86,000 by 1989, which I welcome. I hope that it will be an accelerated programme. I am encouraged to know that SACEUR has appointed an American full colonel as a staff officer responsible for the reserve forces. I hope that that will help to increase the emphasis on and the pressure for a stronger Territorial Army commitment to NATO.

Training exercises overseas have been mentioned. Such an opportunity is as important to those who are Territorial Army soldiers as rates of pay or bounty. Having a good level of training pay and bounty is not as important as the training opportunities for which those men enlist. It is important that we keep the commitment to regular NATO camps in BAOR, and some of the other training opportunities that young officers in the Territorial Army undergo. My younger brother was fortunate to be able to serve for a short while on a transfer with the Regular Army, and during that time trained in Belfast and Berlin. That did him much good. He went back to his Territorial Army unit far better trained, and enjoyed the experience immensely.

I introduce one bleak note to the debate. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will cover it in his reply. It is the problem of DHSS payments, which is causing resentment among those unfortunate enough to be unemployed, who are in the Territorial Army, particularly those in battalions that recruit from areas of high unemployment. Not only are man-training days limited, which in itself can affect many of those men, but many DHSS offices operate different standards in their attitude towards Territorial Army pay, which causes a great deal of consternation. It is one of the more difficult tasks for officers to try to sort out those problems. The Government should urge the DHSS towards more sympathetic resolution of the problem in coming to a good arrangement to help the unemployed serving in the Territorial Army. Their service helps to maintain self-respect and, socially, is a good thing for them to do.

I hope that we shall get a commitment to a continuing programme, so that there is never a need to criticise the Government. Their record on the Territorial Army is excellent. I hope that we shall be able to maintain the man-training days levels, and look forward to the continued expansion of the Territorial Army and to equipment levels and programmes being continued.

Although it will always be true that Territorial Army units cannot be as highly trained as their regular counterparts, particularly over a sustained period of exercise, it always encourages me that the enthusiasm of soldiers in the Territorial Army enables them to win many competitions against their Regular Army counterparts. The performance of Territorial Army soldiers stands critical scrutiny. The commitment of the volunteers and their regular trainers gives scope for greater expansion in the future. I wish my hon. Friend well in continuing that task.

8.58 pm
Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)

It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) who is a serving Territorial Army soldier. He made some important points. I fully support what he said about the unfairness of the DHSS clawing back every penny from Territorial Army soldiers. Their anger is greater about the bounty than about any other aspect of the clawback, because they would get their DHSS payments anyway. It is entirely wrong because these men and women could receive exactly the same money by sitting quietly at home instead of by going out and practising the art of defending the country. I am sure that most hon. Members will agree with that.

I am sorry in a way that I have had to follow an hon. Friend because I had hoped that there would be rather more competition from the Opposition Benches for time in this debate. However, I must confess that it is always a pleasure to listen to the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon). I hope that it is not the good common sense that he enunciates so frequently in defence matters that has cast him on to the Opposition Back Benches. It is a regrettable fact that we must now accept that so many people in the Labour party take an entirely contrary view on defence. That could, of course, be the reason why the Labour party lost so heavily at the general election.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the commitment of British forces overseas. Recent experiences in Grenada may require the concentration of the Government's mind on our role within the Commonwealth in future. The issue of defence is an important integral part of this exercise. I hope, therefore, that when my hon. Friend replies to the debate he will have something to tell us about a continuing commitment to our overseas interests. The right hon. Member for Mansfield mentioned Belize and elsewhere and we must be clear about what is intended in these various parts of the world. Cyprus is a case in point where I feel that we did not strike at the appropriate time while the iron was hot. Regardless of which of the parties is to blame, our interests are well established there, and, had a previous Government made clear much earlier what they proposed to do, the problem might never have arisen.

One area that is not given much thought these days are those aspects of the defence budget which include items for education, housing, health and welfare services. I have frequently recommended that these items should not be included as part of the defence budget, thereby artificially inflating it, but should be dealt with separately because they would be required for tax-paying citizens regardless of whether they were serving in the forces. Where someone is carrying out an adequate and important role in commerce or manufacturing industry or in any other walk of life, that cost is not added to the total cost of their service. It is wrong that the armed forces should have to bear that cost rather than it being kept quite separate in the appropriate budget. It should not be charged to the defence of the country.

I know that other hon. Members wish to speak in the debate and therefore I do not wish to detain the House for long but I wish to mention civil defence, a subject close to my heart. I found from my own experience in the Reserve forces that the colleagues with whom I trained were expressing an increasing concern over the civil defence being provided for their families. I hope that my hon. Friend will be kind enough to refer to this matter in his reply. During the days when we were thinking in terms of conflict, perhaps even nuclear conflict, between East and West, we boasted about how effective the nuclear deterrent had been over the previous 35 years. I go along with that. However, the nuclear club is now expanding and some nations of the world are now becoming much more concerned about what would happen if someone were to join the nuclear club with a rather different attitude to human life.

We have seen how some religious zealots in the Lebanon have been happy in recent weeks to commit suicide in advancement of their cause. One wonders what would happen if others, in positions of great power and with nuclear weapons at their disposal, felt similarly inclined. In such cases we should not be dealing with all-out nuclear conflict — because the smaller countries' resources would not run to that—but we could certainly expect some form of limited nuclear delivery.

We therefore have an obligation to the families of those on whom we rely for our defence, and many of those may be serving at sea or overseas and far away from their families. Our civil defence budget last year, at just over £50 million, was less than half of 1 per cent. of the total defence budget. That is inadequate to provide the necessary reassurance that we should give to the forces of the Crown in the event of them having to engage in a conflict on our behalf. We must now direct our attention to that issue without further delay.

We have in the past been at pains to give credit to those who fought on behalf of Queen and country. Recently we have been commemorating what happened in the south Atlantic. Hon. Members will have seen in The House Magazine this week pictures of an example of the memorials in various parts of the south Atlantic to commemorate those who gave their lives in defence of freedom in the name of the Queen.

It surprises me that we do not appear to have a public memorial in London to commemorate the many lives lost by the Nepalese people in the service of the British Crown during the past 150 years. It is about time that we put that right. There is no doubt that they gave their all for us up to and including the Falklands campaign. In every theatre and every war since our relationship with them first began they have given full and unstinting support. It is a crying shame that we do not have a public memorial in London to commemorate their sacrifice. I urge the Minister to look into that as a matter of urgency.

9.8 pm

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

The Minister paid tribute to the 300-year history of the Army. My county of Lincolnshire is known principally as the home of the RAF, but as an historian my hon. Friend may know that as long ago as 1685 a certain Sir John Granville formed the first Lincolnshire regiment, and that regiment saw service at the glorious victories of Blenheim, Malplaquet and Oudenarde, and it is interesting to note that even as long ago as that British forces were playing a role in preserving the balance of power in Europe, in that case against the Sun King, nowadays against a Red Czar. That regiment of Sir John Granville's eventually became, by 1881, the Lincolnshire regiment, the famous "Yellow Bellies", and their courage was never in question during the long campaigns from the battle of Omdurman, through the first world war to north Africa in the second world war. With that history, it is not surprising that my constituents take a fairly robust line on defence. If I may inject a note of political controversy, which has been somewhat lacking in our debate, it is not surprising that by 1979 they were concerned about a situation in which the British Army was overstretched, undermanned and underpaid. It was 10,000 men below strength.

I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) skated over that period in the Army's history. Perhaps he has forgotten an article in The Economist that appeared about that time—at the end of that funding period—which said: Armies and men with guns; navies and air forces are machines manned by men. This important distinction is part of the reason why Britain's soldiers have become the poor men of Nato. The article went on to say that our Army is the most poorly equipped; there is not enough equipment; a lot of it is old; and some essential things are missing altogether". It is an achievement of this Government that, four and a half years later, not only are we fully manned, but we have some of the best equipment in NATO. My hon. Friend dealt with that aspect in some detail. It is a pity that the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) did not give us his views, because he was a member of the Labour party at that time. It is sad, too, that during the whole of our debate there has been no Liberal Member present. It does not say much for the Liberal party's interest in the Army. If we have achieved a great deal since 1979, it is the result of our commitment to a 3 per cent. increase in real terms in defence spending.

I come now to a matter that I want to take up in some detail with my hon. Friend. I hope that he will reply, if not at the end of this debate, then later. An article in The Times of 22 July of this year said: By next spring the Conservatives will have been in power for 5 years, and on present plans those years will have seen a growth in defence spending in real terms of something like 17.4 per cent., including the Falklands, or 12.5 per cent., excluding the Falklands". It says that during a period of severe recession that is an achievement. It goes on to say that those figures … fall short of one of the main aims of present defence policy. That is to achieve an annual rate of growth in real terms of 3 per cent. up to 1985 … excluding spending on the Falklands. To be on target, the growth in non-Falklands spending by next spring would have to be almost 16 per cent., not 12.5 per cent. That point was taken up in the House of Lords by Lord Carver. He asked the Minister for an assurance that that commitment"— a 3 per cent. increase in real terms— will be implemented; that is, that the provision for 1985–86 will be 21 per cent. higher in real terms than the actual expenditure in 1978–79. Any fiddling with that commitment by readjusting the base from which the 3 per cent. annual increase for the next two years is calculated could mean savage cuts in those years." —[Official Report, House of Lords, 25 October 1983; Vol. 444, c. 184.] Clearly that is a cause for concern, and I wonder whether my hon. Friend can give me an assurance about it.

The other matter that I want to deal with briefly was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) in his comments on the British Army of the Rhine. When the Minister replies to this debate, I know that he will repeat the very fair comments that were made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) in the debate on 8 July 1982 that the British Army of the Rhine occupies the heartland of Western Europe, that if we were to reduce the Army it would only give comfort to the Soviet Union, that there is no substitute for in-place forces, that the Belgians, Canadians and Dutch between them contribute 80,000 men, and—most important—that to remove those men would involve serious infrastructure difficulties. I know all that, but does my hon. Friend nevertheless accept that, in view of our many commitments around the world — in Belize, Cyprus and Hong Kong—our forces are dangerously stretched, and if at the moment there can be no question of reducing that figure below our treaty commitment of 55,000, should we not look at that commitment again for the future? There is no doubt on the Conservative Benches that our forces are dangerously stretched.

I have no doubt that the Army's story in the past four and a half years has been one of the Government's major successes, and I believe that it shows that we have completely fulfilled our pledge to preserve our peace through strength.

9.15 pm
Mr. Tony Speller (Devon, North)

It is appropriate that I speak at the end of the debate, because I wish to add merely a footnote to a debate on the Army. It refers not to expenditure, weaponry or NATO but to the increased elitism of the Army by unit, which I find alarming.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) spoke as though he were a member of the old Royal Lincolnshire Regiment. Other hon. Members who spoke could have been representatives of the Royal Sussex or other county regiments. We watch with some apprehension as the cult of the specialist name appears to take precedence over the old regimental structure. One of the greatest strengths of the British Army was its county and territorial basis. It is interesting and rather sad to recall that the headlines deal with the excellent people who wear badges or who are known by names such as "para", commando, marine and SAS. During the campaign in the Falklands, no line regiment arrived until the fighting was over. This was noticed by members of the line regiments and, I suspect, it is beginning to have an effect on recruitment.

Those who served, or who have parents who served, in the same regiments over generations feel affiliated to an area and a unit. This seems to have changed. My hon. Friend mentioned the Royal Air Force or the Royal Navy. These are large military bodies. The Minister should inform us whether it is policy to move away from the tradition of equality within specialist roles of the line regiment, commando, "para" and other fighting groups or he should state that while they are in no way second-class citizens the line regiments are now garrison, as opposed to fighting, troops.

If we wear the green and red tie of the old Devons, originally called the North Devonshire Regiment, or if now we wear the tawny and green tie of the Devon and Dorsets, we carry with us part of the history of the 11th Foot and the 39th Foot. These may appear to be affectations, left over from history, but when people see the tie when we canvass or visit they remember the affiliations. This county tradition has been one of the great strengths of the British Army.

I ask the Minister to give, as a footnote to this debate, some thought to whether Her Majesty's Government now tend to say: "That is all right, let them, as the Devon and Dorsets are doing now, spend a two-year tour in Ulster, but let someone else perform the equally dangerous, but much more glamorous, roles elsewhere." The history of the British Army is the history of the old counties. We, and especially this Government with their philosophy and feeling for tradition, must surely agree that the counties are worth protecting. That is where we shall find our recruits and, should the unthinkable happen, the steadfastness which the thin red line have always typified.

9.18 pm
Mr. McNamara

With the leave of the House, Mr. Speaker. The debate has been interesting, ranging from future defence philosophies to the important issues of line regiments and territorial matters.

I have great sympathy with the sadness of the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) about the disappearance of so many of the old county and line regiments. His sadness is shared not only by Tory voters but by many Labour supporters who served, perhaps, in the King's Liverpool or the East Yorkshires and are proud of their regiment's reputation. When those regiments are amalgamated under strange new titles, it is a source of sadness to those people, even though in other ways it is a sign of the progress that has been made.

I should add that anyone who regards the job of the line regiments and garrisons, and indeed any force of the British Army especially in Northern Ireland, as unworthy of special attention and respect is very much mistaken. As we all readily admit, those forces are carrying out a difficult and dangerous job.

We were privileged to hear today the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames). Many hon. Members have referred to his distinguished ancestors. All that I remember, as the hon. Gentleman will not, is a face grinning at me from the Hull Daily Mail many years ago when the hon. Gentleman's distinguished forebear sailed in his youth on a trawler out of Hull. Unfortunately, under the Conservatives we no longer have deep sea trawlers sailing out of Hull, although I do not know whether that is a matter of cause and effect. Nevertheless, the hon. Member for Crawley made a very good contribution to the debate. In many ways, it was a courageous contribution. Given the statement by the Secretary of State at the end of last week in his King's College lecture that there was no doubt about the Government's commitment to having 55,000 troops in BAOR and the Prime Minister's earlier commitment to the same effect, for the hon. Member to cast doubts on the fundamental role of the British Army in Germany in a maiden speech, albeit in the coded messages at which Conservative Members are expert, showed merit and deserves credit. I am sure that we shall all listen with considerable interest to hear what he has to say next, now that he has struck his first blow of rebellion—albeit on an occasion when there will be no Division.

A number of hon. Members suggested that the British Army might be overextended and wondered whether our Rhine commitment, with the other commitments that we have taken on, was putting too much strain on the people and equipment involved. The hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) also dealt with that. Both sides of the House are properly concerned about the tasks that we demand of our forces and whether we are entitled to expect so much of them. It is interesting that on this occasion the Army itself is not complaining. Clearly the forces welcome the opportunity that these commitments provide for them to further their claims for better equipment, and so on. Nevertheless, it is a real problem.

We must consider seriously the extent to which we can take on further responsibilities and whether the idea of the 5th brigade is really such a good one. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) said, having established it as a fighting unit we must be concerned about whether we shall be able to reinforce it in time and whether there will be areas in which it will have a special and distinct role separate from those of our NATO or other allies.

The hon. and learned Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) had a little fun at the expense of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield. We all graduated in different ways. My right hon. Friend came from a distinguished academy for many leading Labour party politicians. Indeed, the father of the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins), the former SDP leader, graduated in exactly the same way. There is nothing wrong with that. The only regret is that a little plaque will not be erected at Colchester saying something like "Between 1949–51 the Right Hon. J. D. Concannon lived here". Perhaps all hon. Members can look forward to that in the future.

The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) raised an issue of concern to Opposition Members: the involvement of the Rhine Army—and indeed the entire NATO commitment — in a too-early reliance upon nuclear weapons. The hon. Gentleman explained his fears in some detail and welcomed the various measures which have been taken. The issue appears to be exercising the minds of the generals and senior officers more than the politicians who regard the possession of a nuclear deterrent as something of a status symbol, and are afraid to think in the same way as General Rogers. Equally, they are afraid to think of what that might mean in further use of national resources to meet such an aim.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) asked what had happened to the Government's commitment to NATO, the amount of money involved, the undertakings which have been given and what has been the effect of the cuts. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will answer these points when he replies.

Whether we think that our commitment to NATO, the amount of money that we spend or even our priorities are right or wrong, we should know from what base we operate. We do not want the figures to be massaged for propaganda purposes. The Army will know if the figures are incorrect.

Although I did not agree with all of the strictures of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway), he was right to raise the role of the Territorial Army in our defence system, both in its commitment to the British Army of the Rhine and to our home defences. I urge hon. Members to think carefully about what has been said in the debate and not to get carried away with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) and the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) about the sudden insistence and pressure that we should become involved in some form of chemical or biological warfare. I am sure that they did not wish to give such an impression to the House.

We should certainly be aware of the Russian threat, but we would be foolish if we were to respond automatically by developing the same frightening means of warfare. We must not follow that path simply because the Russians are proceeding in that manner. Such a decision would have to be taken with great care. I would not take that decision, and I hope that my party would not support such a decision. To take such a decision as an automatic reflex would be wrong. We are right to concentrate on ensuring that those weapons have the least effect on our Army personnel, rather than considering developing them ourselves.

It has been an interesting debate. There has not been the great push to speak from either side of the House that we remember from the past. Conservative Members have chided the Opposition about the few Members who have spoken. I did not take all the time to which I was entitled which allowed an additional three Conservative Members to speak.

It is important to understand the change in both parties. When I was first elected I faced the serried ranks of the major-generals, the rear-admirals and the brigadiers. Conservative Members had all sorts of titles. Some of them had been former regular officers who had earned their titles with great distinction during the last war. It is a compliment to the Army that for 40 years Britain has maintained a degree of peace in Europe. Behind me I have the ranks of Lieutenant Colonel Healeys, Lieutenant Callaghans and Privates Concannons. It is a welcome sign that the pressures are no longer with us.

The care and attention paid to the debate today shows how important we regard the essential role that the Army plays in defending not only our liberties but those of the western world.

9.31 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. John Lee)

I wish to begin these closing remarks by saying that I am honoured to have an opportunity, within a month of my appointment, to take part in such a debate. Notwithstanding the concentrated briefing I have had, I am conscious that I belong to a party in this House consisting of 396 military experts and me. I also wish to pay tribute to the excellent work done by my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Stewart), who, after 10 months as a poacher at the MOD, has returned to being a gamekeeper at Treasury. I wish him well.

It is a pleasure to make my maiden speech in such an obviously non-partisan atmosphere, surrounded, to use the phrase of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates), by the best sort of Tories and Socialists.

I shall deal in a moment with most of the points that have been raised during this interesting debate. It has ranged widely and touched on many detailed and strategic questions. I intend primarily to concentrate my responses on the main subject, the British Army. I think that if I sketch briefly the scope of deployments that the Army currently undertakes, many of which my hon. Friend the Minister dwelt on earlier, it will help to put my remarks in context. It will perhaps also serve to point out that it is not surprising that so wide ranging a force, both in capabilities and geographical spread, should create a number of issues and problems. We are not complacent. The Army is not perfect, but it is in excellent shape with first-class equipment, and we are making every effort to make it better.

There are presently some 160,000 men and women in the Regular Army, about 55,000 of whom are in Germany. In addition, there are about 140,000 regular reservists—more than 70,000 in the Territorial Army and 6,500 in the Ulster Defence Regiment. Next week I am looking forward to spending three days with BAOR in Germany. We have a very substantial Army presence elsewhere in Europe—for example, in Berlin, Gibraltar and Cyprus. Further afield, my hon. Friend has described the Army's achievements and presence in the Falklands and in Lebanon. The Army is also in Belize, in Hong Kong—where I visited Gurkhas on the border in a private capacity in September—in Brunei, in Sinai and at the training unit at Suffield in Canada. The Army also provides a significant number of defence and military attaches to our embassies around the world, and has personnel on loan service in virtually all parts of the globe.

Providing equipment, training, transport, housing, medical and recreational facilities and all the other support necessary to a force in so many dispositions and in so many different roles is a mammoth logistical problem. I hope that hon. Members will agree that our defence organisation has proved, and is proving itself, more than equal to it.

I come to the points raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) in his two speeches. They were honest, sincere and enjoyable speeches.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned expenditure on defence and referred to the statement that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made this afternoon. The hon. Gentleman talked about cuts. I should like to make it absolutely clear that next year's defence budget is substantially higher in cash and real terms than this year's. I accept that the increase is slightly smaller than was previously planned. However, the issue is not one of cuts but how best to spend the increase. The cash provision for defence for 1984–85 is just above £17 billion. After allowing for a 3 per cent. public sector pay factor and 5 per cent. non-pay inflation, that represents a real increase of approximately 3.5 per cent.

The hon. Gentleman also dealt with the cost of the Falklands garrison. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, he misunderstood to some extent. The £684 million for 1984–85 includes capital and current expenditure. The former is made up of replacements for losses, and the new airfield and associated facilities. The figure for 1985–86 drops to £552 million and after that the cost will decline progressively as the capital expenditure element runs out. That should leave just running costs, which we expect to be about £200 million per annum.

Mr. McNamara

That is too much.

Mr. Lee

The hon. Gentleman also asked about NBC suits in BAOR. My information is that they are deployed at a scale of two per man. My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) asked about the next generation of anti chemical warfare suits. I shall look into that and write to him.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North mentioned the profile of the home service force. It is impossible for me to provide today details about the age structure of that force. I noted his request and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will write to him. Chemical warfare was raised many times during the debate, first by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) in an intervention and then by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes).

I should like to make it clear that the United Kingdom has had no chemical weapons for many years. We have no plans to reacquire them. With our allies, we are committed to achieving a verifiable, comprehensive ban on chemical weapons. We take an active role in negotiation on such a ban in the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva. In March, we put forward proposals concerned with achieving effective verification—a vital issue in arms control negotiations.

The Alliance is, of course, concerned about the threat posed by the massive Soviet stocks of such weapons. NATO has no stocks of chemical weapons, although the United States has a limited national retaliatory capability. The United States Administration's plans to modernise its aging stocks must be seen against the Soviet threat. So far, the Soviets have not shown themselves to be able to negotiate seriously in the Committee on Disarmament, but we hope for a positive response to the range of Western proposals at the next session, which starts in January.

The hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, North and for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Brown) mentioned Belize. We maintain a garrison of about 1,500 service men there to assist with defence against external aggression. The garrison includes an infantry battalion, Harriers and Rapier missiles. The garrison will remain for an appropriate period to perform its task. Meanwhile, we continue to train and equip the expanding defence force of Belize, which already has troops deployed in operational locations.

Several hon. Members queried the role of 5 Airborne Brigade, so designated by my hon. Friend the Secretary of State earlier this week. The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North both referred to 5 Airborne Brigade and the possibility of logistical support. We demonstrated during the Falklands campaign that we have the capacity to provide logistical support at an extremely long range.

Mr. McNamara

It is not normally my habit to intervene when a Minister is replying to a debate, but our point was that, although the logistical support in the Falklands was provided over great distances, it was put together over a long time and after very careful planning. I understand, however, that 5 Airborne Brigade is intended to react almost at a moment's notice to a specific problem. We are concerned—whether or not we consider it a good idea—about the degree to which support can be provided at short notice.

Mr. Lee

That is a very fair question. My understanding is that certain logistical groupings are already attached to 5 Airborne Brigade.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) made an excellent and confident maiden speech. The whole House would agree that it followed in the tradition that we have come to expect from my hon. Friend's family. I can pay him no higher tribute than that. He referred to British Caledonian—that great example of private enterprise in his constituency. He talked about the Crawley industrial estate. My hon. Friend and I share a common interest in that both our constituencies include a substantial Asian population.

On the subject of defence, my hon. Friend made a valid point about the relationship between de fence and foreign policy. He also raised an independent query about the role of our forces in Germany, and asked whether there were too many British eggs in the German basket.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North referred to Belize. He also spoke in support of our troops in Northern Ireland, as did the right hon. Member for Mansfield. I have not yet spent as much time on the sixth floor of the Ministry of Defence as the hon. Gentleman, but I am finding it a very enjoyable experience. The hon. Gentleman referred, too, to the tremendous value for money represented by our investment in the Territorial Army. I am sure that all TA units will be grateful for his comments.

Several Members have referred to the high costs of BAOR. We are doing a great deal to reduce those costs. Since 1979, the number of civilians employed in support of the British forces in Germany has been reduced by 13 per cent., and further reductions are planned. The reorganisation of 1(BR) Corps has resulted in reductions in military manpower in headquarters and support posts. The British force in Germany is a highly cost-effective organisation and we intend that it should remain so.

Some hon. Members have suggested that we should withdraw units to the United Kingdom. It would make no military sense to rely to a greater extent than at present on reinforcements from the United Kingdom to bring 1(BR) Corps up to wartime strength. The withdrawal of units from BAOR to the United Kingdom would be politically damaging to the Alliance and weaken deterrence by sending the wrong signal to the Soviet Union.

In the short term, withdrawing units to the United Kingdom would be more costly than keeping them in BAOR because extra barracks, married quarters and support facilities would have to be built to accommodate them. Even in the longer term, the savings that would result in relocating units from Germany to the United Kingdom would be quite modest. The extra cost of stationing our forces in Germany rather than the United Kingdom is some £225 million per annum.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North said that certain projects conceived by himself or by the Labour Administration are now coming into service. Without wishing to be excessively partisan, I make the point that there is an element of doubt as to whether, had the Labour party been in power, the resources would have been made available for that equipment to come into service and for those projects to be carried through.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) mentioned our presence in Beirut. Our forces in the Lebanon are part of the multinational force and are present to assist the Lebanese Government and armed forces in the Beirut area. Our presence is an important sign of international support for the Lebanese Government and is intended to help bring about a peaceful settlement in the Lebanon. Our men mount patrols throughout Beirut and have made a valuable contribution towards restoring stability in the city. In addition, we have provided a presence at the meetings of the ceasefire security committee. As a number of hon. Members have said, our men have found that they are welcomed warmly not just by the Lebanese Government but by all the people in Beirut.

My hon. Friend asked specifically about the number of men employed in our force in Beirut. I understand that we have 115 men there. He also mentioned the valid point about the threat and danger facing them. Defence Ministers are anxious about those possible dangers and threats and we are doing everything to protect the men. General Sir Frank Kitson has been to Beirut and all his recommendations have been implemented.

My hon. Friend mentioned the Buccaneer force based in Cyprus. For obvious reasons, one cannot comment upon the options available to the aircraft, but hon. Members may wish to know that reports have been coming in during the late afternoon of a French attack on the Shia militia near Baalbeck. I understand that the action was intended to forestall fresh terrorist attacks against French elements of the multinational force. Each member of the multinational force has to decide what measure is necessary to ensure its self defence.

The House will agree that it is important to continue working towards conciliation — building upon the progress made in the initial round of the national reconciliation talks in Geneva.

The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) made a number of points, but talked specifically about ammunition stock levels and housing. On the ammunition stock levels, my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces said in his opening remarks that we attach great importance to increasing the sustainability of 1(BR) Corps. A central plan of the 1981 defence review was to improve our stocks of conventional ammunition for artillery and tanks, and missiles for Milan, Swingfire, Blowpipe and Rapier, but in most cases we do not confirm the levels of NATO stocks.

Other hon. Members raised a variety of points. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), if I may say it in the nicest way, continued with his Falklands theme and intelligence questions. I hope that he will understand if I do not attempt to answer or follow him this evening.

Mr. Dalyell

I appreciate that the Minister is making a genuine attempt to answer the debate. The Opposition give him credit for that, because it happens too infrequently. He is giving his mind to points mentioned by hon. Members. I happen to understand why he is reluctant to answer my questions. Will the Secretary of State for Defence give a considered response, not necessarily to me, but to the recommendations of the Liaison Committee set up by the House, which gave its mind to whether there should be a Select Committee on intelligence, and whether it should be made up of Privy Councillors? If that is considered undesirable, in what other way should intelligence matters be subject to scrutiny by the House of Commons, as was recommended not by me, but by the Liaison Committee? Will the Secretary of State for Defence give his considered opinion on that?

Mr. Lee

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State heard the hon. Gentleman's comments and, with respect, he may or may not decide to respond to them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) paid tribute to our troops in Northern Ireland and to what the Government have been doing for our Reserve forces. I thank him for that. The right hon. Member for Mansfield, to whom I have referred on several occasions because we hold him in high regard, raised two matters that had not been mentioned: the work of the War Graves Commission and the work of the British Legion. Those of us who, like me, took part in our local Legion remembrance parade on Sunday will share his sentiments and views.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East gave support to Sir John Nott's defence review. My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) raised the matter of surplus married quarters. We shall write to him and answer his questions. My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham mentioned chemical clothing stocks and the next generation of them, and raised the question of the Light Infantry barracks at Shrewsbury. We shall write to him about that and the matters he raised about DHSS deductions from Territorial Army pay. That caused hon. Members on both sides of the House considerable anxiety.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) raised the question of civil defence, and specifically asked why there was no memorial to the Gurkhas in London. The Minister will examine that matter and write to him about it personally.

The last speech from the Back Benches was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller). He talked about the disappearance of certain county and line regiments and many colleagues supported him on that matter. He specifically raised the question of regimental ties. As I represent a textile constituency, I support anything that will increase the production and sales of ties.

Several hon. Members referred to their visit to the exercise Eternal Triangle. When speaking earlier about the new deployment of 6 Brigade as 6 Airmobile Brigade my hon. Friend the Minister of State referred briefly to exercise Lionheart 1984. By the time the Army debate of 1984 comes round this may well be over. I should, therefore, say just a few words about this important exercise. Planning is already under way for the exercise, which will take place in September next year. It is intended to give practice in mobilisation procedures and to culminate in a major field training exercise in Germany.

About 50,000 men and women of the Regular and Reserve forces will move to the continent. That is significantly more than the 30,000 deployed in exercise Crusader 1980. Many of them will be from the Territorial Army, but for the first time, it is planned to seek the voluntary participation of up to 4,500 Regular reservists. We shall request the co-operation of employers over the release of their staff who volunteer for the exercise.

Lionheart will be associated with the annual series of major NATO autumn exercises, and troops from several allied nations will be joining our field training exercises. Lionheart will provide a valuable opportunity to assess progress on the many developments in organisation made since exercise Crusader. As before, the reinforcements will travel to Germany by commercial ferries and aircraft as well as by military transport, and will join British forces already in Germany for field training exercises.

Lionheart will be our largest reinforcement exercise ever, and will demonstrate our ability to reinforce our troops in Europe quickly and in strength, and thereby illustrate our commitment to NATO's forward defence and deterrent policy generally. We intend to make an appropriate notification under the CSCE final act and invite observers from CSCE participating countries. We intend to place a report on the exercise in the Library in due course.

My responsibilities in defence mainly concern the procurement of equipment. My hon. Friend the Minister of State described earlier most of the key improvements that are being made in equipping BAOR, and I will not repeat those now. But to arrive at those improvements is a long—sometimes, in the past, too long—arduous and expensive process. It starts with an assessment of threat and identification of a general requirement. Too often criticism of equipment plans is, I am afraid, ill-informed, and ignores the real complexity of translating an idea into reality. While we would like to buy more off the shelf and have made moves in this direction, which I will mention in a moment, in practice much of the equipment the Army will need does not exist until we set about creating it.

I hope that hon. Members will bear with me if I briefly explain the process. They should also remember that it is not necessarily a rigid scheme and does not necessarily apply to all equipment. Furthermore, it was demonstrated last year during the Falklands campaign that the system is flexible enough to be speeded up in an emergency with remarkable and successful results.

A typical land systems project will start in the Army department with a staff target reflecting a special military need and usually expressed in fairly general terms. For major projects the staff target will normally be considered, amended and endorsed by the operational requirements committee, which keeps under review the pattern of long-term military equipment and weapon requirements, against the background of current defence policy and long-term strategic studies. This endorsement will lead to feasibility studies. Following those studies, a staff requirement going into rather more detail will be raised and approval sought of project definition, which normally involves the first large commitment of funds. Projects estimated to cost £50 million or more to develop will also require at this stage the approval of the defence equipment policy committee, which takes account of the entire development programme, including industrial capacity and technological base considerations.

On successful completion of the project definition, approval to enter full development will be sought; in the case of major projects, again from the operational requirements committee and defence equipment policy committee and from Ministers. This is a critical point in a project. An acceptable means of meeting the operational requirement has been agreed, a development programme has been planned and costed, and a reasonable estimate can be made of the ultimate production cost. When a project enters full development, a firm commitment is made to devote to it substantial industrial resources. Development then moves into production, often with some overlap, leading to the final entry into service of the complete equipment. After that the process continues with modification and updating to meet the changing threat and circumstances of the time.

This year we plan to spend more than £7 billion overall on equipment. That is about 46 per cent. of the total defence budget. Ten years ago we were spending only 34 per cent. of the budget on equipment, so that is a significant change. It is not achieved by allowing conditions of service, pay and allowances to deteriorate. As the House knows, the Government have restored service pay to its proper level and are committed to keeping it there. We are currently about half-way through the cycle to determine forces' pay levels. We have been providing evidence to the Armed Forces Pay Review Body which is to visit the Falklands at the end of this month as part of its inquiry, and it is expected that its report will be forwarded to the Prime Minister in the usual time scale.

Of the £7 billion, about £1.7 billion will be spent on the Army. This is less than the other two services because, relatively speaking, the Army is still a manpower-intensive service and many items of its equipment are simpler and less expensive. But it is evident, even to a newcomer, that this pattern is bound to see some change.

It is an honour for me to wind up this debate on the Army. The Government have made clear their overriding determination and responsibility to provide the will and the resources to defend our country and its freedoms, not only in words but in deeds.

Today's financial statement has announced a cash provision for defence for 1984–85 of just over £17 billion, an increase of £1.3 billion over 1983–84, about 3.5 per cent. in real terms. Real growth since 1978–79 will be nearly 21 per cent. including Falklands expenditure. At the end of the day our equipment and weaponry can only be as good as the men and women in the forces themselves. This House has repeatedly paid tribute to the skill, the courage and the commitment of our Army, whether it be in the Falklands, in Northern Ireland or in the Lebanon. We take pride in them and salute their achievements. Let this House give them the backing that they richly deserve.

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.