§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Lightbown.]
§ 5.1 pm
§ The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Stanley)
It is almost a year since our last Army debate, and that year has been an important one for the Army. In Northern Ireland, it saw the security forces having to meet the most serious challenge to law and order for more than 10 years, and meeting it successfully. It saw our first major overseas exercise outside the NATO area since the Falklands conflict. Indeed, 1986 saw further new items of equipment coming into general Army use; in particular the much lighter SA80 rifle with its sophisticated telescopic sight, the new combat helmet, the S10 respirator, and new portable and lightweight thermal imaging equipment. Moreover, 1986 saw a good level of recruiting, a welcome levelling off in the rate of applications from officers for premature voluntary retirement and a further expansion of both the Territorial Army and the Home Service Force.
The Army enters 1987 materially better equipped than it has ever been and in good shape. This is due first to the fact that the present Government have met in full every one of the eight reports on service pay that we have received from the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, with phasing for just a matter of months in only two of those eight years. That is a very much better record than that of our predecessors.
The Army's good shape today is also due to the very substantial increase in expenditure on the Army over the last eight years, compared with the level in 1978–79. Indeed, the total additional expenditure on the Army in real terms by the present Government compared with the 1978–79 level will, by the end of this financial year, be more than £2,000 million, excluding additional Falklands costs. That figure shows that the criticisms of the Opposition about insufficient conventional defence expenditure are patently unjustified.
That complaint is even less warranted from a party whose party conference less than six months ago gave the following commitment:Over time the policy will enable us to achieve our long term goal of bringing Britain's defence spending as a proportion of national income towards the average of our major European allies.That would represent cutting Britain's defence expenditure as a proportion of GDP by about one third.
The prime beneficiary of the huge increase in defence expenditure we have achieved for the Army—all of it strengthening our conventional capabilities—has been the 1st British Corps in Germany; and its equipment in particular. Among the major items of Army equipment ordered by the present Government—not by our predecessors—and now already in service with the 1st British Corps are the Challenger main battle tank, the Saxon armoured personnel carrier, tracked Rapier, the Javelin air defence missile, the new SA80 rifle, new personal combat kit, the Ptarmigan communication system, the Wavell computerised information system, the new night observation and gunnery sight for Chieftain and Challenger, the S10 respirator, and additional Lynx helicopters. That is, of course, not the end of the equipment transformation that we have been achieving for the Army.
168 In the next few years the Army will be receiving a number of further major items of equipment already ordered by the present Government including the multiple launch rocket system, Warrior, Rapier 2000 and the Starstreak air defence missile. What has been, and is continuing to take place, is the comprehensive modernisation of the Army's equipment—its armour and anti-armour capabilities giving BAOR 12 armoured regiments by the end of the decade compared with eight in 1980, its artillery, its air defence, its armoured mobility, its infantry weapons, its communications equipment and its logistic support. That could have been achieved only by the greater priority given to defence by the present Government compared with our predecessors.
The modernisation of the Army's equipment is very necessary. Last year Mr. Gorbachev called for reductions in conventional forces, both in men and equipment, from the Atlantic to the Urals. That was a welcome call, and we hope that 1987 will see a constructive response to the West's new MBFR proposals which were tabled in December 1985 and on which we are still awaiting a substantive response.
Notwithstanding the calls for reductions, however, the reality on the other side of the inner German border is that the strengthening of Soviet forces in eastern Europe continues—and continues relentlessly. The past year has seen a further significant improvement in Soviet armour. Soviet tank production in recent years is estimated to have averaged over 3,000 new tanks a year—double that of' NATO.
The T64B and T80 tanks are replacing the older models. Many of these new tanks are fitted with explosive reactive armour to try to neutralise NATO anti-tank guided missiles; all can fire a guided missile through the gun barrel—a capability not possessed by current western battle tanks. Their already formidable attack helicopter capability is being strengthened still further as the older Hind helicopters are replaced by newer, better armed and equipped models. Their conventional artillery is being improved by the addition of more sophisticated munitions and new self-propelled guns. Current models of ground and air-launched anti-armour guided missiles are being replaced by models with improved guidance and a higher kill probability.
In chemical weapons the Warsaw pact's forces in Europe currently have a near monopoly. In nuclear weapons, the advantage that the Warsaw pact's ground forces have in ballistic missiles up to 300 km in range is 8:1. These figures are disturbing enough but they do not include nuclear capable artillery where Soviet superiority continues to increase as their single role conventional artillery is replaced by dual-capable artillery that can fire either conventional or nuclear shells.
Some see the answer to the massive Soviet superiority in shorter-range nuclear weapons to be a nuclear-free zone. I note that the Liberal and SDP defence policy statement issued on 16 December says, and I quote:We would seek a battlefield-nuclear weapon-free zone in Central Europe extending 150 km in each direction from the East/West divide. This would reduce reliance on short-range nuclear weapons and therefore the danger of their being used by either side.
§ Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)
Has my right hon. Friend noticed that no representative of the SDP or Liberal party is in the Chamber? Is that not absolutely—
§ Mr. Jessel
I withdraw what I said. I am sorry, I did not notice the hon. Gentleman, who is an Alliance Member.
§ Mr. Stanley
We welcome the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) to the debate and congratulate him on winning in the hotly contested competition to be the single alliance spokesman on defence.
I was referring to the alliance's policy. I must say that that policy statement must have been written by what I can describe only as the "happy illusion" brigade on the alliance Benches. Judging by what alliance Members say, that brigade is a well-manned unit. After all, the idea that a 150 km nuclear-free zone would reduce reliance on short-range nuclear weapons is, I fear, pure wishful thinking. Those short-range systems are all mobile. They can be moved back into a paper nuclear-free zone in no time at all. Even without moving any of their shortest-range weapons the Soviets could still target any point of the nuclear-free zone with other non-strategic nuclear weapons—with their SCUDs with a range of 300 km, their SS23s with a range of 500 km, their Scaleboard missiles with a range of 900 km or their SS20s with a range of 5,000 km.
The nuclear-free zone policy of the Liberal and Social Democratic parties on the central front has the same illusory quality as the nuclear-free zone policy of the London borough of Lambeth. Although the nuclear-free zone policy of those two parties would be of no value to the British Army's deployment on the central front, the non-nuclear policy of the official Opposition would be positively and hugely damaging.
A non-nuclear Britain means a non-nuclear 1st British Corps in Germany, and the House and country will want to be very clear about the implications of that. It would mean having eight NATO Army corps deployed down the inner German border with seven of those Army corps being nuclear-capable and one not. That would blow a gaping hole straight through NATO's entire deterrent posture which rests on combining conventional and nuclear defence. That is why for the Labour party to say in one breath that it supports NATO and in another that it will unilaterally scrap all Britain's nuclear defences is a complete contradiction.
To make the 1st British Corps the one and only non-nuclear corps in Germany would relegate the British Army to being NATO's lame duck on the central front. It will make the British Army of the Rhine the number one target for any Soviet offensive. It will make BAOR, not the military asset that it is today, but a military liability.
In defence terms, it is self-evidently non-viable to have seven corps deployed side by side that are nuclear-capable and one in the middle that is not. As far as the British Army is concerned, the non-nuclear policy of the Labour party can lead in one direction, and one direction only—the gradual withdrawal of the British Army from Germany. Far from strengthening NATO's conventional defence posture, the Labour party's non-nuclear defence policy will weaken it disastrously.
I shall now turn from the Army in Germany to the Army in Britain where more than 80,000 men would be available on mobilisation. As the House knows, in Exercise Brave Defender in 1985 we conducted—and 170 conducted successfully—the largest post-war exercise in home defence. A non-classified paper summarising the lessons from this valuable exercise has been placed in the Library. Procedural and organisational improvements in the light of Brave Defender continue to be made.
A critically important component of the Army's order of battle, both at home and on the continent, are the territorial and regular reserves. The strength of the Territorial Army which was about 59,000 in May 1979, has now risen to more than 77,000—an increase of a further 1,000 since last year. The second and major phase of our planned expansion of the TA started last April. This phase involves the formation of six additional infantry battalions, an additional light reconnaissance squadron, two additional airfield damage repair squadrons, the first TA helicopter squadron and some additional support units.
The trial programme for raising TA units on the continent is making good progress. A company and four platoon-size units are now in being. I am also glad to say that last year a group of territorials from the King's Regiment undertook TA training in the Falklands for the first time.
The Home Service Force also continues to expand and now stands at over 3,000—well on target for its planned strength of about 5,000 by 1990. I have referred before to our wish to make better use of our regular reserves who represent a significant pool of trained manpower. At present, some 65,000 have war roles individually allocated to them. Work is now in hand to extend this planning, on a contingency basis, to a further 35,000 of those liable to reserve service. May I once again express our warm appreciation of those who give their valuable time and boundless enthusiasm to make the Army's reserve forces the success that they undoubtedly are.
§ Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)
The Minister mentioned that the number of men in the Territorial Army has increased from 59,000 to 77,000 since this Government have been in power. A year ago it had 76,000 men and the Minister said in his statement at that time that there had been an increase from the previous year of 4,000. This year there has been an increase in enrolment of only 1,000. Why has enrolment slowed down? Are there any reasons for the drop from 4,000 to 1,000 a year?
§ Mr. Stanley
I also made it clear in my remarks that we began the second phase of our expansion only in April last year and that inevitably TA recruiting has a cyclical pattern of advertising and publicity. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman greatly welcomes the fact that the TA is now significantly stronger than it was when his party was in government.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Will he tell the House whether he has any plans or is thinking of having any plans to give further training opportunities to the Regular Army reserve, and also to the possibility of allowing people when leaving the regular forces before they go on the reserve to themselves make a commitment to train with the Regular Army reserve over the next few years?
§ Mr. Stanley
As my hon. Friend knows, we have been considering ways in which we can make greater use of those who have a reserve commitment. At present we do 171 not have any specific formal arrangements of the sort to which he has referred, but I shall gladly consider that matter further and write to him if I have anything further to add. However, there are some informal arrangements that some individuals make.
I shall now turn to the Army's role outside the NATO area. The Labour policy statement approved at its last party conference states—[Interruption.] Britain will face some important defence issues and, although much attention has been devoted to the Labour party's commitment to non-nuclear policy, there are other important aspects of the defence policy which we shall bring to the attention of the House and of the country.
The Labour party's policy statement which has been approved states:Labour will conduct an immediate review aimed at reducing and then ending out-of-area spending.The folly of that commitment may be demonstrated simply. Since the end of the second world war the British Army has been involved in 71 operational deployments outside the United Kingdom. Of those 71 deployments, 67 have been outside the NATO area.
It is, I fear, par for the course for the Labour party to commit itself to end defence spending in those parts of the world where 40 years' experience suggests that our armed forces are most likely to be needed.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins (South Ribble)
On that point, would it not be constructive to consider the position in relation to Belize, which is the only primary jungle training centre that we now have? Allowing for the politics of that country, is it not true that if we withdrew our forces from Belize the on-cost—the amount of money that we would gain as a result,—is not much, since we would still have to pay the soldiers when we brought them back home, find them a base, and have to use and train them? Therefore, to that extent, the Labour party's suggestion on this, as on so many other defence issues, is completely nutty.
§ Mr. Stanley
My hon. Friend's latter point is entirely valid. If it were necessary to relocate back into the United Kingdom units which are at present deployed overseas there would be significant relocation and fixed costs in providing accommodation for the men and their families. My hon. Friend is also right to highlight the training aspect of that policy. I would stress that with the inevitable unpredictability of the world, the historic pattern and the whole of the post-war experience, it is likely that greater need for British armed services in operation will take place outside the NATO area.
The Falklands conflict itself showed the importance of maintaining and improving our ability to take action outside the NATO area. In November we were able to carry out the first major exercise demonstrating this capability in Exercise Saif Sareea in the Oman, deploying our new joint force headquarters with elements of both 5 Airborne Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade, along with RAF Tornados and transport aircraft.
The exercise successfully demonstrated our capability to mount an out-of-area deployment rapidly by air and provided an excellent opportunity to practise tri-service operations with a host country. We are making a very detailed study of the lessons to be learnt from Saif Sareea and will look for further opportunities in the future to exercise our out-of-area capability.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Before the Minister leaves our out-of-area capability, The Independent has 172 reported twice, most recently this morning under the byline of Frances Wheen, that talks are taking place in Washington with Argentina on the future of the Falklands. Are those talks taking place? Is Mr. Wheen right or wrong?
§ Mr. Stanley
That is an interesting question and one for my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, as the talks do not involve the British Army.
Another important aspect of our out-of-area defence commitments is the military assistance that we give overseas. Last year we had more than 650 service men, of which the Army's component was 450, serving in that role in 28 countries—all outside the NATO area. These service men and, now a few service women as well, do an extremely valuable job for Britain, often in testing conditions. They provide high quality training for our friends around the world, and support our important defence sales efforts overseas. I note that the Labour party has acknowledged that its policies will lead to a major reduction in our defence sales, which last year were worth approximately £5 billion, and I am sure that this commitment will also be well noted by the many thousands of people in all parts of Britain whose Jobs are dependent on defence exports.
A further contribution that the Army has made outside the NATO area is in disaster relief. In 1986 the Queen's Gurkha Engineers and Royal Signalers assisted the Solomon Islands in the wake of cyclone Namu. Medical, engineer and signalling assistance from Belize was given to Jamaica following severe flooding there last June, and members of the Parachute Regiment also gave help. In October, the Belize garrison provided similar assistance to San Salvador following the earthquake there.
Of the Army's service men deployed outside the NATO area I should particularly like to refer to two groups. The first are those who served in successive training teams in Uganda between March 1984, when Britain took over the training task previously undertaken there by a mixed training team drawn from seven Commonwealth countries, and November of last year, when our training team completed its scheduled task for the Government of President Museveni. A total of 140 service men, all from the Army, have served in Uganda over the past four and a half years, during what, sadly, has been a turbulent period for that country. Our training team there has worked steadily, calmly and professionally. Despite the difficulties and the moments of personal danger, it has performed extremely creditably.
The second group are the members of the Royal Military Police. For many years they have played a key role in giving personal protection to those at risk from terrorist attack, not least in Northern Ireland. In recent years as the terrorist threat has widened and become more acute for some of our diplomatic personnel, two of whom have been assassinated in the past three years, the role of the Royal Military Police has been extended to the protection of certain ambassadors and high commissioners in high-risk locations, where they are providing an invaluable service.
I can tell the House that the presence of the Royal Military Police has helped considerably in protecting our diplomats in both Beirut and Uganda. The contribution of the Royal Military Police in personal protection has never been in greater demand and we are extremely grateful for the expertise it provides.
173 Operationally much the most important and demanding task for the Army in 1986 was the support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland. As I said earlier, 1986 saw the security forces in Northern Ireland having to meet their most serious challenge for a number of years. The security forces have risen to that challenge, and, with the aid of the RUC, have met it successfully. But it has meant that at the end of 1986 the Army in Northern Ireland was larger than at the beginning of the year. This is the first year in which this has happened since 1972, but we hope to reverse the trend again this year.
The fact that we were ready to increase the scale of the Army's deployment to Northern Ireland, and to do so quickly, is the clearest possible evidence of the Government's determination to root out terrorism and to overcome intimidation in the Province.
The greater challenge to the security forces last year arose from a combination of factors. These included the intensive use of home-made mortars to bomb security force bases, and the ruthless intimidation, including cold-blooded murder, of building contractors and others serving the security forces. I am glad to say, however, that the position was more encouraging by the end of 1986 than at the beginning.
The tactic of intimidating building contractors has been met successfully. Using both private contractors and the Royal Engineers, ably supported by the Royal Pioneer Corps, the past year has seen a major programme of rebuilding and strengthening our bases.
I should like to pay tribute to the Royal Engineers who this year celebrate the 200th anniversary of the granting of their royal charter. In the wars and campaigns since 1787 the sappers have constantly demonstrated their indispensability.
The Royal Engineers have been serving in Northern Ireland continually since the start of the present troubles in 1969, but if any year there deserved to be called the "Year of the Sappers" it was 1986. The first engineer reinforcement squadron was deployed to the Province in October 1985. The sappers set to work with a will, and never let up. By the end of last year they had completely rebuilt two police stations; increased protection at 30 other police stations and Army bases; and erected new observation posts in south Armagh and improved existing ones. In addition, the Royal Engineers themselves designed new forms of blast walls, a new design of protected accommodation for police stations, and a new type of roof to overcome the effect of a mortar bomb.
In the past year there is no doubt that lives have been saved and injuries prevented as a direct result of the additional protection provided by the Royal Engineers. I know that the whole House will want to join with me in expressing our appreciation to the Royal Engineers for their life-saving work in Northern Ireland last year and in congratulating them on their 200th anniversary. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
As for positive successes in 1986, the security forces killed four individuals engaged in terrorist activities, and 630 people had been charged with terrorist offences up to the end of November. A total of 215 weapons were found, together with more than 5,000 lb of explosives and 29,000 rounds of ammunition.
174 Although this is a debate on the Army, I should particularly like to pay tribute to the immense and selfless contribution of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the past year as it is fundamental to the Army's own efforts.
The RUC is in the front line in Northern Ireland in every sense. The lead responsibility for security is the RUC's; the Army is in a support role to the police, but they work together in the most closely integrated and coordinated way at all levels.
Once again, the RUC was the prime terrorist target and, for the second year running, suffered a greater number of men killed than either the Regular Army or the UDR. In addition, RUC officers and their families had to face deplorable physical harrassment, including petrol bombing of their homes from so-called loyalist extremists.
Notwithstanding those intense pressures, the RUC achieved policing of an exceptionally high standard, not merely in the calm, ordered and even-handed way in which it dealt with large-scale marches and demonstrations, but in the great skill and professionalism which it has shown in countering terrorist operations. The House will want to know that the great majority of the finds of terrorist weapons and explosives and of the terrorist arrests I mentioned were due to excellent police work by the RUC for whom praise cannot be too high.
Just as exposed to terrorist attack as the RUC are the men and women of the Ulster Defence Regiment, which is responsible for first line military support to the police in the 85 per cent. of the land area of the Province which contains about 80 per cent. of the population. Like the RUC, the men and women of the Ulster Defence Regiment are vulnerable to terrorist assassination off-duty as well as on, and after they have retired from the regiment as well as while they are serving. Last year the UDR suffered more men killed than the Regular Army in Northern Ireland, as has been the case for six out of the past 10 years. The grim reality of their off-duty vulnerability is brought out by the fact that of the 92 UDR soldiers who have lost their lives in the past 10 years, 74 have been murdered off duty. In addition, 31 men have been murdered who had already retired from service with the regiment. That the regiment has some 6,500 men and women serving with it today is a tremendous personal tribute to those concerned.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
Before my right hon. Friend leaves the subject of the Ulster Defence Regiment, I should like to ask him whether it might be possible for some of those politicians—perhaps also those south of the border who are ill-disposed towards the UDR, in spite of all that it does at great cost for the defence of the people—to be persuaded to pay a visit to the UDR to meet some of the battalions, to see what they are like and what they do, because that is of great importance. I do not agree with the Anglo-Irish agreement, but it is implicit in that agreement that there should be an understanding of the security arrangements on both sides of the border. Could some arrangement be made to educate some of those politicians as to what the Ulster Defence Regiment is really like?
§ Mr. Stanley
My hon. Friend will be glad to know that we have been engaged in that process. Last year we issued invitations to the political parties in the Province for briefings on the role of the UDR so that the precise nature of its work could be properly and dispassionately explained to them and so that we had the opportunity of 175 responding to their questions. Some responded to those invitations, but others did not. I entirely accept my hon. Friend's point, and we wish to get across the real nature of the work done by that important regiment.
Finally, turning to the Regular Army in Northern Ireland, we have maintained two additional battalions on four-month unaccompanied tours for the greater part of last year. That meant a total of eight infantry battalions having to make short-notice, unexpected, deployments to Northern Ireland in 1986. Despite the regimental and personal family disruption that caused, the battalions involved responded extremely well and quickly became effective on the ground. It is the infantry which is in the front line of the campaign, as is borne out by the fact that a total of 18 infantry battalions served in the Province during 1986.
The Army has been highly effective in the Province during 1986 with its intensive patrolling and its continually improving surveillance. There have been a number of conspicuous specific successes. The bomb disposal teams, who again cannot be praised too highly, have rendered safe some 82 separate devices containing over 9,000 lb of explosive. Quick action by a lance-corporal on his own initiative led to the find of three loaded weapons and the arrest of three men. A vigorous follow up by a Royal Marine patrol of a terrorist shoot in Belfast in September led to a terrorist being killed. Similarly swift action by a patrol in identifying and reacting to a shooting attack in Londonderry in February led to one terrorist being killed and one man being arrested and subsequently charged with attempted murder.
The courage and skill shown by Regular Army and the UDR in Northern Ireland last year is reflected in the 120 decorations for gallantry in Northern Ireland that were awarded. These included three Military medals, two George medals, and one Queen's gallantry medal.
The Army enters 1987 well-recruited and well-occupied. It has a great deal of new equipment that has come into service since 1979 and a great deal more in the pipeline. It performs a huge range of roles from counter-terrorism to disaster relief with unfailingly high professional standards and strong individual commitment.
The British Army is a fine standard-bearer for our country round the world and makes a key contribution to the maintenance of the peace with freedom that we enjoy at home. Our warm appreciation goes to the men and women of the British Army who serve us so very well.
§ Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)
The Minister of State for the Armed Forces quite rightly paid tribute to the skill and professionalism of the Army—indeed, to all the armed forces—in the many roles that it is asked to perform in the United Kingdom, specifcally in Northern Ireland, and outside the United Kingdom in the places that he mentioned, for example, in Germany, the Falkland Islands, Belize and other parts of the world.
I readily pay tribute also, because on my visits to various armed units I have seen the professionalism and skill of the Army. No doubt that applies to other hon. Members. Therefore, I should like to pay my personal tribute to the forces and to say also that one is always struck by their niceness—I know that that is not an elegant word—and by their civility and good humour when one visits them. I am sure that I am speaking for most people who meet our armed forces.
176 The Minister gave us the same world tour that he gave us last year. However, this time it was a little spiced with a bit of political knockabout and a few selective quotes here and there, no doubt on orders from Smith square because this might well be an election year. I understand why the Minister did that but, of course, he considered the past and talked very little about the future. I am not surprised about that because there is not much stomach these days in the Ministry of Defence for looking very far ahead in terms of the defence budget. One can understand that, because it is quite clear to most independent analysts that if, by some freak, the Tory party wins the next election, we shall pretty rapidly be faced with a major and fundamental defence review. There is little doubt about that, because the defence budget is out of control and the Government are not prepared to try to do anything to rein it back while facing what might be an election year.
§ Mr. Davies
When the cuts start, they will fall on the Army as they will, no doubt, fall also upon the Navy and the Air Force. The cuts will fall not only on the Army, but on our contribution to NATO. The Minister mentioned commitment to NATO and, as he knows, 95 per cent. of our defence budget goes to NATO on conventional defence expenditure. When the cuts come, as they will, they will fall on conventional defence expenditure, and that means on our conventional contribution to NATO at a time when, I should have thought, we need to build up NATO's conventional defences and not weaken them. However, in view of the expenditure on Trident, the Government's policy will mean a reduction in the conventional contribution to NATO and, specifically in the case of the British Army, will mean a weakening of our contribution in Germany in respect of the British Army of the Rhine.
§ Mr. Marlow
On the subject of reducing our contribution in BAOR, if we arrive at the position explained by my right hon. Friend the Minister where 1(BR)Corps is the only fighting formation in Germany that does not have the nuclear umbrella—I think that hon. Gentlemen know what that means—and if, sadly, there is a conflict with the Warsaw pact and it threatens 1(BR)Corps with a nuclear onslaught, will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what he would say to our NATO allies? Would he say, "On no account do we want you to come to our defence," or would he say, "Yes, do came to our defence."?
§ Mr. Davies
I shall deal with that later. I was saying that it makes no sense to weaken the conventional arm of NATO within Europe to pay for Trident, which is basically what the Government will do. Conservative Members talk glibly about the nuclear umbrella. I would have thought that the first priority should be to strengthen conventional arms so that we never reach that awful moment when nuclear artillery and nuclear shells are called upon.
§ Mr. Davies
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman later.
The cuts will come, first because the Government have ended the 3 per cent. NATO commitment initially entered into by the Labour Government. Secondly, the cuts will 177 come because the Government have made a decision not to allow defence expenditure to increase in real terms. Thirdly, within the total of the declining defence expenditure, there is an escalating expenditure for Trident, certainly over the next four or five years. Therefore, the defence budget will be cut and there will be a major defence review if the Tories win the next election. Indeed, that has already started for the Army. I am interested to note that the Minister did not mention the fact that it is apparently reported that this year the Army has had to face £150 million-worth of cuts, and over the next two years it is reported that the Army will have to reduce its expenditure by up to 4 per cent. and that has been calculated to be about £250 million a year. No doubt that money will come from different parts of the armed forces but much of it will come as a result of not buying new equipment and postponing the purchase of the equipmet that is needed for our conventional defence in Europe.
§ Mr. Davies
With respect, the Minister talked about the past but he did not say anything about next year. I can understand why he did not want to talk about next year for the reasons I have just given.
The major commitment, despite the problems in Northern Ireland, is the commitment of 55,000 troops in Germany. That is probably the furthest east that a standing British Army has ever been in peacetime for such a long period. That is a major commitment for Britain in view of our history and in view of our expenditure and so on.
§ Mr. Davies
I meant to say furthest east in Europe. I accept that India is further east than Germany. It is a major commitment in terms of money, men and resources.
To enable the British Army to perform its function in Germany and to play its part in NATO, two things are necessary. It needs modern equipment. The Minister has recounted some of the improvements of the past few years. The Army together with our NATO allies needs to know that if war should break out in that part of Europe, the war it will be called upon to fight will be carried out in accordance with a sensible and credible military strategy.
Despite what the Minister said, there are woeful gaps in the equipment needed by the British Army of the Rhine. For instance, the Army is well short of the sort of anti-tank weapons and missiles that are required, especially in respect of the more modern Soviet tanks we have been told about. Artillery is another area of neglect. Perhaps artillery is always neglected in peacetime, I know not. It is certainly not as romantic or dramatic as driving around in tanks or sitting behind a 25-pounder, or whatever the latest type of weapon may be. However, perhaps the Minister could have told us something about the SP70. What is happening about that? Apparently, Britain, Germany and Italy have already spent about £250 million and Britain's share has been £88 million.
To make a speech about the Army and devote a third of it to our defences in Germany against the Warsaw pact, with its preponderance of artillery, and not even mention 178 an expenditure of £88 million and the importance of the SP70 for the Army is ridiculous. Is it true that it is about to be cancelled and that it is only a question of which country will dare to do it first? Is it true that the Government are thinking of buying a piece of American equipment off the shelf? I hope that when the Minister winds up he will tell the House what is happening to the SP70, especially in view of the fact that the position on artillery, as General Farndale said some time ago, is not very good for the British Army of the Rhine.
§ Mr. Rogers
My right hon. Friend has mentioned the £250 million that has been spent on the SP70. Is it not true that only 15 of the howitzers have been made? That would mean a cost of £17 million per howitzer.
§ Mr. Davies
That may be the case. We would like to know where the £88 million has gone. I do not think that the SP70 is a particularly complex weapon; perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps we will be told where the money has gone when the Minister replies to the debate.
The Minister talked about Soviet tanks. Apparently there is a new generation of mine which is useful in stopping tanks. However, the Government announced before Christmas that they were not going ahead with the purchase and production of those mines. What is happening about the new generation of mines that could be so effective in stopping those tanks charging across the West German border?
This year we had half a sentence on helicopters. Last year we had a paragraph. Last year the Minister sought to make our flesh creep with an account of the new Soviet helicopters. He said:The formidable Hind anti-tank helicopter is still being added to the Warsaw pact front line at a fast rate.The Warsaw pact's logistic support for its forces will shortly be further improved with the deployment of its new heavy lift helicopter… We saw for ourselves in the Falklands what a force multiplier helicopters in the logistic role can be."—[Official Report, 30 January 1986; Vol. 90, c. 1115.]What are the Government doing about helicopters? Paragraph 68 of the report of the Select Committee on Defence said that a study was being conducted, that the results of the study would be known by the autumn and that the Government would make their decision at the end of 1986 or early this year. What has happened in respect of that study and what decisions will be made?
The British Army has never had a purpose-built anti-tank helicopter and it needs one. As I understand it, we are about 100 helicopters short of our NATO requirement on the central front. There are some unkind people who say that we have the oldest fleet of helicopters in the Western Alliance. Indeed, it may well be that we have fewer than 30 transporter helicopters, Chinooks and Pumas, on the central front. How can the Minister talk about the Army without mentioning artillery, helicopters or mines? They are all crucial defences against the Warsaw pact, especially the tanks, which, as we are continually reminded, it has in large numbers.
As well as equipment, our forces in Germany need to have a military strategy that is credible and sensible. That certainly is not the case any longer in respect of present NATO strategy.
NATO has now reached a point where its strategy of forward defence, the conventional arm of part of the strategy, and the strategy of flexible response, the nuclear 179 part of that strategy, is no longer militarily credible. It owes far more to political considerations and to history than it does to military prudence.
We debate these matters very rarely in the House, but, put simply, NATO strategy is as follows. There is a massive conventional preponderance of arms with the Warsaw pact. The war in Europe will be a short conventional war, because the linear line of defence will be broken fairly quickly and the Germans, as somebody suggested from a sedentary position, do not wish to see any of their territory fought over in a conventional sense. After a few days, the request is made to go nuclear. Apparently, the strategy does not seek to defend territory conventionally, but is quite prepared to destroy that very territory which it is not prepared to defend conventionally by dropping nuclear shells and possibly nuclear bombs on that battlefield.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)
We are following the right hon. Gentleman's arguments, and we want to treat him seriously, as we trust he wants to treat the House. I am an assiduous attender of the North Atlantic Assembly; I chaired the military unit. I have never heard such a travesty. No one talks about dropping huge bombs on the battlefield after a few days because we are fed up fighting a conventional war, thus blowing ourselves up in the process.
§ Mr. Davies
The strategy is perfectly clear. It is—the Minister of State for the Armed Forces implied this, because this was his criticism of us—that if deterrence fails, and nobody has ever suggested that deterrence will never fail, or can never fail, war will become a battlefield nuclear war in central Europe. [Interruption.] What are these dual-capable artillery guns that the Minister was talking about for? What are all these nuclear weapons for, which in the main, the Americans have? They are there to be used; they are there to be dropped. They are there to be used should deterrence fail and a conventional war is being lost. In this case, "lost" means if German territory has to be given up. That is NATO strategy, and I am sorry that hon. Members either do not want to know or think about these things or prefer not to talk about them.
§ Mr. Davies
I shall not give way; other people wish to speak. The hon. Gentleman can make his own speech when the time comes.
Since most nuclear artillery in particular has a short range, it will, by definition, be used on NATO territory.
§ Mr. Davies
Because of the short range of much of this artillery, and because the battle will be fought on NATO territory—nobody is suggesting that we are attacking the other side, and we are postulating the situation where a conventional war becomes nuclear—much of that artillery will be dropped on the NATO battlefield between the River Elbe on the one side and the River Weser on the other. Hon. Members should accept that, and they should not shut their eyes to it, because that is the reality of the position. [Interruption.] That artillery will be dropped on NATO territory because of its range and because it is there to destroy Russian tanks. I am sure that the Minister will tell hon. Members exactly what the range of those weapons is. It will fall on NATO territory to destroy Soviet 180 formations, and that will inevitably destroy NATO forces, German towns and German civilian population. That has been, and is, the objection voiced by Chancellor Schmidt, Robert McNamara, Henry Kissinger and others. That has always been the objection to this crazy strategy of flexible response and forward defence.
Will the Minister tell us—he talked about the problems of not using these shells—who decides when this nuclear artillery will be used? Will it be after two or three days? With the difficulty of communication, field commanders may have to make a request within two or three days of that war breaking out. It may be seven or eight days. Who will decide? It will not be a military decision, but a political decision. Who will decide? Will it be the British Prime Minister, the German Chancellor, the Dutch or the Belgians? Who will decide to start a nuclear war in central Europe in the middle of a conventional war? The House is not told about these things. Nobody wants to know about or to listen to these things, but we should be told what the chain of decision is in the event of deterrence failing and the scenario, which NATO seems to believe could happen, actually happening.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins
While the right hon. Gentleman is on the subject of shells, will he consider the possibility, indeed the probability, of the Warsaw pact using its current chemical-capability shells—1 in 4? How would we respond to that? What would his reaction be if it started tossing those things at NATO? Would he forget about them, ignore them or try to respond in some way?
§ Mr. Davies
I do not wish to discuss chemical weapons. We do not disagree with the Government on chemical weapons. The Government have no intention of equipping the British forces in Germany with chemical weapons. I know that there is a lobby for chemical rearmament of the British Army. The hon. Gentleman has asked that question on numerous occasions. When he cannot think of anything else to say he is up on his feet talking about chemical weapons. It is an important subject.
The question of flexible response relates wholly to nuclear weapons. Presumably, since most of these nuclear warheads are American-made and owned, the decision will be taken by the President of the United States. There may be consultation with the German Chancellor and the British Prime Minister because of the involvement of the various forces with the weaponry, but the reality would be that an American President—perhaps the Minister will tell us when he replies—would decide.
What would he be asked? He would be asked, and he would have to decide, to unleash a first use, or a first strike, of nuclear weaponry, not from American territory to Russian territory, but on European soil in Germany, where there are hundreds of thousands of American troops and civilians as well as other NATO forces, and a large number of German citizens and towns.
We all have our opinions about these things. I do not believe that an American President, in view of the enormity of the moral and military consequences, would agree to unleash those weapons in Europe, thereby breaking the nuclear threshold and inviting a retaliatory nuclear attack from the Warsaw pact. Such a war would probably escalate into a general nuclear conflagration. I do not believe that it would happen.
The United States Defence Secretary, Caspar Weinberger—if I may mention his name from the 181 Labour Benches—in a speech in the United States on 9 October 1985 completely rejected the strategy which is called flexible response. He sometimes talks sense and on that occasion he said:Our position"—no doubt, the position of the United States—on the uses of military power represents a rejection of received wisdom about limited war and gradual escalation." If that is not a statement that he does not believe in flexible response either, I do not know what is, because the limited war is the limited battlefield war in central Europe, and the gradual escalation is the escalation from the so-called smaller weapons—the shells—on upwards, presumably, to the cruise and Pershing missiles. The truth is—the Conservative party realises this—that the strategy is completely incredible and out of date.
§ Mr. Stanley
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I can certainly assure him that the American Defence Secretary is committed to the doctrine of flexible response. I have been following the thrust of the right hon. Gentleman's arguments closely and I should be grateful if he could tell the House whether, if his policies were implemented and the 1st British Corps on the central front had no nuclear capability, the use of the formidable Soviet short-range nuclear capability against British forces on the central front would be more or less likely.
§ Mr. Davies
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the nuclear capability of the 1st British Corps. That nuclear capability in respect of artillery will only be there when a decision has been taken to release the shells which can then be used. The right hon. Gentleman talks as if that is a military decision; that the military capability is there, the commander puts the bomb in the howitzer and that is it. The right hon. Gentleman talks about the nuclear capability of the first British Corps, but who makes that decision? It is not a military but a political decision and every Government will preserve the right to decide whether to take that decision. The right hon. Gentleman does not know whether a British Prime Minister or an American President would allow the 1st British Corps to have that nuclear capability, as he calls it. Before it can have it, there must be a political decision to release the actual warheads.
§ Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)
I have been following the right hon. Gentleman's point with some care. If I understand him correctly, he is drawing a scenario in which the might of the Warsaw pact has been unleashed against NATO, and he questions, as everyone of us must have questioned, whether NATO will remain united and be prepared to use its weaponry against such an attack. If he questions that, how does he condone his party's policy of saying that it still supports NATO? He cannot have it both ways.
§ Mr. Davies
I am not questioning whether NATO will remain united. Surely the hon. Gentleman, as a former Defence Minister, will understand that I am making the point that the decision to use this so-called nuclear capability would be a political, not a military, decision, taken by the Governments of the time and, in the main, taken by the President of the United States. I do not believe that the President would do so, but that is a matter of belief.
§ Mr. Cook
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. When considering the point made by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), perhaps my right hon. Friend would like to ponder the fact that, when references are made to the massive strength of the Warsaw pact and the great threat that it poses, the frontier posts on the northern boundaries of Norway—which, as my right hon. Friend will know, is a member of NATO—which guard against Soviet ingression receive their electricity supplies from Soviet power stations. What kind of threat would that be?
§ Mr. Davies
I shall not go into the threat within Norway. Perhaps we can discuss that in another debate. [Interruption.] Perhaps a naval debate would be more appropriate to discuss the threat in that part of Europe.
I was saying that the strategy is out of date. I am sure that Conservative Members often read their copies of the NATO treaty. Although article 2 of that treaty does not mention nuclear weapons, it is apparently considered to be the United States' commitment to the nuclear umbrella—if one wishes to use that cliché or shorthand. Article 2 was drafted when the United States had a nuclear monopoly. The Soviet Union had no nuclear weapons when article 2 was drafted, so it was perfectly easy to give that commitment. Then we moved from the monopoly of the United States to nuclear superiority and something had to be done about the original tripwire strategy. Of course, the something became the formulation of flexible response. That was still all right at that time because the United States still had quite massive superiority, as it did at the time of the Cuba crisis. But now superiority has become, at the least, parity in almost every area of nuclear weaponry. For that reason, the strategy must change and I have no doubt that eventually it will because it makes no sense.
Again, let me quote Caspar Weinberger in the same speech from which I quoted earlier, when he made that very point:The world has changed so profoundly"—listening to the Minister, one would not think so—since the 1950s and 1960s when most of our strategic ideas were formulated that many of these concepts are now obsolete.That is the Defence Secretary of the United States commenting on the NATO strategy of flexible response.
We believe that the only sensible defence, and, of course, deterrence, is and would be a conventional one in central Europe. [Interruption.] The moment that one mentions conventional defence we have this hysteria from the Conservative party. We are told about the massive Russian conventional superiority. The Prime Minister implied—perhaps said, although I do not have the quotation—that it was impossible to bridge the gap in conventional weapons. I see some hon. Members nodding sagely. Therefore we would always have to have nuclear weaponry. That is not the view of the United States, but that is the level of the debate that we have in Britain on such matters.
If the Russians have such massive conventional superiority, if they have so many more battalions, the war 183 cannot be won even with battlefield nuclear weapons. Presumably, if we drop ours, they will do the same, and at the end of the day the bigger battalions will win.
Let us look again at conventional Soviet superiority. It cannot be denied that in some areas there is a gap while in others there is not. I do not believe, and most independent experts do not believe, that that gap is unbridgeable. It can be bridged, given the political will, with some increase—not a great increase—in financial resources and if there is a movement away from the simple linear forward defence to a defence in greater layers in that part of Germany which would be affected. One thing is certain—
§ Mr. Davies
The hon. Gentleman intervenes again.
One thing is certain. The Russians certainly are not in a position to fight a conventional war of attrition in that part of Europe. For a start, the Western Alliance—the United States, Canada and the European countries—have twice the population of the Warsaw pact. Economic capacity and economic strength are difficult matters to work out. There is certainly a 4:1 or 5:1 advantage in economic and industrial power. The Soviet Union will be faced not only by Germany, as it was in the last war, but by most of Germany this time, plus, of course, the United States, all the other countries in NATO, and the Chinese who are perched on its border.
Frankly, the idea that the Russians would be capable of fighting a war of attrition against the West, is ridiculous. It would be hard for them to sustain a standing start blitzkreig, despite the fact that they have 4.8 million men in uniform. In fact, about one third of those men are not militarily capable of fighting because they are engaged in other duties. Having accepted that, it still would be virtually impossible for them to sustain the kind of blitzkreig attack that is mentioned from time to time.
On current deployment, the Soviet Union units probably could mount a surprise attack only in East Germany and Czechoslovakia. If it sought to use and move its units in the Ukraine and western military districts, it is doubtful whether it would be able to conduct a surprise attack that would guarantee it some advantage or victory.
I repeat that we accept entirely that there is some gap, especially in ground forces in central Europe, equipment and, indeed, the way in which they are deployed. That gap can be closed by providing more equipment in certain areas, but it is necessary to consider the concept of forward defence because it needs to be restructured.
Despite some modifications—I think that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces announced some modification last year—forward defence is still a linear defence, not a static defence. It is a linear defence with tanks. That is what is wrong with it. There are mechanised troops—troops in tanks, best suited for operational manoeuvre and manoeuvre in depth. They are pinned down in a linear forward defence. Frankly, nobody believes—the Germans will not believe this—that that type of linear forward defence can possibly hold. It is bound to break under a mass attack of tanks from the other side, not because we are weak but because the strategy of using tanks for that purpose does not make much military sense.
Many military experts have been mentioned. There are military experts in Germany and Britain. People such as 184 General Sir Hugh Beach, General Sir Edward Burgess and Brigadier Richard Simkins, who wrote an interesting book on this subject, have argued that forward defence should gradually give way to a more layered defence in part of Germany, thereby making it unnecessary to go through the nonsense of pretending that, somehow, we can use nuclear weaponry in the defence of western Europe.
I must not mention ditches. That would be a terrible subject to mention. In fact, as the House well knows, it was an American idea to have tank traps or ditches, but there are physical and electronic barriers and land mines, which the Government do not want the British Army to have. Physical and electronic barriers could be used as a first layer. It is perfectly possible to have, as a second layer, lightly armed infantry and then, as a third layer of manoeuvrability, tanks. [Interruption.] Hon. Members can make their own speeches. I have discovered that the Tory party does not take defence seriously. It trots out the handouts it gets and does not attempt to think through strategy or any other problems. With that kind of gradual change—the change will be gradual—in the concept of forward defence, it will be possible to have a much greater defence in depth in Germany and we would not have to resort to the nonsense of thinking we can use nuclear weapons.
It is depressing that we do not debate these matters very often in the House. In this possible election year, it is almost impossible to debate these matters as Tory Members trot out their clichés and their handouts from Smith square. As long as we have these attitudes, as long as there is no attempt to discuss strategy, as long as there are cuts because of Trident and the declining defence budget, and unless someting is done, over the next few years, the British Army will be faced with equipment that is not up to standard and, whatever happens, will be faced with a strategy that makes no military sense.
§ Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)
It was interesting to listen to the speech of the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies). He should discuss the latter part of his speech with some of his colleagues, particularly the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert), who wrote an interesting article in the Sunday Telegraph in October. He dealt with the point which the right hon. Gentleman adumbrated in the last few moments of his speech. In his article, the right hon. Member for Dudley, East wrote:The idea that you can keep up our conventional forces by a few tanks and a couple of frigates and that this would compensate NATO commanders for the loss of their nuclear facilities is misleading to the point of mendacity.I should not have put it as strongly as that but perhaps it would be wrong to put it more mildly. The right hon. Member for Llanelli might care to deal with the point raised by the right hon. Member for Dudley, East who delivered such a severe indictment.
I welcome the fact that we continue to have single service debates. The matters of grand strategy with which the right hon. Member for Llanelli dealt—frankly, I do not think that his strategy was grand—were less appropriate for a debate on the Army than for our broad debates on the White Paper. Single service debates enable us to home in on matters of more detail in relation to the armed forces. Some hon. Members had considerable doubts about the organisation of the Ministry of Defence 185 and, particularly, the abolition of single service Ministers. One of the assurances that we received at the time of the reorganisation was that single service debates would continue, so that we could home in on matters relating specifically to the individual forces and, as a general rule, save broad strategic considerations of defence for the general debate on the White Paper.
It is my privilege to represent a garrison constituency. I represent Colchester, North, and my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary represents the other part of that garrison town. We work harmoniously together and, I am glad to say, with the garrison. The eastern district headquarters are in Colchester. We have an admirable relationship with Major-General Ramsay, the GoC. He goes to considerable lengths to keep in touch with the local such as my right hon. Friend and myself. We have an extremely amicable relationship.
The headquarters of 19 Infantry Brigade, or 19 Air Portable Brigade—perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will tell me exactly what it is called—currently are in Colchester. Other units of considerable importance are situated there also. The military corrective training centre, which is nearing its 50th anniversary—it may be even older—is at long last in the concluding stages of rebuilding. For years the centre has occupied wasteful and uncomfortable nissen huts, but the rebuilding is coming to fruition. It is very much hoped that some senior personage—perhaps a member of the royal family—will open the new MCTC.
§ Sir Antony Buck
I shall not respond to my hon. Friend's intervention from a sedentary position.
Admirable work is done at the MCTC. It has certain advantages over similar civilian institutions. All the soldiers under sentence are young and fit and can be kept busy in a way that is not possible in a civilian prison. I pay tribute to the work done over the years by the MCTC. Because of pressure from both sides of the House over a long period, the centre will at last move from its old clapped-out nissen huts to new premises. Everyone, especially the staff, in Colchester is grateful for that.
The 19 Air Portable Brigade is part of the strategic reserve and an important unit. There are also resident battalions in my constituency which change with some rapidity. It is difficult to keep track of them because often they go on tours to Northern Ireland. At the moment, we have an extremely good relationship with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders which are doing a term of duty in the Falkland Islands. I think that all hon. Members will wish them well in their work.
It is appropriate for me, as chairman of the Conservative party's defence committee, to pay tribute to the work of our armed forces in the Falklands. I had the privilege of leading the first parliamentary delegation to the Falklands after the confrontation and after we had dispatched the Argentines. I had the pleasure of the company of several Opposition Members. The journey was an extraordinary experience. One can look at a map to see the fantastic distances that must be covered to send an expeditionary force to the other side of the world, but there is nothing like covering the route oneself.
There was a relatively comfortable journey to Ascension Island in a DC10. The flight was dry but, other 186 than that, it was like an ordinary civilian aeroplane. One travelled from Ascension Island in a semi-pressurised Hercules—an extraordinary experience. For 16 hours one pounded over the ocean. Two in-flight refuellings were carried out with remarkable expertise by the Royal Air Force. I went up to the co-pilot's seat for the second in-flight refuelling by a former V bomber and saw the difficulties encountered. The maximum speed of a Hercules is about equal to the stalling speed of a former V bomber, so in-flight refuelling occurs from a low dive from 28,000 or 29,000 ft to about 6,000 ft. The RAF carried out the refuelling in a relaxed and amazingly skilful way. The Hercules was packed with army equipment and personnel.
Our armed forces can be very proud of their work in the Falklands. Operations in the Falklands are tri-service, as they were during the war. Inevitably and rightly, the Army plays a major part, although all the services share the credit for maintaining our position in the Falklands. We are grateful to the armed forces for the way in which they are sustaining themselves and our presence there.
We are all grateful to the Army for its clearing of the minefields. Laying those minefields was one of the most irresponsible actions of the Argentines. Many of the mines are plastic, which are virtually undetectable by conventional mine-detecting devices. I saw men prodding inch by inch with bayonets to get the mines out of the ground. I believe that that hazardous exercise has finished, although some parts of the Falklands have been cordoned off with barbed wire. That land probably will never be utilised because of the virtually indestructible plastic mines used by the Argentines. I believe that the presence of the Army in the Falklands will prevent any foolhardy successor to Galtieri from embarking on a similar venture.
It seems to me, because I remain in pretty close touch with the Army in and near my constituency, that Members on both sides of the House should be proud of the calibre of our armed forces. One could almost say that too high a proportion of our talented young people go into the armed forces, but it would be inappropriate for me as chairman of the Conservative party's defence committee seriously to put forward such a view. One never ceases to be amazed at the extraordinarily high calibre of the young men whom one meets in the messes of the Army and the other services. We are fortunate that we have in our country people who are prepared to sustain the armed forces. We can be confident that the quality and calibre of today's Army fully lives up to the calibre of those who served in the past.
§ Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)
I should like to follow the hon. and learned Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) in paying tribute to the Army's performance, skill and dedication. Like him, I represent a traditional Army town. I have lived there for 25 years. One cannot live for so long in a town such as Woolwich without being well aware of how much we owe to the professionalism and commitment of our soldiers.
Woolwich has provided essential support services to the Army for generations. I hope that the House will therefore understand if I begin with some domestic issues which affect the community in Woolwich. In my 12 years as a Member of Parliament representing Woolwich I have had to fight a constant rearguard action against nationalisation, closure, privatisation, contractorisation and 187 wholesale relocation of Army support units in Woolwich which have traditionally provided an important source of employment for my constituents.
Two issues are, once again, causing major concern, both of them long-running sagas. One involves the Army cataloguing authority. Several years ago, it was proposed that it should he removed to Glasgow. There was a long argument about the proposal which made no sense in operational terms, and we ended up with a clear categorical assurance from the then Minister that there would be no removal to Glasgow. Therefore, we were surprised to find last year that the future of the Army cataloguing authority was once again in doubt and that the co-location of this unit with another unit certainly did not rule out its removal to Glasgow after all. Since then, there has been an ominous quiet about this proposal and there is anxiety among the staff. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell us something about that proposal.
Rather more serious is the matter of the future of the headquarters of the director of quality assurance. Those headquarters have been at Woolwich arsenal for many years and several years ago we were assured that they would be permanently located there. A great deal of work has gone into the reorganisation of the Woolwich arsenal site. A new head office building has been on the drawing board for years waiting to go ahead, but then suddenly we were told recently that the new Secretary of State for Defence had decided to examine the possibility of removing that headquarters operation to a site outside south-east England. For many of us, Woolwich without the Woolwich arsenal would be like Blackpool without Blackpool tower.
Apart from our emotional commitment, Woolwich has an unemployment rate of 16 per cent. and to remove a traditional source of employment would cause considerable anxiety. The long delay in making a final decision on these issues must be costly and is certainly causing considerable uncertainty to the staff. Anything firm and clear that the Minister could say would be extremely welcome.
I noted that in his speech the Minister picked out for the alliance share in the statutory attack on both opposition parties the concept of a battlefield nuclear weapon-free zone. As I am sure he knows, that was originally proposed by the Palme commission. Missing in what he said about that concept was that it is not designed to provide some sort of sanctuary from nuclear weapons in a clear, defined area. The concept of the battlefield nuclear weapon-free zone or corridor sought to remove some of the dangers of having battlefield nuclear systems actually deployed on the battlefield. In that situation they are vulnerable to a conventional attack.
That gives rise to the classic problem that commanders would have to face at an early stage in a conventional Soviet attack. They would have to decide whether the battlefield nuclear systems should be used or lost because of the risk of their being overrun. We are always assured that there is no risk, that there are adequate safeguards, and that there can be no release of nuclear systems without political consideration and political decisions. I have always found that a somewhat doubtful scenario against the background of a conventional conflict having broken out in central Europe. The idea that 16 nations can solemnly consider the possibility of using battlefield nuclear systems when the conflict is raging around them is somewhat unrealistic.
188 The difficulty that many of us see about battlefield nuclear weapons is that they reduce the nuclear threshold and change the nature of nuclear weapons from being systems of absolutely last resort to war fighting systems. In that sense, they are the most dangerous nuclear weapons that we have. NATO has substantially reduced its stockpile of shorter range nuclear warheads and the Montebello decision will reduce those stockpiles still further. The idea of a battlefield nuclear weapon-free zone is a logical extension of that approach which would reduce the risks of nuclear conflict in Europe.
The Minister's speech seemed extremely reassuring, not to say complacent, in the picture that he painted of the current state of our armed forces in general and the Army in particular. One did not get any sense of the squeeze on resources which is pointed to by analysts and experts. It was not possible to get the sense of a declining defence budget which is likely to reduce in real terms by about 7 per cent. over the next three years. In terms of equipment and manpower, one did not get a sense of the pressures which that declining budget will inevitably exert.
The problem of recruiting and, more importantly, of retaining the high quality of personnel that we need in the Army certainly did not come through in the Minister's speech. If we want that sort of quality we must pay, clothe, house and feed our service men in a way which keeps them up to the rising living standards of people outside the Army. That implies a rise in real unit costs in service manpower of about 2 to 3 per cent. and that adds to our difficulties about the manpower problem.
The sophistication of weapon systems about which the Minister spoke means that we shall place greater demands on skills and on highly trained and proficient service men. We did not hear from the Minister about the problem of demography, the fact that the numbers of recruitable people in the 17 to 30-year-old age group available to the armed forces will decline sharply from the late 1980s. In 1983, for example, there were almost 2 million 16 to 19-year-olds—1,929,000 to be precise. By 1995, that will drop to 1,351,000. That drop will add to the problems about the costs of recruitment and retention. Some of our European neighbours have the same difficulty and as a result some have increased and extended their conscription systems. That is not a possible option in Britain. Conscription is not a political possibility and the price that has to be paid in terms of the loss of efficiency is not a price that many military people would want to consider.
One of the difficulties coming through is the problem of retaining key staff. When we spend a lot of time, effort and money in training key people, to lose them early is very wasteful. What is called in the trade premature voluntary outflow does not affect only the Army, because, of course, this week it had a distinguished victim in the Royal Marines.
A number of reasons are given for people leaving the services early. Many of the military suggest that the overstretch of our forces is a major factor. They say that there is too much overseas duty, that the Army is being asked to do too much with limited resources and that this has an adverse impact on the lives of officers and men. Some suggest that it is due to the lack of the equipment that is necessary adequately to train people, and some point to the deficiencies of modern equipment.
Last week, an article in one of our national newspapers said that British soldiers are less well protected by their combat clothing than virtually any of the armies of our 189 European neighbours. One defence industry source is quoted as saying that every army in western Europe will have flak jackets on general issue before the British Army. There were suggestions that the existing programme in the Ministry of Defence for purchasing flak jackets may have to be reduced because of spending cuts.
§ Mr. Cartwright
From a sedentary position the Minister says, "Nonsense." I hope that the Minister who replies to the debate will be able to deal with that point, because clearly that sort of suggestion has an impact on morale and that has an effect on the problem of people leaving early.
§ Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)
The hon. Gentleman speaks about equipment for the Army. Now that he holds the position as principal defence spokesman for the alliance will he reconsider the placing of his name to early-day motion 342?
In that motion a company in my constituency called Multilift (UK) Ltd., which has recently obtained an order to supply the DROPS project to the Army, is alleged, together with its parent company Partek of Finland, to have supplied the Soviet Union in general and the Soviet army in particular. Is he aware that Multilift in Shrewsbury has categorically denied that this is the case and has said that its parent company Partek has less than 5 per cent. of its business supplying refuse disposal equipment to the Soviet Union and supplies no military equipment whatever? Before making his allegations, perhaps the hon. Gentleman would check his sources—
§ Mr. Cartwright
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the information. That early-day motion was tabled before the recess in response to information from a variety of sources and in response to concern on both sides of the House about the DROPS contract and the way in which it was placed. The sort of assurance that the hon. Gentleman has just given will be generally welcomed by all concerned.
Speaking about the outflow of key personnel leads me to remind the House that the Minister told us last July that there had been considerable concern in the Ministry of Defence about this problem and that specific studies were being undertaken into various aspects of early departure from the services. We were told in July that the results of these studies would be available by the year end. We have not yet seen them. Again, it would be useful if the Minister, when replying, would tell us the current position regarding those inquiries and what steps might result to deal with the problem and perhaps reduce it.
I should like to refer to the problem of the defence budget pressures on equipment, because some analysts tell us that the price of major weapons systems is rising at roughly twice the rate of inflation. Examination of past expenditure figures suggests that the cost of general defence procurement is 3 to 5 per cent. above the annual rate of inflation. That again will mean that a reducing defence budget will buy less equipment because of the problem of rising prices. The Government have told us that they hope to tackle the problem by achieving increased efficiency and competition in the supply of 190 goods and services and by extending international collaboration to spread research and development costs and to reduce production costs through longer runs. Both are extremely welcome approaches, and I hope that they succeed. But I doubt very much that they will produce the sort of savings necessary to provide the sort of equipment and levels of manpower that we will need.
One is looking always for major savings in this defence area in order to fund all the improvements that all of us would like to see. It is hard to see where those savings might come, but there is one out-of-area commitment which simply must be re-examined, the commitment to fortress Falklands. The total costs attributable to the Falklands commitment between 1982 and 1994 have been estimated at £4.65 billion at 1983–84 prices. Much of that expenditure is now irrecoverable. It is the essential replacement of war losses that goes into capital investment. But the running costs of the Falklands garrison are now put at £135 million a year, and much of that could be more usefully redirected into the NATO commitment if our fortress Falklands commitment could be reduced or, better still, liquidated. I should like a very much higher priority to be given to diplomatic efforts to find a fairer solution to that problem.
It seems to many of us on both sides of the House that there is no escaping the need for a thorough review of defence priorities. I should like to see that review as part of a European exercise. It is essential that the European members of NATO examine the shape and size of their forces and try to agree on the extent and nature of a more effective division of labour. That would cover the obvious issues of forces currently deployed, the availability of reserves, equipment procurement and research and development. All these things have been discussed regularly over the years, but trying to achieve them is much more important and urgent now than ever before because of the continuing debate and continuing doubt about the extent of the United States manpower commitment to western Europe.
I believe that predictions of a total United States withdrawal are very much exaggerated unless we have a British Government who seek massively to renege on their commitments to NATO, when we might well see a substantial and dramatic change in American policies. But without that we have to face the fact that there will be continuing pressures on the American defence budget and hence growing pressures to reduce the manpower commitment to Europe. In conversations that I have had with him, the supreme allied commander Europe, General Rogers, has given me the clear impression that we would be unwise to assume that the Americans will go on committing 326,000 ground troops to Europe for the foreseeable future. If we are to encourage the United States to maintain and effective commitment to Europe, we have to show that Europe is determined to be doing more to defend itself.
We cannot go on pretending that everything can continue as it is at the moment against a background of a fall in defence expenditure. To do that would be to put greater pressures on our service men than is fair or reasonable. There will obviously be no major defence review this side of the coming general election, but I believe that it must and will come soon after that election, whoever forms the next Government.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East)
It is a particular pleasure for me to be able on this occasion to follow the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright). It allows me to congratulate him most warmly on his rejoining the Select Committee. He and I were on it when it started in 1980 and his contribution then was very valuable and sensible. It was because his views were largely so sensible in this area that he must have felt constrained, with others of his friends, to leave the Labour party when it started proposing the sort of loony rubbish that we have heard tonight and that he could no longer stand. So we all look forward to having him back and contributing again to the defence debate, and long may he this time remain a member of the Committee.
May I also congratulate the hon. Gentleman, in slightly different vein, on taking on the arduous task of defence responsibility for both his own party and the Liberal party. This, it is stressed, is only temporary, and for that he must be somewhat grateful. In view of the sensible speech that the hon. Member has just made, has made in the past and will no doubt make in the future, and the largely sensible comments of the leader of his party, and comparing them with one or two of the remarks of the Liberal Members, higlighted in their conference last summer when they were propounding even more loony policies than are coming out of the Liberal party at the moment, it will be a difficult circle for him to square, and I shall watch with some affectionate amusement his attempts to do that and convince us that he really does speak for both those parties whose defence policies are so different.
I should like to make two brief points about the Army and our forces as I have been fortunate to see them in the past months. Before I do that, however, I have to put on record my utter disgust at the sheer irresponsibility of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) on the radio yesterday. There was a minor accident involving the sliding of a large vehicle off the road into a ditch which the hon. Gentleman—on reflection, he must know that he was going too far—compared with Chernobyl. Two things need to be said about this.
First, the hon. Gentleman said that it was crazy that anyone should be moving military equipment about in the winter. Will he please tell the Russians that? If he can get an agreement that they will stop the moment the first snowflake falls and do nothing in the military field until the spring sun has melted all their snows, I am certain that my right hon. Friend will be very keen to accommodate them in this matter. But as long as we have to be ready all the time, prepared all the time, and when our defence forces have at all times to be at complete readiness for any untoward attack, vehicles will have to be moved in the snow and ice and there will be the odd mishap.
I entirely agree with the Ministry of Defence policy never to state publicly what it is moving and where. That can only help the enemy. Our people do not need to know; they just need to know that they are properly defended. But even if we were moving any form of nuclear warhead, for the hon. Gentleman to compare the likelihood of a similar accident with an inert, unarmed warhead, with a fully working, unsafe reactor can only frighten the ignorant. Since he is not one of the ignorant, it is too irresponsible for me to let the matter pass.
192 The Select Committee has had the chance to see quite a bit of the British Army in the last two or three months, most notably in the exercise in Oman to which my right hon. Friend the Minister of State referred. We were there for the large part of the active bit of that exercise and I want to add my congratulations on the way that our services mounted that exercise. It was an outstanding achievement in joint service co-operation. From the initial planning to the mounting of the operation—the getting out of the Tornados for the first time, flying in a single stage of about 11 hours from the United Kingdom with two refuellings—was an amazingly good technical achievement. The planning of the joint staffs to get the naval forces, the Royal Marines, the Army and the Air Force all there at the right time, with the capability to do their job, drew unbounded admiration from everybody who watched it.
We went out before dawn for the major day of the exercise. As dawn broke we saw the naval task force about three miles offshore. We saw the Marine commandos come in and land across the beaches, with the naval helicopters bringing in the support, the live artillery, the weapons and the equipment that were needed. Later that morning we saw the drop of the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment. All these operations were carried out with the sort of professional skill that we have come to expect but which nevertheless we admire and which ought to be put on record.
The whole of that exercise has done nothing but good, not only for the confidence of our services but for the respect in which the professionalism of those services is held throughout the western world. In addition, the co-operation of a friendly Government in that very sensitive area of the world, which incidentally was watched by many representatives of the other Gulf states, can only have increased the awareness of potential enemies or aggressors in that part of the world that we are prepared to help our friends. We have the capability. My goodness me, if they try anything, we will do it, and do it well.
We were in Oman for four or five days and during the rest of our time we had a chance to see not only the Omani services at work but those many individuals from the three services here who are serving with the Sultan of Oman's forces either on loan or on contract. We met many of them. Their morale was high. They are adding a professional dimension to the Sultan's forces which are growing in efficiency day by day and are being taken over more and more by Omani-trained and Omani native officers and other ranks who are bringing those forces into a state of readiness second to none in the Gulf. The work that is being done by our service men out there on contract is absolutely exemplary.
The second point which I want to raise about the armed forces involves the Brigade of Gurkhas. We had the opportunity, while we were in Hong Kong, to visit their training establishment and to see the high state of their morale and their professionalism in the job that they do in training Ghurkhas to stand side by side with some of the finest units in the British Army.
There is a problem behind that—the ending of the lease in Hong Kong in 10 years' time. The Select Committee has been addressing itself to that problem for some time. We have been concerned about the future of the Brigade of Gurkhas, and 18 months ago we asked the MOD to outline its thinking to us. That prompted an announcement by the then Secretary of State, my right 193 hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), in September 1985 that there would a continuing role for the Gurkhas after 1997 within the British Army. So it is from that basis that we start. He also said that the final size and shape of the Gurkhas would turn on operational resource factors facing the entire British Army at the time, which it was too early to foresee at that stage.
Given the time which those now joining can expect to serve, and given the unique contribution of the Gurkhas to our armed forces and the importance of this relationship not only to ourselves but to the kingdom of Nepal, the Committee has said that during the present Session of Parliament it will look into the whole question of how some of the political problems can be addressed. I hope that this will be of help to the House when we report and to the Ministery of Defence which is still considering this matter from many points of view.
Speaking for myself, may I say how delighted I am that that remark was made about the Gurkhas remaining with us after 1997 and how strongly I feel personally that nothing should be done to alter that? I am very fortunate and proud to have the serving battalion of Gurkhas in the United Kingdom in my constituency. I shall spend a day with them in a week or two's time. I have seen them before and I know well how professionally they operate alongside the rest of the British Army. Indeed, we know the sterling service that they performed when they went as a unit of the British Army to the Falklands conflict.
There will be difficulties. There are problems that have to be solved, but the knowledge that we shall have the Gurkhas as part of our fighting forces for the foreseeable future after we have given Hong Kong back to the Chinese is a great comfort to me. I am certain that it is a great comfort to all those who know how well and how loyally the Gurkhas have served us over the years.
§ Mr. Ted Garrett (Wallsend)
So far the debate has been quite interesting but I should like to issue a warning to Conservative Members that it is unwise to rubbish the statements of my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies). We want an adult debate, not an infantile debate. Whether Conservative Members like it or not, a debate is going on amongst the ordinary citizens of this country as to what the role of the conventional forces will be and whether we are to have a role as a nuclear nation. That debate will not go away. If Conservative Members were to follow the early statements of their leader, they would welcome the debate. Certainly I welcome it.
I am not a unilateralist or a pacifist but we have to get rid of the original thinking on the Government side which could be dangerous, namely, the Field Marshal Earl Haigh type of mentality that led us into disaster in the first war. Conservative Members should remember that in defence there is evolution. Situations change, weaponry changes and tactics change, so defence should not follow and never has followed rigid policies.
I am pleased that the ordinary serving members have been mentioned because this matter gives some concern. Conversations I have had with men serving in the regular forces are somewhat frightening. Because of the large number of people who are unemployed, about 3 million, it is becoming increasingly difficult for those who have 194 proudly served their corps or their regiment, in whatever rank, for 16 to 22 years to get jobs on leaving the services. Without doubt these men are exceptionally well qualified to take jobs in civilian life but I am beginning to discern some discrimination.
The matter was brought to my attention by officers who, after retirement from the forces, applied for civilian jobs in various parts of the public service—for example, with police authorities. Because they have received an army pension at the age of 47 to 50 they are considered not to be the type of person to employ even though they may have superior qualifications. I name Northumbria police. I understand that Cleveland constabulary and the Devon and Cornwall constabulary have taken a similar view. I have referred just to the police but other parts of the public service are also denying those men employment because they have served in and obtained pensions from Her Majesty's forces. The matter requires attention. The Minister should send a quiet word to the responsible authorities. I might add that these decisions are not all being made by Left-wing loonies.
The conditions for the serving men are, without any doubt, far superior to the conditions when I and some of my colleagues served in the armed forces. However, there is still a grouse about housing conditions. I am aware that regimental welfare officers are doing their best. However, the main problem arises from the fact that some of the houses that were built 30 or 40 years ago now require modernisation. The Minister may care to consider that and decide whether any financial resources can be allocated for the improvement of housing conditions.
I was heartened by the Minister's statement about equipment. There is no doubt that the amount of equipment going to the regular and the territorial forces is excellent. I have seen no signs of inferior equipment or any lack of equipment required by the personnel. I was especially impressed by the training efforts that take place within the Territorial Army.
I live in the northern area from which two out of five of the people who serve in the armed forces at present originate. Catterick and Otterburn are in this northern area, and there is a long tradition relating to the armed forces because in depressions, in wartime and during periods of relative prosperity, there has never been a problem of obtaining recruits. The Minister mentioned the 200th anniversary of the Corps of Royal Engineers. However, there are regiments in the north that can claim a foundation of 312 years or more. The Royal Engineers are simply apprentices as yet.
One day I should like the Minister to visit the territorial battalions in the area. I should like to extend an invitation to him to come on a regimental day and see the St. George's day parade of the 6th Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. If he comes, he will see the equipment and the vigour of the men on display and he will be very proud of that.
I would also like the Minister to consider the speech made before Christmas by the senior officer responsible for the Territorial Army. When addressing the Northern Territorial Association, the senior officer made a prophetic statement. He advised the officers responsible for training to remember that the men, while they are being trained to a degree of efficiency, are also civilians. They have a life to lead beyond the armed forces. He said that over-training may be a factor that could discourage recruitment. In other words, he said that the men should 195 be trained but that the training should be balanced with an interest and a belief in the service of the Territorial Army. I wonder whether the Corps of Royal Marines is possibly relying too much on training and de-humanising people to the extent that people have to have another life as well as a commitment to that magnificent corps.
One of the problems faced by the Territorial Army is how to deal with recruits who wish to serve in the Territorial Army, but who are unemployed. A greater number of recruits would join the Territorial Army from among the unemployed if we were to straighten out the financial position relative to deductions of unemployment benefit while the unemployed serve a day, several days or parts of days with the Territorial Army. That problem has never been satisfactorily resolved. It is unfair that some people in employment serving in the Territorial Army do not have daily pay or salary deducted yet they can rightly claim the appropriate allowances. That is a deterring factor in the recruitment from among the unemployed.
I understand that in the northern region there is a good core of Territorial Army officers waiting for other ranks to be recruited. In the north-east—and on Tyneside in particular—it may now be an appropriate time to consider the formation of another infantry battalion. I am sure that that would soon get up to strength and that there would be no problems of officer recruitment.
The British people have always had some regard for the armed forces. There is a tradition because of our imperial role and because people have had sons, brothers, uncles or grandfathers who have been killed in the service of the country or who have served the country. We like to know what is happening in the Army and we want to see its profile kept at the right level. We want the best of the British Army to be displayed.
In conclusion, there should be a little more swank on display than has previously been the case. That swank could be in the best interests and be one of the best morale builders for the Army. I hope that the Minister will consider my point. I could carry on at length and describe my experiences with the Western European Union on which I served for seven years as a delegate pursuing harmonisation. However, perhaps we can debate that at some other time.
§ 7.6 pm
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) on his remarks about the unemployed and the Territorial Army. There are difficulties, but I am certain that they can be easily surmounted. I also agree with the hon. Gentleman that the public is concerned about defence. Although that may not figure as the major issue, it will certainly he an important feature in the next election. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman on that point.
§ Mr. Garrett
I must apologise to the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) for not giving full attention to his speech. I am a member of a Standing Committee and a whisper has reached my ears that I should go and vote in the Committee. I hope that it will not be considered discourteous if I leave the Chamber in two or three minutes' time.
§ Dr. Glyn
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that explanation otherwise I might have thought that he was leaving for other reasons.
196 In common with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) and the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright), I have a vested interest as I represent the garrison constituency of Windsor and Maidenhead, and have similar problems.
I want to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on the improvements that he has managed to achieve in the services. I may be wrong—if I am perhaps I will be corrected—but I believe that some of the improvements have been achieved not only by injecting more money but by making economies in the service. Many of the improvements are very important. Some may be minor, for example, the improvements in night sights, but nevertheless they are important.
Although this is a debate on the Army, as many hon. Members have observed, it has developed into a more general defence debate. I do not think that that is in any way to be discouraged. After all, the Army is a major part of NATO and of our defences. To a large extent, the NATO defences are dependent on the Army as opposed to the other forces. The other armed forces are not vital to the support of NATO.
According to the NATO Review 1986:the Soviet aim could be the improvement of their conventional forces, in quantity and quality, to support a strategy and policy of peace by dominance".The review continues by saying that the Soviet conventional forces such as FROG-7 bring arealisation of the growing disparity between the balance of forcesin the Soviet Union and our own. This includes the ability to move troops from other areas such as the border with China, the Urals and various other parts of Russia. It is possible that the forces at their command are much greater than we imagined them to be.
The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) referred to nuclear weapons. He fails to recognise that the reason for 40 years of peace is the independent nuclear deterrent. The hon. Member for Woolwich suggested that, if we were to change our policy, our American allies, who have been so loyal and generous to this country and to NATO, would withdraw altogether from NATO. That would be a major disaster. Our forces, even combined with United States forces, are probably superior in quality but numerically they are inferior to the Warsaw pact countries. To what extent can the Warsaw pact countries fit nuclear battlefield weapons on to soft vehicles and tanks?
I regard chemical warfare and its effect on the efficiency of our forces as a very important issue. The efficiency of an army that has to fight wearing anti-chemical clothing is grossly impaired. It is stated on pages 19 and 21 that the number of countries that have chemical capabilities have increased from five in 1977 to 15. We have seen horrible pictures of the results of the mustard gas warfare in the far east. Let us hope that it will never be used in Europe.
Will the Minister tell the House how much advance notice there will be of the use of these weapons? When will the troops have to put on this very heavy and difficult equipment? Will they have advance notice of one hour, or two hours or more? Clothing of that nature must decrease efficiency.
A great deal of work has been done on the interchangeability of weapons and spare parts in wartime between our NATO allies. If, say, a tank lacks a piece of equipment, it is no use offering something that is measured 197 in millimetres instead of inches, because it would be quite useless. Missiles and equipment must he interchangeable throughout NATO.
Paragraph 4.14 of the Defence Estimates states that we have 100,000 ground forces available for the defence of our homeland. Comparisons are invidious, but I am told that in Denmark 100,000 civilians are armed with rifles. They know the people who live in their villages, and if they saw strangers they would know how to react. If Denmark can arm 100,000 men with rifles, it makes the number of men who are armed in our country look rather small. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces said that the numbers are being increased. Paragraph 4.15 states that three out of the new infantry battalions are to be used for home defence. It is most important to defend one's own country and to ensure that people are properly trained to do that job. We do not want a private army; we want properly organised forces with modern equipment that can be used at very short notice. The age of people does not matter too much, provided that they are fit. What matters is that they should be trained and properly organised.
May I refer, as a purely domestic matter, to the rebuilding of one of the barracks in my constituency? Apart from Combermere barracks, which is the Household Cavalry barracks, Victoria barracks is being rebuilt. I am pleased that at last a start has been made upon its rebuilding. We were held up by a minor problem—the moving of a very old main sewer that ran under the barracks. For security reasons it had to be replaced.
Unfortunately, the contractors chose a steel sheet piling apparatus that annoyed the residents and did great damage in the locality. It caused a rift between the citizens and those who were rebuilding the barracks. Unfortunately, the structural engineers, Sir Alexander Gibbs, approved the contractors' methods. I contacted the person with ultimate responsibility, the chairman of the water board, Roy Watts, and within a short time the noise and inconvenience had stopped and another method was employed. I am told that this will not delay the final date of completion of the barracks. A battalion of footguards will then be installed once more in proper quarters.
Windsor will be all the richer for the presence of that battalion. It will be easier for it to mount guard every day. I understand that, apart from completion of the barracks, the delightful grass square is to be preserved. Those fine barracks will be worthy of the Household Division. It will be able to serve Windsor in comfortable quarters for a very long time. I hope that the Minister will support me, as have all previous Ministers, and ensure that there are no hitches and that the barracks are completed on time.
§ Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)
During the speech of the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) I was tempted to call out, "Ordure, ordure." I regret the problems that had to be faced in replacing the barracks and the relocation of the sewer and I am delighted to hear that they have been sorted out.
There are a number of points that I want to make, and I notice that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement is twitching because of the long printouts that I am holding. I promise him that most of them are sheets of blank paper. I cannot find any way of stopping 198 my computer from printing out two lines on one page and then changing to the next sheet of paper to print out the next two lines. I promise the House that I do not intend to read it all out. I would never dream of abusing your authority, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by doing any such thing.
Defence is an important subject and I regret that the contributions to the debate relating to the general approach to strategy, doctrine and the equipment used by our forces are coming mainly from the Labour Benches. I do not understand how the Conservatives can complacently lean back and accept the NATO strategy of flexible response given the age of that strategy and given the fact that defence technology does not stand still. Moreover, the strategy of the Warsaw pact does not stand still. Yet, here we are, in 1987 arguing on the basis that, somehow or other, a strategy that is almost 20 years old is the correct strategy to defend Europe.
I can assure the House that that view is not shared by the people to whom I spoke to when I visited NATO headquarters shortly before Christmas. General Rogers certainly does not believe that there is a sufficiently strong conventional defence on the western plain of Europe.
Politics in the United States has certainly not stood still. As a result of the recent elections in the United States the leadership in the House of Representatives has changed and there are different people in charge of important committees. Senator Nunn has been outspoken in his view that the other countries in Europe ought to play their full part—a more significant role—in the conventional defence of Europe.
General Rogers considers that the Warsaw pact forces have a 6:1 superiority over NATO forces in Europe in numerical if not operational terms. We should address ourselves to that problem. It is not good enough for the Minister to stand up and say how well he did last year in increasing the numbers in the Territorial Army by a thousand. Does the Minister believe that he is addressing the main problem?
We are well aware that the standard military doctrine is that if one is in a defensive position it takes a 3:1 superiority to overcome that dug-in defensive position. That is the position that NATO has taken. The fact that the Warsaw pact has a numerical superiority of 6:1—effectively it is probably 4.5:1—means that NATO is not in a good position. We must find the additional conventional forces to commit to NATO.
We are not helped by the kneejerk reactions that we get from the Conservatives. We know that we have to cut our coat according to the cloth, and if that cloth is such that our primary role is within NATO—the Scotland/Iceland trench and the British Army of the Rhine—we accept that. But if there is a grandiose vision that the use of Trident D5 missiles overrides that role it is too complacent. It is not in the best interests of the defence of this nation.
I listen with surprise to some of the statements made by Caspar Weinberger. I do not know of any radar system in existence that can detect the difference between the Union flag and the Stars and Stripes on the nose of a Trident D5 missile. Mr. Weinberger seems to be gloriously unaware of that and the way in which we could drag America into a nuclear holocaust, against its will, because nobody in Moscow will worry too much about which flag is painted on that missile. If the missile is incoming, Russia will react.
The Labour party believes that we must spend money on the conventional defence of Europe. We need to 199 increase our ability to fight a conventional war and we need to give a testimony of our commitment to that. I wonder at the complacency of the Ministry of Defence. An army cannot fight without ammunition.
I am privileged to have in my constituency the royal ordnance factory of Birtley and the work force of that factory is concerned because ammunition orders that were expected have not appeared. Unless those orders appear the pre-ordering of raw materials or specialist metals cannot take place. I am told that the factory has not received an order for 105FD ammunition—I do not know what they will fire out of the Abbott gun when they run out of the existing stock of shells. Without extra supplies of 105FDs no ammunition will be available for practice use and so on. We must have those orders.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) mentioned that, significantly, the Minister failed to make any mention of the SP70 weapon system—I find that very odd. Britain, Germany and Italy are, as far as we in this House are aware—we have had no statement to the contrary—committed to replacing the 105 Abbott gun with the 155 mm SP70. That weapon has several advantages, one of them being that it can fire the same ammunition as the 155 mm FH70 main battlefield howitzer. It would be a logical thing to rationalise ammunition.
We have heard nothing about it and I wonder why. Is it because the Germans have gone sour about the idea? Certainly there was some press speculation that the Germans were insisting on changes of specification and other things and that the background to those changes was not that they were needed but that the Germans were trying to delay the system being introduced. Is it that Rheinmetall is not capable of making the shells? I have no evidence to show that Rheinmetall has ever managed to deliver the FH70 ammunition that was ordered from it. I know that the Army needs about 50,000 rounds of FH70 ammunition for the coming year, but so far no order has been placed. No order has been placed at Birtley and as far as I am aware no order has gone to Germany. I look forward to the Minister's reply and I hope that he will be able to tell me whether the Germans have ever delivered any ammunition.
If the Army needs 50,000 rounds of FH70 ammunition, and if it asks Birtley to tender for that order, it will be met with a keen response. It will get a product that complies, in all ways, with the specifications, because Birtley has successfully made that ammunition for years. I hope that the Minister will go ahead and order that ammunition and he will also order 105FD ammunition that is needed for the Abbott gun.
Three years ago, when General Rogers gave evidence to the Senate Defence Committee, he said that one of the areas about which he was worried was the readiness of artillery in Europe. He said that gun crews had the opportunity to fire only one practice round per month. In my opinion that is a good way of ensuring that the artillery is inaccurate, if not downright dangerous to one's forward troops.
I hope that the Minister will give us the assurance that he will place the ammunition orders. I hope that he will assure the House that there are sufficient rounds to enable the proper practice that will enable the Royal Artillery to achieve the levels of accuracy for which it is famed.
I am also told that we are short of 76 mm shells as well. Where is the order for that? What is most puzzling is that 200 the Minister did not mention the royal ordnance factories. We are aware that various companies have shown an interest in those factories and that such companies are trundling around the royal ordnance factories. We are aware of the ability of those factories to supply the Army with its needs—the Under-Secretary will recall that we went on about that at great length in the Committee on that particular Bill. The Labour party is concerned about the royal ordnance factories. We want the ammunition that the Army needs as well as the ability to produce it safely, at a reasonable price and to a standard that does not pose a hazard to the troops using it. We are not convinced that the Minister's proposals or what is apparently happening will give us that. I hope that the Minister will tell us tonight whether he intends to dispose of the royal ordnance factories before the next general election, and if so what he is doing about that. A statement would have been welcome.
Indeed, I would have applied for a debate under Standing Order No. 20 but for the fact that I knew that this debate would be held today and that my application would have been automatically refused as a result. However, that does not mean that the Minister does not need to say anything about the matter. It is important, and has been the subject of much press speculation during the past week. It is certainly of great concern to my constituents and to the constituents of every hon. Member with a royal ordnance factory in his area. I therefore hope that the Minister will answer that point tonight.
I fully support what the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli have said about the efficiency, effectiveness and professionalism of the British Army. We are proud of it and it is entiled to our support. However, that support should be given on the basis that I have outlined and should not be the subject of ministerial complacency.
§ Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)
It is a pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam). During the Christmas period I visited his constituency and saw the excellent Metro-Centre there, But it is also a pleasure to follow him because of his remarks about the ammunition orders for Birtley. I spent a great deal of my youth in that town, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman's words will be well received by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State.
I particularly welcome what my right hon. Friend the Minister said about the Territorial Army, which is expanding well. Before too long we should examine the need to give NATO-committed Territorial Army infantry battalions an armoured personnel carrier capacity. Their susceptibility to air strikes is no less than that of a regular soldier. Moreover, it just so happens that the engines for those vehicles are almost certain to be made in my constituency. Thus I have a vested interest, but I look forward to the day when our Territorial Army battalions are armour plated.
The Labour party's emphasis on conventional defence will have to withstand a lot of scrutiny as the election approaches. Indeed, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in its publication "The Military Balance", has shown that Warsaw pact tanks and tactical aircraft have a superiority over NATO of 2:1 and that Warsaw pact artillery has a superiority of 3:1. Consequently, it is not fair to claim that our forces are 201 matched in any way. Moreover, many serving soldiers will want to know what response there could be to the deployment of battlefield chemical and biological weapons. If we cannot retaliate with nuclear weapons, our front-line troops will have no protection, and are no doubt well aware of that fact.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) has attended the debate, because the new Sir John Moore barracks in Winchester was opened just before Christmas. It was moved from Shrewsbury, which was a matter of great regret to the people of that town. The barracks will be sadly missed. The new barracks forms a splendid training centre, and the people of Shropshire wish it and the people of Winchester well.
In Shropshire we now have a revamped Territorial Army battalion in the 5th Battalion The Light Infantry, in which I serve as a major. The new Yorkshire battalion, the 8th Battalion The Light Infantry, is wished well by the county. Indeed, the move towards county identities for Territorial Army battalions will help the civilian population to identify with them, as well as helping the units themselves.
Before Christmas, I was privileged to attend the annual general meeting of the Shropshire cadet force, as Member for Shrewsbury. Hon. Members have already praised our regular service personnel and many of the Territorial Army units, but a special word needs to be said about those people, particularly adults, who devote a great deal of time to our cadet forces. Their work is unpaid, but those adults give young people an outlet for their energies and often an opportunity to sample military training. Indeed, many of the cadets go into regular service with the armed forces. Such work is not only a gesture to the community but helps young people to decide whether a military career is for them.
As the economic climate improves, more and more potential and serving Territorial Army soldiers and officers will need the co-operation of employers. Perhaps the mammoth procurement power of the Ministry of Defence should be turned towards considering whether we need a voluntary employer's code on Territorial Army and reservist employee involvement. Such a code could be seen as a gesture of national responsibility from employers who already receive enormous Ministry of Defence contracts. As has often been said in Territorial Army discussions, some employers are far from encouraging when it comes to allowing people time off to attend annual camps. However, fortunately, the majority of employers are good, and encourage such activities.
The hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) made a very good speech and demonstrated that the armed forces need not be a political football to be kicked around between the different parties. People in the armed forces support parties of all political persuasions and it is only right that that should be recognised. The hon. Gentleman's point about DHSS contributions being a problem was very telling. For several years we have been promised that the problem would be resolved, but it has still not been resolved, and it is causing immense problems for those who are unemployed and who lose their benefit when they claim pay for a Territorial Army training day. There is inevitably a delay because of all the bureaucracy 202 to ensure that money is paid correctly. However, I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has taken that point on board.
In previous debates I mentioned the possibility of national service in the Territorial Army along Swiss lines. But, as happens whenever national service is suggested, that idea was pooh-poohed rapidly by both friend and foe alike. The falling birth rate will clarify the personnel position towards the end of this century, but in the next 10 years there is likely to be a 25 per cent. drop in the number of young men of military age. Moreover, I understand that there will be 1 million fewer men aged between 20 and 29 at the turn of the century. That is bound to have an effect on normal recruiting patterns. A switch to a conventional defence only policy, as advocated by the Opposition, will almost inevitably mean that the required levels of manpower can be achieved only by compulsory military service. I look forward to that debate being held at a future Labour party conference.
I crave the indulgence of the House, because I rarely like to speak for more than 10 minutes but on this occasion wish to do so. I must ask my right hon. and hon. Friends who are waiting to speak to be patient. Just before Christmas a company in my constituency was attacked in a debate on 12 December on defence projects and exports. Sadly, none of those hon. Members who criticised that company had the courtesy to advise me that they were about to do so. However, before today's debate I took the liberty of writing to the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) advising them that I intended to raise the subject of the DROPS contract. I refer to column 712 of the Official Report for 12 December 1986 and to early-day motion 342, which also contains the name of the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright).
In that debate, the hon. Member for Yeovil made several specific allegations, some of which were echoed by the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North. From the company's point of view at least, it is important that the record should be made clear. He made a number of allegations especially to my hon. Friend the Minister that the Minister of Defence was allowingan unwitting export…to the Soviet Union.Yet the Multilift hooklift mark IV system, which is the point of the controversy, will specifically not be offered to any Eastern bloc country. That has never been proposed and such a thing has never been substantiated. Even if Multilift wished to export that system—clearly it does not—it would be subject to stringent export licensing control from the Ministry of Defence and from the Department of Trade and Industry. Accusations along that line were wholly without basis.
Secondly, it was claimed that the Multilift system "bears a startling resemblance to the system proposed by Boughton."
The hon. Member for Yeovil said:There may have been some leakage of technical information from Boughton."—[Official Report, 12 December 1986; Vol. 107, c. 712.]That suggests that there has been a bit of jiggery-pokery behind the scenes, yet no claims have ever been made against Multilift in my constituency. Multilift retained top London patent lawyers to ensure that there was no infringement of anyone's patent. Boughton has been 203 repeatedly urged by the Ministry of Defence to enter discussions on allegations of breach of intellectual property. That has not been done at any stage. Therefore, it is not on for the hon. Members for Yeovil and for Woolwich, who added his name to the early-day motion, to continue to make those accusations without substantiating them.
The hon. Member for Yeovil suggested that Multilift was a supplier to the Soviet truck company, Kamaz. Multilift has never supplied hydraulic systems to Kamaz and its parent group Partek AB, which is based in Finland, has never engaged in any work for an Eastern bloc military organisation. Multilift staff have told me that categorically. If any hon. Member has evidence to the contrary, he is duty hound to produce it and to give my hon. Friends at the Ministry an opportunity to examine the case.
The hon. Member for Yeovil claimed that it was evident that the contractor chosen by the Ministry of Defence supplied similar systems to the Soviet Union, probably to the Soviet army. That accusation had no basis of truth whatever and I challenge him to substantiate it.
The question remains whether the Ministry of Defence should have chosen a Finnish-owned company to be involved in the tender process for the DROPS—ammunition lift—project. Partek AB was formed in 1898. It is a public company in Finland with 13,000 shareholders, 38 per cent. of whom are private individuals. It could not be argued with the best Machiavellian mind in the world that it is a Soviet front organisation trying to inveigle its way into the Ministry of Defence supply organisation. It is a long-standing, highly reputable, substantially privately owned company. Its activities are in minerals and concrete production, building and insulation materials and hydraulic mounted equipment. Less than 5 per cent. of its Finnish turnover is with Eastern bloc countries, supplying them with hydraulics for refuse collection vehicles. Its hydraulic and commercial systems were developed were in the 1960s. If the basis of the argument is that we should not be involved in that, we might as well prevent British Gas from supplying gas to Army barracks in Britain because it is involved in a pipeline with the Soviet Union. The suggestion that normal commerical contracts should not go on with the Soviet Union has never been proposed by any party in this House.
Multilift, the company in my constituency which is part of the Finnish group, was formed in 1968. It has 160 employees with a turnover of £12 million. It makes not only the military equipment which is being offered to the Ministry of Defence but also refuse collection vehicles—in which it has a 30 per cent. market share—and demountables. It has more than a 50 per cent. share of the United Kingdom market whereas Boughton, whose supporters have been so highly critical of the Multilift contract, has less than 20 per cent. of the United Kingdom commercial market.
That must be seen by the House against the criticism that Multilift has come out of nowhere to grab a contract to which it has no right—or so the opponents of Multilift and the supporters of Boughton will have it. For Multilift, DROPS is a 100 per cent. United Kingdom procurement and manufacturing project. Fortunately, it brings 50 extra jobs to Shrewsbury and I cannot for the life of me understand why the Liberal party has opposed 204 it so vehemently without ever checking with the Multilift management or myself to see whether their repeated allegations have any base whatever.
Multilift is an excellent company with a good management team whom I meet regularly. Its members are dynamic and have integrity. To suggest that they would have any part in supplying the Soviet army with equipment is plainly ridiculous.
Sadly, the controversy on the DROPS project will not go away. There has been a "Panorama" programme on it and countless questions on the Order Paper from my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour), myself and other hon. Members. A paragraph or two about the basis of the DROPS report may help lay this particular ghost to rest.
Eleven years ago, in 1975, Multilift supplied to the Ministry of Defence a special demountable for handling 20 ft long flat-racks. It was put on trial in the United Kingdom and Germany and proved to be all right on highway work but was not suited to cross-country conditions. Between 1976 and 1978 the Ministry of Defence examined the products of all appropriate United Kingdom demountable equipment manufacturers and a wide range of equipment was tested. In 1978 the Ministry of Defence purchased four commercial demountables from Boughton and they were fitted to in-service Foden trucks. That was to help assess the requirement for the Army. At that stage it was a feasibility study and it may well have been rejected.
From 1978–82, tests indicated that DROPS offered productivity savings, and a requirement was formulated and later that year the Ministry of Defence issued a statement of requirement to 43 companies, giving them 20 weeks for a response.
In 1983, Multilift was picked for trialling along with Powell Duffryn in second place. Heathfield Engineering got third place, using a Multilift lifting system, and Volvo got fourth place, again with Multilift kit. Boughton, the subject of all the controversy, got fifth place. Foden and Scammell were chosen by the Ministry of Defence as the two main chassis contractors.
In 1985, after a year's trialling, the Multilift system was chosen and in 1986 Foden and Scammell were confirmed as the main chassis contractors. Boughton's case has been given substantial airing on television and in the Chamber, both in debate and via questions. In 1978, Boughton was in a favoured position, having supplied the equipment for the feasibility study. Obviously, seeing a major recuirement developing, Boughton adopted a strategy which, sadly for the company, turned out to be wrong. The company went for a new "vehicle system" incorporating many new and radical ideas which were subsequently not accepted. It expected the Ministry of Defence's DROPS specification to be written around its vehicle ideas which, again, sadly did not happen.
Boughton designed a new load handling system that could be used only with its own vehicle. That, again, turned out not to be the case. Having taken so many false premises along that product development. Boughton surely has no right to expect a favoured position. Its commercial equipment was purchased for concept trials by the Government and the Ministry of Defence eventually left the solution of the loading to manufacturer response, who, of course, had given performance parameters to work to.
205 My hon. Friend the Minister and the noble Lord Trefgarne have examined this case again and again. There is no evidence of foul play, and the Auditor-General will report to Parliament on the DROPS project in due course. No doubt the matter will be aired again then. My hon. Friend the Minister and his Department should now consider that Boughton is one of two finalists for a new 4 x 4 vehicle. I hope that it will not be given the contract simply to keep it quiet or happy and to calm friends in high places.
Boughton lost the DROPS contract to Shrewsbury in an open and fair competition. I say to its supporters, especially those in the Liberal party, that it is now time to put up or shut up.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
I thank the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) for recognising that people in the armed forces vote for all parties and that the armed forces are not the preserve of one particular party. Thirty-five years ago I was in a tank crew as a national service man on the north German plain, like many others of my age group. Therefore, I remain especially sensitive to people who say that the British Army of the Rhine is vulnerable to some sort of threat. I refer to the exchange between my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) and the Minister on the subject of a short-range Soviet nuclear capability against 1 Corps.
What consideration has been given to the assessment that may have been made in Moscow after Chernobyl of what would happen to Mother Russia herself if a nuclear holocaust or nuclear attack were to be launched against western Europe? We have had enough trouble with caesium 137 in the Outer Hebrides and the mountains of Wales. Given a prevailing south-west wind, is there a cow, a calf, a sheep or a lamb anywhere between Minsk and Leningrad that could graze safely? There is not. Three days after Russia used nuclear weapons in western Europe there would be considerable trouble in the Russian homeland. That, rather than the British possession of nuclear weapons, is the safeguard against the vulnerability argument with which the Minister tried to persuade my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli.
What assessment has been made, in the light both of what we know has happened since Chernobyl and the agricultural difficulties that we have faced, of a Russian attack anywhere in western Europe on Russia herself?
Secondly, I should like to say a word about procurement. Today the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement answered the question:if he will hold discussions with Plessey about the eventual control of high-technology development as a result of its £1,100 million agreement with Boeing; and whether it will pass to American control.He answered, "I shall answer shortly." I make no complaint about the answer. All I ask for is a considered reply. This is a difficult subject and it is better that it should be considered rather than answered within three days.
In the same breath I draw to the Minister's attention the problem of Electronic Data Systems, on which I have tabled questions and about which David Rose of The Guardian has written. I refer to a memorandum from EDS 206 in the name of Lana Lewallen dated 10 May 1985. It is addressed to staff coming to Britain from the United States to work on electronic data systems. I have given copies of it to the Treasury and in a letter to Ministers at the Home Office. It states:For TDYs, the answers to these questions are crucial because you can be denied entry into the country with the wrong answers. Since you are on temporary assignment here, you are only CONSULTING during your stay here. According to British Immigration Authorities, that is not 'business'. Therefore, do not reply 'business' or 'work' because you are NOT, according to their definition. An acceptable answer to the first question is 'pleasure'. It is acceptable, if you wish, to add that you may consult a bit for the London branch of your American employer. You may mention EDS, but do not mention BUPA. The best advice however is not to offer any information other than what you are specifically asked.If you have family who are coming over with you or who will join you later, they should NEVER say they are coming to visit or stay with their spouse/parent who is working in London.In answering the question 'how long will you be in the UK?', remember that you will probably leave the UK several times for trips abroad during your stay. Therefore, do NOT answer six months or four months because that is incorrect. Rather, you can state 'about four weeks at present' because that will be more factual.When you do leave and re-enter the UK, please follow these same instructions. It is important that you know and adhere to these instructions upon entry. It is your responsibility to get yourself into the country; EDS cannot exempt anyone from passport control.The memorandum states:You will also be queried as to 'the nature of your visit to the United Kingdom: business or pleasure?' and 'how long do you plan to be in the UK?That raises questions about the possible deception of immigration authorities. My understanding is that the Home Office is looking into this whole matter. Does the Ministry of Defence want to award contracts, which may have a greater value than those for AWACs, to a company which behaves in that way towards British immigration control, rather than to Plessey, Racal or some other British company? As I say in my letter to the Minister of State, Treasury, who is co-ordinating the committee:What concerns me infinitely more is whether EDS, operating in such a way, is the type of company who should be given preference by the British taxpayer over Racal, Plessey or British Telecom. Not only do vast sums of money appear to be at stake, but a lot of high-tech research is clearly involved. If EDS were to get the contract, would that R and D at advanced level be done in the UK? I think the answer is no.On 7 January David Rose wrote in The Guardian:The first check to EDS's plans for government contracts came in December, when the £10 million Passport Office computer was awarded to a British rival.This followed the Guardian's disclosure that the firm had urged American staff to lie to immigration officials in order to work in Britain illegally, the admission by Mr. Ross Perot, the former EDS chairman, that he paid £2 million into a Swiss bank account as ransom for American hostages in the Middle East: he had been asked to do so by the disgraced Lt-Col Oliver North, the central figure in the Irangate scandal.The loss of the contract came as a shock to EDS staff.What is the position of the Ministry of Defence in relation to EDS?
I interrupted the Minister's opening speech to ask about the talks in Washington about the Falklands. It may be primarily a Foreign Office responsibility, but it is not sufficient for a Defence Minister simply to say that that does not concern the British Ministry of Defence. Certainly it does. Therefore, I look forward to some reconsideration of that in the Minister's reply.
207 Following my surgery on Saturday I wrote to the Secretary of State for Defence. Two constituents came to see me and were absolutely furious about what had happened to the Queen's Own Highlanders in Kenya, with which a relative of theirs is serving. I have put the matter in writing to the Secretary of State, but I might not have raised the matter had it not been for today's news. The high commission in Kenya has said that it greatly regrets that any instructions were given to service men not to go to Mombasa and the coast. Apparently the doctor attached to the forces is saying that he hopes that no more British service men will take leave on the coast. Which is right—the high commission or the forces?
The second part of the question arises from what my constituents told me. They said that their relative had told them—I do not know the accuracy of this—that the warning about AIDS on the coast had been given in a frivolous, ribald manner. I remember easily what happened in my national service days. The inimitable regimental sergeant-major, the late Frank Dodd, of the Royal Scots Greys used to say, "Be careful, lads. Remember your French letters when you leave the guardroom. Ho! ho!" That is how it was put. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), who has great Army experience, knows exactly what I am talking about. Precisely what instructions were given and what warning was brought home to those men before they went on leave on the Kenyan coast? What is the Government's position as between our own high commission and the advice that is attributed to the Army doctor?
I should like now to discuss Army responsibilities and military intelligence as this is one of the few opportunities that hon. Members get to address such matters. I had the first question to the Prime Minister today and asked her whether she would place in the Library a copy of all correspondence conducted on her behalf between Sir Robert Armstrong and Mr. Chapman Pincher. The right hon. Lady replied:It remains inappropriate to comment on matters in issue in the Peter Wright case in Australia. I also intend to follow the precedent set by previous Governments of not commenting on security matters.This is not the occasion to go into the merits of the Australian court case, and I shall not do so. However, I refer to the leader in The Scotsman on 16 December 1986, which stated:Tam Dalyell has a fair point when he asks, 'Is there any effective ministerial control over breaking into houses? Which Minister is responsible for any rules on breaking in?'".I am referring to ministerial authorisation because, quite frankly, Mr. Chapman Pincher has told me on the telephone—I know him of old and believe him on this—that he did not collude in giving "Their Trade Is Treachery" in December 1980 to the Government agency involved. Therefore, it was either done from inside Sidgwick and Jackson or it was done by theft and housebreaking. Following my question to the Prime Minister, I should like to ask whether theft or housebreaking was involved and whether there was ministerial authorisation for burglary. We are concerned about ministerial control over state burglary.
I should like to know also how it came about that MI5 was apparently talking to Sir Robert Armstrong without the Attorney-General being consulted. An Army debate is the only time that one can raise such issues. Some of us might say that if the Attorney-General was not consulted 208 that was because the Government did not want the Attorney-General to be in the position of having to ask awkward questions.
Precisely what is the ministerial control over military intelligence? What can Peter Wright have meant by saying that he took part in operations that were "deniable, authorised and illegal"?
That brings me to the activites of the Wilson years. You and I, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and several other hon. Members lived through those years and we can be forgiven for being extremely curious about what happened, because many strange things happened then.
The first time that I became interested in such matters was almost 20 years ago, when my friend—the friend of many hon. Members—the then Member of Parliament for Ealing, Acton, Mr. Bernard Floud, tragically took his own life. We wondered at the time what exactly had happened because it was public knowledge that the then Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Wilson, had understandably offered Bernard Floud junior ministerial office. That offer was withdrawn when an MI5 report—this was public knowledge at the time—suggested to the Prime Minister and to the Cabinet office that Bernard Floud was not a proper person to hold ministerial office. Some hon. Members will recollect that Bernard Floud took his own life in a gas-filled room.
I have talked about that to my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) and we should like to ask the Government, since we now know that Bernard Floud's MI5 monitoring officer went by the name of Peter Wright, whether there is not a case, even 20 years later, for Ministers calling for the Government agency security file on the Bernard Floud case, and making some sort of assessment. I am not asking to be shown that file but could not my right hon. Friend, a former Home Secretary, and a Privy Councillor, be shown it? If he says that everything is all right, that would satisfy me. Alternatively, the Government might think that it was the kind of thing that could be shown to the Leader of the Opposition.
Bernard Floud was a friend of some of us, and in the light of what we now know about Peter Wright being his monitoring officer and about what Peter Wright has said in the Australian court about burgling his way through London, we should like to know the agony that our friend the then Member of Parliament for Ealing, Acton was put through.
I refer to The Times of 10 December 1986, which asks, "What is a deniable operation?" Mr. Wright is quoted as saying:I have taken part in tens, possibly hundreds, of illegal operations, for which I might have been sent to prison, if detected.Were those operations secretly authorised on the condition that they could be publicly disowned? Some of us would like to know the answer to that question. It could be said that that is raking up the past for the sake of raking up the past, but I reply to that in terms of the judgment in an Australian court six years ago of Mr. Justice Mason, who said:It is unacceptable that in our democratic society there should be a restraint on the publication of the information relating to a Government where the only vice of that information is that it enables the public to discuss, review, and criticise government action.209 In justifying myself for going back two decades, I refer to the noble Lord Dacre of Glanton, Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper, who, although a political opponent, did me the courtesy of writing a foreword to a book that I wrote. We are personal friends. He said that a country,as the price of protecting its present, it should yield up the records of its past.Those are not the words of a Labour politician. They are the words not so much of the Conservative party as of the intellectual Right wing of British society.
Finally, I should like to give a short explanation. It is true that after much thought and discussion with colleagues, and with the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition, I have referred the case of the forged bank account of Lord Glenamara to the Security Commission. I thought that that was the proper way to do it and, quite frankly, that that would be more likely to get a serious reply than if I had sent it to Ministers.
The background is that Lord Glenamara—your friend and mine, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when he was known as Mr. Ted Short, our Chief Whip—asked me to look into the whole background of how he got into difficulties with a Swiss bank account which turned out to be forged.
I am asking present Ministers—regardless of how Lord Griffiths, Lord Justice Lloyd, Philip Allen, Sir Alan Cockerell, Sir Hugh Beech, Sir Alisdair Steedman and Sir Michael Palliser decided to act—to take some responsibility in looking up the files of those days and asking direct questions of the security services. I do not know whether the Security Commission, converting itself as it is entitled to do after asking Parliament's permission into a tribunal, is the best way to go about it. However, I am jolly sure that some of us are not going to let the Ted Short affair rest until such time as we have had an explanation. I use this Army debate with its connections with military intelligence to say that explanations are due from two decades and less ago.
§ 8.9 pm
§ Mr. John Browne (Winchester)
It was a great pleasure and extremely interesting to listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett). It takes a lot of courage to make such a speech from the Labour Benches and I believe that what he said reflects much more accurately than his Front Bench colleagues the real grassroots feeling of the Labour voter throughout the country. If I have my geography right, I believe that his constituency is included in the old recruiting area of the Northumberland Fusiliers.
My hon. Friend the Minister who is to wind up the debate is a Coldstreamer and I believe that Grenadiers and even Life Guards argue about which is the oldest regiment of the British Army. However, I believe that the Northumberland Fusiliers have the oldest battle honour in the British Army and contributed more battalions in the first world war than any other regiment. I wish that that same fighting spirit would grasp the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen.
I listened horrified to the opening speech of the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies). It seemed that 1,000 years of our history and the painful lessons that we should have learnt about military preparedness have been completely, almost wilfully, forgotten. If there is one overriding lesson that those 1,000 years have taught us it 210 is that we must be prepared and we must show our potential enemies that we are prepared. We are attacked whenever we show that we are weak or when we show a lack of determination to defend not only our country but our areas of vital interest. The Romans had a classic saying that if one wants peace one should prepare for war.
We have learned that, expensive as it is to prevent war by means of deterrence, the fact is that to fight a war is infinitely more expensive in terms of money and blood. Therefore, we must have that deterrence. We must be prepared to spend money on deterrence or on that insurance. It is the duty of Governments of any political persuasion in Britain to ensure that our nation is prepared and to ensure that we demonstrate a positive attitude towards defence, encourage our electorate to spend the necessary money on defence and ensure that the military force in this country is not only skilled but is equipped with modern and integrated weapon systems.
I believe that showing an attitude of determination to our defence is necessary for the home base, our NATO role and out of area. Switzerland is a classic example of a country that shows an active and positive determination to defend itself. It uses reserve forces and ensures that the military force is integrated with civil defence. I believe that we still have a lot to learn in that respect. I know that the Government have done much in that area in the past seven and a half years, but there is still more to be done.
Britain's contribution to NATO in terms of manpower and hardware and our attitude to NATO are crucial to morale within NATO. It certainly is when it comes to the support of the United States for NATO. As the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) said, quite correctly, the American people are getting a little impatient about the attitude of Europe towards its own defence. I believe that the Anglo-American relationship is probably the greatest force for peace in the world and is a key aspect underlying NATO. Therefore, our attitude towards NATO is critical to morale and effectiveness. The relationships within NATO are built upon mutual respect and required mutual effort.
I shall now deal with the out-of-area determination. I was pleased to hear of the exercise in Oman. Since 1980 I have said that we should look at the areas of vital interest to NATO and we should show a willingness and ability to look out of area and react. I believe that in the Falklands some of the advice given to Galtieri by his Foreign Minister, Costa Mendez, was based on the fact that Britain was locked into its NATO role, was over-stretched and would not have the physical ability to re-take the Falklands and that it had a lack of determination. Britain had retreated from east of Suez and the Mediterranean and it was felt that it would not be able to gird itself to play any defensive role in the Falklands. I believe that our willingness to liberate the Falklands was important on a global scale in showing an attitude towards out-of-area threat and our preparedness to deal with it.
Obviously, we do not just want peace at any price. We want peace with freedom. That costs big money. I know that the year ahead will bring some tough spending decisions and I wish my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Ministry of Defence good luck in their future battles on that front because there will be some tough decisions and I shall fully support what I would consider adequate spending on defence as I think that it is a vital insurance policy for our nation.
211 I now wish to deal with the skill of the military force and equipping it with modern integrated weapons systems. I believe that if we are to be able to afford and continue possessing updated and therefore modern and effective weapons systems, we have to make more efficient use of manpower. Obviously, I entirely support the philosophy of having a small, elite, highly trained professional basic army, but we must not misuse it. I believe that there is a danger that overstretch is starting to eat into recruitment and cause early retirement in the professional armed forces. That overstretch is very dangerous because we are losing top quality people at non-commissioned officer and officer level. It is something that the Government must look at as a matter of great concern.
The hon. Member for Woolwich mentioned the interesting change in demography and the future recruiting for the Armed Forces, not only in the professional Armed Forces, especially the Army, but for the reserves and the Territorial Army. I believe that the efficient use of manpower within the professional Army must increasingly lead us towards a greater integration with an enhanced Territorial Army. I know that the Government have done much to enhance the Territorial Army, not only in its numbers but in its quality, equipment and general efficiency. Serving in the Territorial Army I see that, and it is extremely gratifying. However, more has yet to be done as it has to be done within the reserves, the Home Service Force and civil defence. The Government are moving in the right direction and have done a lot, despite resistance from certain parts of the House. However, much more needs to be done in that area.
I should like to mention the academic training of officers at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. I understand that the academic content of the course has been diluted until it is almost non-existent. One can ask particularly where money is important, why one should bother to give academic instruction when many potential officers will have been to university in the first place. But one must consider that some of those officers will not have gone to university. It is important, even if the officers are streamed at Sandhurst, that more emphasis is given to academic instruction.
The nuclear weapon has been invented; we cannot disinvent it. It exists. The argument about nuclear-free zones was dispelled by the situation in Japan in 1945 and by the recent disaster at Chernobyl, which showed that there are no such things as effective nuclear-free zones. As an existing weapon system, as long as they are efficient in their military use, nuclear weapons form part of an integrated, modern defence system. It is an absolute outrage to try to tell the British people that a non-nuclear defence policy for our nation is credible. The Socialist party's non-nuclear defence policy is hypocritical, impractical and misleading. Further, it is treacherous, and I believe that it knows that.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), was a very good Secretary of State for Defence, when one looks back at those years a few decades ago. He knows, despite the policy of the present Labour party, what the real defence issues are. It was interesting, at the time of the Socialist party conference in September 1986, to see him under the glare of the television lights. We saw him desperately searching for a peg upon which to hang both faces at one time—the face of non-nuclear defence, and 212 the face for which he knows perfectly well that, when it comes to the reality of government in this country, there is no alternative.
The nuclear weapons system is part of an integrated weapons system for this country, and is the essence of our defence policy and the essence of rendering it credible on a strategic scale. The non-nuclear defence policy proposed by the Socialist party is extremely dangerous. It is hypocritical and misleading to the British public. It is treacherous to say that it is credible and that we shall still have a defence system if we put the money—even if that were to be true—into another area, such as conventional defence. In expressing my support for the Government, may I say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friends on the Front Bench have done an excellent job. As I see it, from a worm's eye view in the Territorial Army, we must try to make the armed forces increasingly efficient, keep modern integrated weapons systems at their disposal, change the emphasis of manpower and use the reserves. The Government have shown great skill and a great feeling for defence, plus a feeling for prudent spending. The Government have struck a great balance and I praise my hon. Friend and his fellow Ministers for what they have done and offer them my strong support in fighting for prudent defence budgets in the future.
§ Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)
I am very sad to have to follow that contribution from the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne). I do not think that I have ever heard a more arrogant and condescending speech since I have been in the House. The way that he patted my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garret) on the head for believing—as many Labour Members do—that there might be some use for the Territorial Army was extremely condescending. To say that my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend had courage to speak out like that because he was speaking for the Labour Benches was an insult to those of us who have served in the armed forces, not the Territorial Army.
§ Mr. Rogers
It was an insult to many of the working class, especially those in my constituency, who gave their lives in defence of this country. Unlike many from the hon. Member's class, they did not go into the secret service and act as spies for the Russians. The hon. Gentleman insults Labour Members by making such a speech.
§ Mr. Rogers
I shall put my anger aside and get on with my contribution, and put the arrogance of the hon. Member for Winchester down to where he comes from. It shows how the Conservative party attempts to twist the position of Labour Members. We hope that over the coming months we shall be able properly to present our defence policy. In order to do so, we need some answers from Ministers.
In his opening statement today, and in last year's debate on the Army, my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) commented on the balance of spending within the armed forces and within the Army itself. He has posed many questions of detail, as well as the major issue of total funding with and without Trident spending. The Government have still not answered those 213 crucial questions. The question that faces us in consideration of our defence budget is how we can maintain and develop our conventional forces and carry the enormous burden of funding a nuclear potential such as Trident. How far are we prepared to put our armed services into indefensible conventional positions so that we can fund weapons that will, supposedly, be their saviour against alleged overwhelming conventional Soviet forces? That is the crux of the matter when determining our defence priorities.
The Government have chosen what we on the Opposition Benches consider to be an untenable policy. We are committed to developing our conventional forces to a point where they will not need to be bailed out by nuclear weapons—nuclear weapons that will almost certainly destroy the defenders as well as the aggressors.
Earlier, my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli was challenged on the SP70. As a battlefield weapon it will be relatively useless, because it has a range of something like 19 km. As my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said, it will create havoc on both sides, besides the ultimate problem that will arise for the civilian population.
The hon. Member for Winchester is smiling. He may find that humorous, but we do not. Because we are denying our forces the conventional weapons to enable them to fight in the first-strike conventional Russian attack, we shall be placing them in jeopardy. There is no recovery from that position. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli said, when we start playing that game the stakes must then proceed to the ultimate.
We must prove the validity of our position to the British electorate over the next few months. In order to do that, we must look at the balance of conventional forces to see whether they can be funded and sustained, and what more is required to effect a balance. Therefore, we must look at the relative strengths of NATO and the Warsaw pact countries as they face the potential battlefield of Europe.
It is commonly assumed—indeed it is often asserted, as we have heard today—that the Warsaw pact has an overwhelming superiority in conventional forces in Europe. That assumption and those assertions are usually supported by unqualified numerical comparisons, such as the numbers of tanks or artillery pieces on both sides. However, if we look at the quantitative potential of both sides, a different picture will emerge of actual military capability. The evidence suggests that the assumption of a vast Warsaw pact conventional force superiority is superficial and misleading.
Every year, in the Statement on the Defence Estimates, the Government publish an assessment of the balance of conventional forces. That is known as a "bean count" approach because it is a straightforward counting of the forces and comparison with opposing systems.
However, as I have said, if one looks at the potential qualitatively, the straight number counts do not necessarily translate into an immediate picture of likely military effectiveness of the armed forces. While such comparisons are obviously useful for a quick examination of a problem, it can be argued that on issues as important as the defence of the West, more complex examinations are valid. The Government recognise that. We see on pages 58 and 59 of annex A of this year's Defence Estimates that 214 they attempted to calculate the conventional balance. But, at the end, their view was that that was not possible; it was too complicated.
However, the Americans have had such a system since 1971. The United States defence department uses a more detailed assessment which overcomes many of the problems of a straight-count approach. The system of armoured division equivalents weighs the mobility, survivability and firepower of every weapon in every division on the central front. Although the exact numbers of ADEs on each side are classified, the ratio is not. To support our argument the figure that should be considered, rather than straight count of men, tanks or artillery pieces, is the ratio between the two forces after a qualitative assessment, and, of course, the difference is not very much.
Such an assessment leads us to the conclusion that the Warsaw pact forces cannot achieve immediate superiority in any conventional attack upon the West. Therefore, we argue that a more detailed and comprehensive assessment of the Soviet conventional threat to Western Europe would show that the balance of forces is nothing like as adverse for NATO as has been traditionally represented. From that, it is clear that the West is in a far better position to respond positively to nuclear arms control initiatives which would not mean a renunciation of security, as alleged by Conservative Members.
Labour Members maintain that the Government's defence position is untenable and misleading. The Government's assumption of the Soviet Union's advantage in the conventional force level, which constitutes a threat which is economically impossible for us to match, obviously leads them to a reliance on nuclear forces for the defence of the West. That assumption is not only open to criticism; it is wrong.
The Government's position is contradictory. On the one hand, they clamour for nuclear weapons on the basis that they are needed to counterbalance what they assert are overwhelming Soviet conventional forces. On the other hand, the Government's policy of spending more money on nuclear weaponry prevents any possibility of correcting that asserted imbalance. The Government are falling between two stools and are in danger of failing to maintain a strategic or even operational effectiveness in either area.
The Labour party's position is simple and straightforward. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli said in last year's debate, by cancelling Trident we can maintain present levels of conventional defence spending. By doing that, we can fulfil our commitments to our allies and to NATO. But above all, we can fulfil our commitments to our own service men and women in the armed forces.
§ Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)
I apologise for missing the opening speeches from the Front Benches, but my train from Newcastle was five and a half hours late.
§ Mr. Trotter
I had constituency engagements yesterday.
The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) referred to his meeting recently with General Bernie Rogers, supreme allied commander Europe. What a pity he did not tell us General Rogers's views on the one-sided 215 nuclear disarmament proposals of the Labour party. I find it hard to believe that that subject did not come up in that discussion.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the conventional odds against the Army in Germany being 4½:1 against an acceptable 3:1. If one works out the arithmetic, that would seem to show he is suggesting a need for a 50 per cent. increase in the Army capability in Germany. Apart from the enormous cost that that would involve, it would certainly require conscription. And, however strong the conventional forces in Germany may be, they are powerless if against them is ranged an opponent who has nuclear weapons when we have not.
I want to comment on the organisation of the Army at home and overseas. I shall talk mostly about our commitment to NATO, because in recent times most of the Army is so committed. There remains a worldwide involvement which has been referred to by other hon. Members. The recent exercise of 5 Airborne Brigade in Oman was a great success and an example of how we can respond to a crisis that might emerge thousands of miles away.
My comment tonight on out-of-theatre forces would best be concentrated on the Falkland Islands as I was fortunate enough to be one of those hon. Members who visited the garrison there a few months ago. All the members of that party were most impressed by the long hours put in by the soldiers there. The schedule of work was six days a week, 12 hours a day—72 hours a week—a working week that reminded me of that in a Korean shipyard. Despite those long hours, morale was high. It would be wrong not to tell the House that everybody was looking forward to the time when their four months tour came to an end, but in the meantime they got on with a worthwhile job, working long hours effectively and with a high morale.
§ Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that nuclear weapons would not have been any use in a place such as the Falklands, and, had the Argentines waited for the Government to dispose of the carriers, they would not have been able to get the Army there in the first place because 8,000 miles is a long way to swim even for a highly trained soldier?
§ Mr. Trotter
There was never any question of getting rid of the carriers. No such suggestion was ever put before the House, so the hon. Gentleman's point does not arise. However, if the Argentines had developed a nuclear weapon, that could conceivably have affected the position. Certainly in the campaign that was fought, nuclear weapons played no part.
We should consider the time being spent in the Falklands by some personnel in specialist units. They are in danger of being sent there too often. That applies in particular to those involved in the port units, where the problem is that the only other port of any size that the Army mans is in Southampton water, so the men are rotated to the south much more frequently than other soldiers are. The matter should be examined.
When the new barracks are fully occupied, as they will be shortly, we shall also have to examine how best the soldiers can remain in contact with the civilian population. We were impressed on our visit by the excellent relationship between the Falkland islanders and the garrison. I am sure that hon. Members do not wish the 216 withdrawal of the men from their present involvement in the settlements and in Port Stanley to lead to a lack of contact. I am sure that attention will be given to this matter.
I wish next to refer to the northern flank of NATO. Of course, the main part of the Army is committed to the central front in Germany but we have an important role in the north. Although the role of the Marine Brigade in Norway is well known, we are also committed to send a brigade to Denmark in an emergency. If one includes the logistic support unit, it is the largest brigade in the Army. It has 10,000 regulars and 5,000 territorials, a total of 15,000 men. Indeed, it is almost a misnaming of the force to call it a brigade. By most standards, it is of divisional strength. It includes not just infantry, armour with Chieftain tanks, gunners and engineers, as one might expect, but ports units, workshops and hospitals. It is very much a self-contained force. It is very important to the defence of the Baltic approaches. It is the major reinforcement available to the area within a few days in the event of an emergency. I am sure that in this commitment we are making a very important contribution to NATO. The Baltic approaches are a vital area that we must not overlook.
We cannot consider the organisation of the Army in Germany without referring to the role of the TA. On mobilisation, apart from their contribution to the front line, the TA provides many of the vital logistics units in the Rhine Army. The change in the disposition of 1 Corps, as a result of the efforts of General Sir Nigel Bagnall, when, first, he was the corps commander and then the commander of the Rhine Army, has led to a great improvement in the way in which we utilise our forces in Germany. One of our divisions is now in reserve and another division comes out from the United Kingdom to protect the rear areas. The present commander in Germany, Sir Martin Farndale, has gone on record as saying:Our plan to defend our rear areas is far better than that of other allies. We are obtaining a maximum use of resources.All credit is due to the senior officers in Germany, who have thought out and implemented this important reorganisation which has led to a far better defence than before and a far better use of the men, money and materials available.
Hon. Members will know that we have recently experimented with 6 Brigade in the air mobile role. It has been a successful experiment and much has been learnt. With the welcome decision to increase the armoured strength in Germany, with the creation of an additional tank regiment, 6 Brigade will return to its armoured role. It will thus no longer be available as an air mobile brigade. I am sure that the House will understand the advantage of the air mobile brigade. It is light, quick to move, not restricted to roads, and able to act as a plug should there be any breakthrough in the front line. It is a most important role and one that we should continue permanently.
We must consider how we can best find the men to replace the present brigade in this role. Obviously, it will need to be a United Kingdom-based brigade because we face a personnel ceiling in Germany. There is no way in which we can get any further men for this purpose out of the present strength of the Rhine Army. However, it does not need to be a large formation. It is necessarily a slimline 217 force. It could not move itself quickly by helicopter if it had a vast tail. We are talking about perhaps 3,000 men—rather than the 15,000 to which I referred in the case of 1 Brigade committed to the defence of Denmark. I think that it should be possible for us to obtain, out of the Army's strength in this country the men necessary to form this new brigade when 6 Brigade returns to the armoured role in a couple of years.
We are seeing a complete change in thinking about the use of helicopters on the battlefield. They are increasingly being seen as fighting vehicles. It is interesting that the commander of an attack helicopter is not the pilot, any more than a tank driver is the commander.
If we want to retain a helicopter construction industry in this country, as we should, we must place regular military orders for helicopters. We cannot expect Westland to stay in business if we place orders on an intermittent basis. There must be a regular ordering programme, and we must face that fact.
I know the arguments against making decisions at this time. For one thing, it is hard to decide the size of the new troop helicopter helicopter. Personally I believe that it should not be too large. Obviously, there are advantages in carrying a large number of men at one time, but if we lose a large helicopter, we are in danger of losing a large part of an infantry battalion with it. The Special Air Service was involved in a tragic crash in the Falklands. A large part of the force was lost in one helicopter. I favour a 15-man or 16-man lift rather than a lift involving 30 men or more.
Army logistics is an enormous task in peace time, and, of course, it is even greater in war time. The Army possesses huge depots. That at Donnington contains the largest and most modern warehouse in the country. It is fully automated. The supply line goes from the depots in this country to Germany. An excellent job is done by thousands of men, many of them civilians, in this logistics system. Perhaps they do not receive enough public praise because they are not so much in the public eye, but without them the front-line units could not function. They are absolutely vital. The end of the logistics line is at the front line, to which vast quantities of ammunition, fuel, food and spares must be provided. We should pay tribute to the men involved in that side of the Army, as well as their colleagues involved in the front line infantry armour and artillery.
The Army is well equipped and in very good heart. There is, however, one piece of equipment to which I must refer. A decision must now be taken about the replacement of the Abbott self-propelled gun. It is old, too small, its shell is not powerful enough and, above all, its range is too limited. It cannot read the targets. In particular, it cannot hold off at arm's length the artillery that would be firing at it. Our gunners are the best in the world, but we are not giving them sufficiently modern equipment. The proposed replacement, the SP70, the NATO gun, has been talked about since the 1970s, hence its name. It will be the SP90 by the time it gets into service, if ever. It will certainly not be in service in the time scale that we need for our four regiments that still have Abbott. It is not a matter of money; it is a matter of having tried to make work a co-operative project within NATO. That is of course a very commendable aim.
218 The time has come when we should go our own way with the replacement. Vickers at Barrow has developed a gun to fulfil this role. We should now look down that line and not hold back any longer on the SP70.
I have talked about the equipment and the organisation of the Army. Above all, however, it is the personnel that give the Army its strength. If one meets the Army, whether it be in the Falklands, the United Kingdom or Germany, one cannot fail to be impressed by the young men, and indeed young women, in the units. They are well trained, well motivated, well led and well equipped. We can be proud of them. They do a great service for the country, and so do their families who so often have to live without them when they are away on detachment and exercises.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
I must register vested interests—a small one in that I served as a regular in the British Army, and was proud to do so, and a larger one in that the youngest of my brood, my son, is serving in the British Army in West Germany, not a million miles from Hanover. Of course, I cannot tell the House where he is serving because the Soviets may be listening. I am even prouder of his service because it is of more value than mine was. The Opposition are all proud of the role performed by the British service man and service woman. We have always been proud of their role because, God knows, the working classes have always supplied the majority of those who have filled that role. I offer that point as a type of defence for my comments.
Sadly, the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) has left the Chamber, but I shall comment on his speech so that he may read my points tomorrow. The hon. Gentleman was quick to comment on the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett), but he promptly forgot the contents of my hon. Friend's speech. He disregarded my hon. Friend's exhortation not to engage in debate by rubbishing arguments. My hon. Friend appealed for logic, but the hon. Member for Winchester quickly forgot that appeal when he launched into an attack by rubbishing—not my choice of word—the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies). Logic was certainly missing from his criticism and his following arguments.
The hon. Member for Winchester appealed to us to respond by organising the Army in a manner similar to the Swiss. That may well be good advice, but the hon. Gentleman forgot to mention that the Swiss have no surface vessels and submarines and do not have the gamut of international responsibilities that we have. The hon. Gentleman tried to criticise by innuendo nuclear-free zones. He said that Chernobyl had proved that no such thing as a nuclear-free zone could exist. We agree, but the concept of nuclear-free zones refers to the perpetrator, not the recipient. We believe that the ideal nuclear-free zone is a nuclear-free world. Sadly, the hon. Member for Winchester has admitted his reluctance to work towards that goal.
The hon. Member for Winchester said that we needed a professional force equipped with modern integrated weapons so that we were prepared. I welcome that statement because, by making that admission, the hon. Gentleman has put himself shoulder to shoulder with the Opposition. That is exactly what we seek. How prepared are we? In late October and early November 1984, I was able to visit the NATO headquarters, the Supreme 219 Headquarters Allied Powers Europe and West Germany. I saw that the provision for the Army's role for defence and counter-attack was appallingly inadequate. That was the fault not of the Army but of this Government, and perhaps partly of previous Governments. This Government had let the Army down. They had not let the generals down, because they were being well catered for in terms of salary and remuneration. The Government had simply let the forces down generally.
The Tommy Atkins of our armed forces were ill-equipped. I witnessed service men of many years experience tending vehicles that were measurably older than they were. The vehicles were treacherously out of date. The men were looking after the vehicles in an examplary fashion with the most meagre resources. I saw armoured vehicles with wonderful armour and magnificent armaments—weapons that could shoot a pea off a drum at about 6,000 m, but armoured vehicles that were immobilised by inadequate, inefficient motive power units.
The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway), who is not here either—I wonder where Conservative Members go; perhaps this is another retreat like the one from Egypt about which we heard—referred to Warsaw pact tanks that outnumber ours by 2:1. If we have tanks with inefficient, ineffective motive power units which cannot start in weather like today's, surely this gives the Warsaw pact even greater superiority. Is this not more proof—if proof were needed—that we need increased spending on conventional weapons? I learnt that some of the motive power units, which must continue to function effectively if we are to avoid cannibalisation and so reduce the number of effective components, needed spare parts. That is simple logic. Some of those spare parts could be obtained only from sources in Warsaw pact countries. In making these comparisons between the Warsaw pact and NATO, the position can become more preposterous than is worthy of comment.
These circumstances were commonplace. I am forced to remind the Minister of State that he said that the service men serve us well, and so they do. But, if we allow such a situation to exist, how well do we serve them? Why is there such a shortage of resources? Is it simply because the grotesque level of spending on nuclear weapons precludes us from putting sufficient money into conventional weapons—expenditure that is principally a mechanism of direct drainage of British economic resources straight into the copious coffers of Uncle Sam's nuclear weapons mongers—or is it neglect?
The lack of provision of conventional resources must be made good. I doubt that we would have any argument about that; hence the Labour party's policy for the redirection of the defence budget allocation from Trident schedules and the like to a programme of procurement of weapons of the very latest design in conventional terms—in fact, exactly that for which the hon. Member for Winchester called. We need to give our service men and women the tools to do the job for which they are trained and for which they are prepared to give their lives.
Do not the battlefield buffoons in the Conservative trenches realise that by depriving our troops of the most modern conventional arms they are condemning them to an early death from nuclear weapons in the Soviet strikes that would have to be made in response to our introduction of their use?
§ Mr. Cook
The hon. Gentleman mentions chemical shells. The hon. Member for Winchester said that we cannot disinvent nuclear weapons. Of course we cannot, any more than we can disinvent chemical shells, poison gas, bacteriological warfare or the venereal divisions used by the Germans on the eastern front during the last war. Does the fact that we cannot disinvent them mean that we have to use them, because that is the form of logic being applied in this debate?
§ Mr. Atkins
Despite suggestions from the Opposition, I am not necessarily arguing that we need offensive chemical weapons. My point is that one shell in four in the Warsaw pact countries is a chemical shell, and if we have no answer to that, the threat that the Warsaw pact forces could use them is a threat that we need to think about.
§ Mr. Cook
I take the hon. Gentleman's point in the spirit in which he makes it, but since we know so little about our own secret services and the tricks that they get up to in this country, I am not sure that I can put much credence in secret service information emanating from Eastern bloc countries.
While I was in Germany I discussed these issues with the most senior of our staff officers, with General Sir Martin Farndale and his senior staff. I also discussed them during my visit to Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe and NATO headquarters. I should like to tell the House about one reaction to much of the discussion that went on over a number of days, sometimes into the early hours of the morning. Other ranks and non-commissioned officers were half amused but half admiring of the fact that I wore a CND badge because I am a member of the CND. I wore it in the mess and wherever I met military personnel and it served as a useful vehicle to open the subject.
I was impressed by a very senior British officer with whom I discussed matters at great length. I found him standing contemplating himself, as I thought, in a mirror but then I realised that his eyes were fixed on a point beyond the image of his own reflection and that he was deep in thought. I left him like that for a while. He said, "Frank," and I said, "Yes, Sir?" He said, "Do you remember the discussions that we had on nuclear disarmament?" I said, "Of course, I remember them vividly." He said, "I have been thinking carefully about them and I must tell you that if I were in your position I would have to adopt the same stance, because your logic holds good. Sadly, because of my position here, I suppose I shall have to put the argument into the tray marked 'Too difficult'."
When one puts that conversation alongside the constant appeals that we had from service men and women of all ranks for increased expenditure on conventional weapons—because that is the only kind of resistance that they would be able to offer to any insurgence of Soviet troops across that border—one sees the kind of dilemma with which we are faced.
Deterrence was the order of the day, so we must deprive our units of adequate supplies of the latest kit. Deterrence against what? We are told that General Rogers has threatened to withdraw about 350,000 United States troops from Europe if the Labour party comes to power and implements its policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament. That was barely reported in Britain until it was picked up almost accidentally on the American media. 221 Further, members of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee who discussed this with us when we visited America in September last year used similar suggestions. I will not say threats; I shall call them suggestions.
That idea has been seized upon by the Conservative party in its more hysterical moments. So anxious is that party to continue to pour taxpayers' money into the purse of the American armourers, that it dispatched, without entry documents, I might add, Norman the two-wheeler to reassure his Republican cronies across the water that the Conservatives would continue to buy American weapons.
It is said that the deterrent is necessary, but what does it deter? If the argument that it is necessary holds good, is it a deterrent against Soviet aggression or against American withdrawal? The British electorate is entitled to know the answer to that one. Is not this pretence of nuclear defence merely a means of justifying the continued funding of the American war machine suppliers?
I shall conclude as I began, with two points of emphasis. The first point is the registration of pride in our service people for the job that they perform so selflessly. My second point is an appeal that we in this House at long last latch on to more logic in considering the type of equipment with which we arm our troops, men and women, when we expect them to put their lives on the line on our behalf.
§ 9.4 pm
§ Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)
The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) spoke of the need for logic. What was missing from his speech and that of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) was a little arithmetic. The Labour party wants to end Britain's independent nuclear deterrent and spend the money instead on more conventional weaponry and manpower. Our nuclear weapon, Trident, is to cost some 3 per cent.—that is, about one thirtieth part—of our national defence budget. Abolition of it could lead to an increase in conventional defence expenditure of only about one thirtieth. If Britain's forces comprise about one fifteenth of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces, we are then talking about one thirtieth of one fifteenth. So the abandonment of Britain's deterrent could increase conventional forces for the defence of the West by roughly one thirtieth of one fifteenth, which is one four hundred and fiftieth.
The Warsaw pact, including the Soviet Union, has broadly double the conventional forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It has about 400 submarines as against our 200, about 7,000 military aircraft against our 3,000, and about 200 army divisions against about 120 on the NATO side. How can it possibly help to protect us to increase conventional forces by one four hundred and fiftieth part and abandon the protection afforded by the nuclear deterrent? That policy of the Labour party means taking a terrible risk with our security. The public know it, and I believe that it is the main reason for the fall-off in Labour support in opinion polls in the past six months.
As for the policy of the Liberal party and the Social Democrats, if by some misfortune they were to hold the balance in a hung Parliament, no one would have the slightest idea what Britain's defence policy was going to be. Last September the Liberal party conference voted to 222 end before very long Britain's independent deterrent. The Liberal leader in a recent debate in the House listed six alternative defence policies without saying which of the six he supported. The Social Democrats do not want Trident but want Polaris, which will, in a matter of years, become out of date and not credible. The so-called alliance is deeply split from top to bottom. Its members are at sixes and sevens and their fumbling attempts to paper over the cracks deceive no one. That is why they too have fallen away sharply in the opinion polls.
A defence policy has to work. It has to protect and to deter, and it must do so credibly. It is no use going through the motions with a defence policy that is not credible. It is only the Conservative party that has a clear, honest and strong defence policy, and only the Conservative party that can keep Britain safe and free.
I turn to another Conservative cause, the long-term retention of the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall, Twickenham, which trains British Army bands, whose high standards of excellence are the envy of the world. I should first thank my right hon. and hon. Friends who are or have been Defence Ministers over the past four years for their endless patience in this matter, as this is the 14th time that I have raised the subject in the House, and the third time in an Army debate. I have had 12 meetings with Ministers, one with the Prime Minister last January, one with the Secretary of State for Defence in March, two with his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), one with my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Mr. Stanley), one four years ago with my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), three with my noble lord, Lord Trefgarne, one with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and two with my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman). The only Defence Minister who has dodged me so far is my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton), who is sitting on the Front Bench and, I understand, is to reply to this debate.
Although I thank the Defence Ministers for their patience, I make no apology either to them or to the House that I have been almost constantly on about this. Kneller Hall is seldom out of my thoughts. If it has become close to an obsession, that reflects the fact that I care greatly about it. It is a cause that has caught my heart and my imagination. I am fortified by the knowledge that I am not alone, because 164 of my right hon. and hon. Friends signed early-day motion 397 in 1986; those 164 included 12 of the 17 officers and executive of the 1922 Committee. I shall not read the motion to the House again because it is long, but that tremendous support from my colleagues has been echoed by support from another place where Major-General Earl Cathcart led a debate last February. Apart from Lord Trefgarne, who wound up the debate, the five peers who spoke were unanimous in their support for maintaining the status quo.
That support is echoed by the public. A total of 18,579 people have signed petitions. Those people are largely my constituents from Whitton, Twickenham, Teddington and the Hamptons, but also include a considerable number of constituents of my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Sir B. Hayhoe). Many of us were delighted a fortnight ago when he received an honour. His constituency boundary comes close to Kneller Hall and he has been a tower of strength in the matter. Others who signed the petition were constituents of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. 223 Ground)—whose constituency is about half a mile away—and of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley). Both my hon. Friends have strongly supported Kneller Hall.
Kneller Hall has been the home of the Royal Military School of Music in Twickenham for 129 years. The Army bands trained there lift the spirit of the nation. They represent one of our finest traditions. They enhance morale in the Army. They promote recruitment and as part of the traditional British scene they help to attract to our shores visitors whose spending generates income and employment and yields a tax revenue. The high standard of British Army bands is linked inextricably to the standards of Kneller Hall, which is doing a marvellous job in training Army bands.
Some people in the Ministry of Defence have dreamt up a scheme of improvement to merge Kneller Hall with the training of bands in other services. As the late Dr. Samuel Johnson, who frequently visited my constituency, said when he went to see Garrick at Hampton:most schemes of political improvement are very laughable things.I finally ask my right hon. and hon. Friends, the Ministers in the Ministry of Defence, to note the received American wisdom, "If it ain't bust, don't fix it."
§ Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East)
Pride in the Army has been expressed from both sides of the House, so we are not arguing about whether we are proud of those people on whom our safety depends. What we are arguing about is how they should be equipped and armed.
When opening the debate, the Minister said that his party felt that a combined conventional and nuclear response was required. Our contention is that, because the present forces on the European side are almost entirely dependent on nuclear weapons, the result will be to resort to those weapons within hours and days rather than weeks and months. That means that within a short time of a war starting, nuclear weapons will be used and escalation will be inevitable. There would then be no possibility of reaching a diplomatic solution.
I think we have all assumed too much that a war would be calculated as wars in the past have been. There is a great danger that a limited conflict may escalate into a major conflict. However, my argument applies in the other direction as well, because not all our allies in NATO have nuclear weapons. Norway and others will not have nuclear weapons on their soil. We must also remember that, since the 1950s, the British Army has been involved in limited actions in the Falklands, Cyprus, the Lebanon and Northern Ireland. The kind of training and equipment necessary for such conflicts and that required in any future actions will not rely on nuclear equipment.
In common with my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), who spoke about a visit to Germany, I recall seeing a battalion in Cyprus that had arrived there after peacekeeping duties in the Lebanon. I remember comments from that battalion about the aged equipment with which they were required to work in Lebanon. That made me believe that the Government were not backing the men in doing their duty because a professional army requires up-to-date and professional equipment.
I also claim that defence in this age depends not only on equipment but on an economically sound nation. I do 224 not think that Ministers can slap their backs on that count. If we are to have an independent defence, there must be an independent and updated supply industry. As we have all seen, the problem is that more and more of our contracts are dependent on United States suppliers. We must be very careful. When a contract for equipment goes to the United States, it is accompanied by the technology upon which our defence industry depends for the future.
These are the matters that concern me greatly. Much has been said of the Falklands contest. That is the kind of action in which we are likely to become involved in the future. I remind the House that at the end of the Falklands conflict some of our batteries were down to six shells. If we hold up the Falklands conflict as a glowing example, we must remember what a near-run thing it was. The outcome was not achieved by foresight; it came about more by accident and the grace of God than by the will of the Prime Minister.
We entered into the Falklands conflict when we were negotiating the sale of aircraft carriers. After the first parliamentary delegation visited the Falklands, we were de-briefed by Admiral Woodward, who told us that he could not have mounted the operation if the carriers had been sold. We must also consider the fact that, once a conflict escalates to the use of nuclear weapons, the military and civilian casualties on both sides are incalculable. The effects of dropping nuclear shells cannot be restrained.
I remember watching an operation at the Commando training centre in Norway two years ago in which a medical team was trying to deal with a man encased in a protective radiation suit. It took a team of five almost 10 minutes to cut him out of the suit. I asked the team what casualties they would expect after the first nuclear engagement and was told that there would be thousands, if not tens of thousands. In such a situation, is it not reasonable that we should argue that our contribution to NATO should be as one of a group of equals with a common purpose other than as a member of a group dominated by one partner, America, as at present? As our contribution, we should aim to ensure that the nuclear response was not the first alternative and that the brake was put on through the use of an adequate conventional force. When nuclear weapons are used, there is no point of return. We must strive to protect Britain, but we must also aim at preserving peace.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
This has been an interesting debate. Proper compliments have been paid by both sides of the House to our armed forces and, in an Army debate, compliments have been paid in particular to the Army. That is correct.
In congratulating the services, we should not overlook the fact that during the past few years there have been some incidents that do not reflect too well on the armed forces. There was a breakdown of discipline in Cyprus, which resulted in the Cyprus spy case and the Calcutt inquiry. There was also the incident in the 1st battalion of the 7th Duke of Edinburgh's Own Gurkha Rifles. It amounted almost to a mutiny and led to 110 men being dismissed. No proper explanation was given. Some of the Ministry of Defence statements and off-the-record briefings contained terrible racial overtones that were quite shocking. There was also the Royal Green Jackets incident which is now the subject of an inquiry. There have 225 been allegations of initiation ceremonies and of serious bullying and malpractice. This should be a matter of concern to the House, because it devalues the reputation of the armed forces. The House should be given more information. The facts should not be hidden from hon. Members.
Before Christmas there was the banal announcement that the Household Cavalry was hunting deer in the New Forest. That did not go down very well with most people. Of all blood sports, hunting is the one that most people want abolished. To flout public opinion by allowing the Household Cavalry to take part in a most cruel and barbaric sport is unforgivable. The excuse was that the horses needed to be exercised. What would happen if a squaddie at the Army School of Driving at Leconfield said that he wanted to test the commanding officer's staff car by taking his girl to a disco? Would he be allowed to do so? Of course he would not. The same kind of abuse of public property took place before Christmas.
When the Prime Minister has the courage to go to the country and the Labour party forms the next Government, this practice will be stopped, and if any hunting takes place on Ministry of Defence property it will also be stopped—
§ Mr. McNamara
No, I shall not. We shall stop any hunting on Ministry of Defence property until we have legislation on the statute book—[Interruption.] On all occasions when I have wound up defence debates I have allowed hon. Members to intervene and to take up time that ought to have been used by me. I have not sought to intervene in today's debate.
The hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) said that my statements about the accident to the nuclear convoy were irresponsible. If there was a degree of irresponsibility, it was shared by a great many people in this country. They fear nuclear accidents. Nobody said that there would be a nuclear explosion. Nor did I. If, however, Professor Joseph Rotblat, a member of the team that originally designed the atom bomb, says that a fire and conventional explosion could have spread the plutonium used in nuclear weapons across the countryside, that is a source of consternation, fear and worry and it is proper for hon. Members to ask questions about it. On top of that there is a fire tender in the convoy to prevent just that type of accident. The hon. Member for Hampshire, East is the one who is irresponsible by not accepting—
§ Mr. McNamara
No, I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman made his speech and then he left the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman has come back and he will get the same treatment as I had during his speech, but I did not seek to interrupt him.
§ Mr. McNamara
We are also aware that although the Ministry denied that there was any prospect of a nuclear leak—
§ Mr. McNamara
America put scientists at a satellite receiving station on a red alert to make sure that there had been no nuclear leak.
The hon. Member for Hampshire, East also said that we should not speak about such things because the Russians might not know about them, but the Russians have satellites and know all about the movement of those convoys.
The hon. Gentleman also said that I should not complain about convoys being moved about in the winter. I should like to know who planned that route. I thought that they were carefully planned, but the roads were not gritted properly and that allowed the accident to occur. I was not irresponsible. Anyone involved in such matters has the right to make such comments and ask such questions.
§ Mr. McNamara
I will now turn to the question of irresponsibility. I want to know how it was that the Queen's Own Highlanders were allowed to go to Kenya without adequate precautions to see that the men—
§ Mr. McNamara
I should have thought that the possibility of the spread of AIDS among the British Army would be of concern to a former regular officer. The hon. Gentleman should be concerned about the health and safety of our men.
One is entitled to ask why adequate precautions were not taken before the men went out to Kenya. It was only when the Parachute Regiment arrived there that a decision was taken to prevent the men from going on leave at shore stations at Mombasa and elsewhere. By then the incidence of AIDS and AIDS-related deaths in that country was known as well as the fact that 65 per cent. of prostitutes in Nairobi carry the AIDS virus. It is a serious matter that should concern the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) tabled a number of questions about that today and the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security said, "I shall reply shortly." They were basic questions about who knew, when, why people were not told, and so on. All those questions could have been answered with simple straightforward replies—the facts were known.
The Under-Secretary had had a series of briefings—it is all in The Guardian—about what steps the Ministry was taking, what the Ministry had and had not thought about. We want to know who was responsible for not giving proper information to the regiment. Who was responsible for putting our troops in that risk when the facts were known?
§ Mr. McNamara
It is an important question for the Army and it is important to discover who was responsible.
I come to the Ministry's nasty habit of not answering questions in time or promising to answer after an awkward debate. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) spoke about the DROPS contract. I do not 227 wish to enter into any of the controversy surrounding the allocation of the contract. I am concerned about those matters that were raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the treatment of the managing director of that firm at the hands of the Ministry of Defence.
The Secretary of State and Lord Trefgarne said that no pressure had been brought upon the firm and that the letter from the managing director that was brandished on "Panorama" was unsolicited, despite the fact that that was denied by the managing director of the firm.
In answer to my question, the Minister who is to reply said:I cannot answer precisely for my noble Friend on all those questions, but I shall certainly write to the hon. Gentleman.—[Official Report, 12 December 1986; Vol. 107, c. 731.]That was over a month ago. I waited anxiously for an answer and looked in every post. I had letters about the Royal Green Jackets and letters about this, that and the other, but nothing about that issue.
Consequently, last Thursday I tabled some questions to jog the Secretary of State's mind. I asked again whether Major-General Stopford telephoned Mr. Trafford Boughton on 30 June asking him to send a letter, whether Ministry officials were involved and whether any records were kept of telephone conversations or calls to defence contractors or potential contractors. All those questions should have been given a yes or no answer, but I was told only that the Minister would answer shortly.
Somebody is not telling the truth. The major-general, the managing director or Ministers are not telling the truth. However, Ministers are sending out letters saying that the letter on "Panorama" was completely unsolicited. The managing director, however, said that he was specifically asked and bullied for that letter.
The matter must be cleared up. It is easy for the Government to reply and it is disgraceful that hon. Members should table question after question without being given a reply.
The hon. Member for Hampshire, East also mentioned the Gurkhas and the brigade's future. I share his concern, because in 10 years' time Hong Kong will be going. I was pleased to hear that the Select Committee would be looking into the matter of the future of the Gurkha regiments. However, our imperial history has left us with some problems. After all, we owe a debt to that kingdom for the part that it has played in helping us to defend our freedom. It is an impoverished country, which depends heavily on the help that it is given in overseas aid. Although I do not like the idea of mercenary soldiers being a form of overseas aid, I must say that the relationship between the two countries is long-standing and honourable.
The problems must be faced. There is some ambiguity about the Secretary of State's answers. We do not know precisely what the Ministry means when it says that in 10 years' time things will depend on the resources available. Does that mean that British battalions may be sacrificed to maintain the Gurkhas? Alternatively, does it perhaps mean that we should keep four or five battalions of Gurkhas? What role will they play? Are we talking about an extended role in Brunei or an extended role in the United Kingdom home base? Are we thinking, perhaps, in terms of our NATO commitment? I do not know the answer, but those points must be considered.
§ Mr. McNamara
No. With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, I am applying the same principle. I am not being particularly nasty to him—
§ Mr. McNamara
Three points have been raised that deserve a proper reply from the Minister. One concerns the shortage of helicopters for the armed forces and for the Army in particular. I am only sorry that the hon. Member for Northampton—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. That is not a point of order for me. I am afraid that that happens quite frequently. The hon. Gentleman will know that if the hon. Member who is speaking does not give way, he must resume his seat.
§ Mr. McNamara
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
We would like a precise statement from the Minister on future requirements for support helicopters. We were promised that a decision would be made by autumn 1986 and that a statement would be made by the end of the year. We are now entering 1987 and we are still waiting. Shall we get it tonight and, if not, when?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) asked a question about the SP70. We are still awaiting a reply. Money is being spent on it. Is it true that we are afraid to withdraw because of any cancellation debts that might apply to us if we pulled out before the others? If that is so, the SP70 will go on costing money and not getting anywhere.
What are we doing about possible alternatives to the M 109 and on the question of the AS90 with the Brazilians? The latter would seem to provide more jobs for us. Those are important matters for us.
The main burden of the debate, however, has been the question of the policies and strategies adopted by NATO. The Government have sought merely by reiteration of parrot phrases to maintain their case on that. It is a case which Labour Members, and especially my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) and for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), raised to examine the entire strategy of NATO. It is true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) said, that those doctrines are now more than 20, 30 or 40 years old. They need to be considered carefully and examined precisely. Therefore, it does no good merely to reiterate the conventional wisdom of the present time without examining whether the premises upon which those policies are based are now tenable in the light of the changes that have taken place in military strategy and weapons capability during the past 20 or 30 years.
Many Labour Members no longer believe that the Soviets have an overwhelming superiority in conventional forces which would enable them quickly to overcome western conventional forces. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda explained at some length the basis and reasons for considering those matters. The International Institute for Strategic Studies considered the conventional balance between the Warsaw pact and NATO. On page 225 of its strategic balance for this year it concluded: 229Our conclusion remains that the conventional military balance is still such as to make general military aggression a highly risky undertaking for either side. Though possession of the initiative in war will always permit an aggressor to achieve a local advantage in numbers (sufficient perhaps to allow him to believe that he might achieve limited tactical success in some areas), there would still appear to be insufficient overall strength on either side to guarantee victory. The consequences for an attacker would still be quite unpredictable, and the risks, particularly of nuclear escalation, remain incalculable.That is the point of the matter. Some hon. Members have spoken of the great deterrent value of the Trident system and nuclear weapons, but it was Sir John Nott, in a former incarnation as Secretary of State for Defence, who said:Having nuclear weapons means that we are not beholden to any tin pot dictator.A few months later Galtieri landed in the Falklands and showed that nuclear weapons do not deter if we are not prepared to use them.
I wish to consider briefly a question that was raised. People have said that the Labour party has maintained that if we scrapped Trident the money saved could not do much for our conventional forces. The Minister said to me this morning that it would cost the Ministry of Defence £8.9 billion to maintain and provide equipment for an armoured division over 20 years. That is the figure given by the Ministry of Defence. Yet we are spending £9.9 billion on Trident over 20 years so that we would save £1 billion. That is without the running costs of £220 million a year which the Ministry has said it would cost to run Trident.
At present the Army has only 940 tanks in active service. Therefore, we could buy and operate 1,400 more. That would increase considerably the number of tanks available. Equally, we could use the money to buy 30 additional type 23 frigates and run them or we could use it for 10 new squadrons of Tornado GR1s and run them. That is clear from figures and statements from the Ministry of Defence.
The Government, whether they like it or not, must re-examine the whole basis of their defence policy. They do not have the money to maintain their present commitments. If they continue with Trident, the British Army of the Rhine will be run down in ammunition, training, weapon capability and many respects which the Minister was not prepared to mention as he tried to paint a glowing picture of these matters.
BAOR will be put at risk. if it is not capable of defending itself, it will weaken NATO and lower the nuclear threshold. Labour party policies are aimed so to strengthen our conventional forces, especially BAOR, that they will deter any would-be aggressor coming across the inner German border because they will be a strong, well-maintained and equipped, brave Army of which we all can be proud.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Archie Hamilton)
I congratulate the House on this wide-ranging debate, which has demonstrated the expertise and knowledge of the Army of many hon. Members. Several points have been raised which I shall try to answer in the short time available.
230 The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) were understandably concerned about the replacement for the Abbott gun and what was happening to SP70. In 1973 the Governments of Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom signed a memorandum of understanding to develop and produce collaboratively 155 mm self-propelled howitzers to meet their requirements as then foreseen. That followed the successful introduction into service of the collaborative FH70 towed howitzer.
The programme has encountered many problems in development and the House is well aware of them. That has resulted in slippages in the original time scale. At the same time, there have been changes to long-term operational requirements. To take account of the new operating characteristics of self-propelled artillery to be able to operate effectively against threat in the next century would need further extensive development and design modifications of the existing development prototypes. That would inevitably lead to further slippage of the programme.
In view of those uncertainties, the Defence Ministers of the three partners have met to discuss the way ahead of this important collaborative programme. It was acknowledged that because of the various difficulties encountered in the project to date it was no longer possible to develop and produce a collaborative howitzer in time to meet the earlier requirements of the nations. Accordingly, it was agreed that, to meet their most pressing requirements, nations should seek their own solutions on a national basis as judged necessary.
However, Ministers reiterated their support for the objective of achieving, if possible, a collaborative solution to meet their long-term requirements in this area. Therefore, they instructed their national armament directors to continue to explore the possibilities of continued collaboration for a longer-term procurement, taking into account the decisions that were taken meanwhile on national purchases so that Ministers could decide on the best way forward in due course.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am afraid that I have a great deal to say.
The right hon. Member for Llanelli was most worried about our lack of orders for mines, and he mentioned antitank mines. The current in-service mine is known as Barmine and is to have its capability considerably enhanced to the whole width of a tank by the introduction of the FWAM fuses. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that the competition at sub-contract level for the production of the balance of our requirement for fuses to produce the full width attack anti-tank mine capability has just been concluded. The competition, which is worth about £28 million in all, has been won by Marconi Command and Control Systems at Hillend and the royal ordnance factory at Blackburn. Competition has yielded an estimated saving in excess of £3 million.
The right hon. Member for Llanelli and the hon. Member for Blaydon mentioned ammunition, particularly FH70 ammunition, where orders are allocated in accordance with the trilateral agreement which covers the programme.
However, the United Kingdom has a national order for the cartridge L6A1 which we expect to be placed in the 231 near future. That does not fall under the tripartite agreement. Current FH70 ammunition orders placed in Germany are proceeding satisfactorily and there is no question of any default on the part of German industry.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester. North (Sir A. Buck) referred to the important role of the Army's military correction training centre. I am very glad to acknowledge the valuable part that he has played in the work of that centre over the years.
The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) referred to the problems raised in the article in The Independent dealing with combat clothing. The article is inaccurate and misleading in several important aspects. That might have been avoided if the correspondent had taken advantage of the opportunity that was provided for a full briefing by the Army authorities concerned. The article referred to three items of combat clothing and I shall refer to just the first.
The introduction of flak jackets or combat body armour has not been "hit by spending restrictions." There is provision in the programme for the purchase of 138,000 items, starting in 1989, and that will be sufficient to equip all those who need special protection. However, before introducing what is an expensive item of kit, we need to be sure that it is right. That necessitates careful research on the design to ensure that it offers adequate protection and that it is not too heavy or uncomfortable for use in operational conditions. In other words, it must not impair operational performance.
The hon. Member for Woolwich also raised the question of the future location of the Army cataloguing authority. A review of defence codification is under way and the report of the study is now under consideration. The directorate of the defence codification authority is located in Glasgow—as the hon. Gentleman said—along with the naval codification staff. In the light of the study, I cannot give a categorical assurance about the location of the headquarters of the Army cataloguing authority until all our considerations are complete. I shall naturally keep the hon. Gentleman informed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) referred to the future of the Brigade of Gurkhas with the ending of the lease in Hong Kong. We have repeatedly made it clear that there will be a continuing role for the brigade in the British Army after 1997. Its final size and shape will turn on the operational and resource factors facing the entire British Army at the time, which it is too early, at this stage, to foresee. However, we welcome the fact that the Select Committee on Defence is looking into that.
The hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) paid tribute to the Territorial Army. However, he raised the point, as did my hon. Friend for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway), about unemployment benefit. Recent efforts have been aimed at resolving the anomaly whereby an unemployed TA member, as a result of receiving a relatively small amount of pay for attendance at a drill night, loses a great amount of benefit. Ministers and officials are examining that problem and it is hoped that an announcement will be made shortly. We already operate a scheme providing an enhanced disregard for TA members who are receiving supplementary benefit.
My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glynn) referred to problems with the sewers at Victoria barracks. The work that is being done on the sewers has been undertaken by the Thames water 232 authority and the local authority outside the site of the MOD development. It is not our responsibility and. indeed, we are watching its progress as closely as are the local residents. It may not be a matter that concerns the Opposition Front Bench, but I am sure that it concerns my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) mentioned the future of the UK MF. There are no current plans to withdraw or alter the nature of that force.
My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) mentioned, as he has done before, the issue of Kneller Hall. I am happy to be the last Defence Minister to give my hon. Friend the reassurance that he is seeking. A decision will be made soon on that and my right lion. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces will be in touch with him on that.
The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) raised the question of the letter which was written about DROPS by Boughton. The difficulty was that if Boughton participated in the "Panorama" programme or otherwise influenced criticism about its elimination from DROPS, the only way in which we could respond in public to explain our position was to spell out its shortcomings in public.
We did not wish to do that if it could be avoided. It was for that reason alone that General Stopford was instructed to ascertain directly from Mr. Boughton his attitude and involvement in the television programme. My noble Friend the Minister of State was not involved because he had no need to be. Mr. Boughton volunteered the fact that he wished to have no part in it. It is noteworthy that he has not, as far as I am aware, complained directly to the MOD about it even when invited by my noble Friend in November to comment on any aspects. I am not aware of any reported evidence of the conversation. However, I know that it accords exactly with the line volunteered on a separate occasion at the British Army equipment exhibition to the Chief of Defence Procurement and Brigadier Last. [Interruption.] We do not accept that we have acted improperly in any way towards Boughton and we reject all allegations of intimidation.
I was saying that the statement that was in the letter was a lie and that the letter had been solicited. I was not saying that the Minister was telling a lie. I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. I wish only that he had answered my questions.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I was hoping that we had cleared up this difficulty.
Although we have considered the role of the Army in the nation's defence in general, the House is well aware that our principal task is to fulfil our commitment to NATO. If deterrence fails and war comes again to Europe, that means that BAOR will be fighting in Germany.
We have every reason to be proud of the professionalism and dedication of our soldiers and we can be confident that they have the will and the equipment to withstand a conventional attack from the forces of the Warsaw pact—for a time.
However, we have to accept that the Soviet Union and its allies have an overwhelming superiority of numbers in 233 both men and equipment. However brave our men, however deadly their bullets and missiles, the conventional superiority of the Warsaw pact forces could well prove decisive. The NATO allies would do well to hold out against a major sustained attack.
How is it then that we have managed to deter the Soviet Union from war? As the House knows, since 1967 NATO has had a policy known as flexible response which does not rule out the use of nuclear weapons if conventional defence is seen to be failing. Such use could, of itself, halt the advance of Warsaw pact countries, but it would also be a powerful signal to the Soviet Union that it was running the risk of escalation and, ultimately, an unacceptable degree of damage.
The Soviets know that and realise the great dangers of undertaking any military adventure in Europe which could lead, ultimately, to a war from which neither side could possibly emerge victorious. That is at the heart of the theory and practice of deterrence and it has worked since 1945.
The Labour party seeks to change NATO's nuclear policy, the policy which keeps the peace in Europe. Labour seeks to render unprotected our troops, and those of our American allies, by removing their nuclear weapons. Surely the nub of the argument is the fact that even the best equipped and most highly trained armies of the world are defenceless if their enemy has nuclear weapons and they do not.
Mr. Mikhail Gorbachev—or at least his generals—must be living in the fervent hope of a Labour victory at the next election in this country. If Labour wins, Britain will disarm unilaterally while the strategic and theatre nuclear arsenals of the Soviet Union will remain virtually intact, even if the Kremlin makes the meaningless gesture of matching our disarmament missile for missile.
Not only has the Labour party adopted a policy which will strip our troops in this way, and which promises the abandonment of the national strategic guarantee, which every British Government since the war has thought necessary, but it threatens the NATO alliance in a way in which the Soviet Union could never do.
Labour's proposals to close American nuclear bases in the United Kingdom would destabilise NATO and encourage that minority of Americans who say that the United States has no business defending Europe anyway. A number of senior Americans believe that the effect on NATO would be absolutely catastrophic. I can say only that it is fortunate that the British people will never let it be put to the test.
It is well known that many in the United States are growing increasingly frustrated at what they see as Europe's lack of commitment to defend itself. A refusal by the United Kingdom to share the burden in Europe will only increase the strength of the American lobby which argues for United States' withdrawal.
Labour politicians are keen to reassure themselves that Europe must remain America's front line. However, it does not need a great leap of imagination to foresee their policies encouraging a minority in the United States to press for American defence policy to be confined to the shores of the United States, and for Europe to assume the role of being no more than another buffer zone.
It is no good the Opposition saying that savings on Trident would be spent on conventional arms to make up 234 the difference. This was referred to by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North and my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham. What that money will buy will not make up the difference. At most, it may buy two armoured divisions—about 300 tanks. At the same time, the Warsaw pact already has about 30,000 more tanks than NATO, of which 25,000 are to be found in eastern Europe. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State described earlier the increasing capability of the Warsaw pact. What would deter the occupants of the Kremlin more—Trident or another 300 tanks in a British corps which had no tactical nuclear weapons to respond to theirs? Such improvement in our conventional capability is no deterrent. It might delay the moment of reckoning; it certainly would not affect the outcome.
Let us examine the claim from the Opposition that all the savings on Trident would be spent on conventional defence. Am I alone in finding that claim almost incredible? When one considers Labour's commitment to increase public expenditure by £28 billion a year, are we really expected to believe that a Labour Government will continue to maintain level funding on defence despite the difficulties that they will meet in fulfilling their commitments to spend massively in other areas of the public sector?
NATO cannot afford to have an expensive and protracted conventional war fought over its territory. It has been NATO's nuclear capacity that has deterred our enemies and prevented a third world war, another conventional war in Europe.
The Leader of the Opposition said that NATO's defence policy rests on increasingly untenable assumptions. They are not untenable assumptions, but unpalatable facts for any potential aggressor. It is his assumptions which are untenable, not ours or NATO's.
The right hon. Gentleman has said that he is not prepared for his country to die for him. I have no idea what that was supposed to mean, and I suspect that he has not either, but it sounded rather good and that was probably enough for him.
The reality is that Europe without nuclear weapons brings the possibility of war closer as the continent becomes safer for conventional warfare. The likelihood of millions of Britons dying for the right hon. Gentleman becomes through his policies greater rather than less.
The truth is that the Labour party cannot admit the real choice that it offers over defence policy. That choice is either collective security as a member of a defensive alliance which relies on nuclear weapons as the final guarantee, or isolated neutralism.
No other state in NATO rejects the nuclear element of the Alliance's policies, because our allies can see that we are all faced by a nuclear threat.
There are many Opposition Members who would like to see the Labour party adopt not some but all of CND's policies—we have heard from one or two of them this evening—by breaking with our NATO allies and going down the neutralist road. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) is proud of being a member of CND. If he is a member of CND, presumably he wants to follow its policies, and there are many other such members of the Labour party. I cannot see how the hon. Gentleman can be a member of CND without wanting to see its policies followed through.
235 The Labour party will find that it is unrepresentative of the British people on the issue of defence as it is on so many others.
Britons have fought in two world wars in Europe and have no wish to be drawn into another. They realise that unilateral disarmament makes a third world war more likely, not less. That is why they will reject the Opposition's defence policy at the next election and support the Government's well-tried principles which have given us peace in Europe since 1945.
§ Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd (Lords Commissioner to the Treasury)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Speaker
With the leave of the House, I shall put together the three motions in the name of the hon. Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox).
That Mr. Eric Forth he discharged from the Employment Committee and Mr. Warren Hawksley be added to the Committee. [Sir Marcus Fox, on behalf of the Committee of Selection].
That Mr. Michael Stern be discharged from the Environment Committee and Mr. Jonathan Sayeed be added to the Committee. [Sir Marcus Fox, on behalf of the Committee of Selection].
That Mr. Tony Favell be discharged from the Social Services Committee and Mr. Patrick McLoughlin be added to the Committee. [Sir Marcus Fox, on behalf of the Committee of Selection].